Begin your tour at a giant racetrack – the Hippodrome. Stand where the horses ran, a large open square with a long oval of golden sand, the center of the socio-political world in ancient Byzantium. The historic center of the old city, the stadium held a hundred thousand cheering spectators and its drivers and horses were legendary. A magnificent Egyptian obelisk and Apollo’s pillar from Delphi stand at its center.
*St. Sophia (closed on Monday)
The Church of the Divine Wisdom (Hagia Sophia in Greek) was the greatest church in Christendom until the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome 1000 years later. This legendary and magnificent example of Byzantine architecture boasts an enormous gilded dome, a vast and lengthy nave, and an interior decorated with glowing marble and precious stones. Its exquisite and radiant mosaics reflect the many faces of ancient Byzantium. This timeless building is 1,500 years old and it still has the power to astound as you enter.
Step into the Blue Mosque and you’ll see why it carries the name. Inside are 21.000 shimmering blue tiles broken by 260 stained-glass windows. The light-filled mosque is an elegant tribute to Ottoman genius of the 17th century. With six graceful minarets adorning the imperial building, this masterpiece is one of the city’s most recognized landmarks.
*Grand Bazaar (closed on Sunday)
Browse exotic treasures in Istanbul’s bustling Grand Bazaar. Wandering through its maze of winding streets and passages and its labyrinth of 4000 shops, you will discover a staggering wealth of merchandise. The Grand Bazaar was first established in the 15th century and shops are organized by the wares they sell. In the arcaded market, you will find narrow alleyways filled with shops offering jewelry, carpets, leather ware, copper art and more.
*Topkapi Palace (closed on Tuesday)
Next, we will visit vast and exotic Topkapi Palace. Situated on one of the seven hills of Istanbul, where the Acropolis of Byzantium once stood, this breathtaking sultan’s palace features four courtyards and spacious grounds. For 400 years it was home to the Ottoman sultans, their wives, concubines, children and servants who all lived in this vast complex. During your walking tour, you will explore incredibly elaborate pavilions, mosques, fountains, and reflecting pools, an outstanding Treasury filled with magnificent jewels and the Porcelain Rooms, which house one of the world’s richest collections of Chinese and Japanese porcelain.
** The museums closed on the days specified can be privately visited at request.