So many travellers are oblivious to the smaller, less popular places to stay when visiting a famous city, but anyone who decides to stay outside the main city centre of Istanbul and instead heads to the beautiful Sultanahmet area will be very pleasantly surprised.
Quite often overlooked, this pretty corner of the city has so much history right on its doorstep. If you don’t want to endure public transport, there’s no need if you choose to stay in Sultanahmet, as restaurants, cafes, hotels, shops and a plethora of historical gems are perfectly accessible on foot. Ancient churches, houses, mosques and palaces dating from Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman times tell the story of what life was once like in this fascinating part of Istanbul.
Here are some of my recommended highlights.
Today a museum, in the 15th century this opulent palace was the residence and administrative centre of many an Ottoman Sultan. Construction of the palace began in 1459 and it has been renovated and rebuilt in many incarnations over the ensuing centuries. Inside, the maze of rooms houses a vast collection of holy relics, Islamic manuscripts and other beautiful artefacts.
The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque, which is frequented by hundreds of Muslims daily for their prayers, is the finest example of Turkish architecture you’ll ever see. Not only is it breath-taking from the outside with its six minarets soaring into the sky, the interior of the blue dome, made up of more than 20,000 exquisite tiles, proffers a truly awesome sight. It’s these tiles along with the blue hand-drawn artworks that give the monument its famous name. Top tip: Don’t miss seeing the sacred stone from Mecca.
Starting life as a basilica in the sixth century, this intriguing building became a mosque in the 15th century, before being reinvented once again as a museum in 1935. Its highlights are its beautiful Byzantine architecture and the intricate mosaic art. If you’re keen to learn more and delve further into its fascinating history, this article is a highly interesting read.
This tucked-away little bazaar is a miniature of the more famous Grand Bazaar. It is definitely worth a visit, especially if you prefer a quieter, less chaotic experience than you’ll receive in the larger shopping areas and markets. Wooden-fronted shops with welcoming doorways line tiny, weaving streets, with vendors selling everything from jewellery, ceramics and souvenirs to a wonderful range of textiles and carpets.
When you see it, it’s easy to imagine times gone by when the wealthy Roman emperors gathered to watch chariot races in this expansive rectangular arena. The building that once stood in this place was the original centre of the city, back in the times when it was known as Constantinople. A visit to this ambient place is made even more special by the presence of the large obelisks and beautiful sculptures that are still evident.
Relax in a Hammam
The Turkish hammam is a quintessential part of life here and you really can’t leave without trying one. Relaxing in these Turkish baths and enjoying the full hammam experience is truly unforgettable, and just perfect when you need to unwind and reinvigorate after a long day sightseeing.
How to Get to Istanbul
Getting to Sultanahmet really couldn’t be easier. Istanbul Ataturk airport is the closest arrival port and is well served by flights from London. The four-hour trip is offered by airlines including Turkish airlines, British Airways and Atlasglobal, so you have plenty of choice and options for a budget flight.
On arrival at the airport, getting to Sultanahmet with as little fuss as possible is where Shuttle Direct comes in. Providing an excellent, reliable and professional transfer service, with a personal driver who meets you at the airport, Shuttle Direct will take care of every aspect of your onward travel. For your convenience you can book in advance and look forward to a seamless 25-minute journey to your chosen hotel in Sultanahmet.
Where to Stay
Seven Dreams Hotel – Brimming with Ottoman charm, this stunning mansion hotel has made modern facilities and quality interior design a priority. Combining comfort in the guise of air-conditioned, spacious and elegant rooms, with luxury touches including a hot tub, hammam and rooftop terrace, the Seven Dreams Hotel is in the heart of the old part of Sultanahmet. I always enjoy my breakfast on the rooftop terrace, which affords magnificent views over the famous minarets and the bustling old town.
Armada Istanbul Old City Hotel – After a healthy, fresh and predominantly organic breakfast enjoyed on the rooftop terrace, you can head out from the Armada Istanbul Old City Hotel and be at the Topkapi Palace in ten minutes. Rooms at the Armada Istanbul are traditional but boast all the modern features. Minibar and room service are a welcome luxury when you just want to relax in your room after a day out sightseeing, and when you fancy a decadent relaxing bath you can indulge in the organic bathroom treats.
DoubleTree by Hilton Istanbul – Sirkeci – The contemporary interiors of the stunning DoubleTree by Hilton Istanbul Sirkeci speak volumes, and the décor fuses elements of nature with a tranquil ambience that resonates throughout. I have often dined here with a view of the Bosphorus, and I can affirm that the a la carte menu is excellent. The wellness centre, hammam and sauna offer a welcome respite at the end of a long day, but if you’d rather relax in the privacy of your own room, you’ll be pleased to know that bathrobe and slippers in the en suite are complimentary. I can highly recommend the Double Tree Chocolate Chip Cookie after you’ve enjoyed a workout in the fitness centre.
About Shuttle Direct
For reliable and efficient transfers from any European or North African airport, choose Shuttle Direct. Providing a service that you can book in advance through our easy online system, one of our team will meet you at the airport and take care of your onward travel so you can sit back, relax and look forward to the start of your trip.