Sultanahmet district is one of the busiest parts of Istanbul, located in the center of the metropolis in Fatih district. In the south, the quarter is washed by the waters of the Sea of Marmara, in the east by the Bosphorus Strait, and in the north it is bounded by the Golden Horn Bay. Sultanahmet is the main historical district of Istanbul and is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It is here that a large number of famous sights of Istanbul are concentrated. And it is from here that many travelers begin acquaintance with this metropolis.
Sultanahmet got its name thanks to the mosque of the same name, which is best known as the Blue Mosque. The imperial palaces of the Byzantine who once ruled here were destroyed with the arrival of the Ottomans in the lands of Constantinople. But some of the historical monuments of Byzantine were saved, and the conquerors themselves erected many interesting structures. And among them you can find not only religious buildings, but also palaces, parks and museums. Today, Sultanahmet has become the hallmark of Istanbul.
What to see in Sultanahmet
The old district in Istanbul has managed to maintain its authenticity and enchanting atmosphere, capable of plunging one into a completely different era. Neat and clean streets, old houses, green spaces and fountains, small cafes and enticing aromas from restaurants, a tram running along the main road – you will find all of these in this historic quarter. But a real adventure awaits you on Sultanahmet Square. After all, it is from here that the long and fascinating road to the famous sights of Istanbul begins.
1. Sultanahmet Square (Hippodrome)
Most of Sultanahmet Square is located on the territory of the ancient Hippodrome, which was built in the beginning of the 3rd century within the walls of the city of Byzantium – the predecessor of Constantinople. In the era of the Byzantine Empire, this place served as a center for horse races, political and public meetings. At that time, the Hippodrome was adjacent to the Emperor’s Grand Palace, but with the transfer of the ruling family to the outskirts of the city, it gradually began to lose its significance and finally fell into decay in the 13th century.
With the capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman forces and the construction of a mosque, the Sultanahmet Hippodrome was given the name “Horse Square” and began to be used for religious celebrations and festivities. Today, a neat square can be found here, and almost nothing remains of the former marble masonry and columns. Horse racetracks are buried five meters under the earth, and only small fragments remind of the ancient buildings are visible. The only monument that managed to be well preserved to this day is the Obelisk of Theodosius.
2. Obelisk of Theodosius
The obelisk was erected in the 15th century BC by order of Pharaoh Thutmose III, and in the 4th century AD it was transported to the area of modern Istanbul and installed at the Hippodrome. The order to transport the monument was given by Emperor Theodosius I, so the obelisk was renamed in his honor. Many scientists came to the conclusion that during transportation, the monolith was damaged or, due to its large dimensions, was deliberately shortened: for example, its previous length from 32 m was reduced to 19 m.
The monument itself depicts Egyptian hieroglyphs narrating about the grand battles and victories of Thutmose III. The obelisk was erected on a marble pedestal of the Byzantine period, on the bas-reliefs of which an image of Theodosius I and members of his family looms. Thus, the total height of the monolith together with the pedestal exceeds 25 m. Today, Theodosius Obelisk is the oldest monument in Istanbul.
3. Sultanahmet Mosque
The Sultanahmet Mosque in Istanbul, after which the square itself was named, is popularly called the Blue Mosque. It acquired this name because of its interior decoration which is dominated by the trim of Izkin tiles, made in white and blue tones. It is noteworthy that Turkish architects used the building of the Hagia Sophia as a model for the construction of a mosque, but at the same time added their own details. Therefore, today the Blue Mosque has become a symbol of the interweaving of Ottoman and Byzantine architecture and, in general, is considered an outstanding example of Islamic and world architecture. Read more about the mosque here.
4. Saint Sophie Cathedral (Aya Sofya)
Aya Sofya or Hagia Sofya is one of the most valuable monuments of the Sultanahmet district, the history of which dates back 1,500 years. This is one of the most unique places in the world where cultures of completely different religions – Christian and Islamic – have united. The once operating Byzantine church, with the arrival of the Turkish invaders in Constantinople, was rebuilt as a mosque. But today the building appears before us in the role of a historical museum.
4. Topkapi Palace
The famous residence of the Turkish Sultans dates back more than 5 centuries, but its heyday fell during the rule of Suleiman I the Magnificent. The Topkapi Palace is a huge historical complex, comprising 4 courtyards, each of which has its own attractions, including churches and mosques. No wonder Topkapi Palace is considered one of the largest museums in the world and is often referred to as the hotel city of Istanbul.
5. Basilica Cistern
Another unique site in the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul is the Basilica Cistern. Built more than 1500 years ago, this underground structure has long served as the main reservoir of Constantinople. Inside it, 336 ancient columns have been preserved, and the column with the inverted head of Medusa is the most interesting.
6. Gulhane Park
The oldest park in Istanbul, whose history is inextricably linked with the Topkapi Palace, has become popular among tourists due to the thousands of roses and tulips that bloom with the onset of spring. In this park there are two museums, as well as an observation deck with views of the Bosphorus.
7. Istanbul Archaeological Museum
This landmark in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul will plunge you into the history of ancient civilizations that once existed on the territory of modern Turkey. Here you can see ancient tombs, antique sculptures of the ancient Roman and ancient Greek periods, as well as admire the unique collection of pottery and tiles.
Where to stay in Sultanahmet district
Being the most popular tourist area of Istanbul, Sultanahmet offers a lot of accommodation options. Among the hotels you can find expensive hotels with a luxurious interior and high-quality service, as well as budget places with a minimum set of necessary services. It is best to choose accommodation near the central streets of the quarter, where all the key attractions of the city are located. We will look at how to get from Ataturk Airport to Sultanahmet a bit later.
The average cost of living for a night for two in 3-star hotels is 200-350 TL. But for renting a room in an elite hotel you will have to pay several times more. In five-star hotels, the prices for a double room per night vary and are north of 1000 TL.
Where to eat in Sultanahmet
Not a single tourist in Istanbul will be found wanting for food options. Here you can find something for every taste and budget. The streets of the Sultanahmet district are literally strewn with countless cafes, eateries, restaurants and canteens. Some of them offer Turkish street food and home cooking at affordable prices, while others indulge in delicious European dishes and high-quality service. It is noteworthy that many restaurants are located on terraces, which offer picturesque panoramas of the sea and the sights of the city.
How to get to Sultanahmet from Ataturk Airport
First of all, it is useful to know that there are two airports in Instanbul. One of them is named after Sabiha Gokcen and is located in the Asian part of the city. The other is named Ataturk and is located in the European part of Istanbul. Since most international flights are made to Ataturk Airport, we decided to dwell on it in more detail. There are only three options to get to the area: by taxi, metro and bus.
1. By Taxi
Near the airport, hundreds of drivers are waiting for new passengers, so you should not have problems finding a taxi. But, of course, this option of the trip will be more expensive than public transport. It is worth considering that the distance from the airport to the historical district is about 20 km. Taxi drivers in Istanbul work strictly by the km counter. In 2018, the price for boarding passengers was 4 TL, and thereafter for each kilometer you paid 2.5 TL. Thus, for the trip from the airport to Sultanahmet you paid an average of 54 TL. If you get stuck in traffic on the way, the price may increase slightly.
Some unscrupulous taxi drivers try to fool tourists by looping in roundabout ways and winding kilometers on the counter. Others call a fixed price, do not reset the counter, or require you to pay for each passenger. All of these are frauds, so be careful and do not fall for the tricks of such drivers.
You can get from Ataturk to Sultanahmet both by metro and by bus. In the first case, upon arrival at the airport you need to find the subway, which is conveniently located on the underground floor of the international terminal. Finding it is pretty easy by following the Metro signs. Once in the subway, find the Havalimani station, having previously bought a token in a special device or travel card in the appropriate kiosk. You need to drive 6 stops on the M1 line and land at the Zeytinburnu station.
As you exit the subway, head east on Seyit Nizam. You will have to go a little more than 1 km to the tram station of the line T 1 Kabataş – Bağcılar. Your final action will be the landing of the tram at the Sultanahmet stop, 300 meters from the desired area.
You can learn how to use the metro in Istanbul and all the nuances of moving around the city in this article.
3. By Bus
To get from Ataturk to Sultanahmet, as well as back, you can use HAVABÜS buses running every half hour from the airport to the Yenikapi district from 04:00 to 01:00. Travel time is approximately 40 minutes, and the cost of the trip is 14 TL. You need to land at the Yenikapi Sahil stop, then you need to walk about 1.5 km east along Kennedy Street, and then turn north to Sultanahmet Square along Aksakal Street. Exactly the same way can be done by driving to Yenikapi Sahil by city bus, following route YH-1. The fare in this case will be significantly lower and will be no more than 4 TL.
Prices on this page are for November 2018.
Before you go visit the Sultanahmet district in Istanbul, it is important to familiarize yourself with all the necessary information about the quarter and its infrastructure. This will help to organize a truly worthy visit and get an exclusively positive experience. And our articles about Istanbul will help you with this.