Churches Walking Tour, Istanbul (Self Guided)

Constantinople was a center for religion and the orthodox Christianity for over a millennium and even after the Ottomans came many Christians remained in the city. There are many churches in Istanbul and each of them has its uniqueness.
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Churches Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Churches Walking Tour
Guide Location: Turkey » Istanbul (See other walking tours in Istanbul)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.7 km
Author: kane
The Iron Church - Bulgarian St. Stephen Church

1) The Iron Church - Bulgarian St. Stephen Church

The Bulgarian St. Stephen Church is also known as The Iron Church, since its structure is made of Cast Iron. This is a Bulgarian Orthodox church located in the Fatih district of Istanbul. The church belongs to Bulgarian minority who live in the city of Istanbul. During the 19th century, the Bulgarians were permitted by the Ottomans to construct a separate church for themselves, due to nationalistic movements.

The church is richly ornamented, and is constructed like a cross shaped Basilica. The original church was a wooden structure, constructed near the Golden Horn, and the current church’s alter faces the Golden Horn. The cast iron building was constructed in the site of the wooden church after it was destroyed in a fire.

The Bulgarian St Stephen’s Church was completed in 1898, and was inaugurated by Exarch Joseph. The church is a combination of Neo-Baroque and Neo-Gothic influences in design. St Stephens Church is one of the few surviving cast iron, prefabricated churches left in the world. Its patron saint is Saint Stephen, and on December 27th, a celebratory mass is held at the church. The dome has recently been gold plated by the Bulgarians of Plovdiv.
Church of St. Mary of the Mongols

2) Church of St. Mary of the Mongols

The Church of St Mary of the Mongols is an Eastern Orthodox Church that is located in the Fatih district in the neighborhood of Fener. It stands on the summit of a slope, and overlooks the Golden Horn. The Church of St Mary of the Mongols is the only surviving Byzantine church of Constantinople, which the Ottomans never converted into a Mosque, and it has always been open to the Greek Orthodox Christians. Its conversion into a mosque was saved by a personal decree of Mehmet the Conqueror.

The church is not open to the public, but the structure has tremendous historical significance, being the only original surviving Byzantine church in Istanbul. At the time that it was built, in the 7th century, the church was dedicated to St Eustolia and has been significantly renovated ever since.

The original mosaics and paintings that were made during the 11th -13th centuries have been removed from the inside of the church, but it is still richly decorated. The church complex consists of a tetra-conch plan, comprising a central dome which has been enclosed by a tower. The dome rests on 4 semi-domes. This kind of design is called a unicum, and is typically found in the Byzantine architecture of Constantinople.
Pammakaristos Church

3) Pammakaristos Church

The Pammakaristos Church, located in the district of Fatih, in the neighborhood of Carsamba, is a famous Byzantine church in Istanbul. The church is also known as “The Church of Theotokos Pammakaristos”, which means “All Blessed Mother of God”. In the year 1591, the church was converted into a mosque called Fethiye Cammi, which translates to “the mosque of the conquest” from the Turkish language. The church overlooks the Golden Horn.

Today a part of the church has been converted into a museum, and it contains the largest amounts of original Byzantine Mosaics after the Chora Church and Hagia Sophia in the city of Istanbul. The church is also one of the most important surviving examples of the beautiful Palaiologan architecture of Constantinople. The church was built between the 11th and 12th century, but scholars are still under dispute about the original date of construction.

The church was converted into a mosque by the Ottoman Sultan Murad III, and the main building still remains a mosque today, but the parekklesion has been converted into a museum. Byzantine art can be studied in the church as many remaining panels of the original mosaics are still present in the church museum.

Operation hours: Thursday - Tuesday 9:30 am - 4:30 pm.
Chora Church / Kariye Museum

4) Chora Church / Kariye Museum (must see)

Also known as the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, this is one of the most relevant surviving examples of an original Byzantine church.

The Chora Church is located to the south of the Golden Horn, in the district of Fatih, in the neighborhood of Edirnekpi. The original church was built outside the walls of Constantinople, during the fourth century. The church is named so because of its location. The building consists of six domes and is divided into three main parts: the entrance hall, the church itself and the side chapel.

During the 16th century, the Chora Church was converted into a mosque by the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Sultan of that time. By order of the Sultan, many frescos and mosaics in the church’s interior were covered with plaster. In 1948, part of the church was converted into a museum, and much of the artwork, mosaics and frescos went under restoration sponsored by the Byzantine Institute of America. Today, the Chora Church (or Kariye Museum) is a popular spot for tourists who wish to study Byzantine architecture in detail.

Why You Should Visit:
While certainly smaller than Hagia Sophia, Chora is nonetheless no less majestic or magical thanks to its more complete mosaic collection.

Spend a little extra on the audio guide as it makes the tour much more exciting and informative.
In the square, you'll find a shop with good quality ceramics at a better price than in other areas of Istanbul.

Opening Hours:
Thu-Tue: 9am-7pm, last admission: 6pm (Apr-Oct); 9am-5pm, last admission: 4:30pm (Nov-Mar)
Closed on Wednesdays
Church of St. Mary of Blachernae

5) Church of St. Mary of Blachernae

The church of St. Mary of Blachernae is an Eastern Orthodox Church, located in the Fatih district in the neighborhood of Ayvansaray. It is just a short walk from the Golden Horn, and the complex consisting of the church itself and a garden, is protected by a high wall. The church was built in 1867 and dedicated to St. Mary of Blachernae, whose shrine was erected here in the fifth century by Empress Aelia Pulcheria and her husband Emperor Marcian. The shrine was destroyed in 1434, and until its destruction, it was a very important Greek Orthodoxy sanctuary.

The church complex contains two other buildings aside from the Church itself, which are the Sacred Bath and the Chapel of the Reliquary. These were erected by Emperor Leo I, and the Holy Reliquary hosts the holy mantle and the robe of the Virgin, that have been recovered from Palestine in the year 473. The Sacred Bath encloses a fountain.

The Church is constructed in the fashion of a Basilica, with three aisles and two colonnades. A dome was also built on the Church structure by Justinian. The original mosaics have been replaced by images of flora and fauna, but the church is still visited today by tourists due to its historic significance.
Mayor Synagogue

6) Mayor Synagogue

Mayor Synagogue is located in the Hasköy district of Beyoğlu in Istanbul. The synagogue was constructed during the Byzantine period, and was called “Mayor” since it was the largest in the area. The date of construction of the synagogue is disputed by scholars, with some scholars stating that it was constructed 300-400 years ago, which is a recent date compared to the Byzantine era. During the time that it was fully operational, it was an important worship site for the Jewish community in Istanbul.

The synagogue is located in the Golden Horn region of Istanbul. Today, it is used as a storage area, contains a billiard parlor and is also used as a work shop and hosts cultural events. It was also used to store the artifacts from the Neve Salom synagogue when it was attacked by terrorists. Today it still acts as a storage area.

The Turkish government is trying to preserve the synagogue as a strong heritage site for the Jewish community in Istanbul. The Romanian-born American artist Serge Spitzer has also created “Molecular Istanbul” at the Mayor Synagogue. The work was completed in three months and is a masterpiece connecting the past with the present.
Maalem Synagogue

7) Maalem Synagogue

Maalem Synagogue is the only regularly open synagogue in the district of Maalem. In this old, dilapidated building, Sabbath services are held on a regularly basis.

Walking Tours in Istanbul, Turkey

Create Your Own Walk in Istanbul

Create Your Own Walk in Istanbul

Creating your own self-guided walk in Istanbul is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Souvenir Shopping

Souvenir Shopping

Istanbul, throughout its history as Byzantium and Constantinople, has been a center of commerce and trade- a place to buy all kinds of exotic items. Today’s modern traveler in Istanbul also enjoys an interesting and colorful shopping experience. The sheer number of shops, bazaars, products, prices and insistent shopkeepers, however, can be overwhelming. To focus your search and improve your...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.4 km
Walking the Bosphorus Coast

Walking the Bosphorus Coast

What Istanbul is today and what it was in medieval times is due to the geographical location of the city and the fact that it lies on the Bosphorus shore. This tour will take you along the coast so that you can enjoy the beautiful view and admire the city's architecture.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 7.7 km
Roman Heritage Walking Tour I

Roman Heritage Walking Tour I

Constantinople, being an imperial capital for over a millennium, still contains many important buildings and sites that show the greatness of the Eastern Roman Empire. This tour will take you through the most famous of them, giving you a glimpse of the most developed and flourishing city of the middle ages in Europe - Constantinople (Present day Istanbul).

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.1 km
Museums Tour

Museums Tour

Istanbul is a city with nearly 2 millenia of history as a capital of empires and the largest city of the republic of Turkey. Tourists may see history on every corner, but museums have the finest artifacts on display. We invite you to walk through the best museums in Istanbul in the guide below.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 7.6 km
City Orientation Walk

City Orientation Walk

Istanbul, Turkey's main city, straddling the Bosphorus Strait to bridge gap between Europe and Asia, is an ancient metropolis embracing cultural influences of many civilizations that once flourished on this land. The Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet part of the Old Town, the Roman-era Hippodrome, and the iconic Byzantine Hagia Sophia are just some of the multiple historic landmarks adorning the...  view more

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.4 km
Mosques Walking Tour

Mosques Walking Tour

Istanbul has been a center of Islam for over half a millennium. Add to the fact that it was always growing in population and wealth, and we have the reason why there are so many dazzling mosques in the city.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 7.4 km

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

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Tips for Exploring City on Foot at Your Own Pace

Whether you are in Istanbul for a quick stopover or have a few days to see the city in more detail, exploring it on foot, at your own pace, is definitely the way to go. Here are some tips for you to save money, see the best Istanbul has to offer, take good care of your feet while walking, and keep your mobile device – your ultimate "work horse" on this trip - well fed and safe.

Saving Money with City Passes

To save yourself time and money visiting Istanbul's multiple sights, you may want to resort to the so-called city passes, such as the Istanbul Tourist Pass or Istanbul Welcome Card.

A city pass combines all or multiple Istanbul's top highlights, tours and experiences in one prepaid attractions pass, using which you can save incredible amounts on general admission fees as compared to purchasing tickets separately. Often, a city pass also allows user to skip lines at major attractions, thus saving precious time.

Staying at Walk-Friendly Hotels

Since you're keen on exploring cities on foot (we assume that you are, and this is why you're here), it is important that you stay at a hotel close to the city's major attractions. It saves you time and energy. Here are a few of Istanbul hotels conveniently located for a comfortable stroll: Sura Hagia Sophia Hotel, Deluxe Golden Horn Sultanahmet Hotel, Great Fortune Hotel & Spa.

Taking Care of Your Feet

To ensure ultimate satisfaction from a day of walking around the city as big as Istanbul, it is imperative to take good care of your feet so as to avoid unpleasant things like blisters, cold or overheated soles, itchy, irritated or otherwise damaged (cracked) skin, etc. Luckily, these days there is no shortage of remedies to address (and, ideally, to prevent) these and other potential problems with feet. Among them: Compression Socks, Rechargeable Battery-Powered Thermo Socks for Cold Weather, Foot Repair Cream, Deodorant Powder, Shoes UV Sterilizer, and many more that you may wish to find a place in your travel kit for.

Travel Gadgets for Your Mobile Device

Your mobile phone or tablet will be your work horse on a self-guided walk. They offer tour map, guide you from one attraction to another, and provide informative background for the sights you wish to visit. Therefore it is absolutely essential to plan against unexpected power outages in the wrong place at the wrong time, much as to ensure the safety of your device.

For these and other contingencies, here's the list of useful appliances: Portable Charger/External Battery Pack, Worldwide Travel Charger Adapter, Power Converter for International Travel Adapter, and Mobile Device Leash.

Exploring City on Guided Tours

We have a strong bias towards exploring a city on foot, at your own pace, because this is how you get to see things up close with a maximum freedom. You decide how much time you wish to spend at each attraction and don't have to worry about following a crowd. That said, however, we also understand that some of you may want to go with a guided tour. If that is your case, here are some guided tours to consider. Be ready to fork out a bit of money, though, as a guided tour of Istanbul typically costs somewhere between US$20 and US$80 or more per person:

- Board a hop-on hop-off double-decker to enjoy sightseeing of Istanbul from the open top of a bus listening in the headsets to the commentary provided in a variety of languages, and be able get on and off at any of the stops along the two interconnecting routes (the ticket is valid for both). The ticket provides 24-, 48-, or 72-hour access, plus a free ride on Bosphorus sightseeing boat, and more.

- No visit to Istanbul is complete without savoring authentic Turkish cuisine. Embark on a 5-hour night food tour of Istanbul for a generous dollop of delectable Turkish culinary delights at the food hotspots many tourists don’t even know about.

- Get yourself lost for a while in the aromatic maze of stalls at Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar in the company of a knowledgeable guide, followed by a jaunt aboard a sightseeing boat along the Bosphorus Strait!

- Prepare for an action-packed day of sightseeing visiting Istanbul's top attractions in a single go including historic district Sultanahmet, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the dazzling Grand Bazaar and more.

- Follow an expert guide on a 3.5-hour walk around Istanbul’s must-see attractions to familiarize yourself with the city's contrasting cultures and history.

- Take an opportunity to witness centuries-old Istanbul culture in the form of whirling dervishes performing their dance-like spiritual ceremony accompanied by Persian chanting and traditional Turkish music played by live orchestra.

Day Trips

If you have a day to spare whilst in Istanbul, why not use it to explore some of the out-of-town destinations like Gallipoli, Ephesus, or Cappadocia. For as little as circa US$100 up to US$300+ per person you will get a chance to discover the highlights of the UNESCO World Heritage sites (rock pillars, cave villages and subterranean cities), explore World War I battlefields, see the finely-preserved ancient eastern Mediterranean city and walk the pavements once strutted by toga-clad Romans, visit what is believed to be St. Mary’s last place of dwelling, and more. For any of these tours you will be picked up either straight from your hotel or a designated place in Istanbul, and transported either by a comfortable air-conditioned coach, minibus, private vehicle or a plane (whichever is applicable) to the destination of your choice and back again.