City Orientation Walk, Istanbul (Self Guided)

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 city. To see these and other notable attractions of Istanbul, follow this orientation walk.
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City Orientation Walk Map

Guide Name: City Orientation Walk
Guide Location: Turkey » Istanbul (See other walking tours in Istanbul)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.4 km
Author: kane
1
Blue Mosque

1) Blue Mosque (must see)

One of the most frequently visited and famous tourist spots in Istanbul, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque – popularly known as the “Blue Mosque” due to the blue tiles that adorn the walls of its interior – was built between 1609 and 1616 during the reign of Ahmed the First. It contains a tomb of the Sultan, a madrassah (religious school) and also a hospice. Despite being a very famous tourist attraction, it still functions as a mosque, and a call for prayer (azaan) still draws the faithful to its gates from far and wide. Usually accessible 24 hours a day, the mosque is not open for tourists during prayer time (which is approximately half an hour) five times a day, unless they are there to pray.

Built near the Hagia Sophia and surrounded by a popular tourist district, visitors to the mosque can enjoy several museums, cafes, restaurants and parks in the nearby vicinity. The mosque itself was originally built on the site of the ancient Byzantine Imperial Palace and Hippodrome and took nearly seven years to complete. This masterpiece of Ottoman architecture boasts many examples of Islamic Art and calligraphy that adorn its walls from the inside.

Why You Should Visit:
Compared to other mosques in Istanbul, this one is significantly easier to access because of its free admission and central location.
Timings are strict, a dress code is enforced and the queues are long, but the sense of tranquility that you get inside (even with crowds around) is worth it all.

Tip:
Go early to avoid queues and if you need to wait, look at the details rather than focus on the line. The details in Islamic architecture/design are what sets it apart.
Close by, there are places to eat and drink if you need sustenance after or before visiting.
You could also simply walk around it as much as you are allowed, and snap some pics.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:30-11:30am / 1-2:30pm / 3:30-4:45pm (except Fridays – only at 1:30pm)
2
Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum

2) Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum

The Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum is a museum located in Sultanahmet Square in Fatih district of Istanbul, Turkey. Constructed in 1524, the building was formerly the palace of Pargalı Ibrahim Pasha, who was the second grand vizier to Suleiman the Magnificent, and husband of the Sultan's sister, Hatice Sultan.

The collection includes notable examples of Islamic calligraphy, tiles, and rugs as well as ethnographic displays on various cultures in Turkey, particularly nomad groups. These displays recreate rooms or dwellings from different time periods and regions.
Sight description based on wikipedia
3
Sultanahmet Square

3) Sultanahmet Square

The Hippodrome of Constantinople was a circus that was the sporting and social centre of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire. Today it is a square named Sultanahmet Meydanı (Sultan Ahmet Square) in the Turkish city of Istanbul, with a few fragments of the original structure surviving.
Sight description based on wikipedia
4
Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı)

4) Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı) (must see)

The Yerebatan Sarnıcı or the Basilica Cistern translates as “Cistern Sinking Into Ground” and is one of the many ancient cisterns that are present in the city of Istanbul. Located near the Hagia Sophia, on the peninsula of Sarayburnu, it was built in the 6th century AD by the Byzantine emperor Justinian the first. The name is derived from the Stoa Basilica upon which it was built. The Basilica was said to be built by Ilias and housed many structures and gardens. Historical texts state that over seven thousand slaves were involved in the construction of the Cistern.

The cistern used to provide a filtration system for the water for the Great Palace of Constantinople and surrounding buildings on the historic First Hill. After the Ottoman conquest, it continued to provide water to the Topkapi Palace and continues to do so in modern times. It has undergone many restorations, both by Ottoman emperors and the Roman emperors before them.

Today, the cistern is open to visitors and houses many historical relics like the Medusa columns and triumphal arches. The former can be viewed in the cistern's North West corner.

Why You Should Visit:
Great (spooky) atmosphere that makes for magnificent photos and the preservation of history is done remarkably.
Right next to Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Blue Mosque, so easy to fit it in along with the other attractions.

Tip:
Watch your step as some parts (near Medusa heads) can be extra slippery, and take a jacket especially if you get cold easily.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-5:30pm
5
Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)

5) Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) (must see)

This monumental structure was once an Orthodox patriarchal Basilica, then a mosque, and now, finally, is a Museum in the city of Istanbul. It was built in the fourth century by Constantine the Great as a Church, and it has seen much of the changing ruling powers of Istanbul ever since.

Many people mistake it as being dedicated to Saint Sofia, but the church was, in fact, originally dedicated to the second person of the Holy Trinity, and its full Greek name is “Church of the Holy Wisdom of God”, with Sophia meaning “Wisdom”.

Before its takeover by the Ottoman Turks in 1435, the church housed many holy relics. It was converted into a Mosque by Sultan Mehmed II, and it remained a mosque for the next 500 years.

Located in the Sultanahmet neighborhood, Hagia Sophia is, without doubt, one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture and was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1985. It houses many decorations that make it distinctive and it is famous for its beautiful mosaics that decorate the entire structure.

Why You Should Visit:
Unique in it being both a church and a mosque, with respective symbols omnipresent.
Even if you are not familiar with Byzantine history, you will surely be impressed.
The multi-domed enclosure is so mesmerizing you can't take your eyes away from it!

Tip:
Should you want to visit multiple museums, buy a Museum Pass at the Museum of Turkish & Islamic Arts as there are few people in the line (the queues at the Hagia Sophia are usually enormous and it can take an hour or more to get a ticket). The Museum Pass (valid for 5 days) allows you to queue-jump and gets you into other museums/attractions as well.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-7pm, last entrance: 6pm (Apr 15-Oct 31); 9am-5pm, last entrance: 4pm (Nov 1-Apr 14)
6
Topkapi Palace

6) Topkapi Palace (must see)

For most tourists, the Topkapi Palace is usually number one on the list of places to visit in Istanbul. This grand palace was the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans for almost 400 years and is also a UNESCO world heritage site since 1985.

The Topkapi Palace is built on a huge scale with four courtyards and a Harem, and each location therein houses incredible displays of Islamic art, holy relics and history. The most prized collection is that of the Islamic relics which include the Prophet Mohamed’s (PBUH) sword along with the swords of his closest companions, the cloak of his daughter Fatima and other holy relics.

The spacious grounds, the many gardens and rest stops are ideal for strolling at one's leisure, but most of the exhibits have very long waiting lines especially the Harem and the Islamic Relics displays. There is a museum shop, a cafe and also a coffee shop for tourists. To visit all the exciting places and displays in the Topkapi Palace, you need a full day or, ideally, a tour should be booked.

Why You Should Visit:
Probably the world's finest museum of applied arts; as someone who loves beauty, you will cry from the visual experience of some of the objects displayed.
And, obviously, at the end of your tour, you're welcome to take a walk around the cafe area that overlooks the Bosphorus Strait... Breathtaking!

Tip:
Do come early in the morning to avoid crowds and rent the audio guide (available in several languages) to maximize your experience.
If you do want to rent the audio guide, make sure you have your ID document ready.
Note that you can not take photos or videos in most of the exhibit halls.

Opening Hours (Museum, Harem and Hagia Irene):
Wed-Mon: 9am-6:45pm, last entrance 6pm (Apr 15-Oct 30); 9am-4:45pm, last entrance 4pm (Nov 1-Apr 14)
7
Istanbul Archaeological Museums

7) Istanbul Archaeological Museums (must see)

The Istanbul Archaeology Museums (IAM) consist of three distinct museums: 1. The Archeological Museum 2. The Museum of the Ancient Orient and 3. The Museum of Islamic Art. Located in the Eminonu district of Istanbul, near the Topkapi Palace, the IAM houses some of the most remarkable objects and collections that span over a millennium in world history. The most distinctive and famous item exhibited is the Alexander Sarcophagus which was once believed to be made for Alexander the Great. The Kadesh Peace Treaty (1258 BC) which was signed between Hattusili III of the Hittite Empire and Ramesses II of Egypt is also on display. There are over one million objects housed in the IAM and the oldest objects age thousands of years BC. The IAM is distinctive as it has a vast collection of locally found artifacts, which are reminiscent of the origin of the city of Istanbul. Over 800,000 Ottoman decorations, coins, seals medals, stone works and statues are housed on the upper floors of the building where there is also a library with over 70,000 books.

Why You Should Visit:
To get a wider perspective on how cultures and kingdoms have shaped the world. Where east meets west!

Tip:
Visit all the separate buildings to see the variety of collections, but make sure to focus on the intricately carved sarcophagi: they are the reason the museum was founded in the 19th century.
The Istanbul Museum Pass Card is valid here; buy it to get discounted access to the Archeology Museums, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Museum of Turkish & Islamic Arts, and a bunch more.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 9am-7pm
8
Spice Bazar

8) Spice Bazar

What to buy here: Hand-made Olive Oil Soap – Locally made natural health and beauty products are increasing in Turkey. Handmade olive oil soaps are combining this trend with the centuries old tradition from the hamams. Experience some of the world’s finest hand-made soaps. Soap makers combine high quality olive oil with other botanical extracts to create beautiful bars of soap for various skin types. A good place to buy this is in the Egyptian Spice Market (Mısır Çarşisi) located in Eminönü across from the Galata Bridge.

Opening hours: Daily 8 am – 7:30 pm.
9
Rüstem Pasha Mosque

9) Rüstem Pasha Mosque (must see)

Built during 1561-63 and located in Eminonu, Istanbul, this is an Imperial Ottoman mosque of great significance. It was designed by the famed Imperial Architect Mimar Sinan for the Grand Vizier Damat Rüstem Pasha, husband of Princess Mihrimah, daughter of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman “the Magnificent”.

The mosque has a large number of Iznik tiles (decorated ceramic tiles) that make it distinct from others. They are set in many floral and geometric patterns that cover not only the interior but are also found on the columns and porch outside. No other mosque in Istanbul makes use of such tiles in such a manner. The tiles used to decorate Rüstem Pasha are of the characteristic tomato-red color, which denotes the early Iznik period.

The mosque was built overlooking a vast complex of shops whose rent used to financially support the mosque complex. The main dome of the mosque rests on four semi-domes and the design of the building is that of an octagon inscribed in a rectangle. Galleries are present to the north and south of the main room, and these are supported by marble columns and pillars.

Why You Should Visit:
Stunning mosque demonstrating some of the greatest Ottoman architecture and tile work of the classic period.
Tricky entrance on a 2nd floor, through a small gate and a short stair, but once you make it to the front you get fascinated.

Tip:
Entry is free, but as expected – shoes off before entering and head scarves for the women.
The mosque is right beside the Spice Market, so it's very easy to visit the two spots in one morning/afternoon.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm
10
Süleymaniye Mosque

10) Süleymaniye Mosque (must see)

Built by Suleiman “The Magnificent” and the famous Imperial Architect Mimar Sinan in 1557, the Süleymaniye Mosque is modeled in part on the Hagia Sofia, and in part on a Byzantine Basilica, in order to reflect the grandeur of the city’s past architectural monuments.

In 1660, the Süleymaniye Mosque was ravaged by fire and was restored by Mehmet IV. Unfortunately, restoration work has changed the mosque into a baroque-style structure and ruined the original architecture. The mosque has undergone many restorations ever since. Today it is one of the most popular tourist sites in Istanbul.

The mosque complex consists of a caravanserai, an imaret (public kitchen), a madrassa (Islamic school), a hospital and a hammam (Turkish bath). The public kitchen was constructed to serve food to the poor. The gardens behind the mosque consist of Turbe (tombs) of the great Sultan Suleiman, his wife Roxelana, his mother Dilasub Saliham, his daughter Mihrimah and his sister Asiye. The tombs are fashioned on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The mosque is distinct from others as it contains the tomb of the great architect Sinan, designed by the occupant himself.

Why You Should Visit:
Great picturesque neighborhood, fewer tourists, sensational views of the city and quite a peaceful and solemn overall experience.

Tip:
To really enjoy the views, go down and find some restaurants on the rooftops of the buildings close to the mosque.
If you have trouble walking up and down, consider renting a (reliable) taxi cab or plan your ascent/descent accordingly.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm
11
Beyazıt Tower

11) Beyazıt Tower

The Beyazıt Tower is an old fire tower made of stone that was built in the year 1828. It stands at the site of the old wooden fire towers, made during the ancient times, which were actually swallowed up by flames. The 85 meter high tower stands in the old quarter of Istanbul, and it is still used today as a fire tower.

Before Aga Huseyin Pasa built a stone fire tower in 1828, two wooden fire towers had already been destroyed by flames. The tower can be visited by tourists, but a special permission needs to be taken in order to visit it. Ever since it was built, the tower has been manned 24 hours a day. In the olden days, fires all across the Bosphorus Strait could be spotted from the tower, from the Golden Horn all the way to Yesilkoy.

Today visibility has been greatly been reduced due to air pollution, and the tower is also used to predict the weather forecast for the following day. Colored lights have been fitted on the tower that depict different kinds of weather conditions, and they also guide ships sailing into the Golden Horn when the Ataturk and Galata bridges are closed off.
12
Beyazıt Square

12) Beyazıt Square

Beyazıt Square is a square in the district of Fatih, situated in the European part of Istanbul, Turkey. It is officially named Freedom Square, but is known as Beyazıt Square after the Bayezid II Mosque on one side of it. The Square is the former site of the Forum of Theodosius built by Constantine the Great. On one side of the square is the main entrance of Istanbul University; the Beyazıt Tower is on the university's campus and can be seen from the square. The current form of the square was designed by Turgut Cansever.
Sight description based on wikipedia
13
Grand Bazaar

13) Grand Bazaar (must see)

One of the oldest bazaars in the world, the Grand Bazaar or the Kapalicarsi (“covered bazaar”) has more than fifty-eight covered streets and more than four thousand shops. Anywhere from a quarter to half a million visitors visit the bazaar daily.

The Grand Bazaar was built from 1455 to 1461 and has been open ever since. It is famed for its exquisite Turkish jewelry, silver decoration pieces, spices, Turkish delight (a famous Turkish sweet), pottery and carpet shops. Visitors can also find leather goods, gold and diamond jewelry, and clothing in its various sections.

The bazaar is famous for the “Turkish Evil Eye” – an amulet made of blue and white glass considered to ward off evil. Almost every street has an “evil eye” stall, with many variations of the amulet being sold to tourists.

Originally the bazaar contained bedestens, which are domed structures used for storage, and was enlarged during the 16th century. After a major earthquake in 1894, the bazaar went under major restoration. Today, the Grand Bazaar contains two hammams (Turkish baths), two mosques, four fountains, as well as many cafes and restaurants.

Why You Should Visit:
The bazaar's centuries-old history can still be seen from the countless frescoes on the many ceiling arches and ancient columns; however, the main charm lies in its chaotic organization. Every turn is full of unexpected surprises – you will never know what you will find! No purchase is necessary to join this festivity.

Tip:
If you are in need of Turkish Lira cash, this is an excellent place to exchange.
Be prepared to walk away if the seller does not agree with your asking price (and watch what will happen next!).

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 9am-7pm

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.
Shopping Tour of Istanbul

Shopping Tour of Istanbul

Istanbul can easily claim to be one of the most interesting cities in the world. Located on the very edge of Europe, it later expanded into Asia resulting in a mixture of both cultures. When it comes to shopping you will be amazed by the variety of goods you can buy here and the way everybody bargains - even in the grocery store. Take this tour and explore the legendary bazaars and the hidden...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.4 km
Roman Heritage of Outer Constantinople

Roman Heritage of Outer Constantinople

Istanbul, known as Constantinople in the Middle Ages, was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire for over a millennium. Although conquered by the Ottomans in 15th century, the city still preserves many signs of its imperial Roman past that reflect the might and splendor of this long vanished empire.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.5 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
Architectural Walking Tour

Architectural Walking Tour

Istanbul can offer its visitors quite an unforgettable experience when it comes to architecture. Here you can admire both the architectural achievements of the long vanished Eastern Roman Empire and its influence and the traditional Ottoman-Arabic style. Take this tour to see some of the best examples these architectural styles.

Tour Duration: 2 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
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

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip


Istanbul Shopping Guide: 16 Turkish Items To Bring Home

Istanbul Shopping Guide: 16 Turkish Items To Bring Home

Istanbul, known throughout history as Byzantium and Constantinople, has been a major center of commerce and trade, a place where merchants and general folk would rush to regularly in search of exotic things. In our days, modern travelers to Istanbul are also bound to enjoy a truly magnificent...

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.