Not packed in a bus. Not herded with a group. Self guided walk is the SAFEST way to sightsee while observing SOCIAL DISTANCING!

Istanbul Introduction Walk (Self Guided), Istanbul

Formerly known as “Byzantium”, “Constantinople” and “New Rome”, Istanbul is the main city of Turkey, straddling the Bosphorus Strait, and as such, bridging the gap between Europe and Asia, both geographically and culturally. This ancient transcontinental metropolis embraces cultural influences of the many empires and civilizations that once ruled and flourished on this land.

Founded circa 660 BCE under the name of Byzantion, the city had evolved into one of the most influential in history. In 330 CE it was renamed Constantinople (the Latinized version of Konstantinoupolis, the "City of Constantine") after Constantine the Great made it a new eastern capital of the Roman Empire. At that time, the Emperor also played with the idea of calling it "Nova Roma" (New Rome), but that name didn't stick. Constantinople remained an imperial capital for more than one and a half thousand years, during the Roman, Latin, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, and was instrumental in the spread of Christianity across Eastern Europe until it was conquered by the Ottomans in 1453 CE and became an Islamic stronghold – seat of the Ottoman Caliphate.

For centuries, the city enjoyed a strategic position as the only sea route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, was part of the historic Silk Road, and controlled rail networks between the Balkans and the Middle East. At the dusk of the Ottoman era in 1923, the capital of the newly-established Turkish Republic moved to Ankara and the city was renamed Istanbul. Despite that, its prominence in geopolitical and cultural affairs didn't wane and, since the 1950s, Istanbul's population has grown tenfold, making it the largest (most populous) city in Europe. Furthermore, in the late 20th century Istanbul became a venue for arts, music, film, and cultural festivals entailing major infrastructure improvement.

Our introduction walk covers some of the most prominent relics of Istanbul, such as the Blue Mosque in the Sultanahmet part of the Old City, the iconic Byzantine Hagia Sophia with a soaring 6th-century dome and rare Christian mosaics, and many more. To see these and other historic landmarks adorning Istanbul, follow this guide and explore!
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Istanbul Introduction Walk Map

Guide Name: Istanbul Introduction 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 or 3.4 Miles
Author: kane
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Sultanahmet Square
  • Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum
  • Blue Mosque
  • Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı)
  • Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)
  • Topkapi Palace
  • Istanbul Archaeological Museums
  • Spice Bazaar
  • Rustem Pasha Mosque
  • Suleymaniye Mosque
  • Beyazıt Tower
  • Beyazıt Square
  • Grand Bazaar
1
Sultanahmet Square

1) Sultanahmet Square

The former Hippodrome of Constantinople, a circus arena where chariot races and other sporting events once marked the heyday of the Byzantine Empire, today got a new life in the form of Sultanahmet Meydanı (Sultan Ahmet Square) in the heart of modern-day Istanbul. Here, alongside a few surviving fragments of the ancient Hippodrome, you will find all the famous landmarks of the city, including the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace Museum, Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Suleymaniye Mosque, Serpents column, the Museum of Turkish & Islamic Arts and many others. The Basilica Cistern is a mere 40m walk from the square and the Grand Bazaar is within a walking distance, too.

The square is very large and has lots of benches scattered around which is quite convenient for taking a break after long hours of sightseeing and/or for grabbing a quick bite from one of the food carts abound in the area selling a variety of breads, roasted corn and chestnuts, simit (Turkish pretzel) with or without chocolate cream, and plenty more. Along the tram line on both sides there are shops, restaurants and cafes offering generous selections of teas, coffee, Turkish Delights and gift packs.

As a gathering place, Sultanahmet is continuously bustling with tourists and locals alike, families enjoying the colorful artezian fountain, children running along the greenery between alleys, and the elderly folk basking in the brightness of life all around them. The square is also home to a large number of street cats and dogs who seem to be rather friendly and keep to themselves. The place is open to the elements and provides very little cover, so carrying an umbrella or raincoat, if rain is predicted, is highly recommended.
2
Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum

2) Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum

The Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum in Sultanahmet Square sits in a palace that has a great deal of archaeology and history attached to it. The palace was built in 1524 above the underground ruins of an ancient Hippodrome, and was designated for Pargalı Ibrahim Pasha, a confidant and second grand vizier to Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who later also married the Sultan's sister, Hatice Sultan. As history has it, the higher the climb, the greater the fall. Jealous people, including the Sultan's wife, didn't like the influence Ibrahim Pasha had on the monarch and eventually convinced Suleyman in Ibrahim's disloyalty, so he had him executed.

But the palace remained and today houses a museum showcasing over 40,000 exhibits of Islamic art – primarily from the Ottoman era, but also a substantial collection from the earlier Seljuk Turkish period, including illuminated Korans, carpets, miniature paintings, notable examples of Islamic calligraphy, tiles, ceramics, rugs and wooden carvings. In the basement there are interesting ethnographic displays on various cultures of Turkey, particularly the nomadic groups, recreating dwellings from different historic epochs and regions.

Being just a stone's throw away from the tourist hot spots of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia, this museum offers an enjoyable break away from the hustle and bustle of the Old Town.
3
Blue Mosque

3) 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)
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 in Istanbul was once an Orthodox patriarchal basilica, then a mosque, and now, finally, is a museum. It was built in the 4th century by Constantine the Great as a church, and has seen much changing in the ruling powers of the city ever since.

Many people mistake it as being dedicated to Saint Sofia, but the church, in fact, was originally dedicated to the second being of the Holy Trinity, and its full Greek name is the “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 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 features many distinctive decorations and is particularly famous for its fascinating mosaics.

Why You Should Visit:
Unique in being both a church and a mosque, with pertinent symbols omnipresent.
Even if you are not familiar with Byzantine history, you will surely be impressed.
The multi-domed enclosure is so mesmerizing that it's hard to take one's eyes off 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 into this and 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 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 an audio guide (available in several languages) to maximize the experience.
If you want to rent the audio guide, make sure to have a valid ID ready.
Note that you cannot 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 Archaeology Museums, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Museum of Turkish & Islamic Arts, and a bunch more.

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

8) Spice Bazaar

No visit to Istanbul is complete without stopping by the atmospheric Spice Bazaar, one of the largest and most famous bazaars in Istanbul, located near the Galata Bridge in the Eminönü quarter of the Fatih district. While the Grand Bazaar may be the largest and most popular covered shopping complex in the city, this spice market is by far the most colorful, fragrant, and often the most fun.

Built in 1664, as part of the Yeni Camii (New Mosque) complex, it is known locally as Mısır Çarşısı, which is sometimes translated to either "Egyptian Bazaar" or 'Corn Market' (as mısır in Turkish means both “Egypt” and “corn”). There are several documents, however, suggesting that initially the place was called "New Bazaar" and eventually got the name "Egyptian" because its construction was subsidized with proceeds from the Ottoman eyalet of Egypt in 1660. As part of the New Mosque, the revenues obtained from the shop rentals within the bazaar were used for the mosque upkeep.

Traditionally, this place has been the center of spice trade in Istanbul, although in recent years it has seen more and more shops of other type move in. Currently, the bazaar has a total of 85 shops under its roof selling spices, Turkish delight and other sweets, dried fruits and nuts, tea, Turkish coffee, pottery, jewelry, and souvenirs. Overall, the market is a wonderful place to stroll and enjoy the sights, smells and, of course, tastes. Of course, as in all tourist destinations, the discussion of price here is essential, so haggling is welcome.

Operation hours: daily, 8 am- 7:30 pm.
9
Rustem Pasha Mosque

9) Rustem 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
Suleymaniye Mosque

10) Suleymaniye Mosque (must see)

Built for Suleiman “The Magnificent” by 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, that restoration work had 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 watch tower built in 1828 by Aga Huseyin Pasa. Made of stone, it succeeds on this site two wooden fire towers that were subsequently, and ironically so, all swallowed up by flames. In the olden days, fires all across the Bosphorus Strait, from the Golden Horn all the way to Yesilkoy, could be well spotted from this vantage point in the garden of Istanbul University. At 85 meter high, the structure dominates the cityscape, and is still in use as a fire tower even today, for which purpose it is manned 24 hours a day.

The tower is open to visitors, but a special permit is necessary. Nowadays, it is also used by the local meteorological service to report weather, since visibility has been greatly reduced due to air pollution. Colored lights fitted onto the tower are used to indicate weather conditions (e.g. red color indicates “rain”) as well as to 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 found in the Fatih district of the European part of Istanbul, and is officially called Freedom Square. The more colloquial name – “Beyazıt Square” – comes after the Bayezid II Mosque which dominates the square on the one side. Another major local attraction is the majestic entrance to Istanbul University, the campus of which is a home to the Beyazıt Tower, also visible from the square. The history of the place started 1700 years ago as the site of the Forum of Theodosius built by Constantine the Great.

Today, Beyazit Square appears serene and it is quite hard to imagine that only a century ago it witnessed some truly tragic events, such as revolts and public executions (hanging of 20 Armenian activists – the so-called “20 Hunchakian gallows” – took place here on June 15, 1915).

Not so touristy and with only some low-end commerce going on, the square is nonetheless always lively, thanks to the abundance of the locals feeding countless pigeons, and the university students who give it a certain vibe. An ideal place for people watching, it is also close to some major tourist hotspots of Istanbul and, if you are a good walker, you can walk from Divanyolu via Beyazit Square and Ordu Caddesi to Aksaray. Sahaflar Çarşısı (the Old Book Bazaar) is close by, and the Grand Bazaar is not far off either.
13
Grand Bazaar

13) Grand Bazaar (must see)

One of the oldest markets in the world, the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul or the Kapalicarsi (“covered bazaar”) has more than 58 covered streets and more than 4,000 shops. Anywhere from a quarter to half a million visitors come here 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 delights (famous Turkish sweets), pottery and carpet shops. Visitors can also find leather goods, gold and diamond jewelry, as well as clothing here in rich supply.

The bazaar is particularly famous for the “Turkish Evil Eye” – an amulet made of blue and white glass believed to ward off evil spirits. Almost every street here 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, it 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're going to 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 (or watch what happens 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.
Istanbul Old City Walking Tour

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Situated at the heart of Old Istanbul, the Sultanahmet neighborhood is a fascinating hub of historical timeline. The former administrative center of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, this area abounds in historic sites, such as the Great Palace of Constantinople – the former residence of Byzantine emperors, the Topkapi Palace – a place where the Ottoman sultans used to live, plus a...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.5 Km or 1.6 Miles
Mosques Walking Tour

Mosques Walking Tour

Once a citadel of Christianity, for over half a millennium now Istanbul (former Constantinople) has been a major center of Islam, replete with mosques – both, originally-built and converted from Christian churches – dotting the city scape. Whether religious or not, you may wish to explore the local mosques out of purely historical or architectural interest. In case you do, this self-guided...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.6 Km or 3.5 Miles
Asian Side and Bosphorus Walking Tour

Asian Side and Bosphorus Walking Tour

Istanbul, Turkey's wealthiest and biggest city is split by the Bosphorus in two parts: European and Asian. On this self-guided walk you can experience the Eastern side and feel the spirit of the Orient – whether by admiring the beauty of the waterway or the historic buildings that line its shores.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.6 Km or 2.9 Miles
Old European Quarter Walk

Old European Quarter Walk

In the Ottoman era, Beyoğlu (then known as Pera) was, along with Galata, the European Quarter of Istanbul. Home to embassies and trading centers, as well as fine 19th-century, Parisian-style apartment houses, the area was much-loved by the city's non-Islamic minorities, with names of Greek and Armenian architects still adorning the fronts of some of Istiklal Avenue's grander buildings. ...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.4 Km or 1.5 Miles
Bosphorus Coast Walking Tour

Bosphorus Coast Walking Tour

One of the planet's most praised stretches of water, the Bosphorus is a source of great pride for Istanbulites and of admiration for travelers. The 30-km strait dividing Europe and Asia and connecting the Marmara with the Black Sea is one of the city's highlights, having been for all ages the subject of legend and art. This self-guided walk will take you along the coast so that you can...  view more

Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.9 Km or 3.7 Miles
Istanbul City Walls

Istanbul City Walls

One of the most elaborate fortification systems of ancient times, the Walls of Constantinople were built by Constantine the Great to protect the city against attacks by both land and sea, ever since he established it as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. From these older Constantinian Walls only the old Golden Gate did still exist in the late Byzantine Era when, in the reign of Emperor...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.2 Km or 3.2 Miles

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip


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