Bare Bones | Essential Istanbul
Istanbul is truly a transcontinental city, its European and Asian elements fusing with remarkable results. Following many incarnations – as the Greek colony, Byzantium; the eastern capital of the Roman Empire, Constantinople; and Der Sadet, the Ottoman “gate to prosperity” – the city now boasts some of the most unusual and stunning architectural blends one can see in the modern world. Basing ourselves in the city’s historic heart, we and Lecturer, Terry, travelling like locals discover the real Istanbul, thanks to the insightful knowledge of our expert Guide Lecturer. As well as encountering highlights such as the astounding Basilica Cistern and Hagia Sophia, we also enjoy free time to discover the Istanbul we have been longing for: whether that means lounging in opulent Turkish baths, filling our noses with the scent of fresh spices, or revelling in the buzz of its celebrated nightlife.
- Visit all of Istanbul’s major historical sites, including Topkap? Palace and Hagia Sophia
- Explore the Golden Horn waterfront area and visit a traditional spice market
- Enjoy a wonderful 2-hour cruise along the Bosphorus Strait
- Great Cities
- Historic Churches
- Just One Hotel
After settling in to our central hotel, we come together for a relaxed welcome this evening – an early opportunity to meet our expert guide and fellow travellers.
Our discoveries begin with a visit to the late-Roman Hippodrome, once the social and sporting centre of Constantinople. From here we enjoy a short walk to the 6th-Century Basilica Cistern, an enormous, underground construction with a capacity of 80,000 metres cubed. Its size and splendour are breathtaking. The same can be said for our next destination: the inimitable Hagia Sophia, former principal mosque of Istanbul, which is justifiably famed for its huge dome and fine interiors. After breaking for an independent lunch at Divan Yolu – a vibrant thoroughfare teeming with eateries – two nearby museums are set to enthral us: the Mosaic Museum, with its in-situ Byzantine mosaics, and the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, a former palace filled with treasures.
We walk to Süleymaniye Mosque this morning, for some time to admire its vast and striking mix of Byzantine and Islamic elements. From here we continue to the Spice Market, a colourful and highly sensory experience within one of the city’s largest covered bazaars. Before pausing for lunch, there is also a chance to explore the regenerated Golden Horn waterfront area, stopping at the 16th-Century Rüstem Pasha Mosque as we go. Our treat for this afternoon is an enchanting 2-hour cruise up the Bosphorus on a public ferry, a mode of transport cherished by the locals. Prepare for charming views and photo opportunities aplenty.
Following breakfast we walk as a group to Hagia Eirene, one of the few Greek Orthodox Churches in the city that was not converted to a mosque. Eirene has undergone several restorations over the centuries due to fire and earthquake damage. We continue on to visit the splendid Topkapı Palace, a magnificent legacy of the Ottoman sultans. Highlights here include the Imperial Harem, and an excellent collection of historic artefacts including weapons and clothing. Our afternoon is entirely free to spend however we wish – our chance to let off steam in a Turkish bath, perhaps, or enter the wonderful world of the Grand Bazaar.
Today we cross the Golden Horn and enter Beyoğlu, or Pera, a district on the European side of Istanbul. Taking a nostalgic tram ride up the renowned “Grand Rue de Pera”, we stop at Taksim Square, the contemporary heart of Istanbul. On our gentle walk back down the pedestrianised road we marvel at elegant arcades and 19th-Century buildings, stopping at the Museum of Innocence, a thought-provoking collection of Turkish objects from the 1970s and 80s. The museum is a creation of author Orhan Pamuk, and was inspired by one of his novels. This afternoon we enter Pera Museum, viewing brilliant collections that include Orientalist art and Ottoman tiles. Keep an eye out for the Pera Palace Hotel before leaving the area – it is a lavish former haunt of Agatha Christie, among others.
Enjoy a restful final morning in Istanbul, with no further official tours planned. Rise early and stroll through the centre one last time, or reward yourself with a long lie-in before checking out.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - Breakfast only
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
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