Walking Tours of Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul, once the Roman city of Constantinople and center of the Roman Empire, has always been a crossroads between Asia and Europe. The city itself straddles both continents, with its eastern portion in Asia and the western part, the major tourist area, in Europe.
The first walk will incorporate the Old City, which includes Sultanahmet, Seraglio Point, and the Bazaar District. Keep in mind that this is a very large area and travelers may want to break the walk up into more manageable segments. An alternative is to do the entire walk without extended visits to the attractions and then return to the desired tourist sights for in-depth attention. A separate walk will address the Beyoglu section of the city, modern Istanbul.
Walking Tour 1 – Old City and Surroundings
This walk begins in Sultanahmet Square which contains two of the city’s premier attractions, the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.
Hagia Sophia is recognized as one of the most important buildings in the world. It was built by the Roman Emperor Justinian, in 537 AD. Later, in the 15th century, it was converted into a mosque by the Ottoman Turks. Now it is a museum. The edifice still has one of the largest domes in the world. Recent restorations have exposed some of the original Christian mosaics which were covered over when it became a Muslim house of worship. The incredible size of the interior (nave) is staggering.
Across the gardens from Hagia Sophia is the splendid Blue Mosque, one of only a few mosques in the world adorned with six (6) minarets. Built in the early 17th century by Sultan Ahmet I, it is named for the exquisite blue tiles which cover its interior. (Note: women must cover their heads to enter and all must remove their shoes)
Exit the mosque by heading back toward the Hagia Sophia and turning left on Mimar Mehmet Aga Caddesi. Cross the street into the Hippodrome, once the ancient Roman stadium that held chariot races and other events. Wander the expanse and check out the three interesting obelisks. The Egyptian Obelisk, furthest to the northeast (right) was built in 1500 BC and moved here from Luxor, Egypt by Emperor Constantine. The middle monolith is the Serpentine Column which came here from Delphi, Greece and is thought to have been built in 479 BC. The third obelisk is the Column of Constantine Porphysogenitus (also known as the Brazen Column) and was restored to its current state in the 10th century.
Leave the Hippodrome by walking out to the street that you crossed to enter the area, Atmehdani Sokak, turn left passing Hagia Sophia then turn right onto Sogukcesme Caddesi, which leads to the Imperial Gate and through the First Courtyard of the Topkapi Palace, to its public entrance.
This incredibly opulent complex was home and seat of government for Ottoman sultans for over 400 years. The grounds are laid out in a series of courtyards dotted with various buildings and pavilions.
Entry is through the distinctive Gate of Salutations. The Treasury is a must-see with its unbelievable collection of precious objects, as is the Harem where the sultans wives and concubines lived. Other significant stops include the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle which contains relics of the prophet Mohammed, and the palace kitchens which now display an exhibition of ceramics, glass, and silverware.
Exit the palace and go straight on Babihumayun Caddesi , past Hagia Sophia, then right onto Ayasophia Mehdani, then diagonally left onto Divanyolu Caddesi until you see a tall Byzantine Column known as Cemberlita. Take a right on Vezir Hani Caddesi and walk downhill to the Nuruosmaniye Mosque. Take a left at the mosque which brings you one of the gates into the Kapali Carsi (Grand Bazaar).
Wander and get incredibly lost in the maze of this mega-mall of over 4,000 shops, somewhat arranged by type of merchandise. Be sure to bargain hard for all treasures.
When you finally leave, try to exit at the northwestern corner of the complex, the Orucular Gate and continue straight (north) on Orucular Caddesi. If you are not already mosqued-out and are willing to make a short detour, you may visit the Suleyman Mosque, Istanbul’s most important house of worship, by turning left on Ismetiye Caddesi — the mosque will be on the right (Istanbul University is on the left).
When done, return to Orucular Caddesi and take a left ( the road becomes Uzuncarsi Caddesi). Several blocks ahead, turn right onto Kutucular Caddesi which becomes Hasircilar Caddesi. Turn left at Tahmis Caddesi and right on Cami Mehdani Sokak to reach the entrance to the Egyptian (Spice) Bazaar. As you enter, you will be mesmerized by the colorful displays of exotic spices and the aromas are heavenly. Again, be sure to bargain hard.
When done, exit and go back to Tahmis Caddesi, turn right and head down to the waterfront, turning right again to the Bosporus Cruise docks. A fitting end to the walk is a relaxing (if you don’t mind getting jostled by the crowds) cruise on this waterway which separates Asia and Europe. It travels almost to the Black Sea, north of the city, before returning.
To return to the starting point after your cruise, go left on Resadiye Caddesi, then right on Anakara Caddesi, then left on Professor Kazim Ismail Gurkan Caddesi and finally right on Atmedani Sokak to Sultanahmet Square.
TOTAL Distance: approximately 12 km/6.6 miles
Walking Tour 2 – Beyoglu
This more modern section of Istanbul also has some allure for tourists. The walk begins in Taksim Square, scene of many special events and other activities for the city. From the square, head east along the edge of Taksim Park, then turn left on Mete Caddesi and right on Gazhane Bostani Sokak. When you reach the Bosporus, turn left and visit the Dolmabahce Palace on the right side of the street. The only way to visit is by guided tour. The Royal Family moved into the sumptuous residence from Topkapi in 1856. Highlights include the Ceremonial Hall, Crystal Staircase, Ataturk’s Bedroom, and the Main Bathroom.
After your visit, turn left on Dolmabahce Caddesi which changes names several times. Turn right when you reach Yuksek Kaldirim Caddesi. Look for the Galata Tower, to the left. It was a Genoese fortification which dates to 1348. Subsequently used as a prison, it is now a tourist attraction and provides great views of the Old City, across the Golden Horn.
When finished, head back out to Yuksek Kaldirim Caddesi and turn left. When you reach the large intersection where the Galata Tunnel ends, turn diagonally right onto the pedestrian-only Istiklal Caddesi which is lined with shops and restaurants and is one of the busiest thoroughfares in the world. It leads back to Taksim Square where you began.
TOTAL Distance: 9 km/5 miles