Start early. Most of these stunning sites open 9am-7pm (5pm in winter), and ideally should be viewed in peace and quiet. The reality, particularly at weekends, is often different, when legions of screaming kids and khakiclad tourists descend. Forgo that fourth marti at Mikla the night before and arrive by taxi at the Hagia Sophia / Sultanahmet Sq. / 9.30am-4.30pm / closed Mon / before opening time to dodge the crowds. (You will often find Englishspeaking guides willing to relieve you of Euros, but better yet, hire a pro (See V. Useful/Super Sites). Zap into the icy cool Hagia Sophia with its magnificent dome and mosaics. When you’re done, exit the main entrance and cross diagonally right to find Yerebatan Sarnici (Basilica Cistern) / Yerebatan Cad. / yerebatan.com. The piped ‘atmos’ music is slightly irksome, but the wow factor sure is high. Make sure to check out the huge Medusa heads. Exit right out of the cistern, and, if you fancy a trad scrub, carry on straight along Yerebatan Cad. – at the corner with Kabasakal Cad., at the other end of the park, is fabby Ayasofya Hamami (see Hammam). If not, exit the cistern and walk up and right onto Meydani Sok. On your left you’ll spy the iconic Blue Mosque / Meydani Sok. 17. Pop inside for a quick shufty, but bear in mind it has a strict dress code (you’ll be supplied with wraps for legs and shoulders and plastic bags for your shoes), and while it’s worth a look, it could definitely do with a quick whip round with the Shake n’ Vac. Again, the crowd can be off-putting, so if you’re seeking a quieter, more spiritual experience check out nearby Sokullu Mehmet Pasa¸ Mosque (see Activities/Tiny Treats). Exit the Blue Mosque and to your right is Mosaic Museum, or if you fancy a spot of retail follow the signs under the little bridge and turn right into the Arasta Bazaar. It’s touristy, but high-end, and there are some smart options here. Parched? Retrace back to the start of the bazaar, through the little café courtyard, up the steps by the loos and left, just past the carpark on the right, down cobbled Kabasakal Cad. At #5 you’ll find the Yesil¸ Ev / 517 6785 / yesilev.com.tr / with its natty summer garden terrace (and mildly annoying canned music), or head to the end of Kabasakal Cad. and turn right to find the Four Seasons Sultanahmet (see Lunch/ Seasons) for a peaceful late afternoon tea and tiffin.
More? Well, there’s still the sublime Süleymaniye Mosque / Tiryakiler Çarsisi¸ / off Prof Siddik Sami Onar Cad. / and Topkapi Palace (see Act./Pal. Splendour), located behind Hagia Sophia. In the grounds of Topkapi you’ll find the fab Archaeology Museum Arkeoloji Müzesi with a collection covering almost all eras of world history / Osman Hamdi Bey Yokusu¸ Sok. 520 7740 / 9am-7pm / closed Mon. Or, if the shopping fairy is tapping her foot, the Grand Bazaar awaits (see Shop./Grand Bazaar).