Be amazed by the Blue Mosque and, later, explore the fishing villages and hammams of Istanbul
I want to... explore
At the heart of this conurbation and central to its history, the Sultanahmet district boasts three of the city’s most precious architectural gems. Seat of the Ottoman sultans for four centuries, Topkapi palace is home to the 86-carat Spoonmaker’s diamond, but most visitors flock here to gape at Sultan Mehmet II’s 300 rooms.
A stroll through the luxuriant gardens of Sultanahmet Square leads to the Blue Mosque, built in the 17th century by Ottoman architect Mehmet Aga, and easily identified by the six slim spears of its minarets piercing the cobalt sky. Step inside, out of the searing sun, and be blinded by a dozen crystal chandeliers casting their bling of light onto the 21,043 Iznik tiles from which this glorious mosque derives its azure moniker. Outside once more it’s the vast dome of Hagia Sophia, dominating the sapphire skyline, which dazzles.
Inaugurated by Emperor Justinian in 537, the church served as chief mosque for five centuries following the Ottoman conquest in 1453.
Küçükayasofya Avenue leads to the atmospheric Kumkapi fishing district, where wooden-fronted Konak restaurants serve scrumptious fish mezes.
From here, the Suleymaniye Mosque is within easy reach. The minarets of this chef d’oeuvre of Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan cast their shadow over the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul’s biggest souq, which has sprawled over the same site for the past four-and-a-half centuries.
I want to... unwind
The 300-year-old Cagaloglu Hamami, a short stroll away from this market’s riot of colour and perfume, once attracted celebrities like King Edward VIII, Franz Liszt and the Rockefellers. Current A-listers who come here to enjoy a treatment, include James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan, who’s also been spotted sipping çay in the cemetery garden tea room a few doors further down. Galata Bridge leads to Istiklal Cadessi, and links the old city of Stamboul with modern Istanbul. Once home to Istanbul’s most affluent expats, Istiklal Cadessi was known as ‘Paris of the Orient’ during the 19th century. The alleyways around Tunel Square at the southern end of this boulevard, are lined with 19th-century houses, many housing lively cafes, and Fransiz Sokak street, a short stroll north, is lined with French restaurants.
But locals like to unwind in the streets behind Cicek Pasaji, or Flower Passage, where flower stands have been replaced by Tarihi Nevizade Meyhaneleri, a collection of traditional restaurants serving snack-food mezze. Taksim Square at the end of this bustling road is the Times Square of Istanbul. Home to several cinemas and a top-notch opera house, this is the ideal spot to finish your stay in this magical city.
Explore the suite where Agatha Christie penned Murder On The Orient Express at historic Pera Palace hotel (jumeirah.com; rooms from Dh1,584) or unwind in a suite overlooking the Bosphorus at the luxurious Four Season hotel Istanbul At The Bosphorus (fourseasons.com/ bosphorus; rooms from Dh5,789).
From the Topkapi Palace to bustling streets and chic restaurants, there is plenty to explore in Istanbul