The Sancta Sophia or Aya Sophia is also known as the Church of the Divine Wisdom. This architectural masterpiece, once a Church, is now a museum. The decoration is beautiful and although you canno wander around on the Upper Gallery, you may want to use some binoculars to look at the detailed mosaics and chandeliers. The Aya Sophya is also home to a picture Gallery where mosaics of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary are on exhibition. You will need to buy a separate ticket to visit the Gallery - be sure to check closing times before entering.
The Blue Mosque is also called Sultanahmet Mosque or Camii. It is situated directly opposite the Aya Sophya. Take a walk through the Hippodrome park linking the two and look out for the tourist entrance. As in other mosques you need to remove your shoes and ensure that your shoulders are covered. There is no entrance fee but donations are more than welcome. The interior is impressive with hanging crystal chandeliers and intricate mosaics. You will not be able to visit the mosque during prayer time so be sure to keep that in mind so that you do not miss out.
The Topkapi Palace was home to the Ottoman Sultans for four hundred years. The buildings and gardens are impressive and pay tribute to the wealth and history of the Sultans of Istanbul in days gone by. You can visit Imperial display rooms containing Sultans Kaftans, Chinese porcelain, portraits of all the Sultans and the armoury. For an extra fee you will be able to see a mind-blowing array of glittering jewels on display-diamonds and emeralds to rubies and pearls. The Sultan's private home; the Harem, which means Private, can only be seen at certain times accompanied by a tour guide. The Harem housed the Sultan, his wives, his mother, children and concubines. Hygiene and cleanliness were a priority in the Harem as was the education of its' inhabitants. Before entering Topkapi Palace look at the opening times of the Harem and so that you can take time out to see it's interior.
The Suleymaniye Mosque looms over the West side of Istanbul and is the most majestic of the Mosques built during the reign of the Ottomans in the 1550s. The courtyard that precedes the Mosque is particularly interesting with it's antique columns and minarets. The Mosque itself has a pale interior and high arches and is the largest in Istanbul.
Kariye Mosque and Museum
The Kariye Mosque and Museum is the same site and is located in Fatih, a 10-minute taxi ride from Sultanahmet. The mosaic walls inside the Kariye tell the story of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary and the more you look the more you will see. To make the most of your visit you should take a detailed explanation of what all the mosaics are about.
The Yeni Camii lies alongside the Bosphorous and directly opposite the Galata Bridge on the Golden Horn. It is also nicknamed the "pigeon mosque" and no prizes for guessing why! Yeni Camii is right next to the Spice bazaar so you may want to visit both at the same time while in the area.
The Yerebatan Saray or Sunken Palace is an immense underground Cistern built during Byzantine times. The main entrance to the Cistern is over the road from the Aya Sofya. The palace, or Cistern, is creatively lit up while classical music fills it's crevasses. You can make your way down the long walkways while listening to the constant dripping of water. Right at the back of the Cistern are the Medusa heads used as the base for pillars. As legend goes the stronger of the three sisters placed her one sister upside down and the other on her side. If you like fish, bring a tiny bit of bread to feed the carp and goldfish in the Cistern waters.
The Grand Bazaar is along the Divan Yolu Cadessi, approximately 20 minutes walking distance from the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya. The Grand Bazaar is covered and has over 1700 jewellery shops, leather shops, water pipes, art dealers and of course an endless amount of carpet shops. Your visit should be hassle free although be warned that if you show some interest in a merchant's wares he will be determined to sell them to you. The Grand Bazaar is the ideal place to perfect your bargaining skills.
The Spice Bazaar is also a covered bazaar and is next to the Yeni Camii. It is here that you will find an array of spices, dried fruits and home remedies all laid out to bring out the most of the different vibrant colors. It is even possible to buy raw Royal Jelly.
The Rumeli Fortress or Hisari is half way down the Bosphorous and can be seen from the boat. It was built in a very short period of time with a work force of about 9000 in the 15th century. It was never used though as the enemy never attacked from that direction!
Obelisk of Theodosius
The Obelisk of Theodosius is to the right of the Blue Mosque if you are approaching it from the Hippodrome. The Obelisk is very old, dating back to 1500 BC, and you can still see the intricate hieroglyphics. Close by in the same plaza, you can find the spiral column and another obelisk but in worse shape than the Obelisk of Theodosius.