Originally built as a Roman church in the 6th century, converted to a stunning mosque in the 15th and now a museum, its neutrality mirrors modern Turkey’s secular state.
Open: 9am-7pm seven days a week April (15) to October (01), 9am-5pm seven days a week October (01) to April (15)
Closed: First days of Ramadam and Sacrifice Festivals
Tickets: 30 TL
The country might have no official religion, but the vast majority of the population here are Muslim, and Istanbul has some stunning mosques, not least Sultanahmet, the Blue Mosque, which lends its name to the old town surrounding it. Sultanahmet is a working mosque so avoid visiting 45 mins before the call to prayer and 30 mins afterwards. The mosque is also closed until 2.30pm on Fridays, the muslim holy day.
The city’s 500-year-old museum is crammed with riches, in particular the treasury, and affords wondrous views of the city and the Bosphorus, the aquatic line dividing Europe from Asia.
Open: 9am-4.45pm Wednesday to Monday October (26) to April 15), 9am-6.45pm Wednesday to Monday April (15) to October (26)
Closed: Every Tuesday
Tickets: Museum 30TL, Harem and Halberdiers with Tresses Dormitory an additional 15TL
A walk down to the seafront from Sultanahmet will take you to the heart of Istanbul: vibrant, chaotic and looking ever more like its European counterparts. This is where Istanbul’s unique fusion of ancient and contemporary, Asian and European, begins to take shape. The streets are filled with the latest designer labels and traditional Muslim robes, while rushed diners choose between ubiquitous kebabs or American burgers.
Shoppers can wander the myriad markets — chief among them the pulsating Grand Bazaar — or instead visit the ultra-modern stores, restaurants and nightclubs found across the sea on Istiklal Caddesi. Even here, though, a small diversion from the main path will uncover endless groups of men in flatcaps, sitting drinking chai (tea) and playing backgammon as they have for generations.
Take a bath
You shouldn’t pass up a chance to experience the steamy, soapy delights of the Turkish bath when you’re here. Constructed in 1741 and committed to celluloid in numerous films, Cağaloğlu on Yerebetan Caddesi is the city’s most impressive hamam and to be lathered up and pummelled here is to follow in the footsteps of everyone from Kaiser Wilhelm and Florence Nightingale to Indiana Jones. The ‘Sultan Treatment’ costs around €30 and includes bath, massage and exfoliation.