HISTORIC CAPITAL OF THE BYZANTINE AND OTTOMAN EMPIRES; ISTANBUL, TURKEY
Day 1 – Arrive Istanbul, Turkey
There are direct flights to/from Istanbul, Turkey from the USA cities, such as New York, Newark, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. Alternatively, there are connecting flights from the main European hubs. Upon our arrival at the Istanbul International Airport, we take a scheduled private transfer to our hotel. We enjoy an Iftar dinner in our hotel, a festive celebration of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.
Day 2 – Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque
Today, we visit Sultanahmet, the Old City of Istanbul. We walk a few minutes to Hagia Sophia, the ancient Byzantine cathedral and mosque dating back to the Ottoman Empire. We observe an expansive courtyard and a magnificent architecture with a beautiful dome, marble columns and arcades. We learn about the mosque’s history and stunning interiors. Afterward, we discover the Sultanahmet Square, observing the Alman Çeşmesi (the German Fountain), the Obelisk of Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmosis III, the Serpentine Column and the Column of Costantine Porphyrgenitus. The nearby Blue Mosque is a historic landmark of Istanbul, designed with a central dome and encircled by smaller domes and six minarets. The mosque’s expansive interiors are decorated with beautiful blue tiles. Outside the Blue Mosque, we browse for souvenirs and enjoy traditional Turkish cuisine. In the evening, the Sultanahmet Park is a great place to relax and enjoy the magnificent views of the fountain and historic mosques.
Day 3 – Topkapi Palace
Today, we visit the Topkapi Palace, the political center and residence of the sultans during the Ottoman Empire. The Imperial Gate with the marble façade guides us through the courtyards, along the pavilions and leads us to the opulent palace. We visit the residence chambers, the expansive courtyards and the Harem, admiring the beautiful Ottoman architecture. We walk outside in the gardens, pause at the outdoor café and enjoy panoramic views of the Bosphorus. After the visit, we spend the time in the Sultanahmet and degust the regional seafood delicacies for dinner.
Day 4 – Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, Yeni Cami
We walk to the Grand Bazaar, a historic covered market with thousands of shops. We find beautiful souvenirs, including oriental carpets, decorative ceramics and traditional lamps. We degust Turkish specialties, tea and sweets at a café. Afterward, we walk a few minutes to the Spice Bazaar, a perfect place to buy spices, degust local delicacies and browse for traditional handcrafts. The Spice Bazaar is part of the Ottoman imperial Yeni Cami (New Mosque) complex with the main entrance leading to the mosque. We discover the Yeni Cami Mosque’s remarkable architecture and beautiful interiors. We walk back to Sultanahmet to have dinner, then return to our hotel.
Day 5 – Bosphorus Cruise
A cruise along the Bosphorus offers panoramic views of Istanbul’ architecture and the coastline. The cruise starts in the Eminonu district and overlooks the two suspension bridges across the strait: the Bosphorus Bridge and the Faith Sultan Mehmet Bridge. We observe impressive waterfront houses dating back to the Ottoman era, the historic Rumelian Castle and the Dolmabahce Palace. We arrive at the fishing village of Anadolu Kavağı, situated at the northern tip of the Bosphorus. In the village, we explore the ruins of the Yoros Castle and have lunch at a waterfront seafood restaurant. As the evening approaches, the cruise departs from the village and returns to Istanbul. We have dinner in the Old City before returning to our hotel.
Day 6 – Dolmabahce Palace
Late morning, we take a taxi to the Beşiktaş district situated on the European shoreline of the Bosphorus. We explore the neighborhood, its cultural sites and quaint boutiques. We visit the Dolmabahce Palace, the 19th century grand imperial palace situated along the Bosphorus. The palace boasts opulent chambers, galleries, the Hamam (Turkish baths) and beautiful gardens. Afterward, we visit the Çırağan Palace Kempinski, a historic Ottoman palace converted into a luxury hotel. At sunset, we degust regional specialties during the Iftar dinner served at the hotel’s restaurant and enjoy panoramic views of the Bosphorus.
Day 7 – Hamam (Turkish Bath)
We enjoy a relaxing morning in our hotel. We take a taxi to the Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami to enjoy a traditional Turkish Bath. This 16th century Hamam was commissioned by the Ottoman Admiral Kılıç Ali Paşa and designed by the architect Mimar Sinan. Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami’s luxurious interiors with a stunning dome create a tranquil atmosphere and ensure a rejuvenating experience. Afterwards, we have lunch, do some shopping and return to our hotel.
Day 8 – Istanbul, Turkey Departure
Early morning, we transfer to the Istanbul International Airport and enjoy Turkish dishes for breakfast at the airport. Afterward, we take our international flight home.
Istanbul – Turkey, officially the Republic of Türkiye, is a beautiful country located in Asia and in Europe. Turkey shares borders with eight countries and four seas: the Black Sea in the north, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, the Aegean Sea to the west and the Sea of Marmara. The Sea of Marmara, the inland sea located in Turkey, connect the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea. Ankara is the capital of Turkey. Istanbul is a historic capital of the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire, and a cultural, commercial and economic center. The city boasts an eclectic population mix where eastern and western cultures coexist and influence each other. Sultanahmet is the Old City of Istanbul, the most important historic district with an abundance of cultural, historic and religious monuments. The Sultanahmet Square, also known as the Hippodrome, hosts historic sites, including the Alman Çeşmesi (the German Fountain), the Obelisk of Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmosis III, the Serpentine Column and the Column of Costantine Porphyrgenitus. The Bosphorus Strait is a waterway that connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. A scenic cruise along the strait offers panoramic views of Istanbul’s landscape and its famous landmarks. The Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque are architectural masterpieces dominating the city’s skyline. The Hamam or Turkish Bath is an important tradition in Turkey that dates back to the times of the Ottoman Empire. The Hamam ritual symbolizes the cleansing of the body and the soul. The 16th century Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı and the 18th century Cagaloglu Hamam ensure its guests have an unforgettable rejuvenating experience. Istanbul is a hub of captivating cultures, historic heritage and exotic cuisine.
Topkapi Palace –During the Ottoman Empire, the Topkapi Palace served as political center and residence for the sultan, his family, his concubines and the palace servants. The Imperial Gate with a marble façade guides visitors through beautiful courtyards, passes along impressive pavilions and leads to the opulent palace. The Topkapi Palace comprises the residence chambers, the expansive courtyards and the Harem chambers decorated with colorful porcelain tiles. The Imperial Hall displays the throne of the sultan, a magnificent dome and richly decorated interiors. Pretty pathways and lovely gardens surround the palace, creating a relaxing and inviting space. The palace and the gardens overlook the Sea of Marmara, the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. We spend several hours exploring the palace’s extraordinary interiors, admiring its beautiful Ottoman architecture and discovering its fascinating history and culture.
Hagia Sophia – The majestic structure of Hagia Sophia began as the ancient Byzantine cathedral of Constantinople. It became a mosque during the Ottoman Empire. Presently, the Hagia Sophia serves as a museum and mosque, showcasing the extraordinary symbols of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. A walk through the gateway reveals an expansive courtyard leading to the pastel-colored mosque. The architecture of Hagia Sophia is defined by the magnificent dome and the marble columns and arcades. Hagia Sophia is an important religious symbol and historic landmark of Istanbul.
Blue Mosque – The Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, defines the landscape of Istanbul. The historic landmark was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I and showcases the influences of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. The Blue Mosque showcases a central dome encircled by smaller domes and six minarets. The mosque’s expansive interiors are decorated with beautiful blue tiles. The visitors of the mosque shall follow the Muslim tradition of removing their shoes. In addition, women shall respect the local culture by wearing a head scarf. We sit on the carpet and admire the magnificent ceiling decorated with thousands of blue tiles and expressive motifs. The stained glass windows provide natural light, creating inside the mosque an inviting and peaceful atmosphere.
The Grand Bazaar – Inside the walled city of Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar is a historic covered market with a few thousands of shops, over 60 streets, gates, restaurants and cafes. The Grand Bazaar is a maze of streets, high dome structures, beautiful ceilings and colorful décor. Walking through the bazaar, we find oriental carpets, decorative ceramics, unique jewelry, beautiful antiques, traditional lamps and many other souvenirs. We embrace the bazaar’s energetic atmosphere, intriguing culture and tradition of bargaining to obtain the best product price. The charming cafés serve delicious Turkish tea and traditional sweets. Situated a short walk from the Grand Bazaar is the Süleymaniye Mosque. The 16th century mosque, designed by the architect Sinan, has impressive interiors accentuated with beautiful stained glass windows.
Spice Bazaar – A visit to the Eminonu district includes discovering the covered Spice Bazaar. The commercial center features many stalls with spices, nuts, teas, dried fruit and Lokum sweets (Turkish delight). The charming high dome market is full of flavors, spice aromas and lively atmosphere. We sample and buy delicious pink-colored pistachios, aromatic spices and various dried fruits. We browse the souvenir shops featuring traditional Turkish shoes, decorative scarfs and colorful handcrafts. The Spice Bazaar is part of the Ottoman imperial Yeni Cami (New Mosque) complex with the main entrance leading to the mosque. The architecture of the Yeni Mosque showcases a large dome, few smaller domes, a courtyard, beautiful interiors, marble columns and remarkable ornaments.
Dolmabahce Palace – The Dolmabahce Palace is one of the six Ottoman palaces in Istanbul. Situated along the Bosphorus at Beşiktaş neighborhood, the Dolmabahce Palace is a grand imperial palace with opulent chambers, galleries and a Hamam (Turkish baths). The palace was built in the 19th century and features elements from the European and Ottoman cultures. The palace’s gardens create a tranquil setting.
Bosphorus Cruise – The Bosphorus, also known as the Istanbul Strait, connects the Black Sea, through the Sea of Marmara, to the Mediterranean Sea. The Bosphorus is a place of historical significance and immense commercial value. Our Bosphorus Cruise starts in the Eminonu district and offers splendid views of Istanbul’s architecture and coastline. We observe two suspension bridges across the strait: the Bosphorus Bridge and the Faith Sultan Mehmet Bridge. The cruise passes waterfront houses from the Ottoman era, the historic Rumelian Castle and the grand Dolmabahce Palace. While on the boat, we sample the local yoghurt (Asırlık Kanlıca Yoğurdu) and Turkish tea. We arrive at the northern tip of the Bosphorus, at the fishing village of Anadolu Kavağı. We walk north of the village to explore the Yoros Castle ruins situated atop the hill and offering panoramic views of the Bosphorus. We walk back to the waterfront and enjoy a fresh salad and grilled fish at a seafood restaurant overlooking the picturesque bay. We observe the docked fishing boats and the peaceful village life. As the evening approaches, we depart the village and begin the journey back to Istanbul. The Bosphorus Cruise is another way to admire the skyline of Istanbul and the Bosphorus.
Turkish Cuisine – The Ottoman cuisine is the foundation of the modern Turkish cuisine. The diverse culinary traditions of the neighboring regions refined the gastronomy of Turkey. The country’s diverse geography and climate supply a wide variety of ingredients, an essence used to create traditional and inventive dishes. The fresh bread is an essential accompaniment to many Turkish dishes. Fresh Pide Bread (Flatbread) is a traditional Turkish bread, hollow inside once baked and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Simit is a traditional Turkish bread sold by the street vendors across the country. The circular-shaped bread encrusted with sesame seeds has a soft texture and a crispy exterior. Vegetables, herbs and spices are widely used in the Turkish dishes to intensify flavors. The Spice Bazaar in Istanbul is a shopping paradise with many stalls selling exotic spices, flavorful nuts, dried fruits, Turkish sweets and loose leaf teas. As we explore Istanbul, the Muslim holiday of Ramadan is celebrated with festive Iftar dinners that feature the best dishes of the Arabic and Turkish cuisines. The Kibbeh, a signature dish served throughout the Middle East, is prepared with bulgur (crashed wheat) and ground meat, and then stuffed with a mixture of ground meat, onions, pine nuts and Arabic spices. We enjoy an Iftar dinner at our hotel and degust a delectable steamed oval-shaped kibbeh. The Turkish culinary culture differs across the country. The Mediterranean coast of Turkey supplies a wide variety of seafood, vegetables and fruits. Lemon, a nutritious citrus fruit, is another key ingredient used in many Turkish dishes, desserts and drinks.
Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet – The Sultanahmet, the Old City of Istanbul, is a symbol of fascinating history and thriving culture. The Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet is situated in the Old City and is surrounded by religious and cultural sites. The property, originally a prison grounds, became a beautiful luxury hotel in the heart of Istanbul. The pastel-colored exteriors are beautified by the charming courtyard and gardens. A collection of rooms and suites overlook the city or the courtyard. We occupy a charming room on the highest floor with a balcony overlooking the Blue Mosque and the Bosphorus. The early morning call to prayer for Muslim worshipers can be heard in the Sultanahmet district. The Muslim holiday of Ramadan takes place during our visit, enabling us to experience a traditional Iftar dinner. A delicious breakfast is served in the open air terrace. The Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet, beautifully renovated in 2022, is a tranquil oasis in the heart of a bustling city and an ideal base to explore the beauty and culture of Istanbul.
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