While on the Bosphorus, one of the most impressive sights is of Dolmabahce Palace. With construction starting in 1842 before finally finishing in 1856, this particular palace comes from the height of the Ottoman Empire and is located in the Besiktas District of the country’s largest city.

As always, we’re going to explore the history of Dolmabahce Palace before then offering advice for visiting in 2019 and beyond. 

History of Dolmabahce Palace Istanbul 

Taking around 14 years to build, Abdulmecid I ordered the construction of the palace and he was the 31st sultan of the Ottoman Empire. For many years, the sultan had resided at Topkapi Palace but soon noticed how this had fallen behind many of the extravagant palaces of Europe. For a more modern building with a contemporary style, Abdulmecid decided on a new construction costing around five million Ottoman gold lira. Of course, this means nothing to us now but experts believe it equates to $1.5 billion (today) or 35 tonnes of gold.

Over the years, Dolmabahce Palace housed no fewer than six sultans right up until 1924 where ownership was transferred to the national heritage (Turkish Republic). With this in mind, it wasn’t long before the Republic of Turkey’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, spent his summers at the palace. 


If you visit Dolmabahce Palace Istanbul, one of the first things you’ll notice is the stunning architecture and design of the building. As the largest palace in Turkey, Dolmabahce has some impressive numbers; 

  • 45,000 square metres of space
  • 285 rooms
  • 68 toilets
  • 46 halls
  • 6 baths

In terms of design, it seems to offer a blend of four different styles; traditional Ottoman, Baroque, Neoclassical, and Rococo. From the inside, the Ceremonial Hall has an impressive chandelier which many believe was a gift from Queen Victoria. With 750 lamps and a weight of 4.5 tonnes, it’s not something you’ll see every day. 

Visiting Dolmabahce Palace

Now we understand more about the history and the stories of Dolmabahce Palace, you need to know some visiting information so you can continue your learning experience. Fortunately, Dolmabahce Palace is open from 09:00 until 17:00; however, you will need to be aware that the palace doesn’t open on Mondays and Thursdays. To get inside, you’ll pay 40 Turkish Lira which converts to around £5.70. Considering you’ll get access to a 19th century building with cultural, social, architectural, and historical significance, we think this price is (more than!) fair. 

If your trip to Istanbul comes in the summer, we highly recommend planning your day carefully because the queues for Dolmabahce Palace will quickly build. If you leave it too late, you’ll be waiting out in the sun for long periods. Therefore, we recommend visiting early in the morning. Not only does this allow you to avoid the queues, it also means you can explore the palace and take in the experience without bustling with others for position. 

If you want to learn about Dolmabahce Palace Istanbul as you walk around, visit the official website for the palace and fill out a contact form. After providing some details, you can reserve a guided private tour and this saves waiting on the day itself. You’ll have the option to visit the official section of the palace (Selamlik), the privy chambers (Harem), or both. 

Ultimately, we love a landmark that offers traditions, insights into cultures, and beauty – Dolmabahce Palace seems to fit this perfectly. From the inside out, the palace is stunningly extravagant and the combination of styles catch the attention immediately

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While many of the sites you’ll visit while in Istanbul will be related to religion, since this has played such a major role for the city, you’ll also find locations such as the Hippodrome Istanbul. Sometimes called the Hippodrome of Constantinople, this is one of the best ways to immerse yourself into the social and even sporting side of Istanbul’s history.

In this short guide, we’re going to teach you about the history of the Hippodrome, what it offers now, and why it’s worth your attention while in the city! 

History Of Hippodrome Istanbul 

In the 21st century, not much of the original hippodrome structure survives…but this doesn’t mean it can’t provide a fantastic experience. If you were to search ‘Hippodrome of Constantinople’ into a search engine, you’d find stories of the glory days of the city and the great chariot races of the Byzantine period. However, its history actually predates the ‘imperial capital’. 

The hippodrome was first built around 200 CE when the city was still called Byzantium. As the city was rebuilt by Emperor Septimium Severus, it was then introduced for all manners of entertainment. Just over 120 years later, Emperor Constantine the Great grew the city, upgraded the hippodrome, and the city became known as the City of Constantine (Constantinople). 

As time passed in the Byzantine period, much of the social life revolved around the hippodrome not only for chariot races, although these played a huge role, but also for horse racing and various other events. With four teams taking part in each chariot race, each one would normally be backed by a political party in the city so the events had importance. For example, the Leukoi (Whites) and Prasinoi (Greens). 

Monuments Of The Hippodrome 

If you’re planning a visit to the Hippodrome during your time in Istanbul, one of the most fascinating aspects is the many monuments around the grounds. First and foremost, the Serpent Column was acquired alongside many other monuments in an attempt to raise the image and profile of the city.

Otherwise known as the Tripod of Plataea, this particular monument was originally located in Delphi (the Temple of Apollo) and was a celebration of the Greek victory over the Persians. Once moved, it took pride of place and has remained in the centre ever since.

As well as the Serpent Column, you’ll also come across the Walled Obelisk, the Obelisk of Thutmose III, and the Statues of Porphyrios. 

Visiting Hippodrome Istanbul 

What remains at the Hippodrome today? Before anything else, we should mention that official literature regarding Hippodrome Istanbul will refer to the location as Sultan Ahmet Square.

Although the all-important racetrack has been covered in paving, the paving around the actual track has been raised (by around two metres) so it’s easy to imagine the size of it all. As part of a landscaped garden, the aforementioned monuments have been placed into specific spaces too. 

With a guided tour or an audio guide, you’ll learn all about how sultans and emperors would spend their days attempting to outdo one another in this social hub.

While you’re walking around, it’s worth looking out for the newer additions to Sultan Ahmet Square too. For example, the German Fountain (or the Kaiser Wilhelm) was gifted to the city by the Kaiser towards the end of the 19th century. On his second visit to the country, he was so impressed by the hospitality that this generous donation was made. 

With a few hours at Hippodrome Istanbul, you won’t be disappointed. Thanks to the monuments, the old racetrack, and the stories you’re likely to learn of emperors and sultans, it’ll be a memory you won’t forget in a hurry!

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If you’ve done any research on Istanbul, you’ve probably already come across Grand Bazaar and for good reason. When it comes to markets, this isn’t your average car boot sale – you won’t be able to cover the whole market in ten minutes.

Instead, it’s considered to be one of the largest ever covered markets. To give you some idea of the sheer size, let’s look at some numbers; 

  • 61 covered streets
  • Up to 400,000 visitors on the busiest days
  • Approximately 92 million visitors per year
  • Around 4,000 different shops
  • 26,000 employees 

From these statistics alone, you should now understand the reason why the word ‘Grand’ is no understatement for the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul Turkey. 

History Of Grand Bazaar Istanbul Turkey

Located in the ‘Fatih’ district, the famous covered market doesn’t just have its reputation because of size. Construction for what would become the core of Grand Bazaar began in the middle of the 15th century, not long after Constantinople’s fall.

In the coming decades and even centuries, various sultans extended the market depending on specialities. Originally, this space was dedicated to the trading of jewels and textiles. Over time, sections were added for books, luxury goods, and more.

According to historians, the final shape we see today was achieved around 1730. For the Ottoman Empire, the bazaar actually became one of the focal points for all Mediterranean trade since their control spanned three continents.

Thanks to various documents and letters, we know that Grand Bazaar in Istanbul Turkey had a reputation for travellers all around Europe; this continued right up until the 19th century.

Since the very first market opened, several incidents have plagued the bazaar including several fires and even an earthquake in 1894. Thankfully, there’s been no major incident since this earthquake and the health and safety regulations have been improved for the safety of all visitors. 

Grand Bazaar Shopping 

If you’re looking for souvenirs for friends and family back home (and maybe some lucky colleagues!), the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul Turkey is a superb choice because you’ll also be able to tell your friends about the experience. If you do visit, we recommend taking some time to appreciate the architecture of the covered market as well as bartering for great deals. 

In terms of visiting times, you won’t need to rush because the bazaar is open from 09:00 right the way through to 19:00 (these hours are limited or non-existent for bank holidays and Sundays). What about the shops themselves? With around 4,000 shops in the whole complex, we couldn’t possibly explain everything you could buy with your money. This being said, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to buy antiques, furniture, carpets, food, clothing, and stunning handmade gifts. 

If we may finish with some advice, don’t forget your camera. Although this may sound strange, and you will have to be careful where you take your shots, some incredible photos can be achieved with the vibrant colours inside the market.

Furthermore, it can take some time just to get used to the layout of it all so don’t visit with the intention of only staying an hour – make sure you have plenty of time otherwise you might walk away disappointed that you couldn’t fully immerse yourself into the experience. 

For purchasing advice, we could write a whole guide but we have some simple tips below; 

  • Never give the seller your best price
  • You’ll get discount for bulk purchases
  • Don’t provide the seller with too much information (the more money they think you have, the more expensive even simple products will become!)
  • Be willing to walk away (they probably want the sale more than you want the purchase)
  • Don’t ever feel pressured into a purchase
  • Above all else, enjoy your time in this magnificent setting!

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As part of the Historical Areas of Istanbul which is now collectively a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Blue Mosque Istanbul was first completed in 1616 and remains just as functional today as it was back then. Despite over 400 years of operation, the call to prayer sounds across the city and many people rush to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, as it’s also known, to kneel on the red carpet. With hand-painted blue tiles and no fewer than five domes, the Blue Mosque has long-been a tourist site and seemingly nothing will ever change this fact. 

History Of Blue Mosque Istanbul

Between 1603 and 1618, there was a large war with Persia and it led to uncertainty across Istanbul and the wider country. In an attempt to re-establish Ottoman power, the sultan at the time, Ahmed I, chose to build a huge mosque. Compared to previous victors, there were no spoils from the war to fund the mosque so it was paid for with Treasury funds and it became an imperial mosque; the first of its kind for over four decades.

Why Blue Mosque?

If you’re to visit the Blue Mosque today, you’ll see the blue lights that have been installed around each of the five domes (it’s an impressive sight after the sun goes down!). However, electricity wasn’t around in the early 17th century so how did the mosque acquire its name? Well, there are two tales on this and the more common is that it simply boasts Blue Iznik tiles on the walls inside. 

If you want a more romantic reason, some say sailors passing across the Marmara Sea could see the mosque reflected in the water. Additionally, they saw the stunning blue hues reflected in the mosque which gave the building a bluish glow. 

In terms of architecture, there are thought to be well over 20,000 tiles on the walls inside the mosque. Additionally, there are only four mosques across Turkey that can boast six Minarets (tall, thin towers) and the Blue Mosque Istanbul is one of these. Again, we can bring some romanticism into the story here because the words for ‘gold’ and six’ were similar back in the 1600s. If folklore is to be believed, the architect built six minarets when the sultan actually requested gold minarets. 

Visiting The Blue Mosque

Although the mosque still has religious importance to society in Istanbul, they also recognize the historical importance of the building and therefore allow tourists for much of the day. During the five daily prayers, the mosque will close to all non-worshippers for around 30 minutes so all visitors need to be wary of this (prayer times can be found here). If you have enough time to plan your visit, we also recommend approaching the west side of the mosque, from the Hippodrome, since this will offer the best picture opportunities (we all want the best Facebook profile picture, right!). 

The mosque is free to enter, and you’ll need to abide by some rules to stay respectful of the locals and traditions. For example, you’ll be provided with a plastic bag for your shoes as you enter. Also, women must wear a head covering (these are provided for free), flash photography is prohibited, and you should also remain quiet. 

The Blue Mosque Istanbul has staggering architecture and the decoration inside is likely to take your breath away. Even if you manage just a short visit, it’s well worth your time for the insight you get into the local culture, religion, and overall life in Istanbul.

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Across Istanbul, the city is filled with beautiful landscapes, stunning architecture, and a fantastic culture. All three of these combine for Hagia Sophia which was first opened as a Byzantine Christian Cathedral. Over the years, it has been through many changes but was eventually transformed into a museum in 1935. What stories does the museum tell? What can you do at Hagia Sophia Museum today? And is it worth your time while visiting Istanbul? 

History of Hagia Sophia Museum

Opened in the historic Constantinople (now Istanbul), this particular cathedral was completed in 537 CE which places it towards the early stages of the Middle Ages. At the time of erection, the huge dome in the centre contributed to a site that was considered ahead of its time in terms of engineering. Thanks to the work of many historians, we know that the cathedral was also likely the largest building in its time. 

Despite being built nearly 1,500 years ago, a combination of ceramic pieces and sand was used for the mortar joints – a combination modern-day builders would recognize as comparable to concrete. 

Uses Of Hagia Sophia Museum 

Thanks to the name, you can probably guess that the Hagia Sophia Museum is, in fact, a museum. But what transformations has it gone through while the society around the building has changed? Below, we’ve broken down its changing function; 

  • 537-1204 CE – Byzantine Christian Cathedral
  • 1204-1261 CE – Roman Catholic Cathedral
  • 1261-1453 CE – Greek Orthodox Cathedral
  • 1453-1931 CE – Ottoman Mosque
  • 1935 CE – Museum

In the grand scheme of things, the Hagia Sophia building has only been a museum for a small percentage of its life; 84 years out of over 1,480. 

Life As A Museum 

It was Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the very first president of Turkey who decided to transform the old building into a museum. Over the years, many structural issues have been encountered, including leaking water and a cracked copper roof, but the museum is still going strong for visitors today.

Compared to the original, the Hagia Sophia Museum is in its third construction which means the architecture has been altered. However, it remains a wonder of the landscape and allows visitors every day (except Monday). While opening times are 09:00 to 17:00 in the winter, this extends to 19:00 in the summer. 

What items does Hagia Sophia Museum hold? Currently, it’s a celebration of the religion and history of the city. As well as ‘Icons and Church Objects’, visitors will see ‘Tomb Objects’ and ‘Stone Objects’; the latter relates to the architecture and stone creations that surround the grounds. 

Throughout the calendar, the museum welcomes plenty of exhibitions and conferences too. Once again, these tend to celebrate the history of the building, art and artefacts relating to Turkey, Istanbul, and Constantinople, as well as the general culture of the city (and how it has shifted through the centuries). Thanks to these, and the general appeal of the museum, 3.4 million people visited the building in 2015 alone. In recent years, this has dropped slightly but it still has the appeal for both locals and tourists. 

For museums, the exhibitions and artefacts are important. However, the Hagia Sophia Museum boasts powerful architecture to keep the eyes moving from one magnificent sight to the next. As well as the huge dome in the center, the decor is remarkable and visitors will see features such as the Marble Door, the Emperor Door, the Nice Door, mosaics, the Wishing Column, and plenty more besides!

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