A Ottoman-style doctor's surgery in Sultanahmet.
Sultanahmet is a peninsula encircled by water and old city walls, a region of Istanbul that was known as Constantinople 600 years ago; it was also home to one of the world's earliest settlements 8,000 years ago. Sultanahmet is now a World Heritage Site, containing most of Istanbul's main attractions, so this is the place to find a convenient hotel in Istanbul if you don't don't mind quiet nights.
Just over the water in Galata are masses of hotels and city transport is excellent so it's no great hardship to be based there and lively nightlife will be easier to access, but beware club scams and safety.
One way to accomplish an efficient sightseeing day is to take a highly rated Istanbul Daily City Tour. See bugbog Things to Do listing.
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The Sultanahmet ferry port of Eminonu, with the Blue Mosque visible on the horizon right, the Hagia Sofia museum on the left and Topkapi Palace out of the picture further to the left.
Sultanahmet is where everything happens in Istanbul - museums, attractions, hotels, shops and restaurants. It's packed with tourists, hustlers and waiters trying to get the tourists into their restaurants.
Some parts are dirty, some pavements are uneven and traffic can be crazed, but it's still got a lot of charm, it's as safe as London or New York and there are a lot of excellent restaurants so stay here if you can find reasonable accommodation.
Detail from the Obelisk at the Hippodrome of Constantinople.
The Hippodrome (no, not a hippo race track) was the center of Roman and Byzantine Constantinople, near the Basilica Cistern, Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The building no longer stands, but the obelisks and sculptures from Theodosius' era are still there.
A traditional bun/bread seller with an unusually disgruntled attitude, near the Hagia Sophia.
Old and new Sultanahmet kiosks.
One of the fabulous frescos inside the Kariye Museum, Chora Church.
Kariye Museum (former Church of St Saviour in Chora) is a bit west of central Istanbul (in Kariye Cami Sokak, Edirnekapy) and offers no information about the astonishing 14thC mosaics and Byzantine frescos. Don't go there for a brief visit, it's not worth it. Take a good guide book or hire a guide and plan to stay at least an hour even if it is small. Take a tram most of the way, then jump a taxi for the last uphill bit.
Kariye gets mixed reviews from visitors. Some - possibly tourists interested in frescoes! - find it charming, though it's not cheap to enter, some way off the beaten track and in a Muslim area that won't appreciate underdressed women.
Part of an ancient water collection system built in AD 532, the Basilica Cistern, fish and piped music included!
Hamam: While you're in Sultanahmet don't miss a real marble Turkish bath with traditional massage; there are various options. e.g. Sifa is cheap and cheerful but still marble; Cagalogu is a tourist haven; Sultanahmet Hamami is less touristy; Suleymaniye is uniquely mixed, so families or couples can bathe together.
Turkey's most spectacular souvenir space, the Grand Bazaar. Next, more Sultanahmet Pictures.
Istanbul's Grand Bazaar is a wonderful space redolent of Morocco's Marrakesh or Cairo's Khan el Khalili bazaar, with over 4,000 glittering shops crammed into a labyrinth of ancient covered walkways and side streets. Parts can be touristy but it's still a terrific place for a half day or day of souvenir shopping.
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