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Istanbul Revealed - Byzantine & Ottoman metropolis

An extraordinarily diverse city: Roman remains; outstanding Byzantine buildings; Ottoman mosques and palaces.

Stay in the heart of the old and welcoming Sultanahmet area.

Explore the well-known highlights and some less familiar ones, with an expert who knows the city intimately.

Print itinerary (2024)

Print itinerary (2025)

24 - 31 Oct 2024 £3,970 Book this tour



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Overview

The radical transformations this city has undergone are vividly expressed by its changes of name: Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul. The capital successively of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, and now modern Turkey’s booming metropolis, it is one of the most beautiful and fascinating cities in the world. But it is also a place of strange and sometimes subdued moods, a place that was eclipsed for much of the 20th century. 

Initially a modest Greek city, it was chosen by Constantine as the site of the new capital of the Roman Empire and inaugurated in AD 330. The Byzantine Empire continued in direct succession to the Roman, and its capital became one of the largest cities in medieval Europe, the guardian of classical culture and a bastion of Orthodox Christianity.

The city walls were the strongest in the western world, and while the Byzantine Empire gradually shrank before the onslaughts of Persians, Arabs and Latin crusaders, it was not finally extinguished until 1453 when Ottoman Turks captured the city.

In the century and a half after the Ottoman conquest, the city steadily acquired some of the finest Islamic architecture in the world, aided by the example of Hagia Sophia, the architect Sinan and the brilliant tile factories at Iznik.

Minarets and mosques now dominate the skyline, but churches, temples, palaces and other pre-Ottoman buildings, whole or fragmentary, and the arts which decorated them, are to be found in abundance. Istanbul has evolved into a melting-pot of cultures, with a lively streetlife and colourful bazaars. The city’s international outlook is epitomised by its division between Europe and Asia, now linked by modern bridges crossing the mighty Bosphorus, and a new underwater railway tunnel.

Day 1

Fly at c. 11.30am (Turkish Airlines) from London Heathrow to Istanbul. Our hotel is in the historic quarter of Sultanahmet. Arrive in time for dinner, and the first of seven nights.


Day 2

Begin with a lecture followed by a walk to the magnificent Yerebatan Cistern, recently re-opened after extensive restoration. Continue to the Hippodrome, originally constructed c. ad 200 by Septimius Severus and completely rebuilt on a larger scale by Constantine. Sokullu Mehmet Paşa Camii was designed by the great imperial architect Sinan and completed in the 1570s. The remainder of the day concentrates on Byzantine monuments including the sixth-century Hagia Sophia, the mother church of Orthodox Christianity. 


Day 3

The Topkapı Palace was the Sultan’s residence and the political heart of the Ottoman Empire. Explore the courtyards, gardens, pavilions and famous harem, as well as the contents of the Imperial Treasury, with its collection of sacred Islamic relics (restoration work is a constant here). Also in the palace grounds, Hagia Eirene, Church of the Divine Peace. After lunch we take in the magnificent Sülemaniye Camii, the great masterpiece of Sinan. A detour through the Covered Bazaar, trading hub of the Ottomans, takes us to Sinan’s exquisite Rüstem Pasha Camii, clad in the finest 16th-century Iznik tilework. 


Day 4

Travel by private boat along the Bosphorus, the historic and beautiful strait that divides Europe from Asia. Enjoy superb views of Istanbul and the villas and castles of its suburbs. We visit the Sadberk Hanim Museum, a private mansion museum with artefacts from across the span of Anatolian civilisation. By boat to the Naval Museum with its impressive collection of imperial caiques.


Day 5

In the morning take the ferry up the Golden Horn to Eyup, among the holiest places in Islam and the shrine of the Prophet’s standard bearer. The fascinating Zeyrek Mosque is a converted monastery church; and after Haghia Sophia the most impressive Byzantine complex in existence. End at the Grand Bazaar; vast, colourful, chaotic.


Day 6

Explore Pera, the district traditionally occupied by Istanbul’s Christian and Jewish communities. After a visit to the Pera Museum we walk sections of Istiklal, the city’s great thoroughfare, before descending through the Galata district to the waterfront where we take a ferry to Kadikoy on the Asian side. Stop for lunch on Guneslibahce Sokak (Sunny Garden Street) before spending the afternoon discovering this celebrated foodie district.


Day 7

The recently renovated Archaeological Museum presents an outstanding collection of ancient art and artefacts, Hellenistic and Roman sculpture. The collections deserve time both for guided and independent study. The afternoon is free.


Day 8

Fly from Istanbul at midday, arriving Heathrow c. 2.15pm.

Jeremy Seal

Travel writer and tour leader specialising in Turkey.  His award-winning books include A Fez of the Heart, Santa: A Life, a portrait of the extraordinary posthumous life of the Byzantine bishop who was to become Santa Claus, and Meander, which tells of the solo canoe journey he made down Turkey’s eponymous river. His most recent book, A Coup in Turkey, was published by Chatto in 2021. He has written about Turkey for a wide range of publications. He also teaches, most notably on creative non-fiction writing for the Institute of Continuing Education in Cambridge. Twitter: @JeremySeal1 | Instagram: @jeremyinturkey | Website: somewherewonderful.com

Price, per person

2024: Two sharing: £3,970 or £3,670 without flights. Single occupancy: £4,790 or £4,490 without flights.

2025: Two sharing: £4,140 or £3,810 without flights. Single occupancy: £4,760 or £4,430 without flights.


Included

Air travel (economy class) with Turkish Airlines (Boeing 777-300ER, A321-200neo); travel by private coach and boat; accommodation as below; breakfasts, 4 meze lunches and 5 dinners with wine, beer or soft drinks, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer, tour manager and a Turkish guide.


Accommodation

2024: Cronton Design Hotel, Istanbul: five star boutique hotel located in the Old City Sultanahmet district of Istanbul. The hotel, in the Ottoman Revivalist style, was originally the first Vakif Han designed in 1911 by the architect Ahmet Kemaleddin in response to demand for office space. The hotel has a roof terrace, Turkish Bath, sauna and spa. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.

2025: Vogue Hotel Supreme, Istanbul: centrally located in the Sultan Ahmet district, this luxurious five-star hotel is surrounded by the city’s important cultural landmarks. The elegant rooms feature air conditioning, modern amenities, and complimentary Wi-Fi. Guests can also enjoy stunning views of the surrounding areas from their rooms. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.


How strenuous?

You will be on your feet a lot, there is a considerable amount of walking and standing around, and Istanbul is quite hilly. This tour is not suitable for anyone with walking difficulties or difficulties negotiating stairs. Congestion can mean long delays for taxi rides. Average distance by coach per day: 9 miles.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?


Group size

Between 10 and 22 participants.


Travel advice

Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.


Combine with 

In 2024:

Berlin, Potsdam, Dresden, 10–18 October

Palermo Revealed, 12–17 October

Le Corbusier, 12–20 October

Italian Design, 14–20 October

Walking in Southern Tuscany, 14–21 October

Castile & León, 14–23 October

Art in the Netherlands, 16–22 October

Ancient and Islamic Tunisia, 2–9 November

Venetian Palaces, 5–9 November

The Romans in Britain, 6–8 November

 

In May 2025:

Cornish Houses and Gardens, 22–30 April

The Cathedrals of England, 23 April–1 May

Classical Turkey, 25 April–4 May

Pompeii and Herculaneum, 28 April-3 May

Gastronomic Friuli-Venezia Giulia, 12–18 May

Walking Hadrian's Wall, 12–18 May

The Western Balkans, 12–25 May

Tuscan Gardens, 13–18 May

Shostakovich in Leipzig, 14–20 May

Samarkand & Silk Road Cities, 15–27 May

Art in Scotland, 16–23 May

 

In October 2025:

Ravenna & Urbino, 13–17 October

Painted Palaces of Rajasthan, 4–16 November

Art in Madrid, 5–9 November

 

'Our lecturer was excellent – very knowledgeable and enthusiastic and an effective, entertaining commentator. We learned a lot of art history and political history.'

'Excellent: a fine, utterly engaging blend of Muslim and Christian.'

'A wonderfully comprehensive itinerary covering all of the major sites plus a representative range of mosques and several of the more minor Byzantine churches.'