Get a glimpse of Istanbul's fascinating Imperial legacies on this half-day sightseeing tour with an expert local guide. First visit Hagia Sophia, once one of the largest basilicas in the world and now the second-most visited museum in Turkey. Venture below ground to the ancient Basilica Cistern, which once supported the Great Palace of Constantinople, and hone your haggling skills at the bustling Grand Bazaar, one of the world's largest and oldest covered markets where you can shop for jewelry, spices, leather goods and souvenirs galore.
Your Imperial Istanbul tour starts with pickup from your hotel in the early afternoon. Traveling by minivan, your guide will spend five hours showing you the fascinating history and culture of Turkey's largest city.Delving into Istanbul's ancient past, you'll learn that this city served as the capital of a whopping four empires: the Roman Empire (330–395), the Byzantine Empire (395–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin Empire (1204–1261) and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922). Strategically located along the Silk Road, linking Europe and the Middle East, Istanbul has been fought over for thousands of years. Your first stop is Hagia Sophia, a former Greek Orthodox church built in the 6th century by the Roman Emperor Justinian. The seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Hagia Sophia was one of the largest basilicas in the Christian world, and was converted into an Imperial mosque after the Ottoman conquest. Today it is a magnificent museum revealing Istanbul's complex layers of history and featuring stunning Byzantine mosaics. Join locals and visitors alike as you explore the second-most visited museum in Turkey with your guide, who'll explain what you see.Just a few paces from Hagia Sophia lies the Basilica Cistern, your next stop. The largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city, the Basilica Cistern was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I to provide a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople.Back above ground, head to the Grand Bazaar to practice your bargaining skills at one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. The original market was erected in the 15th century, shortly after the Ottoman conquest. Today you'll find a dizzying array of local treasures at more than 3,000 shops spread across 61 streets. Browse jewelry, leather, pottery, spices, carpets and more, and soak up the atmosphere of this cultural hotspot as your guide leads you through.Your tour ends with hotel drop-off.Please note: You may visit the Basilica Cistern or Nakkas Cistern, Hagia Sophia (Closed on Mondays; will be replaced with Chora Museum), Grand Bazaar (Closed on Sundays; additional time will be spent at the other locations).