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  • *
    Hagia Sophia
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    Topkapi Palace
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    Cruise the Bosphorus
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    Ecumenical Patriarchate

Istanbul: City of Empires


  • A group of people Small Group 25 or less
  • A car with a tick VIP door to door

"If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul" Alphonse de Lamartine

Explore the influences of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires in Istanbul on a fascinating journey that charts the rise and fall of the Empires and their lasting legacies.

Accompanied by a renowned historian who will provide further insights, you will visit palaces, churches and museums, experience the city’s unique location from both land and sea and savour Turkish cuisine that combines the tastes of the East and West.


VIP door-to-door travel service

  • Included travel insurance
  • Return flights and transfers
  • 13 meals: 7 breakfasts, 3 lunches and 3 dinners
  • Glass of wine with all included dinners
  • Specialist lecturer
  • Saga Tour Manager
  • All excursions and visits listed
  • Porterage at your hotel
Your specialist lecturer

Roger Crowley

Roger is a renowned writer and historian with a deep interest in the empires of the Mediterranean. He has lived in Istanbul, walked across much of Western Turkey, and travelled widely throughout the region for many years. Istanbul remains Roger’s favourite city, and he enjoys returning to it and discussing its history.

He is the author of two books on Byzantine and Ottoman history – ‘Constantinople: the last Great Siege’ and ‘Empires of the Sea’.

  • Constantinople: Life in the Byzantine City
  • Istanbul: Life in the Ottoman City
  • Fezzes and Foreigners: The Exotic City

View Full Itinerary

Day 1 UK to Istanbul

Galata Tower and Galata Bridge in the Karakoy district of Istanbul

Arrive in Istanbul and transfer to your hotel where there will be a welcome reception and dinner in the evening. D

Day 2 Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Your first full day begins with a lecture on Constantinople before you go in search of key sites connected to Byzantine Constantinople. You’ll first visit the awe-inspiring Hagia Sophia, which was once the seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, and has been a church, museum and mosque during its 1,500-year history.

You’ll continue to the Hippodrome of Constantinople, once the bustling centre of Byzantine civic life, and where you can visit the fascinating man-made subterranean reservoir of the Cistern of Philoxenos. This expansive hypostyle chamber features more than 220 marble columns, and some of the columns still bare the Greek mason’s mark.

After lunch, you’ll continue to the church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, also known as Little Hagia Sophia, which was built between 532 and 536 and was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire.

Later, travel to Eminonu for a private cruise of the Bosphorus, also known as the Strait of Istanbul.

After your cruise, you’ll return to the hotel where you can spend the evening at leisure. B, L

Day 3 Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora

Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora

The following day you’ll admire the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora. This Byzantine church, founded in the 11th century, was later converted into a mosque during the Ottoman era and then became a museum in 1945, before being restored as a mosque in 2020. The church is currently closed due to renovation works, but your guide will tell you more about its history during a tea break in a nearby cafe.

Your journey continues to the Palace of Porphyrogenitus. Named after the 10th-century emperor, Constantine VII, the palace served as part of the Blachernae palace complex and was used by Byzantine emperors from the 12th 13th century. During the Ottoman period it housed a high-quality glass and ceramics workshop.

After some time here, you’ll walk down the hill, where you can view Kastoya Church, Old Jewish houses, the Armenian Apostolic Church and Ahrida Synagogue. There will be a short break here before you drive to the rarely visited Fener and Balat districts, which you can explore on foot. There will also be a special private visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which has played a significant role in world history since the Middle Ages and remains a prominent institution.

Your day concludes with a cruise of the Golden Horn from Fener to Balat, during which you can enjoy a different view of the streets you explored earlier today.

After your cruise, you’ll travel back to your hotel. B, D

Day 4 Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Day four will start with a morning lecture. You’ll then travel to the Topkapi Palace and harem, the residence of the Ottoman sultans for almost four centuries.Lunch will be served at the Konyali Restaurant, which is situated in the palace gardens.

Afterwards you will visit the Archaeology Museum, which houses artefacts from Assyrian, Greek, Byzantine and Ottoman civilisations. There will be a guided tour here, as well as free time to explore independently.

The rest of your day is at your leisure. B, L

Day 5 Kadikoy

Ferry docking in Kadikoy

Day five starts with an exploration of the way Turkey’s cuisine has been shaped by history. A lecture by Associate Professor Ms Ozge Samanci will tell you more about the unique blend of Mediterranean and Asian influences on Turkish food and culture, before a walk to Karakoy pier for the ferry across the Bosphorus to Kadikoy.

After some time exploring the shops, church and mosque, there will be a tasting menu at the CIYA restaurant – considered one of the best local restaurants.

After lunch, you’ll return by ferry to Karakoy where you can visit the Spice Market before returning to your hotel. B, L

Day 6 Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts

Tiled Kiosk at Istanbul Archaeology Museum

Today you’ll drive Suleymaniye Mosque, an Ottoman Imperial mosque situated on the Third Hill of Istanbul. The mosque was commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent, and was designed by the Imperial architect, Mimar Sinan. An inscription states that the foundation was laid in 1550 and the inauguration was 1557.

After some time here, you’ll explore the Grand Bazaar – one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. You’ll have some free time here to peruse the variety of stalls here.

Next, you’ll continue to the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, where you can spend time admiring the collection of works. You’ll also see a demonstration of local art craft before spending the rest of your day at leisure. B

Day 7 Dolmabahce Palace

Dolmabahce Palace

Your final day in Istanbul begins with a lecture then a visit to the magnificent Dolmabahce Palace. Built during the mid-19th Century, it is considered one of the most symbolic structures of the Ottoman Empire’s evolving identity. Its interior, which features Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical styles, is lavishly decorated with gold and crystal.

After your visit you’ll have time at leisure before a farewell dinner at your hotel this evening. B, D

Day 8 Istanbul to UK

After breakfast, you’ll fly back to the UK. B

The visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate is by appointment and may affect the running order of day three of your tour.

Depending on the time of your scheduled visit to the Dolmabahce Palace, your lecture may be moved to a more suitable time.

Istanbul: City of Empires