- The Blue Mosque
- Topkapi Palace
- Cruise the Bosphorus
- Ecumenical Patriarchate
- Hagia Sophia
Istanbul: City of Empires
- Small Group 25 or less
- 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.
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
Day 1 UK to 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
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 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.
Lunch will be served at Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi, which is famed for its meatballs.
After lunch you’ll visit the Hippodrome area then proceed to the underground Theodosius Cistern, which was completed by order of Emperor Theodosius II between 428 and 443 in order to store water from the Bozdogan Arch.
You will continue 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
The following day you’ll visit 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.
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 travelling back to Eminonu, you’ll take a private boat tour of the Golden Horn.
After returning to land, you’ll drive to the rarely visited Fener and Balat districts and explore these neighbourhoods on foot to get a closer look at some of the places you saw during your cruise.
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. B, D
Day 4 Topkapi Palace
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.
Following lunch, you’ll visit the 17th-century Sultanahmet Camii, also known as the Blue Mosque due to its stunning blue-tiled interior.
Your final stop will be at the Grand Bazaar – one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world.
The rest of the day is at your leisure. B, L
Day 5 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 and your hotel. B, L
Day 6 Istanbul Archaeology Museum
The following day you’ll visit the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, which houses fascinating artefacts, including those from Assyrian, Greek, Byzantine and Ottoman civilisations.
In the afternoon you can spend time admiring the collection of works in the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, before spending the rest of the afternoon at leisure. B
Day 7 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
After breakfast, you’ll fly back to the UK. B
Explore Topkapi Palace and harem
Tour the vast complex of UNESCO-listed Topkapi Palace and discover some of the artefacts in its museum collection, including the emerald-studded Topkapi Dagger and Ottoman armour.
You will also visit the Ottoman Imperial Harem to learn the history of its forbidden and powerful past through a number of tiled rooms connected by courtyards and fountains.
Included on 7 nights itinerary
Private boat trips of the Bosphorus and Golden Horn
The sea has played an important role, both strategically and commercially, throughout Turkey’s history, and you can learn more during included boat trips.
Connecting the Marmara Sea and the Black Sea, the Bosphorus forms part of the continental boundary between Europe and Asia, and its strategic value led the Ottomans to construct fortifications on both sides of the strait.
The Golden Horn, an inlet of the Bosphorus, is considered to be the world’s largest natural harbour and separates the European shore of Istanbul into two parts.
Included on 7 nights itinerary
Visit the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
Explore the historical and religious past of the Eastern Orthodox Church on this unique private tour of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Since the 15th century, this has been the headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarch, who is the main Christian leader in Constantinople. Originally a convent for Orthodox nuns, this Patriarchate takes pride in preserving the Orthodox faith and defending Orthodox Christian traditions.
This is the fifth church in Constantinople to house the Ecumenical Patriarchate and is home to some fascinating religious relics.
Included on 7 nights itinerary
This five-star hotel and former 19th-century bank is situated in the historic harbour side district of Karaköy. Its location makes it ideal for exploring Istanbul and dining out in local restaurants. Facilities include a rooftop restaurant, spa with a sauna, steam room, gym and treatment rooms.
All 63 contemporary bedrooms are equipped with a television, mini bar and free Wi-Fi.
The visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate is by appointment and may affect the running order of day three of your tour.