Sultanahmet – Old City is the focal point of the European side of Istanbul, once ruled by the Byzantine Empire. This is where most tourists stay while visiting Istanbul, and there is an extensive selection of accommodation in Sultanahmet – Old City.
The entire neighborhood radiates around the Hippodrome, which was once the centerpiece of life in the Byzantine capital. The main structure is gone, but the garden of sculptures and monuments here date as far back as the 4th century. The crowning attraction of Sultanahmet is Saint Sophia (also known as the Hagia Sophia). For a full millennium, this basilica held the world record for largest enclosed space, and it’s still a dramatic and impressive site.
Istanbul may have first flourished as under the Byzantine Empire, but there were just as many impressive developments under the Ottomans. The greatest Ottoman addition to the Old City is the Blue Mosque, built in the early 17th century. It’s still an active place of worship, but visitors are welcome outside of prayer times.
It takes days to properly explore and appreciate the Old City, strung with cafés and restaurants serving a heady mix of European, South Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Fare. Visitors can explore Divan Yolu Street with its maze of side streets to find carpet merchants, hookah bars and Turkish coffee shops.
The tourism industry in Istanbul has grown substantially in the last decade, much to the benefit of hotels in Sultanahmet – Old City. The best selection of new or newly renovated hotels is on the south shore of the peninsula, while a few are located to the north where they offer fine views of the Hagia Sophia. Options range from grand five-star enterprises to historic boutique inns.