Topkapi Palace is one of the oldest remaining palaces in the world. Once the home to the sultans and harems of the Ottoman Empire, it's now a museum housing relics of the Ottoman rule. The spacious grounds and numerous exhibitions offer plenty of opportunity to be immersed in four centuries of Ottoman history.
The first stages of Topkapi Sarayi were completed in 1478 by Sultan Mehmed II, the Turk commander who conquered Constantinople. It was the political, cultural and social hub of the Ottoman rulers for nearly 400 years following this; numerous constructing, demolishing and reconstructing over this time has created a mishmash of courtyards, pavilions, chambers and courts for visitors to explore. The palace, now a museum of Ottoman relics, stands in one of the oldest parts of the city, overlooking the brilliant blue Bosphorus – it’s hard to find a more beautiful place in Istanbul.
Enthusiasts will need a solid half-day to make it through the different parts, however three hours should be enough to explore the key parts of the palace. The Treasury, home to a wealth of gold and gems, is one of the most outstanding rooms in the palace and is considered a highlight of any visit to Topkapi. Also worth seeing are the silk materials and golden threads of the sultans’ extravagant costumes, housed in a chamber off the third courtyard, and the profusely decorated Harem. There is also armour, weapons, manuscripts, art, jewellery and porcelain on display – and don’t forget to leave some spare time to wander around the spacious courtyard and admire the views over the Strait.
Tokpaki Sarayi is in the cultural centre of Istanbul. It stands directly behind Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque, a few blocks from the underground Cisterns and a ten-minute walk from the Grand Bazaar. Hours could be spent exploring the area – the easiest way to get there is to take the T1 tramline to Sultanahmet station. From there it’s a short walk past Aya Sofya to access one of the most stunning collections of Ottoman relics in Turkey.