The official residence of the Ottoman sultans for about four centuries is now accessible to the public and home to sacred relics.
Topkapi Palace is among the best preserved Ottoman palaces, located on the spot where settlement in Istanbul began. A visit to its quarters provides insight into the Ottoman history of the Turkish city. The 15th-century Topkapi Palace was converted into a museum under Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, in 1924.
While the palace is a dream for history buffs, some visitors come here just for the views; the palace looks out over the Golden Horn, a natural harbor in Istanbul, the Bosphorus Strait and the Sea of Marmara.
The site covers 173 acres (70 hectares) and is surrounded by over 3 miles (5 kilometers) of walls. Admire the towering gates, tree-lined courtyards and classical Turkish buildings, which once housed Ottoman sultans and their followers. It grew and changed over the reigns of successive sultans, each of whom would leave his own mark on the palace.
Visit the harem, the private space in the palace where a sultan’s family lived along with the concubines and eunuchs in their service. The harem was traditionally inaccessible to outsiders, which invoked myths and legends about what happened there. These days, only part of it is open to the public, but you can still see the 40-roomed section allocated to the sultan’s mother and the large baths and domed hall where the sultan spent his free time.
Even after hundreds of years, the palace is still a place of grandeur. The courtyards hold numerous striking examples of Turkish art and architecture. In the kitchens there are 12,000 pieces of Chinese and Japanese porcelain.
In the outer courtyard, admire the Hagia Irene, a striking Orthodox church that is now often used as a concert hall. It’s also a museum, but you’ll need special permission to visit.
The Topkapi Palace in the Old City of Istanbul has no tour guide service, but you’ll find plenty of private tour guides waiting in front of the ticket booths. The palace is open daily, except Tuesdays.