Istanbul’s Bosphorus waterfront is loaded with many of the cities best attractions; historical Ottoman palaces, castles and fortresses, mosques and the famous ‘yalılar’ (Ottoman mansions). Here we take a look at these top 5 Istanbul palaces, as can be seen and enjoyed from the water during a cruise on the Bosphorus:
1. Ciragan Palace
The Ciragan Palace in Istanbul (Çırağan Sarayı in Turkish) was built at the order of Sultan Abdülaziz between 1863 and 1873 by the famous Balyan family of architects, who were also the architects of the Dolmabahce and Beylerbeyi palaces. Sultan Abdulaziz did not stay long in this palace and later moved back to Dolmabahce Palace.
Later in its history, Sultan Murad V lived in the Ciragan Palace. He was on the throne for a short time in 1876 but was later deposed. Destroyed by a fire in 1905, the palace was restored in the 1990s by the Kempinski Hotel chain. It’s now one of Istanbul’s most prestigious 5 star luxury hotels on the Bosphorus right by the water.
2. Dolmabahçe Palace
The Dolmabahce Palace (Dolmabahçe Sarayı) was built between 1843 and 1856 by the city’s famous architects of the time, Karabet and Nikogos Balyan. The palace, whose construction was completed in 1856, consists of 16 separate sections and includes a landfill garden section reclaimed from the seafront (hence its name Dolmabahce, which means ‘filled-in-garden’).
Some of the most important parts of the palace include the Swan Fountain in the Palace Garden, the Sultan’s Bath decorated with Egyptian marbles, Atatürk’s Bedroom, the Pink Room, the Blue Room which the Sultan used on special occasions to host his mother and wives and the Ceremony Hall.
This opulent palace is open to visitors as a museum except Mondays and Thursdays. The main entrance gate is the Bab-ı Hümayun, which was once used only by the Sultan and his viziers.
Along the seafront of the Dolmabahçe Palace, be sure to look out for the exquisite Exterior Gates to the Bosphorus, which can be seen in the photo above. These were the access points for the Sultanate Caique, a unique watercraft and light rowboat used by the Sultan and his Imperial court (well worth a short visit to the Istanbul Naval Museum to see).
3. Beylerbeyi Palace
Beylerbeyi Palace (Beylerbeyi Sarayı) was built between 1860 and 1865 by Architect Sarkis Balyan. The palace was built with Baroque style as a summer residence and a guest house for foreign guests. Built as a Harem and Selamlık, it is smaller than the other Dolmabahçe and Çırağan Palaces on the Bosphorus. Various rooms of the palace are decorated with fabrics with marine motifs for Abdülaziz, a sea lover.
The palace is open to visitors as a museum except Mondays and Thursdays and can be visited with a tour, offered onsite at the palace. The tour usually takes between 45-50 minutes accompanied by the guides.
The most beautiful part of the Beylerbeyi Palace is the reception hall with a pool and fountain. The floor of the palace was made of Egyptian mat for insulation.
4. Kucuksu Palace
With its ornate seaward facade, Istanbul’s Kucuksu Palace (Kucuksu Kasrı in Turkish) also known as Kucuksu Pavillions is located on the Asian Side of the Bosphorus Strait. Also designed by the famous Balyan brothers in 1857, its architecture reflects some of the ostentatious European-style palaces of the time. In Ottoman times it was one of the imperial parks known as Kandil Bahçesi (Lantern Garden).
Unusually for a palace, rather than high walls, it is surrounded by cast-iron railings and beautiful gates on all sides. Look out for the sweeping double flight of steps that lead to the sea gates at the waterfront for a wonderful photograph.
5. Topkapi Palace
One of the most historical Istanbul palaces is the Topkapi Palace (Topkapı Sarayı in Turkish) with its Harem sits atop Sarayburnu, the Royal hill in Sultanahmet, in the heart of the Old City. A couple of hours to a half day can easily be spent visiting the Four Courts and Treasury inside.
Built by Mehmet the Conqueror shortly after the Conquest of Constantinople in 1453, he lived here until his death in 1481. Other sultans lived here until the 19th century, after which they preferred to live in the more Western influenced palaces by the shores of the Bosphorus.
Though daily cruises don’t typically come close to the Topkapi Palace, the palace can usually be seen in the background while in the Southern end of the Bosphorus, such as from Kabatas or while returning from the Asian Side or Princes Islands.
To sum up, by far the best way to see these famous palaces in Istanbul in their full glory is in the way that they were designed for – from the water! This is how the Sultans, Pashas, high society and visiting dignitaries would come and go for their entertainment and transport. And you can see them all in one go too – this is why a scenic Bosphorus tour today is so special and a must-do activity while in Istanbul.
The locations for a cruise include Sarayburnu (Royal Point) with Topkapi Palace, the European shore of the Bosphorus with Çırağan and Dolmabahçe Palaces and the Asian shore of the Bosphorus with the Kucuksu Kasrı and Beylerbeyi Palace.