Inside The Blue Mosque of Istanbul

You’ll see plenty of Mosques in Old Town, but it feels like they’re part of a bygone era and act more as tourist attractions than religious institutions. Among them is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, more commonly known as the Blue Mosque.

Blue Mosque, Sultan Ahmed Mosque
Blue Mosque exterior

I don’t have to tell you that visiting the Blue Mosque is a must in Istanbul. It’s like visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Or, for points and miles enthusiasts, the Park Hyatt Vendome.

Sultanahmed Mosque Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque exterior

Construction of the Blue Mosque began in 1609 on the orders of Sultan Ahmed I and took 7 years to complete. If you enjoy architecture or pretty things in general, you’re going to like visiting the Blue Mosque. The level of detail is remarkable. There aren’t many buildings that get this much attention for a ceiling alone…

Blue Mosque Ceiling
Blue Mosque Ceiling

In this day and age we have the technology to build structures that are taller, bigger, and more technologically advanced. Yet, I don’t think anything we build today will measure up to what has been constructed in the past. A thousand years from now, structures like the Blue Mosque will still be admired over whatever tourist trap Dubai is planning next (if it’s even standing).

Entrance to the Blue Mosque Istanbul
Entrance to the Blue Mosque

I highly recommend visiting the Blue Mosque at night. There is something majestic about the place when it’s set against the dark evening sky.

Sultanahmed Blue Mosque at night
Blue Mosque at night

At night, the interior looks more red than blue. It’s largely the lighting, which also makes for tricky photography. Turn the flash on and your pictures turn into fodder for ghost hunters. Turn it off and you’ve got dark, blurry shots that fail to impress when you tell people how stunning the place is…

Blue Mosque Sultanahmed interior
Interior, near the entrance

Visitors are required to remove their shoes. Plastic bags are provided at the entrance so you can take them inside with you. All entrants must cover their arms and legs, and women must cover their heads. I am just now noticing that the woman in the right corner of the above photograph doesn’t have her arms or head covered. Wonder how she got away with that…

Visitors are required to stand outside while worshippers are praying. An area has also been partitioned off for worshippers, and there is a sign in English asking visitors to stand behind it. It doesn’t really take away from the experience, as there is lots of space to wander.

Blue Mosque Sultanahmed Istanbul prayer area
Designated prayer area

If you’re in Istanbul you can’t escape a visit to the Blue Mosque. There’s no admission fee, you don’t need a tour guide, and you get the best experience at night, when the lines are shorter and its grandeur is accentuated.

Sultanahmed Blue Mosque at night
Blue Mosque at night

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  1. How long did you have to wait in line to enter the mosque. I plan a visit in August and heard a lot about long lines. I agree about visiting in the evening but then you have to compromise on quality pictures which I am hesitant for now. Please tell more about transportation and airport transfers. We are a party of five with a booking at Hilton Garden Inn Istanbul Golden Horn, so I am anticipating a lot of problems with taxis as there will be very limited options for five people in the same vehicle.

    • PointChaser

      @ caveman, the only wait was due to the prayer service that began just as we arrived. They don’t let anyone (including other worshippers) in once it begins. Since that takes 5-10 minutes, the wait wasn’t long at all. You should definitely also visit during the day, but at night it looks much more beautiful in my opinion.

      There are taxi vans that can accommodate 5 people, but they are hard to come by outside the airport. With 5 people, it’s cheaper to take a cab to/from the airport (negotiating a flat fee, of course). If I were you, I’d stay at a hotel in Sultanahmed instead. All the sights are there and the tram makes it super easy (and cheap) to get around. If you’re taking a cab daily from the Golden Horn to Sultanahmed, it will add up fast. I honestly regret staying at a chain hotel. You’re paying more and you don’t get the authentic experience. The Erguvan Hotel in Sultanahmed is right by the Blue Mosque and offers great rooms and service at low prices. The hotel has a rooftop restaurant where guests get free daily breakfast with a view of the Mosque. Plus, the longer you stay, the bigger the discount. I believe they have rooms with up to 3 beds. Highly recommend you stay there instead of the Hilton Garden Inn. It’s better in terms of hotel rates and transportation.

  2. travel4nana

    I was there last year and if you are part of a guided tour, you by pass the lines. I would highly recommend signing up for a one day guided tour of Istanbul. The trams are great to use in Istanbul and there is a stop right by Topkei Palace. You do have to use Turkish Lira to buy the ticket. Another suggestion that I do is to write to the hotel directly and ask your questions. The concierges have been wonderful for me – arranging pickups, cooking lessons, tours, etc.

    • PointChaser

      @ travel4nana, good suggestions. Nothing beats the tram for getting around in Istanbul. Your hotel is also a great resource to help you plan your activities.

  3. Levi Flight

    I love that area. There are also some truly exquisite small hotels just a few minute walk away. I would go back in a heart beat.

    • PointChaser

      @ Levi Flight, Love the hotels too. On my next visit to Old Town, I will definitely choose a boutique hotel over a chain.

  4. So beautiful!

  5. Did you notice the souvenir vendors flogging “genuine: 23 bc coins: ( that were dated so) ?

  6. Excellent Hotel, Complete Guide to Turkey”
    Reviewed February 6, 2013
    28 people found this review helpful
    Hello Everyone, I will get to the hotel review shortly, Upon landing at Istanbul Airport, stay right and get Visa first, which cost $20 / 15 euros / 10 pounds CASH only, then go to the Passport control line, otherwise you will lose an hour. As soon as you get out of passport control, you will see sign for cars and taxis, they charge anywhere from 40 to 50 euros, skip them, as soon as you get out of that, right outside there is official yellow taxi stand and it will be 40 Turkish Lira to get to the hotel. Tip : Anything you do in Turkey, always ask how much, this will save you from so much hassle. The metro is across the street, down the elevator. You need to insert 6 Lira and you get 2 metro coins, one for the train, the other for the tram. To reach the hotel, you can take the subway from Domestic terminal until Zeytinburnu station and than switch to Tramway which will bring you directly to Laleli-Universite station where the hotel is located. It takes about 35 to 45 minutes versus a car ride is 30 minutes without traffic. The tram is right opposite of the hotel, very convenient.
    I booked the doubletree hilton because it was walking distance to all the attractions. I got there around 11am, little early, they had one of my room ready, as i booked two, which was perfect, i was greeted with a cookie and complimentary bottles of water, i was shown to my room. Quickly took a shower and was able to catch Friday prayer in Blue Mosque around 12 pm. I am a Hilton Gold member and was upgraded to King Deluxe room with Balcony and a sofa bed upon request. After i booked the hotel, i was looking for an email of the hotel and even called hilton honors but they did not have an email for the hotel. Three days before my stay i received an email from Özge İnce of the hotel welcoming me and giving directions to the hotel. I replied requesting 2 double beds and she said they don’t have that in that hotel but she can arrange a sofa bed in my room, which was perfect. Özge İnce and the Lady that checks people in breakfast are very courteous, professional and very helpful, they are a great asset to the Hilton. The staff is awesome there. When i checked in, i brought american chocolates for them and they were very appreciative of that. As a Gold member my breakfast and WIFI Internet was free. They have a great breakfast everyday, plenty of choices, the internet was excellent as well. I stayed in room 322 and 323, no noise problems at all as others have complained about that. After a day of walking and being tired, take advantage of the hotel’s complimentary Jacuzzi, Steam room , Sauna and Turkish Bath, no swimming pool in the hotel. Massage is extra. This was my first time using a Sauna and Steam room, Its definitely worth trying, I thought about the turkish bath but after watching a youtube video on it, I just couldn’t have a dude give me a bath. Jacuzzi feels good after a day of activity. Every time i visited, we were the only ones there. Try the hotel’s room service’s ice cream, great bargain at 5 Lira only. Every night we needed hot milk for the baby, room service would deliver it, no charge, Thank you for that. I always tip well, it goes a long way. Ohh by the way, the rooms were clean and modern, the 2nd floor has a business center, computers with internet access and printing.

    The hotel is 3 tram stops from the blue mosque, if you walk it, you turn right from the hotel, 7 minutes to Grand Bazaar and 14 minutes to Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Topi palace. Those of you on a tight budget , you can skip Hagia Sophia, in my opinion the Blue Mosque was more unique, what a sight. First day, suggest visiting Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topi Palace, come back to hotel and rest and then visit Grand Bazaar. Second Day take tram to Eminonu, then take ferry to Kadikoy, the ferry is warm and comfortable and you get a nice view of Istanbul without breaking the bank with a boat tour. The cost is 3 Lira for Tram and 3 Lira for the ferry. When you are there, Visit Ciya-Sofrasi restaurant, ( pronounced Chee-ya-Sof-rah-suh ) an authentic turkish restaurant, very well reviewed. The prices are reasonable, for 5 people it was around $50 including tip. We had a difficult time finding it, after the ferry, go across the street and look for the fish market, once you find fish market you can keep walking until you start seeing restaurants and you will run into Ciya-Sofrasi. You can do some shopping there as well.

    Grand Bazaar tips, try buying from fixed priced shops, you cant go wrong there. If you buy from others, try to go to a shopkeeper that is elderly because the younger ones are very rude when you bargain with them and don’t buy. Always ask permission before you touch anything, if you want something, shop around to at least three stores, so it will give you an idea of the prices. Remember you have bargain there, once they give you a price, start at 50 to 55 percent of the price and stop at a maximum of 65 percent and just walk away. That’s the magic, once you start walking away, they will give it you. Personal example, a genie lamp, i asked how much, i was quoted 55 Lira, I said can you do 30 Lira, he said no, the best 45 Lira, i said sorry, cant do it, he said whats your best price, i said 35 Lira, he said no, i started walking away and then he gave it to me for 35 Lira. Be aware of the extremes of Grand Bazaar , little later i asked another shop how much the same lamp, just to see if i got a good deal, he quoted me 155 Lira. That’s when you know to walk away, its not even worth bargaining with them. On your way to blue mosque, you pass two burger kings and one mcdonald’s. The day we left, we took a yellow taxi from outside the hotel that had doubletree logo on it, we asked and verified, 40 Lira to the airport. Also try fresh juice squeezed from oranges, pretty darn good and cheap. I have a video of the room but don’t see an option to upload it. Please feel free to ask any questions and if you thought the review was helpful, please click on helpful review.

  7. Those photos are stunning! Great work. I gotta visit Istanbul. I’ve enjoyed eating some Turkish food like kebabs and shawarma in England and Europe. I imagine the food must be 100x more delicious in Turkey itself.

    • PointChaser

      @ Marcus, thanks! The food was actually disappointing. I loved Doeners in Germany and the Netherlands, but couldn’t come across a decent one in Istanbul. My cousin, who lives there, said the same thing. Try not to eat at the touristy places in Old Town, and look up restaurants on Tripadvisor ahead of time.

      • There are many great kebab restaurants in Istanbul, far better than in London or Germany or in New York. Try Hamdi or Develi. With a bit of homework, any tourist should eat very well and for not much money.

  8. We are flying home to NYC today, having just spent 6 glorious days in Istanbul. Happily we stayed at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet, which is the nicest hotel in the ‘old’ town. If you are not on a tour – and we preferred to not be on one – you should just get up early and beat the crowds and the lines. Hagia Sofia, for example, opens at 9 and we got on a small line at 8:15. By 9 the line was enormous and one would have had to have waited an hour. Same issue in Topkapi and other popular sites. The food is delicious and with some good homework ahead of time you can’t go wrong. The Grand Bazaar is a grand rip-off and of no interest (for us) unless you need to return home with a lot of junky souvenirs. The Spice Bazaar is far more authentic and attractive (the baklava at the Develi shop there is great) and it is near two wonderful mosques. The trams work beautifully but at times taxis are a better deal and quicker. Beware of the hustlers in the old town. They don’t quit. They are determined to get you into their shops. I hate to be rude, but you should not even establish eye contact. The second you do, they are on you like flies. ENJOY!

    • PointChaser

      @ Alan, great observations. We also opted out of taking a tour and still had a great time. Absolutely agree on the Grand Bazaar and Egyptian Spice Market. Researching restaurants ahead of time is something I wish I’d done.

  9. Lines can be extremely long if a cruise ship or two is in town, even for guided tours. When we went there were at least forty (yes forty – the guides all had numbered signs) tour groups of from 30 to 50 people each queued up.

    Photography is extremely tricky. You may want to turn off autofocus as well as flash. Distances are too large for flash. The lighting fixtures and their wires and supports may grab the focus with autofocus on and are difficult to avoid as are other tourists popping their heads into your photos.

    Your photos are very nice. I think that your night visit was a splendid idea.

    All of the above applies to the Hagia Sophia near by. I enjoyed it even more than the Blue Mosque.

    • PointChaser

      @ VG, definitely a good idea to be aware of cruiseship schedules. I also enjoyed Hagia Sophia more than the Blue Mosque – there’s much more to see, which also explains the longer lines. Thanks for the photography tips!

      • The best thing to do when a cruise ship or two pulls into town is to head to the airport ASAP!
        Luckily Istanbul has many square miles, unlike Venice, where the arrival of a few ships – deeply encouraged by the locals, to make their living – destroys the experience.

        • PointChaser

          I didn’t think about it when planning my last trip, but this year I’ll definitely be aware of the cruiseship schedules. There’s so much to see in Istanbul, it would be a shame to miss out because of the lines.

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