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Istanbul Minivan.COM Recommended places to see in istanbul
- Hagia Sophia
It’s said that when the Byzantine Emperor Justinian entered his finished church for the first time in AD 536, he cried out “Glory to God that I have been judged worthy of such a work. Oh Solomon, I have outdone you!” The Aya Sofya (formerly the Hagia Sophia) was the emperor’s swaggering statement to the world of the wealth and technical ability of his empire. Tradition maintained that the area surrounding the emperor’s throne within the church was the official center of the world.
- Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi)
First built by Mehmet the Conqueror in the 15th century, this glorious palace beside the Bosphorus was where the sultans of the Ottoman Empire ruled over their dominions up until the 19th century. The vast complex is a dazzling display of Islamic art, with opulent courtyards lined with intricate hand-painted tile-work, linking a warren of sumptuously decorated rooms, all bounded by battlemented walls and towers.
- Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)
Sultan Ahmet I’s grand architectural gift to his capital was this beautiful mosque, commonly known as the Blue Mosque today. Built between 1609 and 1616, the mosque caused a furore throughout the Muslim world when it was finished, as it had six minarets (the same number as the Great Mosque of Mecca). A seventh minaret was eventually gifted to Mecca to stem the dissent.
The mosque gets its nickname from its interior decoration of tens of thousands of Iznik tiles. The entire spatial and color effect of the interior makes the mosque one of the finest achievements of Ottoman architecture. A great sightseeing joy of a trip to Istanbul is wandering amid the gardens sandwiched between the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya to experience their dueling domes in twin glory. Come at dusk for extra ambience, as the call to prayer echoes out from the Blue Mosque’s minaret.
- Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarniçi)
The Basilica Cistern is one of Istanbul’s most surprising tourist attractions. This huge, palace-like underground hall, supported by 336 columns in 12 rows, once stored the imperial water supply for the Byzantine emperors. The project was begun by Constantine the Great but finished by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century.
The ancient Hippodrome was begun by Septimius Severus in AD 203 and completed by Constantine the Great in AD 330. This was the center of Byzantine public life and the scene of splendid games and chariot races but also factional conflicts. Today, there isn’t much of the Hippodrome left to see, except for a small section of the gallery walls on the southern side, but the At Meydani (park), which now stands on the site is home to a variety of monuments.
- Istanbul Archaeology Museum
Just a hop, skip, and jump away from Topkapi Palace, this important museum complex brings together a staggering array of artifacts from Turkey and throughout the Middle East, which sweeps through the vast breadth of history of this region. There are three separate sections in the complex, each of which are worthy of a visit: the Museum of the Ancient Orient; the main Archaeology Museum; and the Tiled Pavilion of Mehmet the Conqueror, which holds a staggering collection of ceramic art. As well as all the wonderful artifacts on display, don’t miss the interesting Istanbul Through the Ages exhibit room in the main Archaeology Museum.
- Grand Bazaar (Kapali Çarsi)
For many visitors, sightseeing in Istanbul is as much about shopping as museums and monumental attractions, and the Grand Bazaar is where everyone comes. This massive covered market is basically the world’s first shopping mall, taking up a whole city quarter, surrounded by thick walls, between the Nure Osmaniye Mosque and Beyazit Mosque. The Beyazit Mosque (built in 1498-1505) itself occupies the site of Theodosius I’s Forum and has architecture inspired by the Aya Sofya.
- Süleymaniye Mosque
Sitting high on the hill above Sultanahmet district, the Süleymaniye Mosque is one of the most recognized landmarks of Istanbul. It was built for Süleyman the Magnificent by the famed Ottoman architect Sinan between 1549 and 75. The interior, dominated by its soaring 53-meter-high dome is notable for its harmonious proportions and unity of design. Outside in the tranquil garden area is an interesting Ottoman cemetery that is also home to the türbes (tombs) of the Sultan Süleyman and his wife Haseki Hürrem Sultan (known in the west as Roxelana).
- Spice Bazaar (Misir Çarsisi)
The Spice Bazaar is the place to get your foodie fix of lokum (Turkish delight), dried fruit, nuts, herbs, and, of course, spices. Much of the money that helped construct it came from the taxes the Ottoman government levied on Egyptian-made products, which is why its name in Turkish (Misir Çarsisi) means “Egyptian Market.” The Spice Bazaar is one of the most popular things to do, and at certain times of the day gets ridiculously crowded with huge tour groups from the docked cruise ships. Try to come before 11am or after 4pm.
- Dolmabahçe Palace
The sumptuous and ornate Dolmabahçe Palace shows the clear influence of European decoration and architecture on the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. Built by Sultan Abdülmecid I in 1854, it replaced Topkapi Palace as the main residence of the sultans. The formal gardens are punctuated with fountains, ornamental basins, and blooming flower beds, while inside the sheer splendor and pomp of the Turkish Renaissance style is dazzling. The interiors mix Rococo, Baroque, Neoclassical, and Ottoman elements, with mammoth crystal chandeliers, liberal use of gold, French-style furniture, and dazzling frescoed ceilings.
- Chora Church (Kariye Müzesi)
Chora means “country” in Greek, and this beautiful Church (originally called the Church of St. Saviour of Chora) lay just outside old Constantinople’s city walls. The first Chora Church was probably built here in the 5th century, but what you see now is the building’s 6th reconstruction as it was destroyed completely in the 9th century and went through several facelifts from the 11th to 14th centuries.
- Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts (Türk ve Islam Eserleri Müzesi)
Housed in the palace of Ibrahim Pasa, who was Grand Vizier for Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, this museum is a must-see attraction for anyone interested in Ottoman and Islamic art. The carpet collection on display here is vast and is heralded by textile experts as the world’s best. This is a prime place to come have a peek at the dazzling array of styles of Turkish carpets (along with carpets from the Caucasus and Iran) across the centuries before setting out on a shopping mission to purchase your own floor piece. There are also exquisite ceramics, calligraphy, and wood carving exhibits ranging in date from the 9th century AD to the 19th century.
- Little Aya Sofya (Küçük Aya Sofya)
Before Emperor Justinian built the Aya Sofya, he had to test out if the building would work structurally, so he built this miniature version first. Its original name was the Church of Sergius and Bacchus, but the obvious architectural parallels with the Aya Sofya led to its long-held nickname becoming the building’s official title. During the Ottoman era, the church was converted into a mosque and it still functions as a working mosque today. Although its proportions aren’t as grandiose as others in Istanbul, the building has been beautifully restored and is well worth a visit.
- Rüstem Pasa Mosque
Possibly the most perfectly pretty mosque in Istanbul, Rüstem Pasa Mosque is home to the most stunningly preserved Iznik tile panels in the city. Sure the Blue Mosque may get all the glory, but it’s here — covering both the exterior courtyard walls and the mosque interior itself — that you’ll find the best examples of these gorgeously intricate hand-painted tiles in blues, reds, and greens. Even better, as it’s less known, you’re likely to be able to admire them up close without having to battle any crowds. Finding the mosque adds to the fun as it’s squirreled down a skinny lane lined with market stalls and always bustling with life, near the Spice Bazaar.
- Yedikule Fortress (Yedikule Hisari)
Although it’s a bit of a schlep on the suburban train to get out to Yedikule, this commanding fortress is well worth it. Built in the 5th century by the Emperor Theodosius II, the fortress made up the southern section of Constantinople’s defensive walls. The mammoth arch (blocked up in the late Byzantine period) was known as Porta Aurea (Golden Gate), with doors plated in gold. When the Ottomans conquered the city, they used the fortress for defense, and later as a prison and execution place.
- Galata Tower
This Genoese tower was built in the 14th century and is one of Istanbul’s most recognizable landmarks. Take the elevator or the stairs for great panoramic views over the city from the top balcony. Be aware, though, that it’s a super popular sight, so come early or be prepared to wait in line.
- Carpet Museum
For many people, a trip to Istanbul isn’t complete without at least one trip to a carpet shop. Head here, to find out more about the incredible heritage and artistry of carpets before you purchase your own rug to bring home. Housed in one of the outer buildings of the Aya Sofya complex, the three galleries here walk you through the history of Turkish carpets and the dazzling array of motifs and styles from different regions of the country. Think of it as your Turkish carpet 101.
- Istanbul Modern
Proving that Istanbul isn’t just about historic sightseeing, this thoroughly up-to-the-minute art gallery holds an extensive collection of Turkish modern art with an ever-changing calendar of exhibitions, hosting both local and international artists throughout the year. This is by far the best place in town to get your finger on the pulse of Turkey’s contemporary art scene. The galleries are being temporarily hosted in a historic Beyoglu building while they wait for the completion of this art museum’s new permanent home in Karaköy.
- Fatih Mosque
The district of Fatih is home to this important mosque built by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, who finally broke through Constantinople’s walls, ending the Byzantine era. Built atop a hill, so its multiple domes and minarets soar above the district, it’s a grandly imposing building. As the first of Istanbul’s grand imperial mosques to be built, as well as being home to Sultan Mehmet’s tomb, it’s an important historic building and a popular pilgrimage site for locals.
- Istiklal Caddesi and Taksim
Pedestrianized Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Street) is a bustling modern shopping street with a wealth of restaurants and cafés. The lower end of the street can be reached by taking the world’s oldest underground railway from near Galata Bridge, the Tünel, constructed in 1875. There is also a quaintly old-fashioned tramway that runs along its length right up to Taksim Square at the top of the hill. From Taksim Square, busy Cumhuriyet Caddesi is lined with hotels, shops, restaurants, and high rises. On the east side of the road, just after the square, is Maçka Park, which is home to the interesting Military Museum.