Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet
Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet
Once Istanbul’s notorious prison, a lavish conversion in 1996 transformed this site, set amid the squiggle of lanes that radiate behind the colossal competing domes of the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, into the city’s landmark Four Seasons Sultanahmet. Prior prisoners wouldn’t recognize their old sleeping digs now. Built in 1918, the hotel’s ornate neoclassical architecture has been finely restored, while the enclosed exercise yard is now a courtyard garden where guests escape the hustle of the historic quarter amid oodles of hush. Classically designed rooms are awash with light blue and green hues and subtly scattered with Turkish textiles and motifs.
On a hot summer’s day, cool off with cocktails overlooking the old city’s minarets on the rooftop A’Ya Lounge. Eagle-eyed history fans can hunt for the 1938 graffiti left by a former inmate on a pillar near the courtyard. Being neighbors with the Hagia Sophia has extra benefits. The Four Seasons’ Extraordinary Experiences service offers a privileged chance to explore Emperor Justinian’s greatest achievement without the crowds, on an after-dark tour of the Hagia Sophia.
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Staying in Sultanahmet puts guests in prime position to explore Istanbul’s historic monuments, with the city’s major landmarks all within easy strolling distance. The Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace are all just a few minutes’ walk from the hotel’s front door, while it’s a 10-minute stroll to the labyrinthine Grand Bazaar. Amid the historic finery, street food vendors ply for customers beside the tulip gardens of Sultanahmet Park, and the call to prayer echoes above the city pavements. It’s a sensory assault that throws visitors into the very heart of the city.
Need to Know
Rooms: 65 in total. Deluxe rooms $395, Premier rooms $620, suites from $990. Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: The menu showcases the best of Turkish cuisine with an emphasis on locally sourced produce. In the courtyard garden, Seasons Restaurant serves signature dishes such as lamb shank with prune that take their inspiration from the rich traditions of Ottoman royal court cooking. For light snacks and cocktails, complete with Istanbul’s famed backdrop of minarets, the rooftop A’Ya Lounge is the place to head on balmy summer evenings. Spa and gym details: The 770-square-foot fitness center (open 6 a.m.–10 p.m.) provides a full range of state-of-the-art cardiovascular equipment, free weights, and a sauna. The hotel’s health club (open 7 a.m.–11 p.m.) offers a wide range of massage treatments including the Four Seasons' signature foot and shoulder massage, specifically targeting travel-weary joints. Guests looking for complete pampering can book a treatment at the spa in sister hotel Four Seasons Bosporus.
Who’s it for: Well-heeled history buffs looking for a base amid Istanbul’s monuments. Our favorite rooms: The Istanbul Sultanahmet’s fabulous location, in the heart of the old city, means that some street noise will seep into rooms, including the sonorous and haunting early-morning call to prayer. For the quietest stay, ask for a fourth-floor room with a courtyard view. Good to know: Guests have complimentary access to the Four Seasons Bosporus’ 90-foot outdoor pool area (open May to October; 7 a.m. till sunset).
Best View of the Blue Mosque & Hagia Sofia
I promise that the best place to relax, have a twilight cocktail, and soak in the awe-inspiring sights of Istanbul is the rooftop of the Four Seasons at Sultanahmet. The hotel itself is a gem in that its suites include a century-old neoclassical Turkish prison. This is a must when visiting this great city.
The service, location and neoclassical beauty of the Four Seasons at Sultanahmet is unparalleled. And to think the hotel was originally built as a prison in 1918 and houses prisoners for much of the 20th century! If you're a guest, expect decadent afternoon sweets like these macarons and chocolates brought to your room each day. Talk about spoiling your supper!