The Topkapı Palace, a large palace on the banks of the Bosphorus in Istanbul, served as the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for around 400 years. Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, it has been converted to a museum and is now a major tourist attraction and worth a visit.
If you only have one day in Istanbul, the lush courtyards, colorful tulip gardens and sea views of Topkapı are a must-see. The Topkapı Palace, once the royal residence of numerous generations of Sultans, is a fine example of Ottoman architecture that at its peak contained bakeries, a mint, mosques, and a hospital within its walls. With a dedicated ticket and an escorted tour, you can visit the lavish harem where the sultan's wives lived in a complex of courtyards and intricately tiled rooms surrounding a Turkish bath. Did you know harem means "forbidden or sacred inviolable place" in Arabic?
The palace contains many important holy relics from the Muslim world, including the cloak and sword of the Prophet Mohammed. During your visit, you can view a large collection of weapons, robes, shields, and armor that were used by the Ottomans and are now housed at the palace. The displays also include examples of Islamic calligraphic manuscripts, murals, and Ottoman miniatures, as well as other treasures and jewelry. Specific exhibitions include Chinese and Japanese porcelains, European porcelains, the Imperial Treasury, portraits of Sultans, and the pavilion of the Holy Mantle and Holy Relics.
The museum is open daily except Tuesdays and limited opening hours apply during the first day of religious festivals. To make your visit as educational as possible and to ensure you don't miss out on the fun details, collect an audio guide on arrival. There are several cafés and restaurants in the complex to stop at when hunger kicks in, and as you make your way through the palace, don't forget to browse the book and gift shops you pass along the way.