Istanbul's Ottoman palaces: a guide

Istanbul's Ottoman palaces: a guide

Take yourself back to the days of old Constantinople's ornate royal homes with some of our favorite Turkish mansions

As the former capital of the Ottoman Empire, it’s no surprise that Istanbul has its fair share of Ottoman palaces. Sure, there are the big names like Topkapı Palace and Dolmabahçe Palace that make every ‘Best of’ list about Istanbul. But the city is also full of opulent, decadent palaces that are tucked away and a joy to discover. We’ve put together a list of our favourite palaces that will leave you fantasising about living the life of luxury in old Constantinople.

Yıldız Palace

The Ottoman sultans had been enjoying the environs of Yıldız Park years before Sultan Abdülhamid II, one of the Empire’s most paranoid sultans, ordered new buildings to be added to the park’s vacation mansions and villas in the late 19th century. Fearful of a seaside attack, Abdülhamid II left Dolmabahçe Palace – located on the vulnerable waterside – and hunkered down in Yıldız Palace, which expanded over time until it became a small city of sorts. The opulent and atmospheric Palace is the epitome of Ottoman art nouveau style. It’s not possible to explore the vast grounds and all of the buildings, but part of the Palace now operates as a museum.

Related: Istanbul for history lovers

Aynalıkavak Palace

This holiday palace was built in the early 17th century, at the high point of Ottoman power. As a result the Aynalıkavak Palace is a classic example of purely Ottoman design, unlike the other palaces on this list which mainly reflect the European influence in late Ottoman architecture. It has a pavilion-style structure topped with a dome and handsome sloping roof. Now functioning as a museum, the interiors are incredibly well preserved and decorated with luxurious silk divans, luminous inlaid-pearl furniture and stunning chandeliers. Located in Hasköy on the shores of the Golden Horn, it’s a mirror of Ottoman splendour at its height.

Related: Istanbul for nature lovers

Ihlamur Palace

This palace actually consists of two separate buildings, the Merasim Kiosk and the Maiyet Kiosk, which are surrounded by linden trees (ilhamur is the Turkish word for linden). One of the rare green spaces in Beşiktaş, this park and its small but ornate palaces were a peaceful retreat for Ottoman sultans, a luxury that now you too can enjoy. The two structures were built by Sultan Abdülmecid in the 19th century, when the area was just a wooded valley. The Merasim Kiosk, with a baroque staircase framing its entrance, was reserved for the sultan's personal use in ceremonies and celebrations. Inside, its furnishings are an amalgamation of European and Ottoman style. Today you can explore these two buildings, which now operate as a museum, and breathe in the linden-scented air just as the sultans did.

Related: A guide to Turkish tea and coffee

Beylerbeyi Palace

beylerbeyi-palace-nameer-flickrNameer, Flickr

This delightful, compact palace on the Asian side was commissioned by Sultan Abdülaziz and built in the 1860s as an imperial Ottoman summer residence and a place to entertain visiting heads of state. And entertain it did: Empress Eugénie of France was apparently so enamoured with the palace’s magnificence that she had a copy of the window in the guest room made for her bedroom in the Tuileries Palace. Although it’s now dwarfed by the First Bosphorus Bridge, which was built immediately south of the Palace, it still provides a tranquil escape. You can explore the interior, with its restrained elegance, and then enjoy a tea in the quiet seaside garden.

Related: 10 things you need to know about Istanbul

Khedive Palace

While this is one of Istanbul’s more remote palaces, it's well worth making the trek up the Asian side to soak in the beautiful surroundings. The art nouveau construction, which was completed in 1907 and belonged to the last viceroy of Egypt, was inspired by Italian villas of the Renaissance era, yet also incorporated characteristics and details of Ottoman architecture. All that to say, it’s an eclectic building. Yet what makes the Khedive Palace so stunning is its location. Positioned on one of the city’s many hills, the palace looks down over the Bosphorus from its forested perch. Grab a seat at one of the cafes and restaurants that now occupy the palace and stay awhile.

1 Yıldız Palace
2 Aynalıkavak Palace
3 Ihlamur Palace
4 Beylerbeyi Palace
5 Khedive Palace