Sultanahmet is famous for its meatballs. That and the magnificient Hagia Sophia church, Topkapi Palace commanding the Bosphorus and the amazingly beautiful Blue Mosque. And the Hippodrome, Basilica Cistern, Istanbul Archeology Museum, Great Palace Mosaic Museum and the carpet salesmen though their numbers are decreasing. It is extremely multinational, beautiful with its gardens and open spaces, easy with its cafes, relaxing under the shade of the trees decorating its side streets. And then busy again with bus loads of tourists. Sultanahmet is both part of Istanbul and the whole world.
In the 1960s not many tourists came. And those who visited the city were the hippies mostly from Europe and the US, They stayed in cheap dirty hotel rooms, were fed free by caring restaurant owners and they smoked. That was like 1960’s everywhere in the West, Sultanahmet was the place of the West at those times. Istanbul residents avoided Sultanahmet.
In 1963 James Bond (Sean Connery) came to Istanbul with the now classic With Love From Russia. It was that same year after starting “nouveau roman” movement in France, Alain Robbe Grillet came to Istanbul to shoot his beautiful “L’Immortelle”. What a wonderful experience to see Istanbul in old movies as so much has changed since then.
And there was a Sultanahmet prison where most famous socialist political prisoners and some of the greatest figures of not only of Turkish literature but also the world literature like Nazim Hikmet were held. Nowadays that prison is converted to a luxury international hotel.
Times have sure changed but Sultanahmet is as beautiful as always. You can stay here to immerse yourself in history or to avoid tourists you can stay elsewhere in Istanbul and visit during day time. It depends absolutely how tourist intolerant you are but Sultanahmet surely is one of the best places to stay in Istanbul.