If you crave ancient sights and “Turkish delight on a moonlit night”, then it’s high time you catch the next flight to Istanbul (not Constantinople), Turkey. Sitting pretty between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, Istanbul is kind of a big deal, but that’s what happens when you’re the country’s cultural centre and home to a continental divide. With ancient mosques, gorgeous palaces and delicious eats waiting around every turn of the cobblestone streets, it’s no wonder Istanbul has been “The City of the World’s Desire” for centuries.
When you’re looking for Istanbul hotels, remember that the city is divided by the Bosporus, a strait that connects two seas while separating the European—Thracian—region from the Asian—Anatolian—side. Many of the city’s more popular cultural sites are clustered in the Old City district just west of the Bosphorus. A little further inland, book accommodation near the Grand Bazaar in Fatih, a neighbourhood that offers proximity to tourist attractions, ample shopping and university town vibes.
Things to Do in Istanbul
Start your trip with a tour of the Hagia Sophia Museum and Church, known to locals as Ayasofia. More than just a brilliant gallery and a place of worship, this venue is always hopping with events and visiting exhibitions that will help set the stage for your Turkish adventure. You could spend an entire weekend visiting beautiful domed mosques and basilicas, but while you’re in Sultanahmet to see Hagia Sophia, why not wander through Topkapi Palace, the home of Ottoman sultans? It’s a palace, after all. North of the Golden Horn—a river, not an actual horn—hang out in the district of Beyoglu, where old meets new. Climb to the top of Galata Tower in next-door neighbourhood Karakoy to see the lay of the land before people-watching and café-dining on Independence Avenue. Stay in Beyoglu for high-energy nightlife, or escape to the Asian side of town for some afternoon respite on secluded Camlika Hill and chow down on the catch of the day in the waterfront near Maiden’s Tower. Don’t stray too far from Fatih, though, because the Grand Bazaar has been filling streets and senses with art and tasty treats since the 15th century. The marketplace comes alive at night, and you’ll want to get in on that before crashing with a happy heart and full tummy in relaxing Istanbul accommodation.
Getting To & Around Istanbul
Touch down at Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST), about 18 km west of the Old City. From there, the city is well connected by bus, subway and trams, but you have some hills and bodies of water to contend with, which makes routes somewhat complicated. Otherwise, taxis and car hire are the most efficient ways to get from the airport to your hotel in Istanbul’s less walkable neighbourhoods.
Best Time to Visit Istanbul
If you’re ready to enjoy Istanbul’s warm weather and lively festivals, plan a trip from March through May and September through November. But really, any time is the right time to visit this storied place. We’ve scouted out sweet deals on airfare and accommodation in Istanbul, so there’s no better time to book Istanbul holidays than right now.
While many of the most visited sightseeing attractions reside on the European side of Istanbul, including the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya, and Topkapi Palace, the more residential Asian (or Anatolian) side also has its own unique charms. Be sure to explore the beauty of both sides to make your trip to Istanbul complete.
From the Blue Mosque to the Grand Bazaar
One of Istanbul's nicknames is the 'the city on seven hills.' Like Rome, the Istanbul of antiquity was built on seven hills, each with religious monuments, in both the Byzantine and Ottoman periods.
Today you will still find many stunning sights on these hills. Topkapi Palace was the former royal residence of the Ottoman sultans. Set by the sea and overlooking the Golden Horn, today's Topkapi Palace is open to the public as a museum, with four primary courtyards and a wealth of treasures. Wander through leafy gardens and airy libraries, an imperial harem, and impressive gilded pavilions.
Head for another hill and the Grand Bazaar awaits you. One of the largest covered markets in the world, featuring more than 6,000 stalls, the Grand Bazaar is a mecca for shoppers. Jewellery, spices, carpets, and pottery combine to create a seemingly endless range of tempting items. Test your bargaining skills or just enjoy a stroll around the structure itself, which seems almost like a palace.
Side by side are two other must-see Istanbul sights. The beautiful mosaics and massive dome of the 1400-year old Aya Sofya leave visitors mesmerized. Equally extravagant is the working Blue Mosque whose six slender minarets are one of the most famous components of Istanbul's skyline.
Istanbul is one of the oldest cities in the world and with such a long and rich legacy it would be easy to tour only the city's historical wonders. However, present-day Istanbul is one of the most vibrant, sophisticated, and cosmopolitan places on earth and no visit would be complete without experiencing what the modern city has to offer. An evening out could include cuisine from all corners of the world (though be sure to try the sumptuous mezzes and kebabs), cocktails at an elegant bar on the Bosphorus, and clubbing until dawn. Istanbul at night is a beautiful sight.
Take some time for leisure, too, like a traditional Turkish bath or a cruise down the Bosphorus Strait. One visit to Istanbul could never suffice and how could it? There are two continents to explore! So slow down and sip some fragrant mint tea, while you plan your return visit. Hide