Think of a place where the ancient meets the modern; where east meets west and you have Istanbul, a nation in which contemporary and traditional civilizations are brought together in a truly enchanting way. Among the colourful domes and minarets of the Ottoman Mosques, lies a lively and dynamic city; where young professionals and high-flyers are heading to the Manhattan-esque skyline during the day and to the modern bars and restaurants in the evening.
Although it is not the capital of Turkey today (that accolade belongs to Ankara), Istanbul still has the energy of one of the top cities in the world. And if its history isn’t exclusive enough, unlike any other city in the world, Istanbul is separated between the two continents of Europe and Asia by the Bosphorus Strait, one of the busiest waterways in the world.
So whether it’s a traditional Istanbul you want to visit or the city which is evolving into the place to be in Turkey, you’ll be guaranteed to find both here!
Things to Do
You’ve found your accommodation, settled yourselves in, plonked your luggage on the bed and you’re ready to head out into the city of Istanbul. As the largest city in Turkey you won’t be asking people about sights to see but instead you’ll be wondering where to go first!
Most visitors to Istanbul will stay around the area of Sultanhamet. Here you will find the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque because of the cobalt coloured tiles lining the interior of this building. Built in ten years from 1606, the Blue Mosque’s Ottoman architecture is one of the most visually stunning buildings in Istanbul, with six minarets and curving domes rising up out of the skyline.
In Sultanhamet you can also visit Aya Sofya, now a UNESCO listed museum, this building has been both a church and a mosque in previous lives and displays some of the most grand Byzantine and Ottoman artefacts. To collect some beautiful souvenirs for yourself, there’s no missing the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest covered markets in the world. With over 5000 shops, peruse at your leisure over handmade jewellery, aromatic spices and colourful, patterned embroideries! You can also take a seat in one of the cafes in the Grand Bazaar and enjoy the atmosphere of slower place of life in Istanbul.
If you have a bit more time on your hands and want to head out of the historical side of Istanbul, the Galata district is the place to go to enjoy the city’s vibrant nightlife with contemporary bars and restaurants. Also, the Prince’s Islands are a perfect get away from the city. Situated in the Sea of Marmara, around 20km from the mainland, the nine islands offer yummy pastries and peaceful beaches to spend the day on!
Food and Drink
If there’s one thing about the people of Istanbul, it’s that they know good food. So forget about the doner kebab or the Turkish Delight, there are many more culinary pleasures to be enjoyed in this city. For a delightful breakfast, grab some fresh bread, different cheeses and maybe some Turkish salami and olives to create a little platter to start the day. Alternatively try the sesame-dusted Simit, a doughnut-shaped bread with some freshly squeezed orange juice which can be found on street corners around the city! For something really special, try a plate of creamy Kaymak, a clotted cream-style breakfast slathered with either honey or jam.
As far as lunch and dinner goes, there is just as much selection to satisfy a hungry appetite. Mezze dishes provide a pick and mix selection of lamb, fresh vegetables, sliced sausage, houmous, olives and plates of cheese, all simple yet fulfilling enough for a hearty lunch. The equivalent of pizza in Istanbul is called Pide, a thick dough topped with almost any topping you want, folded and then sliced into thin oval shapes. It’s so delicious you will be wanting to take some home with you! There’s also Gozleme, a Turkish style omelette or if you really do want to try the familiar, the favourite doner meat is probably some of the best you will try anywhere in the world!
For a sit down during the day, shelter from the heat with a refreshing cup Turkish tea or try Turkish coffee - although delicious, watch out for the bitter grains which lay in a thick layer at the bottom of your cup. Enjoy either with a plate of sweet Baklava with some of the finest pistachio around for the ideal afternoon tea!