Turkey is an incredibly diverse country. Bridging the two continents of Asia and Europe, this tremendous collision of civilisations mixes the mystique, power and glitter of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires.
Although it may not be the capital of Turkey, Istanbul is still by far the largest city in the country, and it’s easily accessible by trains, planes and automobiles. Let’s take a look at 6 of the main reasons why you should visit:
Driving on Istanbul’s busy streets is most certainly for the experts. It’s recommended that you take public transport instead. Miss a tram on the main route through the old city, and there’s often another only seconds behind. A new metro line opens in late 2014 from the city centre to the second airport, Sabiha Gokcen, and Ataturk airport is already linked.
Turkish Market Scene
Hop off the tram and head over to the Grand Bazaar where you will usually hear the tremendous quadraphonic sound of the muezzins praying from all four separate mosques around you. The 500-year-old Grand Bazaar – on whose roof two stuntmen staged that heart-pounding motorbike chase in James Bond’s Skyfall – is a model for Turkish markets everywhere.
With over 3,000 shops wide open to the public eye, there is a wealth of choice, and the products are hand-made and high-quality.
History At Every Turn
Historical monuments and buildings crowd the heart of this huge city. You can take in most of them on a day on foot, from the Blue Mosque, which is open, free, to visitors outside times of prayer, via the underground Basilica Cistern. From there, you can take the tram up to the Roman-era Valens Aqueduct and over the Galata Bridge, which is permanently lined with a flock of fishermen.
Stand in the hour-long queue for the Hagia Sophia, one of the world’s most awe-inspiring buildings, or pay an extra 25 Turkish liras (which is around £9) each for fast-track entry and an official tour.
Typically, the tour guide will give you a brisk 30-minute overview of Turkey’s most visited attraction, and then leave you to appreciate its majesty. Built in 537, the Hagia Sophia was the greatest cathedral in Christendom for 900 years. When the Turks took the city (then Constantinople) in 1453, it became a mosque, which it remained until it was converted into a museum in 1935. Find yourself a quiet vantage point in the gallery and look at the mighty columns and astonishing mosaics. It is truly incredible.
Stay In Style
To widen your Istanbul experience, choose a hotel in another of the city’s historic districts. Nisantasi is a fashionable shopping and residential area whose inhabitants include Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul’s Nobel-winning novelist. You can find fantastic hotels and apartments in the city by looking through the different travel sites like this site here.
The range of small, often family run restaurants is dominant. There are many alternatives to the traditional menu of meatballs and kebab. The lively Limonata restaurant on the top floor of the Nisantasi shopping centre provides good examples of the city’s famous zest and zing.