Istanbul is a city which everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. An enchanting blend of Eastern and Western culture, a vibrant, modern city, with a truly unique identity. Its rich past coexists alongside its youthful exuberance. Although no longer the capital of Turkey, Istanbul still remains the country's cultural and business centre.
If you are after a traditional experience of Turkey then Istanbul is the place to visit to really get a feel for the rich Turkish history. However, with hip bars and clubs, bustling fashion markets and shops, Istanbul has also recently become a trendy travelling hotspot.
There are a range of stylish bars to head to in the evening with many also serving food late in to the night. 5 Kat is decorated in a boudoir style and revellers can spill out onto the rooftop terrace during the summer months. Degustasyon and Gabile are large clubs with different floors playing different music.
When it comes to sightseeing, Istanbul has so much to offer from architectural sites to great museums. Check out the fascinating Rumeli Fortress and the Yedikule 7 towers city gate and one of the many military museums. It is also interesting to see some of the many Turkish mosques dotted about Istanbul.
You cannot visit Turkey without going to a traditional Turkish baths which are everywhere you turn in Istanbul. The baths have cold and hot areas to lie in and are a relaxing way to spend your day.
Things to see
Formerly the gardens of Topkapi Palace, Gülhane Park is now one of Istanbul’s largest public parks. In summer, locals and tourists flock here in search of shade and the occasional live concert. Head to the northern end of the park for views of the shimmering Bosphorus.
More than 4,000 shops sell all manner of items at Istanbul's Grand Bazaar – one of the world’s largest and oldest covered markets. Some love the hustle and bustle of this centuries-old shopping hub, while others recoil at the pushy sales techniques and shelves of tourist tat.
The Egyptian Spice Bazaar, situated close to the banks of the Golden Horn, has an array of exotic herbs, nuts and, of course, spices on offer.
The architecturally beautiful Blue Mosque is distinctive for its array of cascading domes and six glittering minarets. Commissioned in the 17th century by Sultan Ahmet I, the Blue Mosque – so called because of the 20,000 blue tiles that adorn its domed ceilings – was designed to rival neighbouring Hagia Sophia. Pause to admire the mosque’s impressive main entrance, but note that non-worshippers must enter via the north gate.
What to eat?
Authentic Turkish food is a far cry from the greasy kebabs that we get on many a high street back home; prepare your palate for a heady mix of culinary influences. Authentic Ottoman food can be found in many areas of Istanbul and is not to be missed. Expect lots of sweet and sour fruit and meat combos: try Kavun dolmasi, a melon stuffed with minced meat, rice, almonds and pistachios.
What to drink?
Turkey has a wide variety of local drinks on offer — hot or cold, with or without alcohol. Some of them will sound and look familiar but come with a Turkish twist, such as tea or coffee. Others will be new to you and are well worth a try to please your taste buds. Among those are ayran, boza and other juices. In the alcoholic department, raki is the undisputed national drink, followed by locally bottled beers and wines.
The city of Istanbul has a temperate-continental climate, with hot and humid summers; and cold, rainy and often snowy winters. Humidity is generally high which can make temperatures feel much warmer during the summer months.
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