The only city in the world to be built on two continents, Istanbul offers a fantastic combination of Eastern and Western culture. Turkey’s largest city is a wonderful destination for an exciting city break holiday.
The city’s history stretches back more than 2,500 years and yet it still has a modern and vibrant feel. Ancient palaces and wonderful-looking Islamic mosques can be found, as well as European-style bars and shops. And although it is home to around 10 million people, Istanbul doesn’t feel too hectic or overcrowded, thanks to its unique location on either side of the banks of the River Bosphorus.
Getting there/getting around Istanbul
Istanbul has two international airports. Ataturk is on the European side and has its own metro station linking it with the city centre. Sabiha Gokcen is further from the centre on the Asian side, but is the airport used by budget carriers such as easyJet.
Transport in Istanbul is cheap, modern and very easy to use. Single-journey tokens can be used as tickets on the metro, the buses, the trams and the ferries and can be bought all around the city for approximately 50p. The metro only covers the European half of Istanbul, but ferries shuttle passengers across the Bosphorus all day and link up with buses on the other side.
Base yourself in Sultanahmet, on the southern half of the city’s European side, to be within strolling distance of the major historical sights. Istanbul’s most famous attraction, the enchanting Blue Mosque, faces the ancient basilica, Hagia Sophia. Just around the corner is the immense 15th-century Topkapi Palace.
The Galata Tower, built in 1348, is the main feature of the northern part of the European side of Istanbul and great for views of the Golden Horn, the small stretch of water which divides the European part of the city in two. The winding back-streets around here house a number of hammams (Turkish baths) where you can enjoy, if that’s the right word, a bone-cracking Turkish massage for less than a tenner.
Day trips from Istanbul
You’d be crazy not to make use of the city’s excellent ferry services. One wonderful day trip is a ferry ride along the length of the Bosphorus, right up to the Black Sea and back down to the Sea of Marmara. You get to stop off for lunch and still return in time for dinner. And there’s no need to book.
Just wander down to the ferry port at the Golden Horn and hop on. Another day trip well worth checking out is the ferry ride to the nearby Princes’ Islands, some of which you can explore on rented bicycles.
There are few places better for the complete shopping experience than Istanbul, where modern shopping centres and centuries-old markets stand side by side.
Most fun are the Grand Bazaar, which is great for silk, jewellery and carpets, and the Spice Bazaar, which is the best place to try Turkish Delight.
Eating out in Istanbul
If you like kebabs you’ll have no problems whatsoever. There’s a kebab shop on pretty much every street and they serve up delicious doners for as little as 40p. For something a bit different head down to the ferry ports on the Golden Horn, where you can buy fried fish straight off the boat.
Families won’t have a problem finding restaurants catering for kids. Western food is just as available as more traditional fare, although you may have to pay a little more for it.
Istanbul has no shortage of bars and clubs, although things tend to quieten down by about midnight. Some of the budget hostels in Sultanahmet have their own bars, but for something with more of a local feel try the cafes and bars north of the Golden Horn, around the Galata Tower.
If it’s not booze you’re after then check out one of Istanbul’s many tea houses, where you can while away the evening playing backgammon, sipping Turkish tea and puffing on apple-tobacco hookahs (water pipes).