Istanbul is a city of exhilarating opposites. It straddles both Asia and Europe, architectural styles across the ages are crammed together on vibrant streets, and the new mingles with the very, very old. Exploring its nooks, you'll find traditional tea gardens, the commotion of the coffee houses, and the humid hamams where you can relax the way locals have for centuries. From majestic mosques that dominate the skyline to the blue of the Bosphorus running through the city, the capital city of Turkey will stun and entrance in equal measure.
Things to see
Visiting Istanbul is to be immersed in Islamic culture and history – and few places are quite as extravagant as the Blue Mosque. Completed in 1616, it's a veritable palace of domes and sky-piercing minarets, combining Byzantine and Ottoman architectural styles, its interiors covered with handmade ceramic tiles. Take your shoes off as you enter and pad across its ancient floor to take in the vaulted, glittering ceilings. Just as historic is the Grand Bazaar, a sumptuous labyrinth of shops and stalls that date back to the 15th Century. Rugs are piled high, crimson and golden heaps of spices lie ready to be scooped up, and glinting racks of jewelery tempt visitors as they surge past – even the vintage drinking fountains are eye-catching. For views over the jumbled sprawl of Istanbul, climb the Galata Tower – a medieval stone column topped with arches and a conical roof. Perhaps the single most spectacular attraction in all Istanbul is Topkapi Palace. Once home to the Ottoman Sultans, it's a whole world in itself – stepping through the Imperial Gate with its shining marble facade, you can explore the many courtyards and green spaces, as well as the towers of the Gate of Salutation, ancient servants' quarters, the armoury, and even where the sultans' harems used to live. A rather more modern landmark is the Bosphorus Bridge – as well as offering great views as you drive across, it's a glittering multi-colored sight by night.
Hotels in Istanbul
If you appreciate the all-in-one convenience of resort hotels, you'll be spoiled for choice here. There are lavish Istanbul hotels featuring numerous restaurants and bars on site, as well as rooftop swimming pools and bars, and relaxing spas. Many are also excellently positioned to offer views of the Bosphorous and historic landmarks across the city. There are also a number of more modestly-priced hotels in Istanbul, many with sleekly minimalist guestrooms as well as facilities such as WiFi and flat-screen televisions.
Where to stay
Its history is what makes Istanbul what it is, and you'll be surrounded by it if you book your hotel in Sultanahmet. This is the ancient heart of the city, and will put you amid landmarks like the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace, as well as the immense Byzantine masterpiece of Hagia Sophia – once a church, then a mosque, now a museum. Alternatively, if you're more interested in the modern, cosmopolitan side of Istanbul, you can make Beyoglu your base. On the cusp of the Golden Horn, it's a bohemian, busy quarter packed with bars, art galleries, and boutiques – particularly along Istiklal Avenue. Keep an eye out for Neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings on the walk over to Taksim Square, where the Monument of the Republic pays homage to those who first formed the Turkish Republic.
How to get to
If you're arriving in Istanbul by plane, there are two main gateways. First is Istanbul Ataturk Airport, the largest of the pair, which receives flights from major cities across the world and is around 25 kilometers from Istanbul itself. Shuttle buses and the light rail service can whisk you from Arrivals to the city center in a jiffy. Alternatively, budget airlines have good connections with Sabiha Gokcen International Airport, which is around 35 kilometers from Istanbul.