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A Istanbul travel guide – Ottoman splendours, colourful markets and rooftop nightlife.

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An Istanbul city break means days spent exploring opulent palaces and teeming markets, before evening drinks in rooftop bars overlooking the Bosphorus. After booking your Istanbul hotel, travel through centuries of the city’s convoluted history at Ottoman mosques and Byzantine churches.

Centuries of history

Relive golden eras at fresco-filled Byzantine churches and opulent Ottoman palaces on your Istanbul city break. In Sultanahmet, Istanbul’s old town, golden mosaics with biblical scenes adorn the domes of the magnificent Hagia Sophia – built as a Byzantine church, converted into an Ottoman-era mosque and now a secular space. Emperors held chariot races around the nearby Hippodrome, today dotted with immense carved white pillars. Over the Golden Horn waterway, views from the top of 14th-century Galata Tower take in pencil-like minarets from a myriad of Ottoman mosques. For a taste of today’s Turkey, the Istanbul Modern art gallery in Karaköy showcases the nation’s finest painters.

Shopping for treasures

In Istanbul, old shopping habits die hard. Find the freshest pistachios from the L-shaped stone Egyptian Bazaar in Eminönü, where traders have been selling aromatic spices for centuries. Serious carpet shoppers should head to the vast central Grand Bazaar where stallholders drive a hard bargain on woven rugs or the best silk Hariki carpets. Unearth cut-price clothing treasures at ramshackle Iş Merkezi mall in Beyoğlu, or follow local fashionistas to Nişantaşi for home-grown designer gear. Hidden-alleyways selling local trinkets dot the vast pedestrianised Istiklal Caddesi

 

Lively dining

Istanbullus love to eat out. Squeeze your way down Beyoğlu’s busy Nevizade Sokak street for a noisy beer and fish meal. Turkish dinner kicks off with assorted mezes for everyone to share. Smoky aubergine dips, hot pepper pâté and deep-fried cheese pastries give you a taste of traditional Turkey. For informal, daytime dining, try fresh fish in bread from boats at Eminönü harbour, or a tasty gözleme (stuffed pancake). After a meal, find tucked-away bars in Tünel for a cold Efes beer, or sip cocktails on a stylish rooftop bar overlooking the Bosphorus before heading back to your Istanbul hotel.