Explore Istanbul - An Exclusive Guide
A perfect day in... Istanbul, Turkey
The only city in the world to straddle two continents, there’s nowhere quite like Istanbul. Ruled by a variety of different empires – from the Greeks, Romans and Venetians to the Ottomans, who came last and decided to stay – the city’s culture is made up of an astonishing mix of European/Christian and Islamic influences. You’ll find history at every turn, from jaw-droppingly beautiful mosques and palaces, to treasure-filled museums, sitting alongside lively bazaars, bars and stylish restaurants.
What to see in Istanbul
Start off in the Sultanahmet district, where most of Istanbul’s must-see sights are within walking distance. One of the grandest and most important religious buildings in the world, the Hagia Sophia, needs to be seen to be believed. First constructed in the sixth century as a church (it was then converted into a mosque in 1453, made a museum in 1934 and controversially turned back into a mosque in 2020), its striking domed basilica went on to inspire countless Ottoman-era mosques. Expect to spend a good few hours exploring the imposing marble columns and dazzling gold mosaics of this Byzantine gem.
Just next door sits the magnificent Blue Mosque, with its instantly-recognizable towering minarets. Built in 1609, inside you’ll find over 20,000 blue Iznik tiles gleaming from the multiple domes and half domes. A 20-minute walk away lies the beautifully restored Suleymaniye mosque, created by the renowned Ottoman architect Sinan. Head to its terrace to take in the glorious views across the Golden Horn.
The loveliest way to explore the rest of Istanbul is by boat. Cruise up the Bosphorus and admire Ottoman palaces and castles as you pass, before ending up in the Asian shore village of Anadolu Kavağı, close to where the Bosphorus meets the Black Sea.
What to do in Istanbul
Unsurprisingly, this ancient city is filled with a plethora of museums. Those in the sprawling Topkapi Palace complex – once home to sultans, courtiers and concubines – are some of the finest, housing important artifacts such as the Topkapi Dagger and a hair supposedly from the Prophet Mohammed. Take a moment to relax in the café for a reviving Turkish coffee and superb views across the Bosphorus.
Many of Istanbul’s most impressive treasures can be found in the Archaeology Museum, such as the world’s earliest peace treaty, dating back to 1259BC, sitting alongside finds from the city of Troy and ornate sarcophagi from the Royal Necropolis of Sidon. You can learn more about the city’s rich history through a series of cleverly constructed exhibits.
No trip to Istanbul is complete without a visit to the delightfully chaotic Grand Bazaar, with over 4,000 shops and stalls. Lose yourself in the labyrinthine alleyways as you unearth treasures, watch the artisans at work and drink the obligatory numerous cups of sugared tea.
What to eat in Istanbul
Thanks to its unique mix of cultures, Turkish food is some of the most exciting and diverse in the world. Start the day with a Turkish breakfast, where you’ll be treated to sucuklu yumurta (spiced sausage with fried eggs) and börek (flaky pastry filled with tangy cheese, minced meat and vegetables).
If what you’re after is the best fresh produce in the city, make like a local and head to the Kadıköy Produce Market. Here you can feast on everything from creamy yoghurt and honey, regional Anatolian specialties and crispy lahmacun (Arabic-style pizza), before stocking up on lokum (Turkish delight) to take home.
For more information, go to visit.istanbul
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