The wonderful city of Istanbul sits at an amazing geographical location on the Bosphorus (Istanbul Strait), literally dividing the West (Europe) from the East (Asia). Previously known as Byzantium and Constantinople, the city presided over many great wars and civilisations.
Today it retains much of its history in the form of churches, palaces and charming neighbourhoods, while having its feet firmly planted in the present. If you’re visiting Turkey for the first time, make Istanbul your initial stop. You will both understand and enjoy the country a lot better afterwards.
Why visit Istanbul and what’s there for you? The answer is pretty complicated and it’s difficult to be comprehensive – the city simply presents many different facets, ensuring that some of its aspects will appeal to everyone. But one overriding factor is atmosphere: you’ll be able to cut it with a knife when there and remember it with nostalgia forever after.
One of Istanbul’s unique set of features, the Byzantine churches, is a must see, even if only from the outside. Walk to central Hagia Sophia, initially the Orthodox Church’s patriarchal basilica, then a Mosque, finally today’s museum. Alternatively, but preferably in addition, take in the Blue (Sultan Ahmed) Mosque, if only for its amazingly intricate interior blue tiles. The latter represents the architectural culmination of both Byzantine church and Ottoman mosque development.
If you like shopping, you’ll love the Grand Bazaar, probably the most delightful and colourful magical Eastern shopping experience you’ll ever have. Haggle for hand-made beautifully designed gold, lovely Kilim (genuine handmade wool, cotton, and silk carpets). You should sample the beautifully presented local take-away food, then have a relaxing Turkish bath at one of the city’s many marble-lined Hamams.
The nightlife can be pretty eclectic too, with a hectic mix of Eastern-style establishments featuring exotic belly dancing, desert-food and nargile (hookah) smoking, or full-Western style with everything you could wish for right up to date. The restaurants are pretty exquisite too, Turkish food being some of the most tasty and colourful in the world.
The Bosphorus bridges are incredible. Galata bridge spans the Golden Horn and crossing it you look West to Europe, East to Asia and right to Karakoy, an old Genoese colony. Also worth visiting is the Fatih Sultan Mehmet suspension (motorway) bridge.
One thing’s for sure, you will definitely not be bored in Istanbul. However, you will almost certainly run out of time to do all the things you’d like to do and wish to return as soon as possible…
Posted : Friday, October 15th, 2010 at 12:00
Karen Bryan is the founding editor of the UK based, multi author Europe a la Carte Blog which features Europe travel tips about the best places to visit in Europe.