Named as a top city break destination by Trip Advisor, Istanbul is a cosmopolitan destination that captures attention with its mystical blend of romanticism, urban influences, and historical timeline. Previously the capital and ruling centre of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, and named Byzantium and Constantinople respectively, these days, it is Turkey’s busiest city and it dominates the world’s travel industry.
Sitting majestically on two continents, the intricate blend of old and new, modern and historical has fused gently together to provide visitors with everything they need for the perfect trip including affordable accommodation, international cuisine, shopping havens, vibrant nightlife and an abundance of tourist attractions.
Sultanahmet and the Bygone Ambiance of the Old City
Most first time visitors to Istanbul head to Sultanahmet, the old part of the city known as the historical peninsula. From here, the Greeks and Ottomans built their powerful empires and the splendour of their ancient architectural styles is clearly visible in timeless and classical buildings such as the Hagia Sophia. Inside the former church, mosque and now museum, intricate Christian frescoes sit among Islamic calligraphy plaques in what used to be the world’s biggest dome building.
A short walk away, the massive Blue Mosque doubles up as a place of prayer and busy tourist attraction. Built in 1616 and revered for its large size and tiled interior, it is a glimpse into the pious Istanbul, where the call to prayer calls out five times a day.
Also, within close distance is the Topkapi Palace, nerve centre of the Ottoman Empire for more than 400 years. The sprawling collection of buildings including the armoury, stables, kitchens, and throne rooms hold tales of the sultans and their lives that were complex, intense and if we are to listen to rumours filled with desperate grabs for power and a jealous blend of competitive emotions in the harem.
Other landmarks to visit in this area include the underground water cistern of Basilica and the Archaeological Museum but visitors also head west towards the Grand Bazaar, the largest marketplace of Turkey. Built by the Ottomans, everything you can imagine is sold in this building, that is the size of a small village, therefore making it the perfect place to shop for souvenirs.
Modern Trends of the New City
Crossing the famous Galata Bridge, known for its fish restaurants, and passing by the ancient Genesee Galata tower, visitors emerge onto the 1.5-kilometer Istiklal Avenue that is the most famous street in Turkey. Modern influences and fashionable trends have made their mark and districts surrounding this street, are now the top areas in Istanbul for nightlife and shopping.
Cultural and religious influences that shaped the city over time are evident in places such as the Modern Art Gallery, Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence and the Church of Saint Anthony of Padua.
The former Flower Passage (Cicek Pasaj,) made famous by Russian immigrants after the revolution in their country is now a top tourist attraction but also a favourite dining haunt at night for Turks seeking traditional food, music and drink.
With its diverse opportunities for hotels, shopping, nightlife and international cuisine, the new city is an attractive option for any repeat visitors to Istanbul. Lastly, a must-see that is a short bus ride away from Taksim square is the Dolmabahce Palace, last home of the Ottoman sultans.
The marble staircases, gold leaf ceilings, handmade silk carpets and crystal chandeliers are reflective of their desires to be seen as more western and possibly played a large part in their demise because by 1923, the bankrupt Ottoman Empire was called the sick man of Europe and disbanded to form the republic of Turkey. Fast forward to more than 90 years later and Istanbul, the city of three names, still garners fame as a travel hub and the most visited tourist destination in the country.
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