Istanbul spans both Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait and the Old City reflects cultural influences from past empires that once ruled here. It has a rich culinary heritage too with mouthwatering street food to try including Turkish delights, Baklava, Borek and the salacious Doner meat wrapped up in Lavash.
On the European side of the city there are so many famed historic places to explore, all situated around the Sultanahmet Square. These include the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Basilica Cistern. The square itself is dotted with street vendors selling you their characteristic Turkish snacks.
A short walk from the square you will find the Hagia Sophia, this impressive Church became a Mosque and then into a Museum. It is one of the world’s highest architectural achievements. Climb up to the top of the spiral ramp to get to the gallery and gaze at the splendid Byzantine mosaics.
Another area to pop down to see is the Grand Bazaar. It is the largest covered bazaar in the world and encompasses between 4000-5000 shops amongst 60 streets with restaurants, Mosques and fountains to be found. If you are looking for a bargain the Grand Bazaar is famous for its leather, ceramics, carpets and jewellery.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, is an Ottoman-era Mosque attracting a huge numbers of tourists. Constructed between 1609 and 1616, its Külliye contains Ahmed's tomb, a madrasah and a hospice. It is still an active Mosque today calling followers to prayer.
Topkapi Palace is a site you do not want to miss while in Istanbul. This complex enclosed by four lush green courtyards is where generations of Sultans had their principal residence for almost half a century. The Harem, an adorned cage of the sultan’s women, the treasury housing the crown jewels including the Topkapi dagger and the weapon’s room with its fine Ottoman craftsmanship are all worth seeing. Walk all the way to the end for a breathtaking view over the Sea of Marmara, Bosphorus and Golden Horn.
Any visit to Istanbul is not complete without taking a Bosphorus cruise. It will provide you with a lovely overview of the city, both the European and Asian sides with Century Old Palaces and Mansions. Two villages not to be missed are Bebek with its lively, green neighbourhoods and Ortaköy with its stunning Mosque by the shore.
Other areas of the city to visit are the Süleymaniye Mosque one of the loveliest and most impressive Istanbul Mosque’s, the Dolmabahçe Palace built by Sultan Abdüi Mecit in 1856. At 600 metres in length, the palace is covered in gold leaf, crystal and marble with a Baccarat crystal staircase. Basilica Cistern is amazing to see from above ground and below and is an exquisite piece of Byzantine engineering. Take the walkway to the very end and you will see the Medusa head, placed upside down at the base of one of the columns. The Galata Tower is one of the best places to get that 360 degree panoramic view over Istanbul. On a clear day you can even see Princes’ Islands or just take the ferry over to the islands a stone’s throw from Istanbul to see the once city dwellers in the Burgazada. Istanbul is an exotic city to visit with plenty to enjoy!