Turkey’s largest city is both European and Asian and has been part of many empires. As a result, Istanbul is modern and traditional, familiar and exotic.
It is Istanbul’s unique blend of Western and Eastern heritage and culture that attracts tourists from all over the world. Experience the comforts of modern Turkey in its malls, galleries and clubs, and the delights of traditional Turkish bazaars, palaces, taverns and mosques. Istanbul’s natural beauty, with pleasant Mediterranean climate, completes its glorious appeal.
Located on the Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul has the Sea of Marmara to the south and the Black Sea to the north. Istanbul connects Europe with Asia and this strategic position evoked many power struggles. Under its previous names of Byzantium and Constantinople, Istanbul served as the capital of the Roman, the Byzantine, the Latin and the Ottoman empires and was once also the capital of Islam. The Turks started to call it Istanbul, a name that was made official when the Turkish Republic was proclaimed in 1923.
The Sultanahmet peninsula, which is home to the Old City, reflects Istanbul’s diverse political and religious past, particularly in the architecture. The iconic Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya), for example, was once a Christian cathedral and later a mosque. Visit the nearby Topkapi Palace (Topkapı Sarayı), Hippodrome (Hipodrom) and Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) and save some of your liras for the souvenirs in the Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı). Get a bird’s-eye view of it all from the top of the 14th-century Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi) or visit nearby Miniatürk to see miniature versions of all these buildings. Cool off in the underground Basilica Cistern.
Cross the Galata Bridge, spanning the Golden Horn, to visit Taksim Square and the New City. Enjoy modern skyscrapers, nightclubs and shopping malls and watch hip youngsters mingle with businessmen.
Buy an Istanbulkart, for easy access to all public transport; the ferry is a good way to see the Beylerbeyi Palace across the strait.
Over 13 million people live in Istanbul, making it Europe’s most populous city, and it’s easy to see what the attraction is. Istanbul’s fusion of East and West, reflected in the culture, architecture, art and cuisine is truly unique.