A Two Continent City

A tale of two cities: There’s more than just the awe-inspiring sights of old Istanbul, this heady metropolis has thrilling food and nightlife scenes too. Here’s our expert guide to Istanbul.

Istanbul is an intoxicating mix to the first-timer. Famously straddling both Europe and Asia, this sprawling, cacophonous city celebrates fusion.

Many come for the classic sights of Ottoman Istanbul: imperial mosques silhouetted dramatically against the skyline. But this is a modern metropolis too. Cross the Golden Horn tributary over the Galata Bridge, past the fishermen, and you find a less touristy Istanbul of rowdy open-air restaurants, stylish bars and bric-a-brac stores crying out to be explored.

One of the top things to do in Istanbul for a gentle introduction to the city is a boat ride on the Bosphorous. Grab a day-return ticket from the Eminönü foreshore and head for the Black Sea, past wedding-cake mansions, traditional yali waterside dwellings, and, as the urban development finally begins to dwindle, peaceful villages where you can stop for lunch. Spring and autumn are the best times to visit Istanbul. The weather will be mild and crowds fewer; summer can be sticky and winter shivering cold.

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Grand Attractions in Istanbul

The Grand Bazaar, the Blue Mosque and the Suleymaniye Mosque are unmissable old city sights. With around 4,000 vendors and 60 streets, the Grand Bazaar is the motherlode for shopping in Istanbul. Discover shimmering handwoven rugs, resplendent jewellery, vibrant fabrics, local vintage treasures and ceramics of every description – just be prepared for haggling, as almost everything can be found cheaper elsewhere.

One of the most impressive things to see in Istanbul is the Blue Mosque, its six slender minarets towering around a vast dome. The equally stupendous interior is an airy, light-filled space with crimson rugs and gold and blue Islamic tracery across every inch of wall. (Visitors should dress modestly as this is a working mosque.)

One of the most rewarding things to do in Istanbul is climbing the hill to the Sulemaniye Mosque, whose gargantuan but graceful dimensions live up to the name of its commissioner, Süleyman the Magnificent. Tranquil gardens and ablution fountains balance the grandiosity. Also appealing are original wooden Istanbul houses, threatened elsewhere in the city but restored in the surrounding streets here.

The Hagia Sofia museum – the world’s largest cathedral for a thousand years, the Ottoman emperors’ lavish Topkapi Palace, and the huge 6th century underground Basilica Cistern are some of the best things to see in Istanbul.

Read on here for more top things to do in Istanbul.

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