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Holidays to Istanbul
Istanbul - a stunning collision of sights, sounds and experiences.
Europe meets Asia in Istanbul and has done, culturally speaking, since time began. For centuries, Europe and Asia have competed, fought, made up, prayed, eaten and loved in this most cosmopolitan of cities.
Istanbul isn't just a destination; it's an experience, a place for cheap city breaks. A feast for the soul, an extraordinary adventure for the stomach, and a mind-blowing overload of visual extravaganzas that defy description. From Topkapi Palace to the Aya Sofya, from the Blue Mosque to the Grand Bazaar, there is so much to do and see in Istanbul that you could easily spend weeks in this huge city of 13 million people.
Sultanahmet, or old Istanbul, is a good place to base yourself and a wonderful place to explore. It's touristy and the restaurants do their best to fleece you, but it's in the centre of all the things you want to see. Galata is close by and is an area where much of the Turkish nightlife takes place. The suburb of Bosphorus on the Western side of Istanbul is home to many of the wealthy and has lovely parks, palaces and a more bohemian lifestyle.
There's a lot to see in Istanbul, even on weekend breaks - after all you're in a city that sprawls across two continents! Bring your camera and your history book. Once here, you'll want to read up on the Byzantine emperors, the Crusades, espionage in WW2 and, after Topkapi, how a harem works!
This is one of the truly great romantic cities of the world (romantic weekend breaks anyone?). From the Hippodrome to the Blue Mosque and more, Istanbul will suck you in and send you home wanting another taste. Practice your bargaining skills in the Grand Bazaar, have yourself a fine Turkish bath but most of all delight in all things Turkish!
Eating out in Istanbul
Cheap, expensive and everything in between
Istanbul is a place where you can eat almost any cuisine under the sun at decent prices and in beautiful surroundings. Napoleon called it the centre of the world, and in a food sense, he was right as Istanbul blends the cuisines of Asia, Europe, eastern Europe and Russia and makes them it's own.
The budget options - look out for the ubiquitous Doner shops and cafes. Good, cheap food with a little spice. During autumns and winter look out for Hamsy, a dish you'll find in almost every seafood restaurant in Istanbul. A little black Sea Anchovy migrates during the cooler months and the local fishermen scoop them up. Your restaurant will typically deep fry them and serve them with raw onion in a bread roll. Scrumptious!
Mid price options - you're likely based around the very touristy Sultanahmet area so finding a reasonably priced restaurant that serves food the locals like is somewhat of a challenge. You might try Giritli on Keresteci Hakki Sokak. It serves Mediterranean food such as Octopus and olives stuffed with walnuts and feta, seafood and orzo salads and more. You're in Asia... so try some Turkish Indian. Dubb Indian is behind Divan Yolu and serves generous helpings of all your Indian favourites, with a seafood bias.
Splurge - there's just one restaurant on your splurge list! Mikla is in the Marmara Pera Hotel in truly splendid surroundings, It boasts a wonderful view and service second to none. This is a big night out and you'll be overwhelmed by the Mediterranean cuisine with a Turkish twist from a well-known local celebrity chef.
What to wear, when to go
Istanbul enjoys a warm Mediterranean climate during summer but gets very cool, and occasionally snowy, during winter.
Summer temps are around the mid twenties while winter goes down to around 4C. The snow doesn't last long with the humid maritime climate keeping things relatively balanced.
Spring and autumn can be wet and unpredictable with cool nights and moderate days.
Istanbul - spoilt for choice
There's a ton of places you must see in Istanbul and a ton of places you shouldn't miss so your Istanbul break will be busy!
Aya Sofya - originally built as a Cathedral, the Aya Sofya was turned into a mosque after the Conquest of 1453. The exterior is stunning enough but wait until you get inside. A classic of Byzantine architecture with beautiful murals, tile work and filigree stonework throughout. The main dome is simply extraordinary.
The Blue Mosque - set next door to the Aya Sofya, the Blue Mosque is a blindingly exquisite building. The blue tile work is world-famous for good reason and the minarets, blue tiles and vast interior sweeps you away. A stunning gem of Ottoman and Byzantine architecture and a glorious tribute to the skill of the workmen and the vision of its creators.
The Grand Bazaar - is north of Divan Yolu (Istanbul's main street which, in theory, goes all the way to Rome) and is a 'must do' for any serious shopper. This is the largest and oldest covered market in the world. You will be hassled and haggled until you're blue in the face, but go with the flow and enjoy the whole experience. Just wander the 54 arched halls and happily get lost. You'll find your way out eventually, hopefully with wallet intact and not laden with carpets, spices and accoutrements you never knew you needed.
Topkapi Palace - oh how the other half live! Started after the Conquest in 1453 by Mehmet, Topkapi is a sprawling palace and grounds with something different around every corner. Visit the harem, and don't miss the Treasury museum where you'll see a stunning array of artefacts, including, possibly, the severed hand of John the Baptist. They were bloodthirsty times!
Don't miss - a dip in a real, honest-to-goodness Turkish Bath. Our recommendation? The Çemberlitas Bath is located on Çemberlitas Square on Divan Yolu Street situated in the midst of some of Istanbul’s greatest monuments. It's an elegant, well-maintained establishment and dates back to 1584. You'll sit yourself back in the same baths as Emperors, wealthy merchants and the celebrities of old!