Split by the Bosphorus Strait the city of Istanbul has the unique position of being both European and Asian, if you want a special kind of fusion then Istanbul is the place to go. With over 6000 years of history, this the largest city in Turkey embraces the collision between the ancient and the modern, east meeting west in a explosion of excitement.
Istanbul is a city of the exotic, from the ornate architecture to the sights and sounds of the spice bazaars, the colours burning brightly, tantalising your senses and raising your spirits. The joy of Istanbul is infectious, the tradition will entice you in and the vibrant lively atmosphere will beg you to stay.
Where to Stay
The recently renovated Marmara Taksim overlooking Taksim square is a great luxury option. With a well deserved 5 stars, this hotel with its large picture windows give amazing views over the city from its hilltop position; particularly stunning by night. Although large and modern the hotel has a distinctly Turkish feel in its décor.
The budget option has to be all about the location and nowhere is better situated than the family run Mavi Onur Guest house in the centre of the old city. The rooms may be cheap but they are clean and fresh with traditional Turkish textiles giving them a homely feel.
For something completely different cross over the Bosphorus and stay in Asia at a converted liquor distillery. The Sumaham-on-the-Water in the Cengelkoy district is a quiet hotel celebrating water and light to great effect. The location out of the main city is no problem as the hotel has its own boat to ferry you back across the water to the heart of the city.
Where to Eat
Turkish food is good and Turkish food with a hint of Asia is even better. Street food is popular as is more tradition Turkish fare such as kebabs and Meze (a selection of small delicious morsels). The seafood is plentiful and always fresh. Istanbul takes the best of Turkish cuisine and adds the perfect amount of spicing to tantalise your taste buds. For a meal to remember try the Lokata Maya restaurant, the casual appearance is deceptive for this is fine dining at its best. The sublime food takes inspiration from traditional Turkish recipes but adds a distinctly modern twist with a strong emphasis on the local and the seasonal.
Istanbul has some excellent seafood restaurants but one particular hidden gem is worth seeking out, well known amongst the locals Kucuk Ev in the Samatya neighbourhood is a fish shack in the middle of the fish market. Only the freshest and best of the days catch is cooked in the small kitchen giving a feel of eating at a friends house, nobody is going to rush you as you sit outside soaking up the atmosphere and watching the world go by.
What to Do
You cannot visit Istanbul without taking a historic tour of the city, some of the notable sights include the Byzantine Palace of Constantine, the Blue Mosque and the Museum of Archaeology. The Blue Mosque is perhaps the most iconic building in all of Istanbul, built during the Ottoman Empire the aim was to create the most spectacular Mosque of all, with the stunning sight of the tens of thousands of blue tiles adorning the glistening exterior.
Wherever you look you cannot escape the history and the culture of Istanbul and one of the most popular city tours is the Spice Cruise. Start by visiting the famous spice Bazaar, the domed building awash with bright colours and the aroma of the exotic, then the cruise travels gently down the Bosphorus. This is the opportunity to see the city from a completely different perspective, the Forts, the Palaces and the Mosques taking on a whole new character when viewed from the water.
When to Visit
Istanbul is a city of extremes, the summers are blisteringly hot and the winters are bitingly cold, both are beautiful times to visit but you need to be aware of the difficulties of these seasons before travelling.
The ideal times to travel are April/May and September/October, the climate is perfect for all the sightseeing, whilst warm enough to enjoy the outdoor terraces and rooftop pools. Many of the cities cultural events take place at this time, especially the art and music festivals.