Istanbul is a city of contrasts, bustling with the cacophony of 21st century life, and is yet achingly beautiful. It is set in a stunning location, surrounded by water, which is the narrow strait of the Bosphorus and the serene sea of Marmara separating Europe from Asia. Istanbul has a foot in each, celebrating the best of both heritages. As Byzantium, Constantinople and finally, Istanbul, it has been the capital of three Empires, each leaving their mark in the form of stunning palaces, castles, mosques, churches and monuments. The legacy of its chequered past can be seen on every turn of the modern city.
Highlights of Istanbul include:
Aya Sophya (Hagia Sophia) Church/Museum - The Church of Holy Wisdom, undoubtedly one of the greatest architectural creations in the world, was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian around 535 AD. It was transformed into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of the city in 1453. Now a museum, it is awesome in size and contains beautifully preserved Byzantine mosaics. This church is an absolute must see.
Topkapi Palace Museum - Built in the 15th century, the Topkapi Palace was the principal residence of the Sultan. It was the legendary palace of the Ottoman Sultans from the 15th to the 19th centuries. The palace has low buildings set in a series of courtyards and is quite unlike its western counterparts. Be sure to see the Harem (by appointment), the Treasury and the golden-roofed Baghdad Kiosk.
Blue Mosque - This mosque was built in the early 17th century and is probably the most famous mosque in the city. It is distinguished by six slender minarets and walls covered with amazing blue Iznik tiles. Open daily 9:00 to 17:00, except during prayer times.
Grand Bazaar - The Grand Bazaar was built in the 15th century. It has several gates: the most used one is at Cagaloglu and Beyazit (15 minutes walking distance from the hotel). Istanbul's legendary bazaar is a labyrinth of over 4,000 little shops and is everything you dreamed an oriental market could be. It offers gold, jewellery, carpets, silver bibelots, leather, ceramics, copper and brass objects, hand-woven textiles and meerschaum pipes.