Istanbul - the magical meeting place of East and West - has plenty for you to discover.
7 reasons why you should pack your bags for a trip to Istanbul
Now home to more than 14 million people, Istanbul - an ancient walled city where East meets West - was once the capital of the Roman, Latin, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. The remains of these four empires can still be seen in Istanbul today. From Byzantine palaces adorned with mosaics and frescoes to magnificent mosques that dominate the city's skyline, Turkey's largest metropolis has an incredible history. But if the city's past alone cannot convince you, take a look at these 7 reasons why you should visit Istanbul at least once in your lifetime.
You can discover the two halves of the city by boat
The Bosphorus Strait divides the city in two: Asia lies in one half, and Europe in the other. The trip between Asia and Europe on a commuter ferry is an unforgettable experience, but tourist ferries that travel the great strait from Eminönü towards the mouth of the Black Sea are even better. Tours will take you past opulent Ottoman waterfront mansions and Byzantine palaces, under extraordinary bridges and through sleepy fishing villages. Whether you opt for a short or long cruise, a boat ride is a must if you're visiting Istanbul for the first time.
Istanbul doesn't fall short of fascinating historical sites
Istanbul's cultural heritage is impressive and can be seen across multiple historical sites across the city. Hagia Sophia, for example, is an architectural marvel that once served as a Byzantine church and then an Ottoman mosque. A wide flat dome graces its exterior whereas the interior is decorated with 30 million individually-placed gold tiles. The 17th-century Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, is famous for its blue Iznik tiles, grey cascading domes and six slender minarets (more than any other mosque at the time it was built) and its courtyard is the biggest of all of the Ottoman mosques. The last of Istanbul's big three is Topkapi Palace, or the Seraglio, a museum whose iconic pavilions, jewel-filled Treasury and sprawling Harem gives visitors a fascinating glimpse into what life was like at court during the Ottoman empire.
Istanbul is incredibly diverse
Istanbul is known as the city where East meets West, and not just because it lies across two continents. Centuries-old buildings stand next to modern skyscrapers and synagogues rub shoulders with ancient churches and mosques. Walking down the city's ancient streets, you never know what language you might hear next. But a constant in this ever changing, diverse city is Turkish hospitality. No matter what religion you are part of, what country you come from or what language you speak, Turkish hospitality considers everyone to be God's guest.
You can shop ?til you drop at Istanbul's colourful bazaars
From back-street haggling holes to glittering medieval food and drink bazaars, Istanbul has its fair share of markets. The labyrinthine Grand Bazaar in Istanbul's Fatih district is one of the world's largest with 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops. Visitors can try their hand at bargaining for decorative tiles, handwoven rugs, rolls of cloth, antiques and more. After exploring all of the hidden caravanserais, shoppers should follow the steady stream of other bargain-hunters downhill into the busy shopping precinct of Tahtakale, which has at its heart the mouth-watering smelling Spice Bazaar. Dried fruits, nuts and spices are piled up to the rafters, and there are plenty of stalls offering passersby a cup of tea or traditional Turkish coffee.