The gateway to Turkey and a mythical town that bridges Europe and Asia, Istanbul is a fascinating city. The thousand and one neighbourhoods each reserve different surprises but always with a local feel. Go shopping at the Grand Bazaar and spice market, visit the Blue Mosque whose six minarets once rivalled Mecca's, see the sumptuous Saint Sophia, the Byzantine basilica turned into a mosque and the impressive Topkapi palace-museum of sultans. Also push the door of Saint Saviour in Chora, the Romanesque basilica decorated with impressive Byzantine mosaics, plan a boat ride on the Bosporus, see the history of ancient Byzantium and alternatively the 'yalés' (partly-timbered houses), bordering the banks of the river.
Shopping at the Grand Bazaar and the spices market is a must do before you leave Istanbul and is sure to be a unique retaill experience. The Prince Islands that float in the Marmara Sea just off Istanbul will ensure undisturbed peace and quiet if you want to get away from it all.
The Blue Mosque, Saint Sophia, the Bosphorus, the Galata Bridge, the Galata Tower and the Topkapi Palace are all essential places to go and see.
Surface area : 302535.0 km2
Population : In 2011, Turkey had an estimated 74 724 270 inhabitants inhabitants
Time difference : GMT+2
Enjoy a body scrub and massage in a Turkish bath, commonly known as hammams. There are no shortage of hammams in Istanbul but should you want a more authentic treatment, choose a hammam around Taksim, where you will find only real Turks who do them.
Make sure that any taxis you take have a meter and that it is turned on so that you pay a fair amount for your journey. Taxis are cheap but during the day, use public transport as much as possible to reduce congestion on the already jam packed streets.
From the famous Turkish kebab, to berek, Baklava or the mezze, there are several local specialties that will be sure to please; the cuisine in Istanbul is rich and varied .
Spices, silver jewellery, leather items, local food products, carpets, textiles are all good choices for keepsakes and presents for loved ones.
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