Once the centre of the world, this incredible city and has gone by many names, from Byzantium and Constantinople to its present-day Istanbul.
Much of Istanbul’s historic importance comes from its rich cultural and architectural heritage and the fact that it is the only country in the world to span two continents; Europe and Asia, separated only by the mighty Bosphorus Straits.
For 2,500 years it has been fought over by Christians and Turks, the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. This wealth of heritage has afforded it UNESCO World Heritage status to protect its precious Ottoman mosques, Byzantine churches, medieval walls and Hellenistic temples. Today, Turkish culture has infused every inch of the city from its bejewelled mosques and bustling bazaars to the mouth-watering cuisine.
While its history is legend, Istanbul is also a modern thriving city with bars and galleries, a popular live music scene and designer shops. But before embarking on a little retail therapy, there are some sights not to be missed; the first being the breath-taking Ayasofya (Hagia Sofia). A church from the year AD 537 then a mosque under Sultan Mehmet in the 15th century, Hagia Sofia is now a museum. With minarets, frescoes, mosaics, fountains and a 183 foot dome, it is perhaps one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring buildings in the world – with a history to match.
The Blue Mosque, with its carved balconies, ancient mosaics and slender, elegant minarets was also built under Sultan Mehmet. This is Islam’s answer to the Hagia Sofia and so named because dazzling blue light shines through its 250 coloured windows. Mehmet’s son commissioned another masterpiece; Topkapi Palace. Here the beautiful tranquil courtyards and gardens are well worth exploring, giving a glimpse into the lives of Istanbul royalty, complete with Harem and gold plated throne.
Shopping doesn’t get livelier than in the famous Grand Bazaar, the best known of the city’s markets. This is where Silk Road traders sold their wares, under its elaborate ceilings and twisting maze of alleyways. Here, haggling is essential. Explore the equally colourful Misi Carsisi or Spice Market with its stalls of aromatic spices and delicious local produce.
Galata Tower offers unbeatable views across Istanbul by day while by dusk a nightclub and restaurant on the top floor appeal to those with more hedonistic desires. The Museum of Modern Art and the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum afford plenty in the way of painting and sculpture.
While all of Istanbul’s sights are impressive, it is the feeling of walking through one of the oldest and most powerful cities in the world that make it so unique and unforgettable.
The following information is correct as of October 2014 and is subject to change. Please check with the airline directly for complete accuracy.
Istanbul International or Ataturk Airport is located 12 miles from the centre of Istanbul, taking approximately 30 minutes to reach by car or taxi. Buses are also available from outside the terminal building with a journey time of 40-55 minutes. The M1 metro connects the airport with various locations throughout the city centre, taking around 45 minutes. To get to the Asian side of Istanbul, visitors can take a taxi to Bakikoy Pier, then the high speed catamaran.
Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen International Airport is located on the Anatolian side of the city. The journey time to Istanbul by car or taxi takes approximately 45 minutes. There are regular bus services that operate from outside the terminal building and a metro line that takes 45 minutes to reach the centre of Istanbul.
What you need to know
Currency: The Turkish Lira
Visas: British nationals require a visa to enter Turkey. These can now be obtained online at https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/ for a small fee. Passports must be valid for 3 months after the expiration of the visa. Nationals of some countries do not require a visa. More information can be obtained at a local embassy or the Foreign Office website.
Laws: Smoking is banned on all public transport and indoor public places. It is also restricted in some outdoor areas where cultural, artistic, sport or entertainment activities take place. Possession or trafficking of illegal drugs can carry a prison sentence of up to 24 years. Istanbul is largely a Muslim country so care should be taken to dress modestly particularly when visiting religious monuments or buildings.
Best Time to Visit
The best times to visit Istanbul spring particularly April and May or autumn in October to early November. The weather is still warm and sunny but not as uncomfortably hot as during the summer months. Those wishing to take advantage of the beaches and beautiful Aegean or Mediterranean coastal resorts should visit between June and September. Resorts are, however, in high season at these times.
The Theatre Festival in May, the International Film festival in April and the International Music festival in June are all popular tourist draws. July sees the return of the Jazz and Opera Festivals while contemporary dance is the flavour of the month in October. Runners can enjoy taking part in the Istanbul Marathon also held in October.
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