Istanbul: the crossroads of Europe and Asia

Turkey is well known by UK holidaymakers for its beach resorts such as Marmaris, Bodrum, Icemeler and Antalya but a visit to Turkey’s Istanbul is a cultural delight.

Istanbul, originally known as Byzantium, was re-named as Constantinople, in honour of its new Roman emperor Constantine, in 300 AD. The city fell to the Ottoman army in 1453, when it became known as Istanbul.

Turkey was finally able to celebrate its independence in 1923, after the War of Independence, and Istanbul flourished as a tourist centre from the 1980s onwards, and is now widely regarded as the heart of the east Mediterranean. 

Istanbul is built on the magical Bosphorus, a strait that leads from the Sea of Mamara to the Black Sea, with European Istanbul to the west, and Asian Istanbul to the east.

The Bosphorus is some 35km long, spanned by two impressive bridges, the Bosphorus Bridge and Sultan Mehmet Bridge. It is possible to take short boat trips along the strait, and it is a marvel to see the difference between villages on opposing sides of the water.

Istanbul possesses some excellent tourist attractions, none more so than the Topkapi Palace, with an impressive collection of treasure, china, jewellery, and also the subject of a famous 1964 film. Be sure to explore the Imperial Treasury, the Sacred Safekeeping Rooms, Baghdad Kiosk, the Tower of Justice and the Harem.

The Aye Sofia is a museum that has also had a colourful past. It was once regarded as the greatest church in Christendom until the Ottoman Empire took over, converting it into a mosque. The interior boasts a stunning amount of mosaics that is quite breathtaking. The Aye Sofia was only declared a museum in 1935.

Meanwhile, the Blue Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the city, a classic example of Ottoman design, and an incredible visual experience, both inside and out.

All your shopping needs are catered for at the Grand Bazaar, in what will surely be one of the most insane shopping experiences of your lifetime. The bazaar is an enormous, covered labyrinth of markets, selling anything and everything. Great bargains can be found on leather goods, local crafts, ceramics and antiques. There is also a superb spice market nearby.

Other highlights of the city include Rumelihisar, which are old rampart ruins on the bank of the Bosphorus, which in the summer stages superb open air concerts and theatre performances. At the entrance to the Bosphorus can be found Ortakoy, a quaint village specialising in open air restaurants and market stalls.

In terms of getting out and about in Istanbul, it is well worth having a ride in a ‘dolmus’, an intriguing cross between a taxi and a bus. Essentially, they are taxis, but they take pre-determined routes, and passengers may get in and out at any stage along the way, sharing with whoever is in them at the time.

To get away from the hustle and bustle of the main island, it is possible to take a ferry out to the Prince Islands, a collection of four islands. Here, no cars are allowed and horse and carts are the only way to get around, which makes for a delightful tranquil stay. 

Indeed, it is popular for many of the wealthier Istanbul residents to own property on these islands, and to live there during the summer, commuting to the mainland for work.

Elsewhere in Turkey, the towns of Kalkan, Kas and Bodrum are becoming increasingly glamorous holiday destinations in the south. Bodrum in particular, often referred to as the St. Tropez of Turkey, has attracted many foreigners to buy property there and display their expensive yachts.