The city that straddles two continents, Istanbul is nothing short of a cultural phenomenon. With an appeal of being caught in time thanks to its immaculately preserved Byzantine architecture and landmarks that date back to the 15th century, Istanbul is often mistaken for Turkey’s capital – and it’s easy to understand why. Beautifully bustling and culturally significant, whether you’re a foodie, a sucker for sightseeing, hungry for history or simply wish to master the art of relaxation, this Asia/​European city has it all directly at your fingertips. Discover six reasons why this incredible metropolis should be on your bucket list – one visit will have you returning time and time again. 

Best of Both Worlds 

Istanbul is the transcontinental city where East meets West, dancing on the line between Europe and Asia along the mighty Bosporus Strait. The contrast between ancient and modern is utterly majestic, creating a melting pot of sights and experiences that truly can’t be had anywhere else. Where else can you admire over 2,500 years of history by day and then party until the early hours by night? Hundred-year-old buildings brush shoulders with modern skyscrapers, liberal and conservative Muslims live in harmony with believers from dozens of other religions, and classic Turkish bazaars thrive amidst classic high street favourites. Whether you want a taste of the old, a feel of the new, or a bit of both, Istanbul is the place to experience it all.

Getty Images 656642008

Food and Flavour 

So much more than doner and delights, Turkish food is known as one of the best cuisines in the world so trust us when we say that visiting Istanbul for the real deal will be miles above the offerings from your local takeaway. Istanbul is known as the place where East meets West which is undoubtedly reflected in the cuisine wherever you go in this enchanting city. 

When you’re on holiday, a sample of the local flavour is an absolute must – and that starts with a traditional Turkish breakfast. It’s the most important meal of the day after all! If you can’t function without your morning pick-me-up, then Turkish tea will be nothing less than the elixir of life – did you know that Turkey has the highest per capita tea consumption in the world? That’s how you know it’s good! Beverage covered, it’s now time for the food. Eggs, bread, cheese, and spreads tend to be the main four elements of a traditional Turkish breakfast. Simit, a Turkish-style bagel, is often on the menu, accompanied by a range of fruit preserves, or hummus for a savoury option, feta cheese, and, the star of the show, eggs. Sucuklu yumurta (eggs with sausage) is a breakfast staple throughout Turkey, or if you’re a vegetarian, menemen is the go-to, which is scrambled eggs with tomatoes, green peppers, and spices. 

Lunch and dinner are also sure to take you on a culinary journey of the senses. Deliciously seasoned grilled meats, creamy hummus swirled with olive oil and paprika, warm pillow-soft breads, freshly caught seafood, succulent kebaps… going hungry during a holiday to Istanbul certainly isn’t on the agenda. Oh, and we can’t forget about the wonderful world of meze. From fava beans and fried eggplant to stuffed mussels and all the dips you can imagine, these Turkish tapas are little morsels of heaven, the perfect way to begin any meal or simply load up on to create a main dish. Is your mouth watering yet?

Getty Images 1224704144 1

The Grand Bazaar

Grand by name and grand by nature, this sensational shopping market will put commercial malls to shame. Covering an area of 30.7 hectares, with upwards of 4,000 shops and 64 streets, The Grand Bazaar has stood strong in Istanbul since the 15th century and is a structure that has withstood fires and earthquakes. Thousands of shoppers flock the bazaar from morning to evening, navigating this majestic labyrinth with multi-coloured stalls selling everything under the sun including ceramics and carpets, lamps and lanterns, jewellery and fashion accessories, and so much more. The Grand Bazaar also has its own mosque, banks, a police station, a post office, and endless restaurants – it’s a city unto itself!

Istanbul 1

The Blue Mosque

Doing exactly what it says on the tin, the Blue Mosque is a magnificent structure decorated in endless hues of blue. Cerulean, turquoise, navy, aquamarine, aqua… the list goes on and on. Also known as the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, this photogenic mosque is an essential part of Istanbul’s skyline, featuring six miranets, five main domes, and eight secondary domes. The interior is lined with more than 200,000 handmade İznik tiles and it has more than 200 stained-glass windows with natural light flooding in from every angle and illuminating the gorgeous shades of blue. The Blue Mosque is truly a sight to behold and is open to non-worshippers outside the six daily prayer times. Don’t set your heart on visiting on a Friday as this is when Muslim men are required to pray duhr in the mosque, and remember, it is customary for everyone to remove their shoes and for women to wear a headscarf and conservative clothing that covers their arms and legs. 

Blue Mosque Istanbul

The Hagia Sophia

Speaking of breathtaking iconic historical sites, another unmissable attraction in Istanbul is the Hagia Sophia. Before it was beaten by the completion of the Seville Cathedral in 1520, it was the world’s largest cathedral and served as the centre for the Eastern Orthodox Church for nearly a millenium, then converted into a mosque, and later into a museum in 1935. The walls of the Hagia Sophia are adorned by majestic Byzantine mosaics, 300 million gold tiles throughout the interior, and its architectural grandeur includes a colossal transcendent dome, not to mention portraits of bygone emperors and representations of Christ. This glorious UNESCO World Heritage Site is Istanbul’s most popular tourist attraction, attracting more than 3.7 million visitors a year – and it’s just waiting for you to be one of them. 

Hagia Sophia Istanbul

The Weather

Sunny days are in abundance during a holiday in Istanbul. If you’re looking for a summer adventure where you want to swim in the sea by day and still feel the warm air on your skin by night, you can’t go wrong with visiting during July when you’ll experience 12 hours of daily sunshine, or during August when the average sea temperature is 22 degrees Celsius. The glorious weather continues throughout September and October, before picking up again around April and May, making Istanbul the perfect springtime escape.

Getty Images 524130445 1

Choice Hotels in Istanbul