Straddling Europe and Asia is the magnificent city of Istanbul. This truly unique city deserves its status as being one of the world’s top travel destinations. The glorious fusion of east and west with its ancient and contemporary architecture and skyline of beautifully decorated mosques make this an utterly remarkable city. Istanbul is an ancient city, colonised by the Greeks in the 7 th century under the leadership of King Byzas who created a settlement on the mouth of the Bosphorous Strait. It was from Byzas that the name Byzantium was given to the city.
Istanbul is a modern, vibrant city with a population exceeding 15 million. It is a great location for year-round travel, although as is common with other European cities, the hot months of July and August see the locals depart to rural retreats or the coast. The advantage of this is that the city is less crowded and this makes getting around quite a bit easier. If you are not chasing the heat then spring and autumn are perfect times of the year to visit Istanbul. The weather is very pleasant and you can enjoy the city without the crowds of summer tourists.
No matter when you choose to travel there is plenty to do in Istanbul. Here you can enjoy sightseeing on an epic scale, taking in the sights of the city’s museums, palaces, mosques and monuments. No matter where you are in Istanbul, you are likely to be no more than ten minutes from a museum. One of the best has to be the Archaeological Museum. Amongst its many artefacts is the Tiled Kiosk and the Sarcophagus of Alexander The Great. The collection is comprised of about 15000 pieces.
One of the city’s most significant museums is the Museum of Turkish & Islamic Art (Ibrahim Pasa Palace), which houses a superb collection of miniatures, textiles, ceramics, woodwork and some of the oldest carpets to be found in the world. The Ayasofya Museum is definitely worth a visit. Here you can admire the fine Byzantine mosaics.
Istanbul is famous for its mosques and is home to over 3000 of them, thereby making the decision of which ones to visit difficult. Sultanahmet (The Blue Mosque) is considered to be the last great mosque of the Ottoman classical period. It is famous for its beautiful blue tile work and its distinguishing feature of six slim minarets, rather than the usual two or four.
The Süleymaniye (the Magnificent) is the city’s second largest mosque as well as being one of the city’s best known sights. It was built in the 16th century for Sultan Süleyman the Magnificient. Lastly the Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople built in 360, Hagia Sophia with its massive dome is one of the city’s most famous sights. It was converted into a mosque in 1453 before being secularized in 1931 and turned into a museum. For nearly a thousand years this held the title of being the world’s largest cathedral.
Apart from all the sightseeing, Istanbul is also great for shopping. No trip would be complete without a visit to the Grand Bazaar. It’s comprised of 60 streets with 5000 shops and 60 restaurants. If you feel like winding down a trip to a hamam could be just the ticket. What better way to relax after a hard day sightseeing than to rejuvenate yourself with a scrub and relaxing massage. There are several located in the city including Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamam and Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam.