Holiday destinations - Istanbul
PUBLISHED: 15:28 04 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:52 20 February 2013
Istanbul is one of the world's greatest cities, writes Jill Nash. It's a city combining breathtaking modernity, yet steeped in tradition
Istanbul is a fascinating and beautiful city built on two continents and divided by the Bosphorus Strait. It is one of the greatest destinations on the planet where you can see a modern western city combined with traditions of the east.
Inhabited for at least 5,000 years, it was capital to two of the worlds most powerful empires the Byzantines and the Ottomans which have certainly left their imprints on the ancient city. Discovering the highlights is easy (yet sometimes overwhelming) but you can cover the major attractions within a couple of days, which make it a perfect destination for a long weekend or as an introductory stopover in Turkey.
Anyone visiting the city must stop by the Topkapi Palace (www.topkapisarayi.gov.tr), a palace which was built for a sultan and several of his wives. Not only was this a palace for royalty but it was also the Ottoman Empire centre of government for 400 years. The decorative rooms, museum and courtyards are extensive so you should definitely allow a full day for the visit.
Secondly, the Blue Mosque is one of the worlds most famous religious buildings (located near Sultanahmet square) and is simply a work of art. The main dome and columns, which are beautifully lit at night, can be seen for many miles away.
A trip to Istanbul wouldnt be complete without experiencing a traditional Turkish bath or hamam. A short tram journey away from Sultanahmet is the ancient Cermberlitas Baths (www.cemberlitashamami.com.tr), the perfect way to recuperate from an overdose of sightseeing.
Steam your aching muscles, scrub down your skin, and feel revived with a famous massage. The hamam was adopted by Islamic invaders who really did believe that cleanliness is next to godliness, the bath was a chance to cleanse the skin but also restore the spirit. The hamam is still used today by Turks, but is also very popular with tourists and photographers.
A stop at the stunning Grand Bazaar (www.kapalicarsi.org.tr) to pick up some Turkish delights is a must. This place is a shopaholics dream, whether you are after a carpet, silk slippers or tea you wont be disappointed. It is very easy to get lost here as the area covers a massive 307,000 square metres and has 22 gated entrances, yet everyday it is opened by 30,000 traders who are willing to haggle for your cash.
Finally, a great way to experience eastern tradition is to sit, relax and smoke a Nargile (or waterpipe). This is the perfect way to spend a couple of hours in the afternoon away from the hustle and bustle of the Grand Bazaar, and get to know the locals. The oldest and most renowned in Istanbul is the Corlulu Ali Pasa Medressi (near to the Grand Bazaar) they serve a wide variety from double apple to cherry with a range of special teas.
Ending the day watching the city come to life from a waterfront restaurant is pretty special. A boat trip across the Bosphorus River to the Asian side offers a different perspective. Tere Kebab (www.tere.com.tr) serves excellent Turkish cuisine and is a favourite with locals. It has a lovely modern setting, and also offers both boat and valet parking. The food is exceptional value for money.
Travellers to Istanbul wont be disappointed when it comes to accommodation either. The city offers something for every budget and taste. One of the citys most luxurious and popular places to stay is the Ciragan Palace which was the last residence of the Ottoman Sultans and is well located on the Bosphorus (www.kempinski.com).
It has all the usual amenities youd expect from a luxury hotel, but what makes this place extra special are the stunning views and the architectural grandeur of the old palace. Its no wonder this place has won several awards. Prices start from 200 per room per night.
If budget is an issue then a good option close to the city sights is the Stories Apart Karakol a boutique hotel mixing contemporary Turkish art with modern technologies. Prices are from 90 per room per night, visit www.storiesapart.com.
Dr. Jill Nash is a Cheshire based travel journalist and owner of independent guidebook publishing company Luxury Backpackers. Visit www.luxurybackpackers.com for details.
The print version of this article appeared in the January 2012 issue of Cheshire Life
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