Photo courtesy of istanbul.com
Istanbul is epic, from its fabled mosques with minarets rising skywards to bustling bazaars and narrow byways that open onto postcard-perfect vistas of the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus. But then there are the sleek-and-chic skyscrapers, the of-the-moment restaurants and just-opened, cutting-edge hotels and sprawling malls.
Welcome to this wildly historic city that delicately balances east and west, literally and figuratively: Istanbul bridges the gap between Europe and Asia and toes the line between its western neighbors and Arab cousins. It’s also a decidedly secular city but that doesn’t mean that you won’t see plenty of headscarves and the occasional burka interspersed among the latest, cut-up-to-here apparel and towering heels.
French poet Alphone de Lamartine once said, “If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.” And indeed the city’s vistas are eye-popping and sugarcoated: With its views onto the Hagia Sophia and Blue mosques, the mirage-like Topkapi Palace and the ever-bustling Bosphorus, Istanbul is pure eye candy. Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Sites that populate the western shores of the Golden Horn waterway. Stand in the middle of Sultanahmet Park and take in the exceptional history surrounding you. The Hagia Sophia (aka, Ayasofya), the 4th-century Byzantine church first converted into a mosque and now a museum, rises dome-over-dome at the eastern edge of the square, while the Sultanahmet Camii, or Blue Mosque, with 20,000 handmade blue tiles lining its interior, anchors the west. Tour these two masterpieces as well as the massive and gorgeous Topkai Palace, and don’t overlook the narrow streets that stretch behind Sultanahmet Square and house intimate hotels, al fresco cafes and the stylish Arasta Bazaar.
And, of course, the sprawling Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar are must visits and are perfect for stocking up on everything from trinkets to Turkish delight. Explore bustling, nightlife-centric Ortakoy; visit the Istanbul Modern in Beyoglu; shop for luxury goods in the Kusadasi or Levent neighborhoods; and cross the First Bridge to view the city’s Ottoman past at the stunning, waterfront-facing Beylerbeyi Palace. Or simply kick back in a colorful café, order a raki (an anise-flavored aperitif) or a potent Turkish coffee and absorb the hustle and bustle that somehow, wonderfully, comes to together to craft this magical metropolis.