Istanbul is a truly fascinating vacation destination, spanning continents and history, that is guaranteed to take your breath away.
Sitting on the Bosphorus strait, between Europe and Asia, Istanbul, like the entire country of Turkey itself, is full of contradictions. A Muslim country with a secular government, it wants to become a member of the Europe Union but is still considered part of the Middle East. On the streets of the city, girls in miniskirts rub shoulders with women wearing headscarves, while Starbucks and lingerie shops are becoming almost as numerous as the bazaars and mosques.
Istanbul is by many aspects, a modern metropolis with a great metro system and a rich nightlife, but the regular calls to prayer and the ancient Byzantine and Ottoman architecture keep reminding travellers of the city’s glorious past.
Sultanahmet, the city’s old town, is the ideal place to start your visit and if you are in Istanbul for only a short time, this is where you should book a hotel. Most of the major touristy attractions are located in this World Heritage-listed district and can easily be visited on foot: Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofia), a basilica constructed for the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I that became a mosque in the 15th century when the Ottomans conquered the city, before being converted into a museum in 1935; Sultanahmet Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii, aka Blue Mosque) wtih its six minarets and its sweeping interior decoration; Topkapi Palace, the imperial enclave of the Ottoman sultans from the 15th to the 19th centuries; the hippodrome which used to be the site of chariot races, the Basilica Cistern…the list goes on!
A few kilometers away, the massive Grand Bazaar (“Covered Market” in Turkish) is a labyrinth that covers no less than 58 streets over several kilometers and boasts about 4,000 shops. With an incredible array of clothes, jewelry, lamps and spices, bargain hunters will have a blast trying to haggle the best price.
Over in the modern part of Istanbul, Taksim Square with its numerous hotels, restaurants and pubs, is a popular destination for both visitors and locals alike and if the Asian part is by far less touristy than its European counterpart, it is always a fun idea to hop on a ferry and cross the Bosphorus to gain a different perspective on the city.
Turkish food should delight you. From kebabs and “Börek” which are pies of flaky pastry stuffed with meat, cheese or potatoes, to the famous Turkish coffee and the traditional sweets such as baklava and lokum, you will not be short of choices.
Finally, for a real Turkish experience, you should not leave Istanbul without trying the historical Turkish baths, known as hamam. You will be slapped, elbowed, and massaged but you will definitively feel great afterwards!
Turkish Airlines offers daily direct flights to Istanbul from Nice.
All photographs © Florence Dubosc