Istanbul Travel Guide

Istanbul Overview

With its roots dating back over 2500-years and being the worlds only city to have been the seat of successive Christian and Islamic empires, Istanbul is one of the most diverse cities, boasting innumerable historic tourist attractions to compliment the flourishing, contemporary scene. Sat on either side of the BosphorusStrait - the crossroads between Europe and AsiaIstanbul, Turkey owes much of its fascinating culture to the influences that have filtered through from both continents, which in turn has created a true powerhouse in international tourism.

 
Byzantine and Ottoman culture dominate the citys tourist attractions, with magnificent mosques, synagogues, churches and palaces at the turn of every corner and a pool of excellent museums celebrating the rich and captivating heritage. And the culture is not just limited to the historic buildings, as many of Istanbuls time-honored traditions are celebrated in the bamboozling bazaars that give the famed markets of Cairo and Marrakesh a run for their money. Yet, it is not all about history and the impressive union of cultures. This is very much a European city and leafy, boutique lined avenues cut elegantly through affluent suburbs and cutting-edge bars, nightclubs and arts centers are springing up by the day.
 
Once Byzantine, before becoming Constantinople and finally crowned Istanbul in 1930 the city has forever been a mishmash of cultures and today is a city on the move. Turkey’s capital status may have been shifted to Ankara, however, boosted by the European City of Culture 2010 award, Istanbul stands proud in showcasing its unique blend of yesterday, today and tomorrow, opening its doors to all travelers wanting a piece of the sizzling action.

Things to do in Istanbul

Historic Buildings in Istanbul - From grand palaces to Ottoman mosques, ancient churches to soaring towers, Istanbul is brimming with tourist attractions and visitors dont have to look hard to find something that will astound and amaze. Walking tours are a good way to go, taking in the sights around Sultanahmet, Galata and Pera. Must sees include the Blue Mosque, TopkapiPalace, Chora Church and Aya Sofya. Two other sights worth checking out are the Kiz Kulesi (Maidens Tower) and Galata Tower, iconic landmarks offering great views of the city.

 
Museums & Galleries in Istanbul - When sightseeing is not enough there are museums and galleries galore to fill up more than a few days.
Archaeology Museum - Fascinating museum complex housing the Museum of the Ancient Orient, ArchaeologyMuseum and Childrens Museum.
Chora Museum - Istanbuls finest Byzantine murals are housed in the Church of Holy Savior (Chora).
Istanbul Museum of Modern Art - Splendid collection of contemporary art from Turkey and across the world. Check out the basement cinema showing world movies.
Mosaic Museum - The finest Byzantine mosaics in existence discovered beneath a courtyard of Constantines Palace (now Arasta Bazaar).
Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center - Vibrant 3-storey arts centre frequented by Istanbuls alternative and up-and-coming painters and sculptors.
 
Shopping in Istanbul - As an important stop on the trade route Istanbul has been a shoppers paradise for centuries and today blends traditional bazaars with high-end brands and slick shopping malls.
Grand Bazaar - Rivalling the bazaars of Cairo and Marrakesh, this 500-year-old market boasts a maze of 4000 stalls scattered across 60 streets. Formerly a slave market and important stop on the Silk Road, today it offers everything from lanterns and ceramics, clothing and jewellery, carpets and textiles amidst an intoxicating atmosphere.
Spice Bazaar - Fronting the Golden Horn, the spice market was established in the 17thC, originally famed for exotic spices and Egyptian goods and today incorporating caviar, dried fruit and nuts, and Turkish delight of all flavours.
Istiklal Caddesi - This broad avenue in Beyoglu is a hive of activity, lined with bookshops, designer boutiques, independent clothing stores and an array of bars and restaurants.
 
Istanbul Festivals
International Theatre Festival - Month long festival from the beginning of May that showcases an eclectic mix of Turkish and European theatre productions.
International Music Festival - June welcomes the arrival of a varied selection of opera and classical music shows, by local and international artists, held at numerous city concert venues.
International Jazz Festival - Now in its 18th year, the jazz festival welcomes a host of internationally famed musicians that have previously included Norah Jones, Robert Plant and Bryan Ferry.
 
Istanbul Nightlife - Whether in search of cultural events, dance floor action or booze-filled nights, Istanbul is overwhelmed with nightlife options. The main port of call is Beyoglu, home to myriad bars, café and restaurants, with the districts of Galatasaray and Ortakoy hot on its heels. For those that like to spend and be seen, Kadikoy (across the water from Bosphorus) is the place of pretentious clubs and snooty doormen. Pick up a copy of Time Out Istanbul of the Turkish Daily News for event listings.
 
Bars in Istanbul
Cozy Pub - A big tourist trap in Sultanahmet, therefore drinks arent the cheapest but people watching opportunities are unsurpassed.
Dogzstar - DJ party/lounge bar and live music venue just off Istiklal Caddesi.
James Joyce Bar - Irish-themed bar incorporating a boisterous bar, live music basement, sports lounge and rooftop café.
Le Fumoir - Elegant cigar lounge at the upmarket Kempinski Hotel.
 
Clubs in Istanbul
Babylon - An Istanbul institution known for attracting big name performers and vibrant party nights.
Club 29 - Restaurant, bar, nightclub, sun-soaked terrace and pool, what more can be asked for a night out.
Reina - This Ortakoy spot offers a choice of bars and a dance floor packed with Turkish beauties and celebrities.
 
Theatres in Istanbul
Akbank Culture & Arts Centre - Home to rotating exhibitions as well as hosting cultural events and jazz and classical concerts.
Ataturk Cultural Centre - Excellent concert hall home to the State Opera & Ballet, State Theatre and State Symphony Orchestra.
 
Istanbul Excursions
Football - The Turkish are known to be extraordinarily passionate when it comes to football and the brave can join the masses at a home game for the citys top clubs, Besiktas and Galatasaray.
Princes Island - Jump on a ferry and head out to the peaceful islands of the MarmaraSea for a pleasant day trip away from the city mayhem.
Bosphorus Night Cruise - Enjoy a romantic dinner cruise and marvel as the OldCity glistens in the city lights and traditional fishing boats drift by.

Hotels in Istanbul

Budget Hotels Istanbul

Agora Guesthouse & Hostel - Well located boutique hostel with a wonderful rooftop terrace. Tel (90) 212 458 5547.
Bahaus Hostel Istanbul - Ever popular and recommendable hostel recently voted in the worlds top 10. Tel (90) 212 638 6534.
Marmara Guesthouse - Cosy, family-run guesthouse offering unspoilt views of the Bosphorus and MarmaraSea. Tel (90) 212 638 3638.
Metropolis Hostel - Clean, modern rooms, multilingual staff and a fine rooftop bar and restaurant. Tel (90) 212 518 1822.
 
Midrange Hotels Istanbul
Hotel Armada - Charming 4-star hotel in the Sultanahmet neighbourhood. Rates include a buffet breakfast. Tel (90) 212 455 4455.
Hotel Niles - Great value family-owned hotel a short walk from the Grand Bazaar. Tasty Turkish breads are served up for breakfast. Tel (90) 212 517 3239.
Naz Wooden House Inn - Welcoming bed & breakfast with 7 quaint rooms in the heart of the city. Tel (90) 212 516 7130.
 
Luxury Hotels Istanbul
Ansen 130 - 10 slick, contemporary rooms set in a stunning 19thC building. The adjacent cigar bar is a popular hangout. Tel (90) 212 245 8808.
Four Seasons Bosphorus - Classic Four Seasons luxury commanding the citys best address. Speed boats are on hand to whisk guests to the main sights. Tel (90) 212 381 4000.
Ritz-Carlton Istanbul - It may be an eyesore from outside but inside is a lavish, luxury hotel to rival any in Istanbul. Tel (90) 212 334 4444.

Istanbul Weather

Istanbul Travel Resources

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