The Bosphorus strait may divide Turkey’s largest city into two halves, but the whole metropolis is a rich blend of cultural and religious influences from East and West, making it one of the world’s most intriguing cities to explore.
This unmistakable landmark was built more than 400 years ago and is also the last resting place of Sultan Ahmed I who was ruler during its construction. It takes its name from the blue tiles that line the interior, but the mosque’s many domes and minarets are also illuminated with blue lighting at night, making an evening visit just as breathtaking.
Once the main residence of the Ottoman sultans, this Palace has now become a fascinating museum. Wander through the series of elaborate pavilions, audience chambers, kitchens, barracks and sleeping quarters that surround the Palace’s central enclosure. You’ll soon get a tantalizing impression of the courtly life of this powerful dynasty.
Another unmissable museum is this architectural masterpiece and symbol of Istanbul’s cultural and religious mix. At times a Byzantine basilica, a Crusaders’ Roman Catholic cathedral and an Ottoman mosque, the Hagia Sophia’s most celebrated feature is its huge dome. But down on floor level, keep a look out for the famous resident cat, Gli, who even has her own Instagram account.
Not far from the Hagia Sophia is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, selling everything from carpets and jewelry to spices and sweets. Lose yourself in a chaotic world of colours, sounds and smells, and if you’re looking for a souvenir, be prepared to get down to some serious bargaining over a cup of tea.
You’ll find a contrast from the frenetic pace of the city beneath the streets of Istanbul. Head underground and explore this cavernous space supported by over 300 columns dating from the 6th century. The Cistern once used to store water for the Great Palace but now it makes for a memorable, mysterious visit as well as a cool retreat in the summer months.