East meets west in vibrant Istanbul Turkey. Historically known as Constantinople after the Roman Emperor Constantine I, Istanbul was for years the centre of the Roman Byzantium and Ottoman Empires. Home to many of the most recognizable images of the country of Turkey, such as the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Blue Mosque, Istanbul is not to be missed on any trip here.
Istanbul Turkey today marks the fringes of Europe and is very much a modern cosmopolitan city. It acts as Turkey’s heart with throbbing streets and pumping nightclubs. This good time capital city has evolved a counter culture to the more traditional conservative monuments that dot the city landscape. There is a hip nightlife with fashionable bars and clubs plying their patrons with western exuberance until the very early hours. The street of Istiklal Caddesi in the quarter of Beyoglu acts as the main hub of weekend activity. There is also a burgeoning live music scene at various small venues and pubs all over the city.
The historical heart and centre of Istanbul tourism is Sultanahmet. An Istanbul vacation will inevitably include taking in the sights of the oldest quarter of Istanbul Turkey with its Byzantine Hippodrome and relaxing tea gardens. The quarter is full of towering minarets, golden domes, cobbled streets and bustling markets. Prayer calls often ring out over the hub at various points of the day reminding the dutiful locals of the time to worship.
Present in the old quarter is the inescapable and uniquely Turkish experience of steam bath houses. A number of private wash houses (Hamam's) provide an opportunity to leave the throng of busy shoppers or get over your Istanbul travel tiredness and emerge rosy and fresh from a Turkish bath.
Three major Istanbul tourism sites are situated within the old quarter of Sultanahmet and should not be missed. Most Istanbul travel tours will incorporate a visit to all of these sites and can be arranged through your hotel or local tourist office. The Hagia Sophia is a converted Byzantine cathedral which has served as a mosque since the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. While the exterior is not impressive, inside, the building is adorned by mosaics and intricate Arabic inscriptions. Visitors should not miss the impressive 17th century blue tinged Sultanahmet Mosque characterized by cloud piercing minarets and grey domed roofs. While Istanbul tours to the depths of the Basilica Cistern offer an incredible insight into the vast underground world of a Roman water storage works. The feat of bringing water to the city via a 12 mile aqueduct to this storage facility is a remarkable engineering achievement. The cistern is no longer used but visitors can explore the superbly renovated site.
Epitomizing the many colorful markets of the city is the Spice Bazaar. Next to the Yenicami complex, this old covered market is packed with merchants selling herbs, dried fruit and medicinal medicines from wooden barrels and baskets. The biggest of city markets and an Istanbul tourism attraction in its own right, is the Grand Bazaar which consists of around 4,000 shops on a number of streets leading to a central courtyard. All the streets are named according to the trades found there. A range of goods can be bought from gold and silver traders, booksellers, carpet sellers, purse makers and slipper sellers. Two of the markets oldest sections contain cloth and jewelery stalls. The bazaar provides a great opportunity to search for bargains to take home from your Istanbul vacation. At the back of the Grand Bazaar is the Suleymaniye mosque. The mosque is open to visitors and headscarves are provided to women at the entrance.
Taking a break from the often frantic city streets, an Istanbul vacation can still take in the historic city landscape with a cruise along the Bosphorus strait. Half day Istanbul tours of the river Bosphorus offer a picturesque view of the city as you sail through former fishing villages past ancient city walls and fortresses and bobbing fishing boats. Hotels and Istanbul travel agencies offer day and night cruises providing a romantic and enjoyable way to view the city skyline from the river. A good place to catch your boat is from Karakoy. Nearby is one of the cities liveliest areas Ortakoy where you can find good sea food restaurants and a majestically lit neoclassical mosque.
Istanbul tours to Princess Island are also popular one day excursions. Boats depart from the areas of Sirkeci and Bostanci. On reaching the island tourists can explore the rich pine forests on donkey back or horse carriage. The island boasts great views of the city and good swimming areas along the shoreline.
With much to see and do, Istanbul captures the best of Eastern and Western influences in one buzzing capital city. Its proximity to the rest of Europe and the Middle East make it an accessable destination for tourists the world over.