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Istanbul Holidays

One city, two continents

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Be enchanted beneath the minarets

The only major city to straddle two continents, few places come as steeped in history as Istanbul. Once the seat of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, and with a skyline studded with many domes and minarets, this vast metropolis is today home to 16 million people. More popular with visitors, the European side of Istanbul breaks down broadly into two sections. The old city of Sultanahmet is heaving with historic sights, while the more modern areas of Karakoy (Galata) and Beyoglu are packed to the gills with art galleries, cool restaurants, swanky bars and ritzy shops.

Wander around the many atmospheric shops and stalls of the Grand Bazaar, then be wowed by the beautiful Blue Mosque with its intricate interiors lined with bright blue Iznik tiles. Feast on some good value, delicious grilled spicy meatballs at Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi and enjoy a nightcap at the rooftop bar of the Arcadia Blue Hotel with sparkling views across the old city, the Sea of Marmara and towards Asia. Call in at the Panorama 1453 History Museum to learn about the Turks’ victorious siege and capture of the city. Stroll past the late-Byzantine Palace of the Porphyrogenitus down to Ayvansaray Pier on the shores of the Golden Horn and jump on a ferry bound for the iconic Galata Bridge. Book your flights to Istanbul today and dive into this enticing medley of east meets west.

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Make the most of your Istanbul holiday

Pause for a moment of reflection at the Museum of Innocence, inspired by Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk’s book of the same name. Exhibits include 4,000 cigarettes smoked by the protagonist alongside various ephemera associated with the novel. Already a fan? Bring along a copy of the tome to gain free entry.

What are the best things to do in Istanbul?

1. Roam the Grand Bazaar. One of the world’s largest covered markets, it was built in the 15th Century and comprises over 4,000 shops spread across some 61 streets. Shop for jewellery, Turkish carpets, scarves, lanterns, towels, kaftans, handbags, Iznik tiles, Turkish delight and much more. Here bargaining is practically mandatory, and you may come home with an item discounted by around 10-20% of the asking price. Get scrubbed down in the Ceberlitas Hammam and sample some tempting street food while you’re in the area.

2. The Topkapi Palace was the court of the Ottoman Empire for four centuries, so presides over more than its fair share of intrigue. Tour the palace’s opulent pavilions, courtyards and kitchens, leaving plenty of time to explore the sprawling harem complex for a fascinating insight into imperial life.

3. Over its near 1,500-year lifetime the monumental Hagia Sophia has been a Christian church, a mosque, a museum and a mosque again. Marvel at this architectural wonder complete with history’s first pendentive dome, its many glittering gold mosaics and its lavish fusion of western and Islamic design.

4. Discover the Istanbul Archaeology Museums. This vast complex comprises three museums packed with over one million items representing most eras of the region. Treasures include the Alexander sarcophagus, statues from the Temple of Zeus, a tablet containing the oldest known laws and a stunning pavilion known as the Tiled Kiosk.

5. The Galata Bridge is a 490-metre-long drawbridge spanning the Golden Horn and uniting old Istanbul with the more modern part of the city. Completed in 1994, the bridge is just the latest in a series of structures on the site, with previous designs by the likes of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci being rejected. Today it’s lined with cafes, bars and restaurants and is a popular spot to watch the fishing boats come and go.

Which holiday type in Istanbul is right for me?

If you’re looking for 5-star luxury then we have a number of options for you. The Bank Hotel Istanbul is an exclusive Mr & Mrs Smith-recommended hotel set in a former bank building with an elegant spa and even its own in-house art curator. The CVK Park Istanbul Bosphorus near Taksim Square offers an extensive spa and a large roof terrace with a view of the Bosphorus. At the Hyatt Regency Istanbul Atakoy most rooms offer spectacular views of the Marmara Sea.

Perhaps you’d prefer a boutique hotel. The Hagia Sofia Mansions Istanbul, Curio Collection by Hilton features rooms in individual mansions complete with deep soaking tubs and separate Turkish bath showers. Alternatively, try the Enderun Hotel Istanbul set in a former 19th Century schoolhouse with its Turkish bath, sauna and Jacuzzi. The Six Senses Kocatas Mansions occupies two waterfront mansions in the former home of the Minister for Justice, complete with Belle Epoque furnishings. The Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul has a restaurant set in a glass pavilion that forms the focal point of the lush courtyard garden.

Are you searching for a budget break in Istanbul? We have the following cheap hotels. The Sultan House has a panoramic, open-air terrace facing the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The Orka Royal Hotel & Spa offers a splendid spa and wellness centre with indoor pool. The Best Nobel Hotel Istanbul in Sultanahmet offers a restaurant, bar and 24-hour room service. The Sokullu Pasa Hotel has an attractive garden terrace and traditionally furnished rooms.

Where are the best places to visit in Istanbul?

Nisantasi is a glamorous, upscale, largely secular neighbourhood just one metro stop from the central Taksim Square. Istanbul’s answer to Chelsea is packed with swish cafes, restaurants and designer shops. Shop on Abdi Ipekci for premium brands such as Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton, visit the historic Tesvikiye Mosque and admire the many handsome art nouveau buildings in the area.

Sultanahmet is the oldest part of the city. The former imperial capital has a high concentration of historic landmarks including the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace. Walk the ancient city walls, wander around the markets and bazaars, explore the subterranean depths of the Basilica Cistern, steam clean yourself in a traditional hammam and grab a rooftop drink.

The Bosphorus Strait, the iconic waterway separating Europe and Asia, is dotted with bays, grand maritime mansions and imposing fortresses. Take a daytime ferry for photo opportunities or a cosy night time cruise with live entertainment, and learn about the many stories surrounding the Maiden’s Tower. Scale the Galata Tower for views of the Bosphorus and across the Golden Horn to the majestic Suleymaniye Mosque.

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