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Overview to Istanbul: Travel Guide and Tourist Information
- Istanbul Information
- Eating & drinking in Istanbul
- Night life in Istanbul
- Getting around in Istanbul
- Things to do in Istanbul
- Where to stay in Istanbul
- Istanbul street map
The French poet Alphonse de Lamartine once said: ‘if one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze upon Istanbul.’ The city is undoubtedly one of the most exotic places in Europe, even if (divided by the Bosphorus Straits) half of it’s actually in Asia…
To the south of the Golden Horn sprawls the warren of narrow streets that make up the Old Town of Sultanahmet. Most of the main sights are down in this part of the city and its skyline is crowned by a trio of practically unmatchable sights: the Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia Mosque and the Blue Mosque.
On the very eastern edge – staring out across the Bosphorus – lies the magnificent 15th century Topkapi Palace. A vast complex, it’s made up of several hundred rooms and a series of spectacular courtyards.
Adjacent to the palace sits the Hagia Sophia Mosque, formerly a Byzantine church. A dazzling assortment of minarets, delicate mosaics, balconies and galleries, nothing can quite prepare you for the stunning sight of sunlight pouring in through the dome.
A little further to the south, the massive ‘Blue Mosque’ of Sultanahmet is one of the most recognizable structures in the world. Laid out in traditional Ottoman style with a series of archways and domes, it has been called a ‘triumph of harmony, proportion and elegance’.
Another ‘must see’ is the Byzantium hippodrome, where ‘Ben Hur’-style chariot races were once held to decide political decisions. The Basilica Cistern, meanwhile, (whose entrance is on Yerebatan Caddesi) is an atmospheric, subterranean labyrinth of water tunnels.
Naturally, the city has a number of fascinating archaeological museums. Of these, the Museum of the Ancient Orient and the Museum of Archaeology are especially interesting (and both are also within a stone’s throw of the Blue Mosque).
Then, of course, there’s the Covered Bazaar (also known as the Grand Bazaar). Over to the west of the Old Town next to the Beyazit Mosque, it’s a dense, bewildering mass of colors, smells and commotion crammed into over 58 streets and several thousand stalls.
The remnants of the Theodosian Wall still make for an enormously impressive spectacle. These great fortifications of Constantinople (best-preserved out to the west) were built in the 5th century and stretched for several kilometers around the entire city.
But no trip to Istanbul would be complete without going for a Turkish bath at one of the city’s 'hamams'. Given the vast array of sights and the hectic nature of life in the city, a steamily relaxing visit is always most welcome.
Afterwards, perhaps over a ‘narghile’ (hookah pipe), you can sit back and reflect on Istanbul’s unique appeal. Bringing together a little of the romance of both Europe and Asia, it represents one of the world’s truly great travel destinations.