Hotels in Istanbul
Formerly known as Byzantium and Constantinople, when you book flights to Istanbul you get three cities for the price of one.
East doesn't just meet west in Istanbul: it wines it, dines it, and brings it home to meet the parents. Minarets dot the skyline and the call to prayer cuts through the daily commute, while lively bars do a roaring trade in local Efes beer. New art galleries, restaurants and boutiques are constantly opening, contrasting with the city's ancient churches, mosques and synagogues. Offering a mix of heritage, hedonism, and a healthy dose of gluttony: Istanbul is certainly one of Europe's most captivating destinations.
Princes' Islands: Lounge on the beach or swim in the Sea of Marmara.
Grand Bazaar: One of the world's largest (and oldest) covered markets. Remember to haggle!
Hagia Sophia: Orthodox church turned mosque turned museum.
See the sights in Sultanahmet. As well as Hagia Sophia, this quarter is home to Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, and the Basilica Cistern. Be warned: it'll take at least a day to hit them all.
Party in Taksim. There are plenty of excellent bars and restaurants in this lively neighbourhood. You can enjoy live music at the mysterious Kara Kedi (of no fixed location), sip local wines in Cukurcuma 49, or relax with a drink on the terrace at Urban.
Pamper yourself. Istanbul is famous for its hamams (bath houses). One of the most famous, Cemberlitas, dates back to the 16th Century.
Take a boat trip on the Bosphorus from the European side of Istanbul to Kadikoy on the Asian side. Although there are plenty of expensive tourist cruises covering this route, the local commuter ferry only charges a few lira.
From the simit sellers wandering through crowds with laden trays on their heads, to the men barbecuing mussels down by the Bosphorus, street food is king. Once your kebab craving is out of the way, sample other treats like pide (Turkish pizza), lamacun (Turkish burrito), and local favourite Kokorec (spiced sweetbreads: a favourite after-pub snack). Turkish delight and baklava round off a meal perfectly, but leave room for kunefe: a dessert made from angel hair pasta, pistachios, and stringy cheese.
Istanbul has a temperate climate, with hot summers and cold winters. The warmest time of year is from June to September, with an average temperature of 24°C during July and August (although highs of 28°C and above are common). January and February are the coolest months, when you can expect temperatures of 3°C-8°C. Istanbul is at its wettest in December.
Like most European destinations, summer is the peak time to visit Istanbul. The city can get crowded at this time of year, and the weather is at its hottest (and most humid). You'll find the best rates on flights and hotel rooms in Istanbul during autumn (September to November), and this is also when the climate is at its best: not as hot as summer, and not as chilly as winter. Spring is another good time to visit. Days can be chilly, but exciting events like the International Gastronomy Festival in March and the Istanbul Film Festival in April more than make up for it.
Flights to Istanbul are available from a number of UK cities including London, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Expect a flight time of around four hours. You'll need apply for an e-visa a few weeks before you visit.
Images by Flickr/ John Picken
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