Turkey’s gateway to Europe and western lifestyle, Istanbul features a captivating fusion of oriental charm and western standards. Half the city spreading on European grounds and half on the Asian shore of Bosporus, it balances between traditional bazaars and top-rated international hotels.
This 14-million-resident metropolis has it all, from ancient sites, to typical hammams (Turkish baths), to delightful local delicacies.
Ruled by the Greeks, the Persians, the Venetians and the Ottomans respectively, it carries a huge historical and cultural heritage, which is imprinted on the city’s architecture, the regional cuisine and the residents’ cosmopolitan lifestyle.
A widespread network of public transport serves any corner of the city quite effectively. Means of transport include the metro, city buses and the tram. An antique tram-line connects Taksim Square and Tunel Square. Ferry services link the European and the Asian sides of Istanbul.
Istanbul by area
Τhe Golden Horn, or Halic, is one of the largest natural harbours around the globe and divides Istanbul’s European side into two parts. Four major bridges connect its two sides, with Galata Bridge being the most popular. Linking Galata with Eminonu, Galata Bridge houses dozens of charming cafes and eateries overlooking the calm blue waters and urban surroundings; a relaxing stroll along the bridge during a sunny day is must.
Located south of the Golden Horn, Istanbul’s Historical Center is the area featuring most of the city’s well-known sights. Beginning with the borough of Sultanahmet, wander around its “meydanis” (squares) and “sokaks” (streets) to explore the Historical Center’s most popular attractions, including Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the Byzantine Hippodrome.
Moving down to the borough of Beyazit, you will have a chance to see Beyazit Tower and the Beyazit University, which dates back to 1453 and was founded right after Istanbul was conquered by the Ottomans. However, Beyazit is mostly known as a gateway to the Grand Bazaar. Enter the Grand Bazaar from Beyazit Square to explore its 4000 shops, which spread around a maze of 56 alleys in one of the world’s largest roofed markets.
North of Beyazit, you will find Eminonu and Suleymaniye. Suleymaniye being known for the namesake mosque, Eminonu is mostly well-known for its Spice Bazaar and the New Mosque. Bosporus Cruises begin from Eminonu’s pier as well.
Moving southwest of the Spice Bazaar you will come across Tahtakale’s picturesque narrow streets and traditional coffee shops. Kumkapi on the other hand, is known for its many fish taverns.
Fatih borough also gathers a large amount of sights. One of the city’s most conservative areas, Fatih hosts the Valens Aqueduct, the Yedikule Fort, the Palace of Porphyrogenitus, the tombs of several important sultans and a series of mosques, most of which used to be Byzantine churches. The Greek Patriarchate is also located in Fatih.
North of the Golden Horn spreads Istanbul’s Modern Center, the city’s vibrant and lively core. Taksim Square is a popular meeting point for locals who go shopping or just for a walk down Istiklal pedestrian and its side streets.
Sisli is the modern city’s business hub, while located within Sisli district, Nisantasi area is the hot spot for Istanbul’s young elite. Featuring apartment buildings in Art Nouveau architecture, it is thriving with dozens of hip galleries, sophisticated bars and luxurious boutiques occupying every other corner.
The emperor’s summer residence during Byzantine times, Besiktas hosted the palaces and gardens of several Sultans in Ottoman era; Topkapi Palace and Dolmabahce Palace are two excellent examples. Within the boundaries of Besiktas district you will find Ortakoy borough, which is known for its lively nightlife.
Karakoy is the city’s transportation hub, also known for its Persembe Pazari, which houses dozens of electronics-related shops. Istanbul Modern, Istanbul’s brand new museum of contemporary art, is located here. Housing the city’s red light district, the area is better to be avoided after dark.