Discover markets, mosques and meze in the city where Europe meets the East
Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey with a population of almost 13 million people. The city is located on the Bosphorus Strait on the natural harbour known as the Golden Horn. Istanbul is the only city in the world to be situated on two continents, as the metropolis straddles both the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorus.
A city break to Istanbul provides plenty of distractions from Byzantine churches and stunning mosques to bustling markets and meze in rooftop restaurants. Best of all, Istanbul is as close as many European destinations (just 4 hours by plane) yet the currency is the Turkish Lira, meaning you get lots more for your money.
Lovers of architecture will be spoilt for choice in Istanbul, with fresco-filled Byzantine churches and opulent Ottoman palaces peppered all over the city. In Sultanahmet, Istanbul’s old town, visit the magnificent secular space of Hagia Sophia, or pop to the nearby Hippodrome where Emperors once held chariot races. Over the Golden Horn waterway, make the trip up the 14th-century Galata Tower to take in the spectacular views from the top. For a taste of contemporary Turkey, head to the Istanbul Modern art gallery in Karaköy which showcases the nation’s finest painters.
Shopping is a cultural experience in Istanbul. Head to the Egyptian Bazaar in Eminönü, where traders have been selling aromatic spices for centuries, or brave the vast central Grand Bazaar for local crafts. After all that shopping and exploring, enjoy a well-earned drink in one of the city’s many rooftop bars overlooking the Bosphorus.
When to go?
Summer is generally hot and humid, with the temperature between July and August averaging 28-degrees. Winter can be chilly, with the thermometer dropping as low as 5-degrees. Spring and autumn are usually mild with chilly nights and the odd shower. Choose your city break to catch top events, like June’s International Istanbul Jazz Festival, or the ‘Contemporary Istanbul’ art festival in October.
How to get there?
Turkish Airlines flies direct to Istanbul from London Heathrow, Manchester and Birmingham airports. BA also offers direct flights to Istanbul from Heathrow. easyJet fly to Istanbul’s less central Sabiha Gokcen airport from London Luton.
You’ll be spoilt for historic sights in Istanbul’s old quarter, where you can discover Ottoman history at Topkapi Palace and Haghia Sophia. Cross Galata Bridge for more contemporary sights, including the Istanbul Modern gallery. Take in spectacular views from the top of Galata Tower, or take a Bosphorus boat trip to get close to the sights. Be sure to visit the labyrinthine medieval Grand Bazaar for your souvenirs, where arched alleys are packed with punters haggling for local crafts.
Feast on freshly grilled fish and meze accompanied by a glass of the local aniseed-flavoured tipple, raki at one of the many traditional taverns on Nevizade street. Dinner will be set to a soundtrack of local musicians playing traditional music at your table. After dinner, find tucked-away bars in Tünel for a cold Efes beer, or for a more chic offering, opt for one of the city’s many stylish rooftop bars. Potent cocktails and laid-back DJs with beautiful views of the Bosphorus await.