Where East meets West: A city break in Istanbul
Istanbul is the magical meeting place of East and West, but is surprisingly off the radar of many travellers. This fascinating city is somewhere I can wholeheartedly recommend; experience beautiful vistas, rich history, and the buzz of modern Turkey.
I have just returned from a 4 night city break with friends, and have been left with fantastic memories of such a beautiful and captivating city.
We flew from Stansted direct into the brand new Istanbul Havalimani Airport. You will be wowed by its vastness and impressive architecture. Replacing the old Ataturk airport, you will see how Istanbul are preparing to become the big hub city of the future.
They are connecting a new metro line to the airport, but for now we took a taxi into Istanbul. This is a huge city of over 15 million people, split by the Bosphorus into the European and Asian sides of the city.
We had chosen to stay in Galata, Beyoglu on the European side, one of the oldest neighborhoods of Istanbul, full of culture and a social hub of the city. We stayed in Rooms Galata, a great set of apartments set in a quiet (but hilly) side street, within close walking distance of the famous shopping street of Istikal, and mainly run by the cat mafia of Istanbul.
Istanbul is also known as the city of seven hills, and our neighborhood in particular was perched on a hill, with amazing rooftop terraces at every turn, and a place to play card whilst enjoying the view of an evening.
Our first evening in the city lead to us to a hidden bar which was surprisingly on the same street as our apartment. Much like some of the hidden bars that are popular in Britain now, we entered, following a meandering path to emerge on a rooftop outside overlooking the city.
Our first full day in Istanbul lead us to explore on foot, heading down from Galata towards the Bosphorus, crossing the Galata Bridge, overlooking an iconic landscape of Mosques and Minarets.
We explored the Suleymaniye Mosque high up on the third hill of Istanbul, then stopping for some lunch at a rooftop restaurant with the most amazing views back towards the Bosphoros and Galata. Heading towards the Blue Mosque and HagiaSophia, once a mosque, then a church, and now a palace, this really encapsulates the history of Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople.
The next day we were able to explore the Grand Bazaar, a huge indoor maze of stalls with the opportunity for bartering and shopping.
We then were able to visit the Basilica Cistern, the largest of several hundred underground cisterns in Istanbul. This huge underground water chamber dates from the 6th Century. It was incredible to think of the underground history of this ancient city.
On the final day of our trip, we were able to experience a hop-on-hop-off boat trip along the Bosphorus, travelling between the European and Asian sides of the city. This is a fantastic way to get a feel for the immense scale of the city, travelling underneath the famous bridges linking the two continents, while topping up your tan!
To finish our trip, we sampled some traditional Turkish mezze. We can all highly recommend the Restaurant 'Antochia Concept', where the friendly owner suggested a selection of dishes, including hummus, baba ghanoush, muammara, the famous and künefe with cheese for dessert. Each one of them was delicious, and washed down with the local tipples of Efes and raki (for some of us!).
I think we would all highly recommend experiencing Istanbul over a few days, a beautiful and atmospheric city, modern in outlook but with so much history too. Spring and Autumn are great times to visit the city and embrace what this pivotal city of the past, and exciting city of the future holds.
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