Istanbul is my favourite big city in the world. I have visited this city probably 10 times and the reason I love it so much is that every time I visit I have a totally different experience of the city and I know that even if I visit Istanbul 50 times, the experience will be different each time.
Istanbul is the tale of two continents, Asia on one side of the Bosphorus strait and Europe on the other. Founded around 660 BC, this city of close to 15 million is a melting pot of cultures, food, religions and people. Strangely, the European side is older and more historical while the Asian side more modern. You can cross from one side to the other on one of the world’s largest suspension bridges or on one of the numerous ferries.
Most first time visitors choose to stay on the European side in the popular area of Taksim Square or Sultanahmet but I recently discovered another area called Ortakoy Camil which is at the foot of the first bridge on the banks of the Bosphorus. This area has amazing shops, restaurants and the chance to explore the strait on ferries and tour boats that ply their journies along this amazing waterway. For first time visitors, I would rather recommend Sultanahmet with all the historical sites, including the Grand Bazaar, with amazing shopping within and designer shops on the surrounding streets. There are many reasonably priced hotels in the area which overlook the Bosphorus.
Taxim is more modern and also has great shopping and eating opportunities. One of my most enduring memories is an early morning walk on a Sunday morning and meeting a Coptic Christian priest who took me through a nondescript doorway to a gold covered ornate chapel from ancient times.
Don’t forget to visit a Hammam, the ancient Turkish baths which date back hundreds of years, go for a ride on a modern tram, take a ferry and eat at the amazing seafood restaurants.
On future trips, as I know most people just want more, visit the Princess Islands which is a short ferry ride to an old world with no cars and visit the Asian side with its high rise building and great shopping.
by Wally Gaynor