Istanbul Travel Guide

Istanbul is the only city in the world reaching across two continents, with its old city in Europe and modern Istanbul situated in Asia, separated by the Bosphorus Strait. Travelling to Istanbul is also unique in having had capital status during two successive empires, namely the Christian Byzantine and Islamic Ottoman empires, so visitors can have the experience of taking in the cultural legacy from both of these great civilizations which is still visible in the city today.

Istanbul's location on the water made it a much coveted site as a commercial shipping port and military lookout, and as capital of the Roman Empire, Constantinople, as it was known, became extremely desirable as a centre of world trade, until Mehmet the Conqueror claimed it for the Ottoman Empire in 1453 and it became the imperial seat of the sultans. After the War of Independence the capital was moved to Ankara, but Istanbul still remains the commercial, historical, and cultural heart of Turkey today.

The charm and character of Istanbul lies in its endless variety and jumble of contradictions. Its fascinating history has bequeathed the city a vivid inheritance of Byzantine ruins, splendid palaces, ancient mosques and churches, hamams (bath-houses) and exotic bazaars. Modern Istanbul also exudes a thriving nightlife scene with trendy bars and nightclubs, alongside western boutiques, office blocks, and elegant suburbs. The call to prayer heralds the start of each day and the city comes to life with over 14 million inhabitants forming a chaotic social and cultural mix. All of which makes for a captivating and frenetic experience for tourists, who flock to the city for shopping, sightseeing, and everything else this magical city has to offer.

Best time to visit Istanbul

The city enjoys hot, humid summers, and summer is the season most choose to travel to Istanbul. It is probably best to plan Istanbul holidays for either early or late summer, though, to avoid the high season crowds and inflated prices. Winter is cold, wet and there is often snow, so holiday-makers tend to avoid travelling to Istanbul between November and February.

What to see in Istanbul

-Visit the magnificent domes of the Blue Mosque.

-Soak up some culture at the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum.

-Marvel at the remarkable architecture of Hagia Sophia.

-See the ruins of the ancient Hippodrome of Constantinople.

What to do in Istanbul

-Get lost in the maze of stalls at the Grand Bazaar.

-Stroll through the beautiful gardens of the Dolmabahce Palace.

-Take in a piece of history at the Topkapi Palace Museum.

-Admire the unique location of a Bond film at the Sunken Palace.

Beyond Istanbul

Istanbul is the perfect doorway to a number of regions in Turkey, including Ankara and the Cappadocia region. Istanbul is easily accommodated on any travel itinerary of Turkey, not least of all because it is easy to get flights into the city from all over the world. Most parts of Turkey are easily accessible from the central hub of Istanbul with various forms of transport to each location, including bus, train and plane.

Getting there

Flights to Istanbul land in Ataturk International Airport (IST), located 15 miles (23km) west of Istanbul. There are direct flights to Istanbul from various cities in the UK, US and many European cities.

Did you know?

-Istanbul is the only city in the world reaching across two continents.

-Istanbul is the most populous city in Europe with over 14 million people.

-Tulips, the symbol of Holland, originated in Istanbul and were then sent to the Netherlands.