The capital of Turkey, Istanbul is the urban home to a maze of palaces and bazaars, perfect to lose yourself in amongst intoxicating scents and mesmerising sights. The Byzantine churches and Ottoman mosques in the city provide a striking backdrop to escapes in the city, a city where romance is heightened as the sun sets behind the Blue Mosque, casting shimmers of light over the sea. These days though, a wealth of trendy bars, clubs and restaurants have sprung up around the city – making Istanbul the ultimate destination city for throngs of travellers – both young and old.
There’s a lot to see in Istanbul, but if you’re heading to Istanbul for a weekend then make sure that you see the Sultanahmet old city district – which is home to the Blue Mosque, the Tokapi palace and the former Greek Orthodox basilica Hagia Sophia, to name but a few. Another must see here is the underground Basilica Cistern – one of the cities most romantic attractions. This sixth century construction once brought water to Istanbul from Thrace in the Balkans but is now an enchanting underground maze of Byzantine intrigue. The soft notes of classical music that plays inside compliments the beautiful interior excellently, itself made up of some 336 columns and plinths scavenged from ruined buildings from eras past. Look out for the two columns that are supported by Medusa heads (relics from the Roman Empire) – one upside down and the other on its side, and the ghost-like fish that have found their home in the water lining the cistern.
Nightlife in Istanbul is on the rise – and it’s one of the most eclectic parts of city life – you can catch a live band at the notorious Babylon or the student favourite Araf, which has it’s own resident Gypsy band, or dine and dance in the ultra-chic Ulus 29, but if you just want a good place to dance into the early hours – then head to the Indigo club, which generally has an impressive roster of guest DJ’s. An ideal way to spend an evening in Istanbul is to take a trip through time, on an evening cruise on the Bosphorous – travelling past the Old City and to the new – you’ll pass under vast lit bridges and see castles, palaces and the opulence of the beautiful Ottoman villas that jewel the coasts of the two continents.
Istanbul is quickly gaining in popularity – many new bars, clubs and hotels are springing up around the city and it’s quickly becoming a firm favourite with travellers the world over – but it still retains the charm and grandeur that first made it appealing – 2014 is a perfect time to head to Istanbul to see the transition in action.