Once Constantinople and the centre of the post-Roman world, Istanbul is an amazingly historic city set in Turkey along both shores of the Bosphorus. Half the city lies in Europe; the other half is set in Asia and, at this iconic crossroad between continents, its vast wealth from trade created over hundreds of years a unique centre of culture, learning and archaeological wonders.
Every experience necessary for the perfect vacation exists here, from stunning and ancient architecture through fascinating museums, bustling souks and markets, all-embracing shoportunities and delicious cuisine. Istanbul city centre hotels take care of visitors’ creature comforts with high standards of amenities and service, the fabulous Old City with its palaces, churches, mosques, museums, restaurants and much more is within walking distance of downtown and the beaches are a short trip away for sand, sea and sun.
Sultanahmet, the Old City, is where it all happened for over 2000 years, beginning with the Ancient Greeks and continuing with the Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans, all of whom left indelible marks on the ever-expanding cityscape. Nowadays, much remains form those turbulent times, with the great religious building of Haghia Sophia dominating the city with its world-wide fame and beauty. Now a museum of the city’s long history, its massive dome and towering minarets can be seen from every vantage point.
Haghia Sophia is set in Sultanahmet Square within the ancient city walls, along with the equally lovely 16th century Blue Mosque, the magnificent Topkapi Palace and the city’s famous Basilica Cistern, built in Roman times to store the city’s water flowing from the Roman aqueduct on the outskirts. The cistern’s huge, echoing caverns enclose statues of Minerva, huge carved columns and arches and are deliberately dimly lit, making for a mysterious effect.
Just behind the square, set up against the still-walkable city walls, is a winding cobbled street leading downhill and lined with Ottoman-Style two and three-storey houses, a quaint reminder of how the city looked generations ago. The oldest landmark here is the Pillar of the Goths, erected by Emperor Constantine the great to celebrate his army’s victory over the raiders from the north. Latin inscriptions were carved around its base, although they remain unreadable nowadays.
Another world-famous sight in Istanbul is its Grand Bazaar, the greatest in the whole of Arabia and North Africa. Over 50 covered streets are here, with literally thousands of shops and stalls offering solutions to every possible want or need. Turkish carpets, kilims and rugs are favourites, with the essential long bargaining process often taking hours. Gold, silver, jewellery, fragrant spices and herbs, traditional remedies, clothes and leather goods of all types and sizes, ceramics, carvings, antiques, inlaid metalware, and much more are spread out along the alleyways, with people-watching the added bonus for visitors.
Local mosques and food and drink outlets are set in mini-squares alongside cooling fountains in this massive traditional covered area, the commercial lifeblood of the city since ancient times up to the present day. Alternative shopping options in Istanbul are many, with Tahtakale nestling between the Grand Bazaar and the Eminonu also home to a specialist spice bazaar and the elegant streets of Beyoglue district with their boutiques and upscale venues.
For lovers of mall shopping, the city boasts over 40 such giant outlets, with its Cevahir Shopping Centre the biggest in Europe. Set in Sisli district, its over 350 shops, 10 cinemas, countless fast food outlets, eateries and coffee shops, it’s well worth a visit for the variety of goods on offer as well as for an exciting ride on its small but effective roller-coaster.
Lek Boonlert is an editor and content reviewer at DirectRooms and is responsible for all Istanbul City Centre Hotels content.