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City of Four Empires
Rome and Istanbul are both over two-and-a-half millennia old, but for the majority of the time Istanbul was larger, more influential, and wealthier than Rome.
Istanbul has been the capital of four empires: the Roman Empire (330-395), the Byzantine Empire (395-1204), the Latin Empire (1204-1261), the Byzantine Empire (1261-1453) and the Ottoman Empire (1453-1922).
Istanbul’s history is very rich, and remains of each of these empires can still be seen.
Istanbul is modern and ancient, conservative and free-wheeling. It has a vibrant nightlife and prominent mosques, cutting-edge art and traditional family-owned restaurants. The old and the new layer constantly in this city that never stops moving. The contrasts are phenomenal.
The Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and Galata Tower are just some of the many historic structures scattered throughout the city.
As the cliché goes, Istanbul is where east meets west, or vice versa. This unique location combined with its history and occupants of different cultural background make this city a true melting pot.
In Istanbul century old buildings stand near modern skyscrapers. In the same area mosques, churches and synagogues call for devote inhabitants. Liberal and conservative Muslims peacefully live side by side, together with people from a dozen other religions or beliefs. However, they all have one thing in common: the world famous Turkish hospitality you must experience.
There are plenty of off-beat sites for those who really want to soak up the native culture and leave the tourist crowds behind. Explore the Eyup mosque complex at the top of the Golden Horn, a walk through its ancient cemetery hugging the hillside rewarding you with wonderful views of the city. A short trip across the Bosphorus on one of the city’s characterful ferries will land you at Uskudar, a bustling town with lots of important Ottoman architecture and some great food shopping. If you want to go further afield the Bosphorus ‘villages’ have much to offer: wooden Ottoman houses and the village ambience of Arnavutkoy, the fortress of Rumeli Hisar with its unforgettable views of the water and fresh seafood and walks at Anadolu Kavagi at the mouth of the Black Sea.
A city of youthful energy Istanbul has been making its name on the contemporary arts and culture scene in recent years with such venues as the Istanbul Modern museum and entertainment venue and Babylon with its live gigs. Beyoglu the old European quarter of the city is Istanbul’s bohemian quarter, full of cafes, street performers and trendy young people.
Turkish food is one of the great cuisines of the world and to be found in abundance throughout Istanbul, with a great variety of restaurants and eateries for all pockets and delicious fresh street food it is impossible to go hungry. For those who prefer to cook their own, fish markets offer the day’s fresh catches and a variety of flavourings are on offer at the Egyptian Spice Bazaar. All across the city you can rub shoulders with the locals as they visit their weekly markets and local shops for Turkish specialties.
When to Go
The best time to visit is during spring or the fall (April through May and September). The summers are hot and sticky and the winters are gray and drizzly, but the spring bursts with tulips and blooming pink Judas trees, while the autumn weather is perfectly warm and breezy. Those seasons are likely to be less crowded than the busy summer.
A City with Vibrant Nightlife
Thanks to Istanbul’s unique geographical location many the top nightlife venues are located by the Bosphorus or on a rooftop offering a view of the magnificent skyline. The nightlife is vibrant, with an abundance of choice to satisfy everybody’s taste.
If partying through the night is not your thing and you prefer to relax with on a cafe terrace, then you have plenty of options for that too.
Shops galore in Istanbul. You can go luxurious and mainstream by a visit to one of the many modern shopping centers spread all over the city. Or you can hunt for authentic, handmade items by local designers and craftsmen in less touristic parts of town.
If you like to bargain, then the Grand Bazaar is of course shopping heaven on Earth. Also, don’t forget to stock up on exotic spices, olives or the great selection of nuts available.
There is no shortage of breathtaking views from the city. One of my favorites is the city’s silhouette seen from a boat on the Bosphorus during sunset. In second place comes the view from the bridges, unfortunately you need a ride to experience that. For a 360 panoramic view of Istanbul, you can visit the Galata Tower or one of the many rooftop bars.
This beautiful world we live in has many wonderful and exotic destinations to chose from. From Asia to the Indias, from South America to Africa, from Eastern Europe to North America, there are thousands of cities and regions we must visit, but for many reasons, Istambul definitely makes the top 40. Consider making it your next one.