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Istanbul - the city where East meets West. Upon arrival you may be fooled into believing that it is no different to any other European City but you could not be more wrong. The towering mosques and the magnificent palaces create a mystique and an aura over this great Ottoman city quite incomparable to anywhere else. Istanbul is not to be missed by any avid traveler!
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What to See

Aya Sophya
The beautiful Aya Sophia
The Sancta Sophia or Aya Sophia is also known as the Church of the Divine Wisdom. This architectural masterpiece, once a Church, is now a museum. The decoration is beautiful and although you canno wander around on the Upper Gallery, you may want to use some binoculars to look at the detailed mosaics and chandeliers. The Aya Sophya is also home to a picture Gallery where mosaics of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary are on exhibition. You will need to buy a separate ticket to visit the Gallery - be sure to check closing times before entering.

Blue Mosque
The Magnificient Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is also called Sultanahmet Mosque or Camii. It is situated directly opposite the Aya Sophya. Take a walk through the Hippodrome park linking the two and look out for the tourist entrance. As in other mosques you need to remove your shoes and ensure that your shoulders are covered. There is no entrance fee but donations are more than welcome. The interior is impressive with hanging crystal chandeliers and intricate mosaics. You will not be able to visit the mosque during prayer time so be sure to keep that in mind so that you do not miss out.

Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace
The Topkapi Palace was home to the Ottoman Sultans for four hundred years. The buildings and gardens are impressive and pay tribute to the wealth and history of the Sultans of Istanbul in days gone by. You can visit Imperial display rooms containing Sultans Kaftans, Chinese porcelain, portraits of all the Sultans and the armoury. For an extra fee you will be able to see a mind-blowing array of glittering jewels on display-diamonds and emeralds to rubies and pearls. The Sultan's private home; the Harem, which means Private, can only be seen at certain times accompanied by a tour guide. The Harem housed the Sultan, his wives, his mother, children and concubines. Hygiene and cleanliness were a priority in the Harem as was the education of its' inhabitants. Before entering Topkapi Palace look at the opening times of the Harem and so that you can take time out to see it's interior.

Suleymaniye Mosque
The huge Suleymaniye Mosque
The Suleymaniye Mosque looms over the West side of Istanbul and is the most majestic of the Mosques built during the reign of the Ottomans in the 1550s. The courtyard that precedes the Mosque is particularly interesting with it's antique columns and minarets. The Mosque itself has a pale interior and high arches and is the largest in Istanbul.

Kariye Mosque and Museum
Kariye Mosque and Museum mosaics
The Kariye Mosque and Museum is the same site and is located in Fatih, a 10-minute taxi ride from Sultanahmet. The mosaic walls inside the Kariye tell the story of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary and the more you look the more you will see. To make the most of your visit you should take a detailed explanation of what all the mosaics are about.

Yeni Mosque
The impressive Yeni Mosque
The Yeni Camii lies alongside the Bosphorous and directly opposite the Galata Bridge on the Golden Horn. It is also nicknamed the "pigeon mosque" and no prizes for guessing why! Yeni Camii is right next to the Spice bazaar so you may want to visit both at the same time while in the area.

Yerebatan Saray
Yerebatan Cistern
The Yerebatan Saray or Sunken Palace is an immense underground Cistern built during Byzantine times. The main entrance to the Cistern is over the road from the Aya Sofya. The palace, or Cistern, is creatively lit up while classical music fills it's crevasses. You can make your way down the long walkways while listening to the constant dripping of water. Right at the back of the Cistern are the Medusa heads used as the base for pillars. As legend goes the stronger of the three sisters placed her one sister upside down and the other on her side. If you like fish, bring a tiny bit of bread to feed the carp and goldfish in the Cistern waters.

Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar is along the Divan Yolu Cadessi, approximately 20 minutes walking distance from the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya. The Grand Bazaar is covered and has over 1700 jewellery shops, leather shops, water pipes, art dealers and of course an endless amount of carpet shops. Your visit should be hassle free although be warned that if you show some interest in a merchant's wares he will be determined to sell them to you. The Grand Bazaar is the ideal place to perfect your bargaining skills.

Spice Bazaar
The Spice Bazaar is also a covered bazaar and is next to the Yeni Camii. It is here that you will find an array of spices, dried fruits and home remedies all laid out to bring out the most of the different vibrant colors. It is even possible to buy raw Royal Jelly.

Rumeli Fortress
The Rumeli Fortress or Hisari is half way down the Bosphorous and can be seen from the boat. It was built in a very short period of time with a work force of about 9000 in the 15th century. It was never used though as the enemy never attacked from that direction!

Obelisk of Theodosius
The Theodosius Obelisk
The Obelisk of Theodosius is to the right of the Blue Mosque if you are approaching it from the Hippodrome. The Obelisk is very old, dating back to 1500 BC, and you can still see the intricate hieroglyphics. Close by in the same plaza, you can find the spiral column and another obelisk but in worse shape than the Obelisk of Theodosius.

What to Do

Go on a Bosphorus boat ride

Dolmabahce Palace along the Bosphorus
The boats down the Bosphorous run at various times and are fewer in the winter. You can take a return trip or go one way and catch a taxi back. It is a great way to see the skyline of Istanbul and some of the Golden Horn. You can then marvel at some to the homes along the way. The Dolmabahce Palace will attract your attention - it was built upon request in the late 1800's early 1900's and is decked with over 14 tons of gold and silver.

Take a Turkish bath
There are historical Turkish baths situated around Istanbul. Some are mixed (although the bath itself is single sex) and some are men or ladies only. You pay your fee - you can choose to wash yourself or be washed and massaged by one of the attendants. It lasts approximately an hour and a half and entails lying on a large marble slab in a sauna room and when it is your turn you move to side and get bathed in warm soapy suds. They then rinse you off and wash your hair and back you go to relaxing with the others on the slab. This was certainly a treat and a steal at the price - go! go! go!

You can find out more about Turkish baths at www.cemberlitashamami.com.tr

Shop at the Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar is a must for any shopper. The prices are amazing and the quality on the whole is good. There are loads of food and drink stalls around for you take a breather and then carry on.

Attend a belly dancing dinner
Entertainment along with dinner is a must in Istanbul. There are many places that offer you this night out. You will be treated to traditional Turkish dancing with of course belly dancers! Watch out - they will have you up on stage before you know it. Find out more at www.sultanas-nights.com

If you are interested in a Turkish cabaret or crazy horse striptease show, Sultanas mentioned above has something a little bit racier for you every night from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. in the same building.

Shopping Mall
If you are keen on taking advantage of the good exchange rate at a Turkish shopping Mall, try Galleria in Atakoy close to the airport. The Mall is large and has pretty much anything you may be looking for. In winter, you can also spend an hour skating on the indoor rink if you'd like.

What to Eat

Kebabs made usually of lamb or chicken meat skewered and grilled is often served with a yogurt dressing, flat or Pita bread and lettuce, onions, carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers. We think it is safe to say that most of us have had one of these before in the wee hours of the morning...

Kofte are meatballs made of minced lamb or beef eaten with a flat or Pita bread in a similar way to the kebab mentioned above.

Turkish delight
A very popular sweet in many different varieties from traditional to coconut and marshmallow.

An alcoholic drink similar to pastis in that it has a distinct aniseed flavor and may not be for everyone. You mix the raki with cool water, sit back and sip.

Mediterranean Foods
Turkey is the proud home of some of the best Mediterranean cuisine. Try vine leaves, the olive oil and olives, anchovies, plenty of tomatoes and cheese.

A dessert made of pastry and nuts soaked in honey or syrup. Delicious.

Turkish cakes
The cakes are soaked in honey. After a meal you can sample a few on a plate.

Apple Tea
The Turkish call this warm drink a treat for the tourist but we assure you that it is actually very good. If you plan on buying some apple tea to take back home with you and want to have the same thing as in Istanbul, we recommend you buy the premix tea and sugar in a box available in many stores and market stalls.

Sarnic Restaurant
Sarnic, pronounced Sarnich in Turkish, is an excellent restaurant serving French cuisine and set in an ancient Cistern. The setting you will eat in is truly amazing. The restaurant is lit by candles placed on each table while classical music plays in the background. The cistern columns and interior architecture provide a truly unique warmth and ambiance. The restaurant is located behind Aya Sophia and we recommend you pay it a visit and eat in style.

Efes Beer
EFES is the local Turkish brew and is a pretty decent tipple.

Cennet Cafe and Restaurant
Cennet is a bar and restaurant in the heart of Sultanahmet. The cafe serves hot drinks, alcohol and food. During your visit you will be able to catch the live entertainment urging everyone to get up and dance to the music.

Simit bread
Simit bread on the Bosphorus
All around Istanbul, you will spot little carts full of bagel like bread. These are simit and are coated with sesame seeds. They are usually very fresh and very affordable.

Where to Sleep

There are plenty of hotels in Istanbul ranging from the basic to the ultra extravagant. Many of the main hotel sites will have listings for you in central Istanbul. Find Istanbul Hotels.

There are loads of hostels and cheap accommodation in Istanbul. Prices vary from hostel to hostel but are generally affordable. Search and book an Istanbul hostel.

How to Move

Ataturk airport in Istanbul is Turkey's biggest airport. You can take a 30 minute taxi into Sultanahmet for a very affordable price. You can find information on Ataturk Airport at www.dhmiata.gov.tr. There are also major airports across the country and most notably in Ankara, Izmir and Bodrum.

The National airline of turkey is Turkish Airways and you can book flights with them at - www.turkishairlines.com.

Istanbul taxis are an efficient and affordable mode of transport around the city. The drivers know a minimum of English and do drive fast so be prepared.

It should also be noted the tendency of drivers to overcharge their customers. Make sure the meter starts on the right setting, day or night, before the driver gets carried away. The meter should be set to gunduz during the day and gece at night. Try and also make sure the driver goes the shortest possible way to avoid overpaying for your journey. When paying for your journey, round the amount up to the next unit of 500,000 or 1,000,000 Turkish lira.

Sultanahmet is very easy to walk around and most major points of attraction are within easy walking distance of each other.

Istanbul has a subway system, bus and tram system if you care for public transport.

Car rental
We do not recommend that visitors to rent cars in Istanbul as the driving and congestion in the biggest Turkish city are a nightmare. You may wish to rent a car if you are exploring the countryside.


The inhabitants of Istanbul and the Turkish in general are extremely friendly, good-humoured, keen to please and helpful people.


Some people do speak a bit of English, French, Spanish or German but be prepared for communication problems as most people aren't fluent and only know a few words. Do try and learn some Turkish before you go as the locals really appreciate your effort to speak their language.

Turkish Lira - Be sure of how many zeros are on your bill before paying as the denominations are very high and can be confusing.

Time Zone
GMT +2

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