There is no denying that Istanbul is a city steeped in amazing history. Originally called Byzantium, (or Byzantion) it was razed by Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century BC and later rebuilt to a more impressive standard, being enclosed in walls whose remains are still visible in part around the city.
It was the capital of the Roman Empire as Byzantion, and later in 1453 became the capital again of an empire, this time the Ottoman. By this time, the city had been renamed Constantinopolis (Constantine’s City) and was already starting to be adorned with a host of historical buildings that still stand today.
Some of the most famous and which simply must be visited include Hagia Sophia (also Ayasofya) where many famous mosaics depict Jesus Christ and his mother Mary. The Byzantine Hippodrome is also a must, located in Sultanahmet Square where it is home to an Egyptian Obelisk and other curious artifacts of a bygone era. And if all of that isn’t enough history for you, make sure to see the basilica cistern and Aqueduct of Valens, Roman buildings that still stand today.
But Istanbul isn’t just about the Romans and Ottomans, there are palaces, fortresses and mosques scattered across the city, each as beautiful and astounding as the last. The Sultan Ahmet and Suleymaniye Mosques are exceptionally beautiful and truly resonate the importance of spirituality to the Turkish culture.
Similarly the wealth of museums, most of which have been converted from palaces are a fascinating way to spend a day or more, especially with all the religious based mosaics that adorn the walls and ceilings. Or for a more unusual visit, try Dolmabahce Palace, a highly adorned and stunning building that was the Istanbul residence of Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. It was also the place in which he passed away, and to this day all of the palace’s clocks are set to the hour of his death from 1938. Don’t forget to check out the chandeliers, they’re some of the most opulent items you’ll ever see.
And when you’ve had your fill of history and phenomenal architecture, why not visit the markets and bazaars that Istanbul is famous for? As well as the massive covered grand bazaar, there is also a truly unique spice bazaar that not only blends beautiful colours for perfect photos but offers a unique opportunity to try something you might not often be able to experience. For lunch, why not try some Baklava, shish kebabs and Turkish coffee, or maybe even some Turkish delight? And afterwards, stroll down to the Bosphorus, the twenty seven kilometer stretch of river that connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, splitting Istanbul into the old and new city. The Bosphorus Bridge is the fifth longest in the world and offers the best panoramas of the city when the sun is just beginning to set.
But holidays aren’t just about sightseeing no matter how awe inspiring the setting, so when you’re ready for relaxing; head over to Princes Islands, Istanbul’s summer paradise. Only an hour away from the city centre these islands are the perfect beach getaway, offering the sand and turquoise waters that you can only dream of. The islands are such perfection that no cars or other motor vehicles are allowed on them, instead travelers are escorted around by phoeton (horse pulled carts), maintaining the romance of such a location. And at the end of a day, make sure to visit a hammam, or Turkish bath to have every care massaged away.
There’s no right or wrong way to visit Istanbul, as long as you allow yourself to enjoy every moment among this fantastic city.