Travel Review: Culture Collision In Istanbul

Istanbul’s unique heritage is a must see for those with an eye for history.



Considered one of the most historically important cities in the world, Istanbul has a lot to offer those with a penchant for the past.

Empires from the Romans to the Byzantines and the Ottomans have ruled here over the centuries, and have left their marks through the stunning palaces and imperial mosques that line its hills.

Today, the bustling city is a place where the old and the new combine, although not always seamlessly as seen by Istanbul’s infamous traffic jams, which make navigating via metro or tram the favoured options.

If you do manage to get through one of the jams, the must go destination is the old City – what used to be Constantinople – home to many of Istanbul’s greatest attractions.

Walking through this ancient quarter is like a journey through time, beginning in the 14th century BC with the obelisk of Theodosius, an ancient Egyptian structure from the reign of Tutmoses III brought to Istanbul by a Roman emperor.

From here you can make your way to Sultan Ahmed Mosque, popularly known as the Blue Mosque because of the tiles adorning the walls of its interior. The site, built in the 16th century is still open for prayer; while curious tourists are ushered through a side entrance provided they remove their shoes.

Beckoning you across from the mosque’s north-eastern rim is another of Istanbul’s iconic monuments – the Hagia Sophia. This Greek orthodox patriarchal basilica also served as a Catholic cathedral and an imperial mosque before being made into a museum, and has witnessed coronations, sackings and earthquakes over the centuries.

Inside, you will find yourself hard pressed to avoid neck ache from staring at the spectacular architecture and murals – most on the building’s roof and upper levels. Those with an interest for the ottomans can also visit the tombs of Sultans and Princes and their families, accessible through a side entrance.

A short hop from the Hagia, through the impressive imperial Gate, is Topkapi Palace, which served as the main residence for Ottoman Sultans for 400 years. The sprawling site, which consists of four main courtyards and other smaller buildings, boasts Ottoman treasures and holy relics, as well as great views across the city from its elevated position.

Remember however to keep half a day aside for just the palace – it is huge and your feet will ache.

If shopping is your vice, on the western side of the old city is the Grand Bazaar – a sprawling covered market with a long history.

Local merchants are known for getting up close and personal, but if you can hustle your way through them, there is plenty on offer, including rare spices, hand woven goods, electronics, gold and silver and clothing.

Haggling to get the best price is a must, as is a good sense of direction. The labyrinth of paths mean getting lost at least once is more than likely.

Those with sea legs should also be sure to take one of the many boat cruises, which are the best way to see Istanbul in all its splendour. Once on board you will take one of your shortest transcontinental trips ever, flitting between locations on the European and Asian sides of the city.

Another highlight further up the coast is the Galatasaray Islet.

Once granted as a gift to an Ottoman court architect, the small island is now owned by a Turkish football club of the same name and boasts a pool, nightclub and six restaurants with different specialisations, including seafood, pasta and kebabs.

In the evening, Istanbul’s ancient buildings go to sleep leaving its more modern side to take hold. Those looking for a nightlife buzz head for the Beyolu district, where a mixture of rooftop bars, indie clubs and traditional Turkish folk venues compete for the attention of tourists and locals alike.

But if you’re looking for something a little less hectic than the main city, head north to Tarabya, a charming neighbourhood used by European embassies as a summer retreat during the Ottoman period.

Here, you can enjoy spectacular views across the Bosphorus Strait while strolling along shoreline paths dotted with fishermen.

Every once in a while food vendors push their carts along the popular spots, offering a quick bite as you watch cruise ships and cargo boats glide past in the sunset between Asia and Europe.

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