Istanbul - Europe Meets Asia
Where the Bosporus connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Black Sea and tradition and modernity unite, you find Istanbul, an extraordinary cultural metropolis. As the world's only city on two continents, it impresses with unique mosques and palaces, lively bazaars and its venerable past.
Geography - Cultural metropolis at the Bosporus
Istanbul is the most important city in Turkey with regard to both economy and culture. It lies at the Sea of Marmara and on both sides of the Bosporus. The strait does not only separate Europe from Asia, but it also connects the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. This makes Istanbul the city on earth which is located on two continents. The administrative area of the metropolis and Istanbul Province has an area of almost 5,300 km², which is populated by about 12 million people. A peninsula with a height of 30 metres accommodates the historical city centre and borders on the Golden Horn (Haliç), a bay which is 7 kilometres long. Due to the geographical position, there is mild, humid maritime climate in Istanbul.
Culture - From Byzantium to Constantinople to Istanbul
Istanbul was founded by the Greeks as "Byzantium" (or "Byzantion") 660 BC. Due to its geographical position between the Mediterranean and Black Sea, the colony quickly developed into a significant trade centre. Constantine the Great (Constantine I) called the city "New Rome" (Nova Roma) and later on, its name was changed to "Constantinople". Until 1453, Istanbul was the centre of the Eastern Roman Empire or the Byzantine Empire. In the 15th century, the city was conquered by Fatih Sultan Mehmet and became the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Although it was still called "Constantinople", many people already referred to the cultural metropolis as "Istanbul". This became the city's official name when the Turkish Republic was founded by Mustafa Kemal Paşa (Atatürk) in 1923. The historical districts of Fatih and Eminönü are the original settlement area of Byzantium and accommodate age-old palaces and churches. The famous Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia and Topkapı Palace (originally called the "New Palace" or "Yeni Sarayı"), for example, are located in these districts. The latter was the seat of the sultans for centuries and is part of the Ottoman architecture as are many mosques, merchant houses, bazaars and residences. You also see ancient buildings in the city, for example the Column of Constantine or the Basilica Cistern (Sunken Palace), one of the metropolis' most popular sights. Istanbul unites architecture from various eras (antiquity, Middle Ages, early modern and era) and cultural elements (Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, Turks), which caused the UNESCO to declare the city's historical old town a World Cultural Heritage site in 1985.
Experience - Turkish specialities on the Grand Bazaar and partying in Beyoglu
You find all the country's delicacies in Istanbul due to the urbanisation, among other things. Most restaurants serve fish and seafood as well as lamb, beef and rice dishes. Besides traditional hearty dishes like kebab, kofta or Kokoreç, Turkish sweets are very popular in the cultural metropolis. Lokum (Turkish delight), a kind of confection made from sugar, honey, wheat flour, pistachios, almonds and nuts, is sold in many places in the city. In addition, you can try baklava, a filo pastry with pistachios or nuts, and the sweet wheat drink of boza (or "bosa") all over the city, for example on the Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı). The city's bazaars are generally an impressive experience which you should not miss out on. The Grand Bazaar attracts many tourists and accommodates numerous halls, streets and alleys, some of which are roofed. In addition, the Egyptian Bazaar is a revelation for the eyes and nose. Its abundance of spices does not only create a beautiful play of colours but also a unique olfactory experience. If you want to stroll along retail shops, you should visit the Forum, which is probably the greatest shopping centre in Europe. Besides an IKEA, you find an underwater zoo and an ice sculpture gallery in this giant shopping centre. If all this has not tired you out, you can explore Istanbul's nightlife afterwards in countless bars, discos, clubs and restaurants. The party scene is particularly vibrant in the district of Beyoglu. This popular district is the metropolis' centre of nightlife and is said to have the most intense nightlife in the whole of Europe.
Activities - First sightseeing, then relaxing in the hamam
In addition to the classic sightseeing in Istanbul, many travellers enjoy discovering Middle Eastern culture in a hamam, a Turkish steam bath. The hamams do not only offer an enjoyable spa experience but also impressive architecture. Many Turkish baths in Istanbul are several hundred years old and fascinate their visitors with their wonderful domes and elegant marble floors. Another popular leisure activity is a boat trip on the Bosporus. You see the city from a whole different perspective on the significant strait. Many tourists also go on trips to the nearby Prince Islands south-east of the city's urban area. The nine islands offer great conditions for water sports.
Istanbul is a worthwhile travel destination at any time of the year. It does not get much colder than 7 °C in winter and the temperature in summer is usually not higher than 30 ° C. The city has two airports (Istanbul Atatürk, Sabiha Gökçen International), both of which are used by airlines from all over the world. You should avoid direct eye contact in Istanbul if you do not want to be spoken to. Otherwise, many vendors in shops, restaurants and at stalls will start to try talking you into buying something. This is normally well-meant but disconcerting for many Western tourists. If you want to visit a mosque, you need to wear appropriate clothes. Men have to wear long trousers and women long trousers or a long dress and a headscarf. The latter can be rented in many churches.
Istanbul is a significant travel destination, especially for culture and history enthusiasts. Age-old cultural buildings, traditional bazaars and a lively nightlife show Turkey in all its glory. In addition, the cultural metropolis has something to offer for lovers of nature. The Bosporus, the Black Sea and the Prince Islands create an extraordinary natural experience.