But the comings and goings of merchants and the various ruling powers has left its mark on the city – an immensely diverse cultural identity. This is evident throughout the city in its art and architecture – elaborate churches, palaces and mosques decorated with mosaics and frescoes. The city is also blessed with a number of wonderful galleries and museums.
The city’s food scene is also wonderfully diverse, with plenty of international dining options topping up the local offerings which serve up freshly-caught fish, juicy kebabs and meze. Food here is an important part of daily life, with many locals spending lots of time hanging out in tea gardens, taverns and kebab houses. Pop in for a drink or a nibble and soak in the atmosphere for the vibrancy of the local community is a huge part of the city’s charm.
Or for those in search of some retail therapy, head for the Grand Bazaar which is one of the biggest and oldest covered bazaars in the world with more than 3000 shops.
Places to Visit in Istanbul
- The Blue Mosque
- Hagia Sofia
- Galata Tower
- Basilica Cistern
- Topkapi Palace
Unique Things to See and Do in Istanbul
- Visit a hammam
- Take a boat trip across the Bosphorus
- Go shopping at the Grand Bazaar
- Witness the whirling dervishes
- Explore the museums
Istanbul – not the capital of Turkey
It is a common mistake to presume that Istanbul is the capital city of Turkey. After all, it is the country’s largest city with a population of 14.38 million making it the fifth largest city in the world.
And, in fact, it was the capital of the Ottoman Empire from 1451 when Mehmet II wrest control of the city that was then called Constantinople and renamed it. The empire finally fell in 1922, and in 1923 Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the Republic of Turkey and made Ankara the new capital.
But Istanbul remains the economic heart of modern Turkey, a place where intellectual thought and culture thrive, and a must-see for many tourists that come to Turkey.
In the almost one hundred years since, Istanbul has grown very rapidly but less than a third of the population actually originates from the city itself. The city is also home to most of the ethnic and religious minorities in Turkey.
Getting Around Istanbul
Istanbul has a public transport network that incorporates the usual buses and trains, with some funiculars, ferries and trams thrown in for good measure. The easiest and most cost-effective way to navigate it is with a transit pass.
However, journeys can be convoluted so to make things a little easier, simply jump in a yellow taxi which are plentiful and reasonably priced.
But try and squeeze in at least one trip on the tram and also on the Tunel as both have a certain nostalgic charm.
Best Time of Year to Travel to Istanbul
Autumn is the best time to visit Istanbul. This is when the temperatures and crowds ease, and so room rates drop too. It’s still warm enough though for walking the city’s streets and dining al fresco. Spring too offers milder temperatures and less tourists than the hectic summer months, but it can still be a little chilly so be prepared to wrap up.
But if you’re looking for a real bargain, then dig out your winter coat and head for the city during the winter months of December and January. But be warned, it may rain or even snow.
Ready to plan your visit to Istanbul? Check out these popular guides and trips.