7 Reasons to Visit Istanbul Now
I am often asked to describe the city of Istanbul in one paragraph but for many reasons, this is impossible. The metropolis is a complicated blend of historic and modern, European and exotic, scenic and urban, tradition and innovation.
Despite the miss-mash of direct contrasts, all aspects have fused together perfectly to make the biggest city in Turkey, one of the top visited city-break destinations of the world. So rather than give a brief description of Istanbul, I prefer to give travellers reasons to visit.
Reasons to visit Istanbul
1: It is where Famous Empires have Thrived and Died
Istanbul was the capital of both the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires. At one stage, the Byzantine Empire was bigger than Rome, and the Ottoman Empire in its prime also ruled half the world. So imagine the culture, traditions, landmarks and historical influences they left behind. Most are found in the Old city of Istanbul (Sultan Ahmet district) that is also listed as a UNESCO World heritage site.
2: The Hub of Three Popular Religions
Islam has been dominant in Istanbul since the rule of the Ottoman Empire but the sultans were also famous for allowing other religions to continue practising. The district of Balat is still called the old Jewish quarter while synagogues operate in the Galata district. Christian landmarks include the Chora church built by Justinian in 527 and although the Hagia Sophia is today a museum, its origins started as the biggest church of Constantinople.
3: Food Galore
Name your preferred cuisine and you will find it in Istanbul, from traditional Turkish to Indian to Sushi. Whether you prefer cheap street food or high-class roof terrace restaurants, eating out in Istanbul can be simple or complicated but either way, it hosts a collection of international cuisines. The recommended local dish to try is the Islak burger sold in the Taksim district. Known as the perfect food for a hangover, it is a mushy collection of steamed bun, garlic and tomato sauce and burger.
4: A Shopping Fest
Once again, the extreme contrasts of choices are evident in the shopping opportunities. Most visitors explore the Ottoman Grand Bazaar that holds thousands of shops in a maze of small streets. Elite locals prefer the high class shopping district of Nisanti while eager explorers should seek out the individual boutiques and antique shops of the Beyoglu district.
5: Outstanding Hospitality
In 2012, HSBC bank conducted a survey of the friendliest countries in the world and Turkey ranked in at number 6. Their hospitality to strangers is world renowned and whether you need advice, directions or a simple greeting to make your day, you will find it in Istanbul. As a test when you arrive, count the number of times you hear the words “Hos Geldiniz.” It means “we welcome you.”
6: Cheap or Luxurious Hotel Accommodation
The Association of the Touristic Hotels and Investors (TUROB) estimates there are roughly 800 hotels in Istanbul, with a capacity to provide beds to 113,99 people. Think of the choice on offer. Extreme luxury is served in the Hilton and Ciragan palace hotels, while budget hostels are popular with backpackers. Choose Bed and Breakfast so you can spend the rest of the day exploring or opt for an all-inclusive that also supplies spa and well-being centres.
7: Turkish Hamams
Mark Twain described his Turkish bath experience as a “malignant swindle” but if he were alive today, I would urge him to try again. Indeed the famous travel writer Michael Palin enjoyed it more. He said “Sitting here with a glass of raki and a bowl of grapes luxuriating in the afterglow of the bath at the end of a long day, I feel as content as I ever could.” Abolish fears about the unfamiliar to enjoy an experience originally stemming from the Roman periods and spa houses. The Ottomans elaborated with their own traditions, and these days, visiting a Turkish hamam is generally listed as the number 1 thing to do while in Turkey.
All these experiences and more are featured on the Circle Istanbul tour, aimed at introducing visitors to a local experience in the majestic city of Istanbul.
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