Travel to Istanbul, where East meets West and one of the most fascinating cities in the world . With one foot in Europe and the other in Asia with the Bosphorus, (the narrow strait between the Sea of Marmara flowing in between) few cities can capture the heart and mind in the same way as Istanbul. The city's critically strategic location as one of the final destinations on the Silk Road, made it so appealing that many who made the epic journey just chose to never leave. At various points in time, Istanbul has been home to the Greeks, the Persians, Romans, Venetians, the Byzantines and finally the Ottomans – who ruled right up till World War I. Byzantine splendor, Ottoman opulence and Roman grandeur go hand in hand.
Today, Istanbul is a world class metropolis of more than 15 million people, with almost 10 million people visiting annually. Each district has its own distinct character, and choosing where to go and where to stay can be overwhelming.
Many of the must- see sights are in the historic area of Sultanahmet. The soaring domes and minarets of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, and the ornate beauty of Topkapi Palace are here. At least one visit to Sultanahmet should be made at night to enjoy the outside of the sights by moonlight – a totally different experience to during the day.
At least half a day should be dedicated to the warren of by-lanes in the Grand Bazaar, with over 4,000 stores! Everything from an Ottoman silk rug to a bag of spices can be bought. The local color and buzz of the traders carries on the tradition from medieval times.
Beşiktaş is where the Bosphorus begins and is now home to several of some of the best luxury hotels, The Four Seasons Hotel, The Çırağan Palace Kempinski and the Shangri-La Bosphorus. Right next to Beşiktaş is Ortaköy, where we recommend an outside lunch at the House Hotel with stunning views of the recently restored Ortaköy Mosque.
Undoubtedly, you will want to spend a significant amount of time on İstiklâl Caddesi, the heart of Beyoğlu, and our favored area to stay. It is also where you will find the best restaurants in the city. The area is bordered by the cosmopolitan buzz of Taksim at one end, and the Golden Horn and Galata at the other. Our favorite part of Beyoğlu is Çukurcuma, where you will find Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence and a multitude of antique shops and hipster hangouts. The average age of an Istanbul resident is 31, with an even split of men and women, there is a thriving restaurant and nightlife, and Beyoğlu is the place to people watch and enjoy authentic local atmosphere.
Nişantaşı, that feels modern and contemporary is the place to go for upscale designer stores and cafes where you are more likely to find a flat white than a cup of Turkish coffee!
For a complete change of atmosphere, the adventurous should take the local ferry to Üsküdar, on the Anatolian side of the Bosphorus.
For those visiting in the summer for a longer period, consider splitting your stay between staying on the shores of the Bosphorus in Beşiktaş and the more central and atmospheric Beyoğlu.
Wherever you go, Istanbul is vibrant, absorbing and fun. It would be easy to spend a spend a week here, soaking up the colours and fragrances and engaging with the Istanbulu’s, who are warm and welcoming people that are very proud of their incredible city.
Let Exeter International show you the best of this dynamic city.
Istanbul really is a year-round destination, however if you want to make the most of the Café culture, and the Bosphorus, we suggest visiting April – June, and September – October. The winter months can be cold and wet, and the summer months of July and August unbearably hot. Fall and winter is the perfect time for the repeat visitor (once you have been once, you will certainly return!). Istanbul has a thriving arts scene, with 68 art galleries. This is the best time of year for new exhibitions.
Our team of travel experts can customize a unique program for you based on your exact preferences and interests. We suggest you allow a minimum of four nights in Istanbul. Istanbul is also the perfect hub to connect to other destinations in Central Asia. Combine a tour of Uzbekistan with a pre or post visit to this great city! Consider extending your stay and visit the stunning cave town of Cappadocia.
The Bosphorus divides East and West in Istanbul, but is also the beating heart of the city. A private two hour boat rip, gliding past the Dolmabahçe Palace and Rumeli Fortress, or alternatively an evening sunset cruise. You will experience the city from a completely different perspective. See some of Istanbul’s most beautiful waterside mansions along the way.
For a totally authentic evening in Istanbul, spend a night in a traditional Meyhane restaurant that features live Turkish Fasil Music. Istanbulus do not need much encouragement to get up, dance, clap and sing along in between eating copious amounts of Turkish meze. Drink some raki and start dancing with the locals! We can highly recommend The Galata Restaurant & Bar in Beyoğlu.
Sunday lunch should be taken underneath the Galata Bridge where you will find a fish market and many restaurants lining the shore of the Bosphorus. Istanbulus flock here and eat platters of deliciously fresh fish, washed down with local Rose and one of the most awe-inspiring views in the world.
It is almost impossible to narrow down one item to bring back with you from your travels. A rug? A lamp? A piece of jewellery? Spices? Turkish Delight? A beautiful cashmere wrap? If we had to choose one item that will be an everlasting memory – and easy to pack – it would be a unique piece of calligraphy, on dried leaves from Nick’s Calligraphy depicting Islamic, Christian and Judaic designs. Nick can even custom make a design for you and send it to you in the mail!