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Pocket Guide: Istanbul

A tale of two continents

Istanbul is the only metropolis in the world that lies on two continents. With one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, it's no wonder the city is so cosmopolitan and culturally diverse. As the former capital of the Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires, Istanbul has an expansive history that spans many centuries. Throughout its different incarnations, Istanbul has been called both Byzantium and Constantinople. Whichever name you know it by, Istanbul is simply incredible.

While many of the most visited sightseeing attractions reside on the European side of Istanbul, including the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya, and Topkapi Palace, the more residential Asian (or Anatolian) side also has its own unique charms. Be sure to explore the beauty of both sides to make your trip to Istanbul complete.

From the Blue Mosque to the Grand Bazaar

One of Istanbul's nicknames is the 'the city on seven hills.' Like Rome, the Istanbul of antiquity was built on seven hills, each with religious monuments, in both the Byzantine and Ottoman periods.

Today you will still find many stunning sights on these hills. Topkapi Palace was the former royal residence of the Ottoman sultans. Set by the sea and overlooking the Golden Horn, today's Topkapi Palace is open to the public as a museum, with four primary courtyards and a wealth of treasures. Wander through leafy gardens and airy libraries, an imperial harem, and impressive gilded pavilions.

Head for another hill and the Grand Bazaar awaits you. One of the largest covered markets in the world, featuring more than 6,000 stalls, the Grand Bazaar is a mecca for shoppers. Jewellery, spices, carpets, and pottery combine to create a seemingly endless range of tempting items. Test your bargaining skills or just enjoy a stroll around the structure itself, which seems almost like a palace.

Side by side are two other must-see Istanbul sights. The beautiful mosaics and massive dome of the 1400-year old Aya Sofya leave visitors mesmerized. Equally extravagant is the working Blue Mosque whose six slender minarets are one of the most famous components of Istanbul's skyline.

Illuminated Istanbul

Istanbul is one of the oldest cities in the world and with such a long and rich legacy it would be easy to tour only the city's historical wonders. However, present-day Istanbul is one of the most vibrant, sophisticated, and cosmopolitan places on earth and no visit would be complete without experiencing what the modern city has to offer. An evening out could include cuisine from all corners of the world (though be sure to try the sumptuous mezzes and kebabs), cocktails at an elegant bar on the Bosphorus, and clubbing until dawn. Istanbul at night is a beautiful sight.

Take some time for leisure, too, like a traditional Turkish bath or a cruise down the Bosphorus Strait. One visit to Istanbul could never suffice and how could it? There are two continents to explore! So slow down and sip some fragrant mint tea, while you plan your return visit.