Destination of the Week: Istanbul
The term ‘East meets West’ often applies to exotic travel destinations, but in the case of Istanbul, it’s literally true, as it straddles both Europe and Asia. This makes for an enchanting journey with a combination of Ottoman architecture, traditional living, swish nightlife venues, a cosmopolitan vibe and a rapidly emerging arts and culture scene.
What to do
In Istanbul, you can be haggling in historic bazaars one minute and shopping for the latest designer fashion the next. Mingle the old with the new and visit the Topkapi Palace, once home to Sultans and their harems, before taking in the city skyline from one of many rooftop bars and restaurants.
Admire the Hagia Sophia, which was once one of the world’s greatest cathedrals and now houses a museum, then The Blue Mosque, famed for its six minarets. The Grand Bazaar is the place to hunt and haggle for souvenirs, while the Pera district offers boutiques, vintage stores and a trendy arts scene.
Take a Bosphorus Cruise to explore the magical waterways before delving into the history on the Asian shore. Visit an historic Hamman to be scrubbed and pampered after days of trekking to all the sights and, as night falls, indulge in world-class concerts, nightclubs and, perhaps most importantly, a culinary scene your taste buds will soon be addicted to!
Where to stay
If you’d like to live like a Sultan on your holiday, you can do so in Istanbul! If you’re on a budget, there’s plenty of mid-range accommodation and backpackers are well catered for also.
Cırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul (£££)
For true luxury lovers, it might be worth checking for deals for this opulent hotel, set in a 19th century Ottoman palace with views of the Bosphorus. There’s a Turkish bath, a pool, a fitness centre, a restaurant and two exclusives bars to enjoy your sundowner in.
Hotel Residence (££)
If you want a fantastic location, Hotel Residence delivers, being smack in the heart of the lively Istiklal Street. Onsite, there’s a Salsa restaurant and the modern rooms contain everything you need for a perfect break, including flat screen TVs, en suites and even courtesy slippers for tired travelling feet!
World House Hostel (£)
Close to all the entertainment venues of Istiklal Street, the World House Hostel is a friendly accommodation option, with everything you need for a budget break in Istanbul. They offer a restaurant, a 24-hour front desk and air-conditioning in shared and private rooms.
What to eat
From the various cultures that have inhabited Istanbul over the years, comes a bold, rich and fabulous array of gastronomic delights. Whether you spend your time sampling street stall food or dine in gourmet restaurants, the wonders of Mezes, Simit and Turkish Coffee await!
Meze By Lemon Tree (£££)
To dine on Meze or delicious degustation menus, head to the elegant Meze By Lemon Tree in the Pera (Beyoglu) district. Try Monk Fish Stewed with Cheese, Vegetables and Red Wine, or Baked Pastry Stuffed With Cheese, Mushrooms and Aubergine.
Casita is well known for signature Turkish pastries, stuffed with ingredients such as ground meat, spinach and potato. For good value prices, you can also get steaks, salads and desserts with a Turkish twist. There’s quite a few branches of this family-friendly restaurant in Istanbul, so ask at your hotel to find the closest.
Street Food Stalls (£)
For cheap eats in Istanbul, look no further than the street stalls on every corner. You can spend days sampling different delights, from Kebap (small pieces of roasted meat), Pide (flat pizza-like bread with toppings), Simit (savoury rolls covered in sesame seeds) and, of course, scrumptious Turkish desserts!
Featured image source: (c) istock/thinkstock