As the unofficial gateway between Europe and Asia, Istanbul is a fascinating city of exotic contrasts that you simply won't find anywhere else on Earth. Located on a narrow isthmus between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, the city was founded in about 660 BC as a colony of Ancient Greece.
Since that time it has been part of the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. This incredible history, combined with the city's important role in the Silk Road and the spice trade, has imparted a rich and diverse culture, a stunning range of architectural styles, and a world-famous cuisine that has spread as far as Australia and the United States.
The orientation of Istanbul
The city is split down the middle by the Bosphorus Strait, with the eastern side being considered ‘Asian’ and the western side being considered ‘European’.
Amazingly, there are only three bridges spanning the 32 kilometre (20 mile) strait, although there are also numerous ferry services, pleasure cruises, and tourist boats that make the crossing.
What this means for you, of course, is that you need to be very strategic about planning your activities, to make sure you have enough time to fit in all the things you want to do.
Getting around, especially if you're pressed for time, is best done with the help of a licensed tour guide. If you prefer to make your own way, there is an excellent public transport network which includes trams, buses, trains and taxis.
Suggested itinerary for glorious examples of history and architecture
If you're looking for history and fantastic photograph opportunities, the logical place to start your adventure is in the ancient city of Constantinople, nowadays known as Sultanahmet.
Topkapi Palace – The Ottomans razed the original Greek settlement here, and built their palace on top. Surrounded by walls and with great views to the Marmara Sea and the Bosphorus, the palace is a 568 year old building set in magnificent gardens.
Hagia Sophia – One of the most iconic buildings in Istanbul, and one that instantly makes any photograph recognizable as having been taken in Istanbul.
Blue Mosque – The first thing you will notice about the Blue Mosque is that it is a gorgeous shade of sky blue. Otherwise, it externally resembles the Hagia Sophia in many ways. The main difference is that it is still in active use as a mosque, so visitors should remain mindful of this.
Hippodrome – Unfortunately there's nothing really left of the original hippodrome, and today it's a public park. The main reasons to visit are firstly that you can view the obelisk of Theodosius, and secondly, that from here you can access the Basilica Cistern, the largest and most impressive of Istanbul's subterranean cisterns.
Grand Bazaar – One of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, the only thing that has really changed since it first opened more than 500 years ago is the diversity of products and the absence of a slave market.
Egyptian Spice Bazaar – The aroma and sight of the spices is a good enough reason to visit, but an even better one is the delicious range of snacks on offer all around the bazaar.
Galata Bridge – A new bridge constructed in 1992, it offers great views and a means of crossing the Bosphorus.
Galata Tower – As a reward for assisting in the crusades, the Genoese merchant navy was rewarded with rights to settle the district of Galata. One of the buildings they constructed was the Galata Tower, which is the only one still standing. It provides majestic views of the whole city in every direction.
Suggested itinerary for just relaxing
Sometimes, you only know you're on vacation when you don't have to do anything at all. Here's a good way to spend the hours of your day without really lifting a finger:
Bosphorus Cruise – Take a cruise down the Bosphorus Strait to see the major landmarks in style and comfort... or at least those that can be seen from the water.
Turkish Bath – To leave Turkey without having experienced a genuine Turkish bath (or Hamam ) is considered one of the greatest sins known to mankind.
Suggested itinerary for adventurers
Most people who only have a single day to burn aren't really looking for adventure, but if you simply can't wait for your next adrenaline fix, try these suggestions:
Take a Jeep Safari – Run by a tour company called Turkey Ports of Call Daily Tours , this is a full day activity that departs from Istanbul and takes you to Izmit, where you'll be exploring the landscape and discovering Turkish culture in a way that's different from the average tour.
Ride the Istanbul Cable Car – It's only a short ride and you'll need to go when the weather is clear if you hope to see anything, but it's inexpensive and the view from the top is worth the effort of going. There are inexpensive and good quality restaurants at the top selling Turkish food.
Go Rafting – Get some value out of your travel insurance by indulging in one of the most dangerous travel activities out there, which is rafting. There are a few tour companies offering this as an option, with one of the more popular being Istanbul River Rafting .
Can you really see Istanbul in a day?
Well the short answer is ‘no’, however, you can actually see and experience quite a lot of the best things in a short period of time. The main reason it's impossible to see the entire city in one day is because of the sheer size of it, and there just aren't enough hours in a day. Visiting Istanbul, even if it's only for a day, is an experience you won't want to miss.
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