Founded more than 25 centuries ago at the point where Europe meets Asia, Istanbul's incredible mix of old and new, East and West, is bound to blow you away.
Turkey's largest city has far more to offer than just breathtaking scenery and a great climate. Situated on the Bosphorus Strait, it is where East meets West in terms of both geography and culture. It's also where modern and traditional Turkey collide. Shop in malls or bazaars, visit galleries or mosques, and spend your evenings in traditional taverns or fashionable nightclubs.
This ancient city, one of the oldest in the world, has officially been called Istanbul since 1923, when Atatürk founded the Turkish Republic. First known as Byzantium, and later Constantinople, it served as the capital of Islam for centuries and was at the centre of some of the greatest realms in history: the Roman, Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman empires. It owes its prosperity in part to its strategic location at the point where the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea meet.
To get a sense of Istanbul's diverse history head to the Old City on the Sultanahmet Peninsula. Here you'll find a wealth of architectural gems. If you need to orient yourself, the 14th-century Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi) is a great place to start. Plot the historical changes in the city's political and religious landscape as you visit Topkapi Palace (Topkapı Sarayı), the Hippodrome (Hipodrom) and the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque). Don't miss the magnificent Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) either, formerly a cathedral and mosque and now an impressive museum.
If you've still got plenty of energy, get ready to haggle at the Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı). Or, if it's peace and quiet you're after, chill out in the underground Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi). Alternatively, cross the Golden Horn via the Galata Bridge to the New City for some retail therapy at one of the many modern shopping centres. Take in the atmosphere of Taksim Square while you're there; as the professionals leave the skyscrapers the trendy young things arrive to hit the clubs.
It's worth buying an Istanbulkart if you're going to use public transport, especially since it includes the ferry across the Bosphorus to see the Beylerbeyi Palace.
A bridge between cultures, Europe's most populous city is also one of its most ancient and most beautiful. As soon as you arrive in Istanbul you'll understand why this fascinating city has prospered for so long.