Turkey, long known for its confluence of cultures, remains a warm and welcoming country to visit. With the November 2015 elections in the rearview mirror, political unrest has settled down; however, as is the case with many countries in the Middle East and Europe, it’s important to be aware of the potential for terrorist activity.
You might not have much chance of a white Christmas in the Turkish capital, but celebrating the holidays in Istanbul can be surprisingly festive and, despite the chilly weather, the lack of crowds makes it a convenient time for sightseeing.
With its impressive domed tiers framed by six towering minarets and embellished with more than 20,000 Iznik tiles, Istanbul’s famous Blue Mosque is a magnificent example of Islamic architecture, and remains one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Built by Sultan Ahmet I — who died a year after it was completed in 1616 — to compete with the neighboring Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque is officially named the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (or Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish), but earned its nickname thanks to the dazzling blue paintwork that crowns its interiors.
With temperature highs averaging around 28°C and notorious humidity, Istanbul’s muggy summer heat can get unbearable if you’re visiting in July and August, but it’s still one of the liveliest times to visit the city.
Almost completely surrounded by ocean, it’s no surprise that the best way to cool off in Istanbul is by taking a swim, and there are a number of beaches in and around the city. Head to Kucuksu Beach in Usukdar or Kadikoy’s Caddebostan or True Blue Beach, all on Istanbul’s Asian side, or take a day trip to nearby Uzunya Beach, Dalia Beach or Burc Beach, all near Kumköy on the Black Sea coast.
The original capital of the Ottoman Empire and once an important center of the silk and textile trade, historic Bursa makes an intriguing choice for a day trip from Istanbul, famed for its thermal spas and impressive Ottoman-era monuments. Visiting Bursa from Istanbul is doable on a (long) day trip, reached by taking a ferry over the Sea of Marmara to Turkey’s Asian side, then taking a bus to Bursa, situated in the foothills of Uludağ National Park.
Long regarded as Turkey’s national sport, oil wrestling has been practiced since ancient times. It’s a bizarrely captivating sight, as bare-chested participants, clothed only in a pair of kispet — wrestling tights that resemble lederhosen made from water buffalo hide — slather themselves in olive oil and attempt to wrestle each other to the ground. The hottest ticket of the wrestling season is the Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling festival in Edirne, which, with a history dating back to 1392, is regarded as the oldest wrestling contest in the world and has even been placed on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage list.
Straddling the border between Europe and Asia and teeming with exquisite architecture, lively bazaars and historic sites, there’s nowhere quite like Istanbul and there’s so much to see and do in Turkey’s cultural capital, it can be hard to know where to start. Istanbul Super Savers are a great choice for saving both time and money, with the chance to combine popular tours and make big savings.
Spread across the border of Europe and Asia, and home to some of the world’s most impressive Islamic architecture, there’s nowhere quite like Istanbul and however long you have to spend in the city, you’ll likely want to stay longer. From visiting the top attractions to sampling local delicacies or exploring off-the-beaten-track sights – here are 40 unforgettable experiences to have in Istanbul. See how many you can squeeze into your itinerary.
With its quaint cobblestone lanes, scenic coastal promenade and cluster of arts and crafts stalls, Istanbul’s Ortaköy district is a world away from the bustling streets of Eminönü and Beyoğlu. With a prime location stretched along the banks of the Bosphorus, Ortaköy is one of Istanbul’s most fashionable neighborhoods, home to many of the city’s top hotels and most glamorous nightclubs, as well as an array of shops, restaurants and cafes.
Once one of the greatest fortifications in the world, Istanbul’s mighty Walls of Constantinople have stood watch over the city for centuries, with the first set of sea and land walls built by Constantine the Great in 324AD. It was the unprecedented double land walls built by Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II in the 5th-century though, that really completed the city’s fortifications. With a 2-meter-thick outer wall and a 5-meter-thick, 20-meter-high inner wall, separated by a moat and guarded by a mind-boggling 96 towers, it’s not surprising that the walls remained un-breached for more than a thousand years.