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Istanbul Holidays

A city straddling two continents

A colourful urban jungle that sprawls either side of the Bosphorus, at the meeting point between Europe and Asia, few cities on the planet brim with such an eclectic mix of cultures as Istanbul. The sheer size of the place, home to over 15 million people – a larger population than London, Paris and New York – creates the impression of several cities packed into one enormous cauldron. 

A dizzying blend of Byzantine and Ottoman cultural influences oozes out of every nook and cranny throughout the city, from architectural gems such as Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque to the humming, labyrinthine alleyways of the Grand Bazaar where the mingling scents of spices, coffee and dried fruits hang thick in the air. 

Majestic landmarks aside, it’s food that offers the most enriching route into the city’s heritage. Deliciously succulent kebabs and kofta meatballs, stuffed pide flatbreads, flakey borek pastries and syrup-drenched baklava are just a handful of the ubiquitous culinary delights you’ll find in Istanbul’s restaurants and street stalls – best washed down with a traditional Turkish tea or a glass of ayran (a frothy, slightly salty yoghurt drink). 

Sultanahmet (the historical centre) and Taksim (the focal point of modern Istanbul) may draw the bulk of the crowds, but the city’s many layers are best uncovered by exploring its diverse neighbourhoods. Balat (the former Jewish Quarter, home to a kaleidoscope of photogenic townhouses), Karaköy (the place to go for trendy bars and coffee shops) and Besiktas (an upscale area with a plethora of opulent palaces) are among the highlights on the European side; on the Asian side, Uskudar and Kadıköy offer an authentic, laid-back insight into local life.

Fancy escaping the city for a day trip? There’s certainly no shortage of things to see and do in the surrounding area, including the tranquil Princes’ Islands, the beach resort of Kilyos (also known as Kumköy), and Belgrad Forest – a hiker’s paradise on the northern outskirts. 

Your Istanbul questions, answered

It takes around four hours to fly from London or Manchester to Istanbul.
Turkish lira. 
Turkish is the official language, but you’ll generally won’t have trouble getting by in English. Still, it’s always handy to learn a local phrase or two before you go.
There’s no bad time to visit Istanbul, but March to May and September to November are two of the prime windows, as temperatures tend to be pleasant and crowds not so dense. The summer months tend to be hot, humid and relatively dry, with temperatures typically hovering around 25-30°C. In winter, you may be surprised at how chilly it can get, with day time temperatures in the region of 5-10°C and even the occasional snowfall – but if you’d rather visit when it’s quieter, this is a great time to go. 
Unlike many cities which can be covered in a single weekend, there’s so much to see and do in Istanbul that you can’t possibly cram it all into one trip. A long weekend is sufficient to tick off the main sights, but if you’re able to extend your visit to four or five days, you’ll have an even more rewarding experience and an opportunity to explore some of the city’s captivating, lesser-visited corners. 
If you feel confident enough, taking the metro or public bus are the most cost-effective ways to get from the airport into the city centre. Alternatively, take a taxi or pre-book a private transfer, which will get you into the centre in around 45 minutes.
It may not have the reputation of other Turkish destinations like Dalaman and Antalya as a beach destination, but you don’t have to venture far from Istanbul to find some beautiful stretches of sand. Florya (on the European side) and Caddebostan (on the Asian side) are a couple of the most popular spots fairly close to the centre, while the towns of Kilyos (also known as Kumköy) and Sile, on the Black Sea coast, are ideal options for a day trip.