Straddling Europe and Asia, Istanbul—once known as Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine and then the Ottoman Empire—has for centuries been a bustling and cosmopolitan crossroads. But what's more striking than the meeting of East and West is the juxtaposition of the old and the new, tradition and modernity. Brash concrete-and-glass hotels and office towers creep up behind historic old palaces, women in jeans or elegant designer outfits pass others wearing long skirts and head coverings, donkey-drawn carts vie with battered old Fiats and shiny BMWs for dominance of the noisy, narrow streets, and the Grand Bazaar competes with Western-style boutiques and shopping malls. At dawn, when the muezzin's call to prayer rebounds from ancient minarets, there are inevitably a few hearty revelers still making their way home from nightclubs and bars while other residents kneel on their prayer rugs facing Mecca. What a wonderful city of contrasts that manage to coexist.
Reasons to Go
- Explore the exotic monuments of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires.
- Cruise up the Bosphorus, past waterfront villages and forested slopes topped with fortresses.
- Haggle in the Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Bazaar, the ultimate shopping experiences.
- Sweat in a hamam like an Ottoman sultan and discover the soothing effects of a Turkish rubdown.
- Luxuriate overnight in a palace—or an Ottoman house, or even a sumptuously outfitted former prison.
- Sip a cup of tea as you watch boats ply the Golden Horn.
- Dine in style on Turkish delights against a backdrop of domes and minarets.
When to Go
Summer in Istanbul is hot and humid. Winter usually hits around October and lasts until April: all the surrounding water generally keeps temps above freezing, but a cold wind blows off the frozen Balkans and there's an occasional dusting of snow, though not much rain. Autumn and spring are pleasant and the best time to explore, but often very short.
Next destination: Chianti, Siena, and Central Tuscany
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