Istanbul is a magical Turkish city between Europe and Asia with an old-world charm that might inspire you to extend your vacation so you have time to enjoy all the wonders on offer. With a rich history and diverse culture, travellers are in for an amazing vacation that will be adventurous and intoxicating. The largest city in Turkey, Istanbul, is a major cultural and financial hub about a 4.5 hour drive from Ankara’s capital.
The best time to visit Istanbul is from March to May and September to November. During these months, room rates and crowds at main tourist attractions are reasonable and temperatures are pleasant.
Istanbul hosts many exciting festivals throughout the year, so after you book your trip, check if any are happening during your visit. The Tulip Festival in Spring and the International Istanbul Music Festival featuring classical music, opera and dance performed in historic locations in June and July are exciting to see.
Keep this in mind when you book your flight to Istanbul from Toronto. Turkish Airlines has great options if you need to book a last-minute flight to Istanbul with frequent and cheap flights and fantastic deals.
Istanbul is a massive city, so finding accommodation in your budget range is easy. Then you need to consider what part of the city you want to base yourself in. As a general guide, head to Taksim and Beşiktaş if you want somewhere fancy, the Grand Bazaar area if you love shopping or are traveling with children, Karaköy if your budget is tight and Galata and Beşiktaş if you like to party.
Here are some places that we find interesting. With so many alluring options, you might want to spend a few nights in one area then change to somewhere else to make the most of your trip.
Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet in the old city is a luxurious place to lay your head. Near the Blue Mosque and centrally located, this neo-classic property with a landscaped courtyard is a lovely accommodation option.
For budget accommodation with some charm, Cheers Lighthouse shines brightly in the busy marketplace. Clean rooms with ocean views and an in-house restaurant await.
For a touch of tradition, book a few nights at the Regie Ottoman. The 150-year old building has original mosaics on the walls, and the service is excellent. There are many restaurants and attractions nearby, including a spice bazaar.
The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) was built in 1616, and if you like handmade ceramic tiles, there are thousands in shades of blue adorning the interior. Inside are Ahmed’s tomb, a madrasah and a hospice with many locals and tourists visiting every day.
Topkapi Palace, also known as the Seraglio, is a notable museum in the Fatih district. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Ottoman sultans lived there and it was also their administrative headquarters. Many day tours take in the palace and other fascinating sites like the Basilica Cistern and Galata Tower.
Don’t miss the amazing Süleymaniye Mosque created for Suleiman the Magnificent by the famous architect Sinan. Always dress in conservative clothing and cover your head when going into any mosque in Turkey.
Sultanahmet Tower is where the circus Hippodrome of Constantinople was during the Byzantine period. It was also used for public events, executions and shaming of the emperor’s enemies.
Take a guided tour through the Dolmabahçe Palace to beat the queues and have a knowledgeable guide to tell you all about the regal site’s history. Ancient Baccarat and Bohemian chandeliers hang from the ceilings in this palace of the Ottoman Empire’s sultans.
You can’t go to Istanbul without soaking in a traditional Turkish bathhouse or Hammams. Enjoy the warm waters that many say are healing and indulge in a body scrub or oil massage.
For amazing shopping, the Grand Bazaar can’t be beaten. As one of the oldest and largest covered markets on the planet, you will find everything you need (and don’t need) amongst the bustling shops – over 3,000 shops to roam around. There is shopping everywhere in Istanbul, and your senses will be overloaded with the sights, sounds, and aromas drifting through the air. Leave plenty of room in your suitcase for souvenirs as you will find treasures that can’t be found anywhere else around Europe.
Turkish food is delicious with kebabs, doner, köfte and many more delicious dishes on the menu at local restaurants. There are so many exotic dishes to try with influences from Mediterranean, Balkan, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, Eastern European and Armenian cultures.
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