Straddling the border between Europe and Western Asia, Istanbul acts as an ancient crossroads of cultures, religions and civilisations.
Greek, Persian, Byzantine and Ottoman influences can be seen across the city. The mesmerising Hagia Sophia, for instance, stood for over 1,000 years as an ornate church before being converted into an Imperial Mosque, which it remained as for over half a millennia. And there’s Topkapi Palace, a lavish complex of halls, courtyards and terraces with commanding views over the Bosphorus Strait. Today, both structures are religious museums attracting millions of visitors every year.
The Blue Mosque is another glinting example of Byzantine-Ottoman fused architecture, with its domes, towering minarets and blue İznik tiles that adorn the interior. For a full view of the mosque’s design, enter through the crumbling remains of a Roman-era hippodrome in Sultanahmet Square.
Yet Istanbul’s oldest monuments could easily escape you. Deep beneath the ground are several hundred ancient cisterns, where water was once delivered via 20 kilometres of aqueducts from a local reservoir. The largest of these is the Basilica Cistern, which you can explore along raised wooden platforms.
Back on ground level, the Grand Bazaar will entice you with its maze-like network of craft stores and cosy teahouses. Go explore a little, before treating yourself to a Dürüm wrap on a street corner, or a mouthwatering meze in a bistro-style restaurant in Sultanahmet.