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About Istanbul

Straddling the Bosphorus, its skyline studded with domes and minarets, Istanbul is one of the truly great romantic cities. Its history tracks back from Byzantium to Constantinople to its place at the head of the Ottoman Empire. Today it hums as Turkey's cultural heart and good-time capital.

In this sprawling, continent-spanning city you can tramp the streets where crusaders and janissaries once marched; admire mosques that are the most sublime architectural expressions of Islamic piety; peer into the sultan's harem; and hunt for bargains in the Kapali Carsi (Grand Bazaar).

Side by side with Old Istanbul you'll find hip bars and clubs, flashy executives, malls and haute cuisine. And then there is a rich arts culture - opera, music, cinema - which nods its head to the Ottoman and Byzantine ways while taking cues from Europe. All this history, hustle and bustle coexists around the spine of the Bosphorus, a constantly busy, heaving mass, dotted with ships and ferries, and providing the link between Europe and Asia.

Whatever your interest - architecture, art, nightlife, cuisine, history, religion, shopping - Istanbul has more than enough of it, at prices which are among the lowest in Europe.

Area: 98 sq km
Population: 13 million
Country: Turkey
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +2 ((+3 in summer))
Telephone Area Code: 212 - European Istanbul; 216 - Asian Istanbul


The Bosphorus, the strait flowing between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, creates a natural north-south divide in Istanbul - European Istanbul comprises the bulk of the city to the west, while Asian Istanbul is to the east. European Istanbul is itself divided by the Golden Horn (Halic) into the old city to the south, and Beyoglu and other modern districts to the north.

The Old City is where you'll find all the main sights, such as Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii), Aya Sofya (Sancta Sophia), the Atmeydani (Hippodrome) and the old city walls. The 21st-century version of Istanbul is a short walk north across the Galata Bridge, and is exemplified by bustling Taksim Square, the eye of the city's commercial storm. The Asian part of the city is of less interest to tourists.

There are clusters of budget places in the Sultanahmet district of the old city; Akbiyik Caddesi in Cankurtaran is the backpacker hub, other streets nearby are more low key. The heart of modern Istanbul, Taksim Square and Beyoglu, are also good places to stay, with lots of restaurants, theatres and shops nearby. If you want to spend a bit more, head for the luxury hotels of Harbiye and along the Bosphorus. Most cafes are clustered in Beyoglu, but many are dotted in the suburbs on both sides of the Bosphorus and in other well-heeled suburbs. Kumkapi and Cicek Pasaji, and Nevizade Sokak in Beyoglu are home to clusters of meyhanes (taverns).

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