DIVIDED by the Bosphorus, Istanbul straddles two continents with Europe on one side and Asia on the other – making it the nearest European city to Asia.
A convenient middle ground for business travellers, the new town has a modern infrastructure with several five-star business hotels and a typical city skyline, while the walled old town is extremely easy on the eye with plenty of attractions for leisure travellers.
With EasyJet introducing direct flights next month, the city is preparing for an influx of city breakers.
But with more than four thousand square miles to play with, what should clients see and do when they get there?
Check out the suggestions below and recommend clients do at least one thing from each of the following categories.
With Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman influences, Istanbul has a vast mixture of architecture, ranging from simple and traditional mosques – of which there are 200 – to grand palaces and pavilions that are as breathtaking inside as they are outside.
Those holidaymakers overwhelmed by choice should board a boat to cruise the river and see several architectural gems in one go.
Visitors will pass the ornate Dolmabahce palace, built in the mid 19th century, plus several mosques as well as the famous Hagia Sophia museum. Boats also go under the impressive Bosphorus suspension bridge, one of the largest in the world.
And… action: head into the 6th century Underground Cistern, located across from Hagia Sophia. Clever spotlighting makes the fish-filled waters shimmer with colour, giving an ambience so mystical it was used in the James Bond classic From Russia with Love.
The main feature: if mosque fatigue sets in early, single out the Blue Mosque, so called for its blue and white tiled walls.
The humble kebab may only be a post-pub snack at home, but in Turkey it’s as healthy as it is delicious. Served on fresh flatbread, the key is quality meat with a sliver of salty feta cheese. Adventurous eaters may also like to try fish jam, a Turkish specialty.
For upmarket international dining, send clients to the Levent or Etiler areas in the new town where several swanky restaurants are perfect for those with cash to splash.
Suck it and see: suggest they try some of the fresh corn and seeded breads sold from mobile carts littered around the city.
To dine for: it’s got to be T-Square, a sleek bar-cum-café-cum-restaurant decked out in studded red leather. It’s a great place for an early evening drink followed by a five-course lavish dinner.
With 60% of its 12 million inhabitants under the age of 30, and with more than 30 clubs to choose from, it’s no wonder Istanbul is lively at night. There are also many bars and pubs dotted all over the city – including an English pub for the homesick.
If holidaymakers prefer a traditional experience, tell them to join the hordes of tourists at the Kervansaray restaurant where they can watch live belly dancing and Turkish folklore shows while sucking on hukka pipes.
See: head to the fish markets near the airport to listen to impromptu music played by gypsies.
Be seen at: Ulus 29 in the Ortakoy district, Istanbul’s hottest club of the moment. Here you can rub shoulders with the city’s beautiful people and gaze through a glass wall at the floodlit skyline.
Jewellery, carpets, hooka pipes, Turkish delight and all manner of things you didn’t know you needed – the old town’s Grand Bazaar has it all.
It’s a beautifully domed structure housing more than 3,000 shops in a warren of 61 streets, it’s a crazy experience but there are some great bargains to be had. Make sure clients check out the intricately decorated ceiling and haggle for their goods.
For something more European, there are several modern shopping centres with hundreds of shops. Over on the Asian side, Bagdat Caddesi has its own shopping district, as does Nisantasi on the European side.
The spice is right: for inexpensive saffron head to the spice market on Eminonu Square which sells mountains of colourful spices as well as teas and honeys.
Designer spree: Metro City in the Levent district has five floors of shops in a light and airy centre with many brand names including Zara and Topshop, plus a Wagamama, a Starbucks and a large gym. Clients shouldn’t be alarmed by the queue at the main entrance, all bags and coats must be scanned for security purposes.
Next month sees the arrival of the International Fashion Festival with many world-renowned designers participating. For clients with an interest in theatre, there’s a thriving art scene and plays, opera and ballet are regularly performed.
Art and photography exhibitions are also regular features, as is live music with several venues supporting well-known and undiscovered bands.
The warm-up: don’t miss Istanbul’s modern art museum housed in an understated building next to the river. It has a mixture of contemporary art and photography plus a café with outdoor seating and great views.
The masterpiece: the annual International Arts and Cultural Festival comes to the Ataturk Cultural Centre this June and July where worldwide artists will showcase their work.
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