Istanbul has seen a 23% increase in UK visitors thanks to its European Capital of Culture status for 2010.

Turkish Culture and Tourism Office director Irfan Onal said the city is aiming for further growth next year and the country will be investing more on marketing Istanbul as a city break destination.

Other plans include restoration work on historic sites in Istanbul such as Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace.

Onal said Turkey would also be working with tour operators on joint marketing campaigns to promote Antalya as a cultural destination.

He also claimed this year Turkey has overtaken Spain as the number one package destination for the UK market for the first time.

The number of British visitors to the Mugla region of Turkey, which includes Bodrum, Marmaris and Fethiye, rose 11% year on year in 2009.

“Turkey’s popularity is not just down to the pound’s parity with the euro, but we have been investing heavily to promote Turkey as a historical and cultural destination,” said Onal.

“British people see Turkey as something different from their usual holiday.”

Admitting he would like to retain the top spot over Spain, he added: “It’s a competitive market.”

Turkey’s possible inclusion to the European Union (EU) could also benefit the country, he said. “Joining the EU could help Turkey gain more visitors from Europe. If we get the euro, then we will talk about other things [to attract UK visitors].”