A historic paradise: highlights of my trip to Istanbul, Turkey

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Added by Anton Lucanus

Istanbul is the commercial, fiscal, and artistic center of Turkey. It’s not only the largest metropolitan city in the country with a population of more than 15 million but also one of the biggest capitals in Europe and the world.

Istanbul is the commercial, fiscal, and artistic center of Turkey. It’s not only the largest metropolitan city in the country with a population of more than 15 million but also one of the biggest capitals in Europe and the world. Positioned along the sides of Bosphorus (commonly recognized as the Strait of Istanbul), what makes Istanbul geographically appealing is the fact that it straddles two continents, with the western half in Europe and the eastern half in Asia. 

The latter is largely considered more residential, so I was more likely to discover Istanbul's most significant attractions in Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu, the two districts located on the European side. I opted for Sultanahmet. It was great, a comforting aspect about Istanbul is that it is an extremely tolerant place. 

There are restaurants for everyone’s taste and most offer alcohol with meals. I found that their healthcare services were also sensitive to a wide variety of ailments. Which is extremely comforting as a regular traveller - you never know what trouble you might get into. I even saw signs for calling addiction recovery helpline number, which was extremely surprising. The assumptions around predominantly Muslim countries as perpetuated in the media about, for example, Dubai, are not always applicable to all. 

Istanbul is historically-rich and culturally-diverse, there were plenty of landmarks that were on my bucket list, as a first-time visitor. From the Byzantine churches embellished with parquets and frescoes to the magnificent mosques adorned with sky-high minarets, the city bedazzled me at every turn.

The mild Spring (March-May) season is an excellent time to hit Istanbul. The parks are resplendent with flowers, the air is fresh the weather being so mild means you can enjoy eating outside on the plazas. I visited the International Tulip Festival, which usually takes place in the month of April, witnessing countless varieties of tulips that were blooming throughout the city. If you're a Jazz or Theatre aficionado, then visiting in November would be ideal when the Akbank Jazz Festival and the Istanbul Theater Festival are in full swing. On the other hand, Winter (December-February) is a non-peak season, however, it's also the wettest and coldest (3°C/37°F) time of the year in Istanbul. Summers (June-August) are usually the busiest in terms of tourist activity, which means you'd not only encounter a denser crowd and long lines but also have to endure the hot and humid climate. The average temperature goes up to 28°C/82°F. I would highly recommend Spring as it’s not too busy and I still got to see lots of outdoor events such as music festivals, short cruises across the Bosphorus and did contemplate the helicopter tour however my chronic fear of heights failed me.  

Visas are now easier than ever. Earlier, people traveling to Istanbul (Turkey) were able to purchase a tourist visa after arriving in the country,  however, in 2015, the government transitioned to e-visas in order to reduce waiting time at the border crossing. My approval was pretty much instantaneous and you can print out your e-visa online. International flights arrive either at Atatürk or the Sabiha Gökçen Airport. Between the two, Atatürk happens to be closer to the city centre. Staying in Sultanahmet was extremely convenient with metro links very close by. However, taxis are abundant and you can even catch a ride on the Havabus airport shuttle bus. 

If you, like me, are traveling during spring to see the amazing bloom festival and are staying in Sultanahmet, I’d highly recommend taking a guided tour of Ayasofya, the Basilica Cistern, Meydani, Ibrahim Pasa Palace, Istanbul Archaeology Museum, Egyptian Spice Bazaar and Topkapi Palace. In case you're inhabiting Beyoğlu, visit the Galata Bridge, Galata Tower, Dolmabahce Palace and Istiklal Caddesi. There’s so much to see in Turkey with vibrant nightlife and so many beautiful parks to see during the day. The season was a key choice that really made the trip a success. 

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