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Istanbul is one of the world’s great cities. Located either side of the Bosphorus Strait on the Europe/Asia border, it’s a fascinating mix of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman influences. İstanbul's strategic location has attracted many marauding armies over the centuries. The Greeks, Romans and Venetians took turns ruling before the Ottomans stormed into town and decided to stay – physical reminders of their various tenures are found across the city. The fact that the city straddles two continents wasn't its only drawcard – it was the final stage on the legendary Silk Road linking Asia with Europe, and many merchants who came here liked it so much that they, too, decided to stay. In so doing, they gave the city a cultural diversity that it retains to this day.
The conquering armies of ancient times tended to ransack the city rather than endow it with artistic treasures, but all that changed with the Byzantines, who adorned their churches and palaces with mosaics and frescoes. Miraculously, many of these remain. Their successors, the Ottomans, were quick to launch an ambitious building program and the magnificently decorated imperial mosques that resulted are architectural triumphs that together form one of the world's great skylines.
Wander the narrow cobbled streets to stumble across the minaret-studded Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and its magnificent mosaics, the sixth-century Basilica Cistern and Topkapi Palace’s warren of elaborately tiled rooms arranged around a beautiful Turkish bath. Ottoman bathhouses and excellent museums sit alongside the city’s kahvehans (coffeehouses), meyhanes (Turkish taverns), hip rooftop bars and swish seafood restaurants. Istanbul can be more than a city break. Turkish Airlines can whisk you across the centre of Turkey to the extraordinary landscape of Cappadocia, or down to Bodrum for a city and beach multi-centre. Istanbul is also a popular stopover on a cruise or en route to the Far East.
We're happy to report that the city's cuisine is as diverse as its heritage, and delicious to boot. Locals take their eating and drinking seriously – the restaurants here are the best in the country. You can eat aromatic Asian dishes or Italian classics if you so choose, but most visitors prefer to sample the succulent kebaps, flavoursome mezes and freshly caught fish that are the city's signature dishes, with the national drink, rakı (aniseed brandy), or a glass or two of locally produced wine.
Some ancient cities are the sum of their monuments, but İstanbul factors a lot more into the equation. Chief among its manifold attractions are the locals, who have an infectious love of life and generosity of spirit. This vibrant, inclusive and expanding community is full of people who work and party hard, treasure family and friendships, and have no problem melding tradition and modernity in their everyday lives. Joining them in their favourite haunts – çay bahçesi (tea gardens), kahvehane (coffeehouses), meyhane (Turkish taverns) and kebapci (kebap restaurants) – will be a highlight of your visit.