A city of many names, times, colors - and even two continents
The old Constantinople, seat of the Ottoman Empire, starts in Europe and finishes in Asia, across the Bosphorus. But even a first glimpse of the 1500-year-old mosques and Sultan palaces tells you it’s something completely different. Many visits are centered around Istanbul’s most famous attractions in touristy Sultanahmet. Here you can visit the Hagia Sophia (a massive church-turned-mosque-turned-museum filled with 9th-century mosaics), the always bustling 17th-century Blue Mosque, and the ornate 15th-century Topkapi Palace, home to sultans (and their harems). Then you can cleanse your pores at one of the several longstanding Hammams - Turkish baths (not for the shy). A short walk from Topkapi Palace is the Bazaar District, where it's fun to get lost in the maze of spice and rug sellers, a tradition dating to Byzantine times. To find Istanbul’s modern heart, cross the Golden Horn Bay just north to hilly Beyoglu, where Istanbul lets loose. From modern Taksim Square – several business hotels are nearby – the mile-long pedestrian-only Istiklal Street gets filled with a mind-numbing array of locals in headscarves or leather jackets, stopping in wild fish restaurants and gritty alley bars. A fine day trip is a ferry to Uskudar, where Asia begins.