A chaotic, colossal collision of east and west – start your day in Europe and end it in Asia, all without breaking a sweat. Sprawling across two continents, the city has been toed, froed and yanked between countless civilisations over its history, leaving a multi-layered, majestic tapestry of culture to untangle. An army of narrow minarets puncture the skyline, while the soaring towers of palaces and labyrinths of bazaars - where bargains are the reward for brave hagglers - fill up this dynamic city of 15 million people. With a rich portfolio of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture, Istanbul enjoys one of the world's most dynamic skylines and has an intense, infectious energy.
The vast Aya Sofya is the starting point for exploring this huge city's deep wealth of cultural treasures. Built in the 6th century as a Greek Orthodox church, it was later transformed into an Ottoman imperial mosque – and latterly a museum. Cast your eyes up to take in the full scale of the colossal dome, one of the world's largest, which floats on a magnificent bed of light. See the Blue Mosque, with its glorious blue İznik tiles, or head to the Galata Tower which was once the tallest structure in Istanbul, and is ideal for a panoramic view of the city. Grab handfuls of dates and spices, shop for jewellery and patterned fabrics as you're swallowed whole by the Grand Bazaar - one of the world's biggest and busiest covered indoor markets.
To understand Istanbul is to visit its kahvehans. Few rituals are taken as seriously as Turkish coffee - prepared to be incredibly strong. Sweeten the aftertaste with Turkish delight, or baklava – try the smooth pistachio version called kuru baklava.