Istanbul Weekend City Break Holiday Attractions

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Istanbul is one place where the overused epithet of being a cultural crossroads actually rings true. The Turkish capital straddles the Bosporus which marks the geographical boundary between Europe and Asia. The city's jumbled skyline is a showcase of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture that's pierced by more than a thousand needle thin minarets. But far from being a museum piece; Istanbul is a living breathing metropolis that's fast becoming one of Europe's most talked about city break destinations.

Map of Istanbul

Arguably the best way to see Istanbul is to leave your guidebook in the hotel and lose yourself in the city's labyrinthine backstreets. It won't be long before a local shopkeeper invites you for a glass of sweet tea or you stumble across an overlooked architectural gem. However, there are some things that really shouldn't be missed:

Sultanahmet: On the southern banks of The Golden Horn, Sultanahmet is Istanbul's historic heart and corrals together the city's finest collection of buildings. In fact, an entire city break could be spent here without venturing further a field. Highlights include: Topkapi Palace (a sumptuous pile built by Mehmet the Conqueror in the 1450's; complete with ostentatious collection of jewellery and a harem), The Blue Mosque (the largest in the city and an architectural tour de force), the mighty Aya Sofya (built by the Roman Emperor Justinian as a church in 537 it later became a mosque and is today a museum) and the atmospheric subterranean world of Yerebatan Sarniçi (a sunken Byzantine water cistern). Official tourist site for Istanbul.

Go by boat: Istanbul's ferries are an economic and fun way of getting around, plus you get some fabulous views of the city. Buy a token form one of the waterside booths (sidestepping the pestering hawkers) and hop on.

The Grand Bazaar: Shopaholics will have little difficulty feeding their habit in Istanbul and most relish the opportunity of trying out their haggling skills. The 15th century Grand Bazaar is billed as having more than 4000 shops, but it's difficult to know where the sprawl begins or ends. Step inside and you enter an Aladdin's cave crammed with silver and gold jewellery, beaten copper work, inlaid backgammon boards and colourful kilims piled head high. Follow your nose through the tangle of streets that lead down to The Golden Horn and you'll arrive at the aromatic Egyptian Bazaar, also known as the Spice Market.

Chora Church : Often glossed over by guidebooks Kariye Cammi is one of the most glorious buildings in the city, containing a series of superbly preserved 14th century frescoes and mosaics that are among the most evocative of all the city's Byzantine treasures.

Istanbul after dark: At night Istanbul's heart beats fastest along Istiklal Caddesi, whose narrow back streets are home more than 1,000 bars. Most guides recommend heading to Cicek Pasaj (flower passage) for a bite to eat, but those in the know prefer its less touristy neighbour Balik Pasaj. Walking into the colourful fish market is like jumping into a kaleidoscope; every sense is overloaded with a collision of sound, smells, colour and of course, people. This is the meyhane (tavern) capital of Istanbul, and the best place to share a bottle of aniseed raki and work your way through endless plates of endless meze. One of the oldest meyhane (and Ataturk's favourite) is Cumhuryiet, otherwise try nearby Imroz.

Take a bath: There's only one way to round of a city break in Istanbul and that's with a traditional Turkish bath, or hamam.