The Two Sides of Istanbul

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Istanbul truly is a city of two sides, with a hedonistic party culture alongside a heritage so vast that you could spend weeks exploring it.

As the only city in the world to straddle two continents, with one foot firmly in Europe, and the other in Asia, it provides a marriage of cultures to enjoy. The Bosphorous provides a link between the two, and you can travel between the two continents by boat or on a bus across the bridge.

Many of the key sights, including the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace sit on the European side. However, with a more laid back vibe and local charm, Anatolian Istanbul is certainly not one to miss.

European Istanbul

Take a trip below the streets with a visit to the Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

The Cistern Basilica was first built to provide water to those living in the Grand Palace. Its 336 columns are sourced from the ruins of temples meaning that some of them are incredibly ornate – one even features a carving of the head of Medusa. It is these columns that give this labyrinth a real sense of grandeur. Now, wooden boards provide footing above the water which Koi Carp have made their home.


Dance the night away on the edge of the Bosphorous

instanbul night

From rooftop bars to clubs where students let their hair down into the early hours after lectures, the nightlife in Istanbul is notably fun and varied. The area around Taksim is the centre of Istanbul’s night scene, but if you’re looking to splash out on a night of luxury whilst you are on holiday head to Reina which sits on the banks of the Bosphorous. This riverside restaurant and club is not cheap but its location on the cusp of both European and Anatolian Istanbul makes for astounding views worth paying for.


Get to grips with culture at the Topkapi Palace

topkapi palace

Topkapi Palace is a great place to soak up some of that incredible Istanbul history. It began its life as the court of the Ottoman Empire and so is a building that is enshrouded with scandalous stories. Now, this array of buildings is open to the public allowing visitors to imagine what it would have been like to live in this incredible building. The Treasury is of particular interest, showcasing a number of objects adorned with precious stones, perhaps most bizarrely a sword covered in jewels.


Wonder at the architecture of the Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque is perhaps the most iconic of Istanbul’s places of interest, and can be seen from many points of the city. To enjoy the full experience, take a trip inside – it’s free, and open every day except during the times of prayer. Intricate mosaics decorate the interior, with the frequent usage of blue giving the mosque its name. It is a place of active worship so be respectful when you visit this incredible building. To appreciate the architecture to its full extent, it is best to approach the Blue Mosque from the Hippodrome.


Anatolian Istanbul

Enjoy the slow food movement

turkish food

Life in Anatolian Istanbul is famously slower; there are no crowds to rush through here. There has been a move recently to re-introduce local produce to the Istanbul food scene which has resulted in the freshest dishes, and a relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere which allows you to savour the food that you’re eating. To make the most of this movement, head to Neolokal for tantalisingly tasty food where the freshest ingredients (like watercress and rocket) are grown on the roof.


Re-live your youth at the Istanbul Toy Museum


This museum will appeal to both children and adults alike in a space where toys and history collide. Toys from as far back as the 1700s are housed in this former mansion, but where it really comes to life are the recreations of historical events using toys. There is an attempted moon landing and an industrial revolution! This provides not only a unique look at the lives of children living in Istanbul, but across the globe.


Have lunch in the iconic Maiden’s Tower

Maiden's Tower Istanbul

This cafe and restaurant has a backstory so convoluted and fantastical that you could spend a lifetime trying to decipher them. One of the more famous stories is that there was a prophecy which told that an Emperor’s daughter would be killed by a venomous snake and so he built this tower in the Bosphorous. It is certainly a building of intrigue, also appearing in 1998’s Bond film The World is Not Enough. There’s no better place to make up your own mind than with a coffee in the tower itself.


Shop ’til you drop at the Kadıköy market

kadikoy market

Less well known, and therefore less crowded than the markets in European Istanbul, the Kadıköy market is a foodie’s paradise. Delicious produce such as olives, fish and fresh fruit and vegetables are available to barter for. This is not a market set up for tourists, which makes it a great spot to mingle with the locals and experience what it might be like to live in this gorgeous city.



Explore either side of Istanbul, or both, on an alluring city break: Flights | Holidays | Hotels