Hagia Irene and Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

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Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey and the country's economic, cultural, and historical heart. It's a fascinating city - straddling Europe and Asia, the continents are divided in Istanbul by the Bosphorus, one of the world's busiest waterways and a stunning cruise location.

Why go?

From the Grand Bazaar to the Sulleymaniye Mosque, the Galata Tower to Topkapi Palace, in Istanbul ancient cultures collide and history lives on in every street...

Once you are in central Istanbul your biggest challenge is likely to be deciding what to see first. For history lovers the choice is almost overwhelming. The Hagia Sophia, originally built as a church in 537, subsequently used as a mosque and now a museum, is a must-see. Directly opposite this is the Blue Mosque, a legendary building commissioned by Sultan Ahmet 1 and built between 1601 and 1616.

 Its name in English comes from the 20,000 blue Iznik tiles that adorn the interior. The Topkapi Palace, built in the 15th century, is one of the oldest palaces still in existence and is now a museum. You can take a guided tour around all areas, including the 400-room harem and learn all about this fascinating place which was almost a city in its own right.

If history is not your thing, but shopping is, you will love Istanbul. The Grand Bazaar, founded in 1461, is one of the world's oldest and biggest covered markets and consists of 61 streets housing more than 4,000 shops. Bargaining is normal here so do not pay more than half the price you are originally quoted and try to get down to around 40%.

There is very little that you cannot find in the Grand Bazaar. If one bazaar is not enough, then worry not - there are plenty more in Istanbul. The Egyptian Bazaar, also known as the Spice Bazaar, dates from the 17th century and originally sold herbs and spices. If you are looking for more modern shopping, some of Istanbul's most cutting-edge modern architecture takes the form of shopping centres, such as Istinye Park, which is built into the side of a mountain and worth visiting for the building alone.

Nature lovers are also catered for in Istanbul. Apart from the Bosphorus tours, which really should not be missed, a visit to Emirgan Forest, in the Istinye district, is a marvellously relaxing way to spend some time. There are also several lovely walks along the banks of the Bosphorus and beaches, coves and secluded villages within easy reach. Given Istanbul's trans-continental nature, it would be a shame not to take advantage and make sure that you visit both the European and Asian sides of the city.

However long your time spent here, you will never regret or forget a trip to Istanbul.

How to get there

Istanbul is well serviced with flights all year round from all major UK airports - compare prices for great deals...

When booking Istanbul flights you may have either Istanbul Ataturk Airport (IST) or Sabiha Gocken (SAW) as your destination.

Expect to be in the air for about 3 hours 30 minutes when flying from the UK.

Getting to and from the airport

As a major city, Istanbul has excellent and efficient transfer services...

Reaching the centre of Istanbul is straightforward from either. Ataturk has a metro station, which is a quick and cheap way of reaching town, while airport taxis and shuttle buses are available at both airports.

It takes about 55 minutes in a taxi to get from Sabiha Gocken to central Istanbul and 30 minutes from Ataturk.

Where to stay?

This fascinating and exciting city has so much to offer, including great places to stay...

Choosing the best area to stay in Istanbul can seem daunting to the first-time traveller. But do not fear; despite the size and pace of this incredible city, there are great options.

A good starting point is in the centre in the Sultanahmet area of the city. This is one of the key locations for anyone who wants to be within walking distance of the famous Grand Baazar, the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.

Conveniently, you will also find a good variety of both luxury and cheap accommodation here, including some converted historical houses once owned by the wealthy merchants, many with original Ottoman and Arabic interiors and décor.

The fact that this district is not too rowdy or crowded in the evening appeals to couples and families. But for younger travellers seeking some Turkish nightlife, staying in the Beyoglu area is a better bet
This district may be noisier but it is also cheaper for accommodation which is one of its draws for backpackers. Also, you will find a wide array of restaurants, bars, clubs and cafés which are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Whichever area appeals to you most, be sure book your flight soon and use our price comparison tool to get a really good deal worthy of an Istanbul bazaar haggler!