According to the United National World Tourism Organisation, Turkey was the world's sixth-most popular tourist destination in 2011, welcoming almost 30 million visitors. Many of these visitors are drawn to the Turkish capital Istanbul, the jewel in the crown of what was once the magnificent Ottoman Empire.
Turkey has played host to twenty unique civilisations over 10,000 years, many of which have left their mark on the capital with such creations as the breathtaking Topkapi Palace, the magnificent Blue Mosque and majestic Sulleymaniye Mosque.
Other highlights include the incredible Hagia Sophia. A Greek Orthodox basilica for over 1000 years, for a while a Roman Catholic cathedral, a mosque and now a museum, the building is one of the best remaining examples of Byzantine architecture. Also among the city's most impressive landmarks is the Galata Tower, which dates from medieval times and which affords a marvellous panoramic view of the city.
Souvenir hunters will find themselves in shopping heaven at the Grand Bazaar, one of the world's oldest and largest covered markets, incorporating 3000 shops spanning 61 sheltered streets. This and the Egyptian Bazaar, also known as the Spice Bazaar, attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every day.
The diversity of museums in Istanbul matches the diversity of its turbulent history. From contemporary art museums to archaeology museums and the Zoology Museum to the UFO Museum, you will not be left wanting.
Take to the water on the Bosphorus or relax on nearby beaches. For the adventurous there are coves to explore or quiet villages that time forgot. Either south to the Mediterranean or to the Black Sea in the north, Istanbul is a great base for wider sightseeing opportunities so why not hire a car and get exploring.
In summer Istanbul hosts several music and dance festivals, including the International Istanbul Opera Festival. The Bosphorus Cross Continental Swimming Race also takes place in July and October sees the Intercontinental Istanbul Eurasia Marathon, the world's only cross-continent marathon. Hotels in Istanbul during these months get very busy so it is advisable to book well in advance.
Istanbul has a wide choice of hotels to cater for the tastes and budgets of its many visitors. Well-known chains include Barcelo, Best Western, Crowne Plaza, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Novotel, Marriott, Movenpick, Sheraton, Ramada and Swissotel. With cost-effective accommodation at all price points, the majority of the chain hotels offer bed and breakfast rates.
There is also a wide selection of individual Turkish-run hotels catering to those who prefer to sample more traditional Istanbul hospitality. The growing popularity of the city has also led to the opening of boutique and smaller style-led Istanbul hotels, particularly in the fashionable areas of the city.
The majority of tourist hotels in the prime sightseeing districts of Sultan Ahment Camii are affordable along with other hotels in the districts of Cankurtaran, Bindirdirek and Aya Sofya, which are conveniently located for tourism.
Luxury hotels are plentiful and many offer spa facilities and Turkish Baths. Others boast superb views of the Bosphorus. There is so much to see and do in Istanbul so be prepared to leave with a strong desire to return.
Top five attractions
The Grand Bazaar
Get your haggling skills up to scratch before you visit the Grand Bazaar, one of the biggest undercover markets in the world. Numerous streets and stalls will entice you with jewellery, spices and ceramics.
The Blue Mosque
A visit to the impressive and striking Blue Mosque will reward you with beautiful architecture. Construction of the mosque started in 1609 and features of the vast building include its blue tiles, colourful domes and stained glass windows.
Home to Ottoman sultans between the 15th and 19th century, this opulent and ornate palace is well worth exploring. Highlights include the treasury which holds precious objects and the harem.
Stunning Byzantine mosaics, frescoes and tombs can be viewed inside the huge Aya Sophia. Originally a cathedral in the sixth century, the building went on to became a mosque and is now a museum.
Istanbul Archaeological Museums
In this complex of three museums are numerous antiquities spanning thousands of years. Even the kids will be kept entertained in the Children's Museum by the large-scale model of the Trojan Horse which they can have fun climbing into (although check the Children's Museum is open before you visit as it has recently been closed for renovation).
International Istanbul Puppet Festival. May - around the city: In celebration of the lost art of puppet theatre, a number of shows featuring both local and international companies are performed at various venues around the city. Visitors will be able to get involved with workshops, exhibitions and conferences.
Efes Pilsen One Love Festival. June/July - Parkorman: With a variety of stages, this music event showcases some of the biggest names in music from across the world.
Istanbul Eurasia Marathon. November: Throughout the city: This unique international event is the only marathon that takes you on a journey through two continents - from Asia to Europe.
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