Last Updated: 14th Nov 2013

<p><img src="" class="rightwise" title="istanbul" alt="istanbul" /></p> <p>by &#8211; <a href="/people/mattyvcontiki">Matt Vernick</a>, Tour Manager, Europe</p> <p>Istanbul is an almost mythical city in <a href="/contikipedia/articles/turkey">Turkey</a>. although not the capital, it is the largest city in the country and is unique in that the city itself spans two continents (Europe and Asia) while the busy, crowded, bustling appearance of the city hides a very relaxed lifestyle enjoyed by many of the locals.</p> <p>The heart of the city is carved in two by the narrow straight of the Bosporus and forms the gateway to not only the Black Sea but also the rest of Asia. One of Europe&#8217;s only truly Islamic cities, the domes and minarets of the city&#8217;s many mosques create a unique skyline while the chance to bargain and barter in the Grand Bazaar is not to be missed while you can almost taste the distinct atmosphere that makes this city so different to anywhere else in Europe.</p> <h2>Sights and Activities</h2> <p>There is a lot more to Istanbul than the Bazaar and the Blue Mosque as there are a plethora of sights and experiences to be had for those willing to get out and explore.</p> <h3>Topkapi Palace</h3> <p>The former residence of the Sultans is one of the finest museums in the world. The huge palace and wonderfully designed buildings and gardens are home to some incredible artifacts including what are reputed to be relics from Mohamed, including a number of his swords.</p> <h3>Santa Sophia</h3> <p>What is now a museum is reputed to be one of the most magnificent churches in the world. Built in the 6th century by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, the 30 meter wide dome covers what for over 1000 years was the largest enclosed space in the world. Famous for its stained glass and tiled mosaics, it resides directly opposite the Blue Mosque.</p> <h3>The Blue Mosque</h3> <p>Arguable the most famous Mosque in the world it is perhaps the most famous sight in the city. Still an operating Mosque today it is impressive from the outside and also free to visit.</p> <h3>The Cistern</h3> <p>Constructed during the 6th century, this massive underground water reserve was to supply the city with water in times of trouble. An eerie but very cool visit to the subterranean world beneath Istanbul.</p> <h3>Turkish Baths</h3> <p>Indulge yourself in the unique experience that is a Turkish bath. The cities many bathhouses are steam rooms with a large marble slabs where you lay out and relax before having your muscles massaged and your body and hair washed by usually a large Turkish man or woman (same sex as you). A unique experience that simply must be had!</p> <h2>Shopping</h2> <p>No trip to Istanbul would be complete without a visit to what is perhaps the most famous market in the world – the Grand Bazaar! The covered market is home to over 4000 shops selling everything from clothing to food, spices, music, leather goods, rugs and carpets, electrical goods and almost anything else you can think of (as well as some you can&#8217;t).</p> <ul> <li><a href="/contikipedia/articles/istanbul-airport">Istanbul Airport</a></li> </ul>