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Both historic and modern, Istanbul stands at a crossroads between its opulent past and its thriving modernity. Hip cocktail bars and haute couture fashion boutiques sit next to centuries old hamams and traditional cafes where elders play Tavla (backgammon) all day. Geographically, Istanbul is also divided by its European and Asian sides, both offering unique neighborhoods, businesses and experiences.
Walking through the streets of the Fatih district, Istanbul’s history is front and center. From the world famous Hagia Sophia mosque to the Topkapi Palace, the traces of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires are ever present in the stunning architecture, fountains, and monuments scattered throughout the Old City. Also in the Fatih district is the epic Grand Bazaar—a maze of shops and cafes selling everything from kilims (traditional turkish rugs), pottery, and gold, to clothing, food, and spices. Don’t forget to take a moment to relax with a cup of traditional Turkish tea or coffee during a long day of sightseeing accompanied by a piece of lokum (turkish delight). Locals will tell you the best lokum is made with honey instead of sugar but you’ll find both variations sold in colorful stacks throughout the market.
Cross the Galata Bridge and you’ll find yourself in Karaköy, which abounds with young hip cafes and night clubs. Standing tall in the center of Karaköy is the medieval Galata Tower built by the Genoese in 1348. Even further north and you’ve arrived in Beyoglu, which contains the historic Taksim Square. Taksim Square is a significant place in Istanbul’s modern history, as it has been the place of many protests and rallies in recent years. From Taksim Square, wander down Istiklal Caddesi, a shopping street with boutiques, brand name shops, cafes, shisha lounges, and delicious restaurants around every corner.
The sights, sounds and smells of Istanbul are astonishing in their richness. The smell of roasted chestnuts, fired grilled kebab, and freshly baked simit waft through the cobbled streets, minarets of the intricately designed mosques ring out with the sound of Adhan—the call to prayer heard around the city five times a day, and the bustle of this thriving city is unmistakable. A city both ancient and modern, young and old, Istanbul is brimming with discoveries.