Istanbul the best known city in Turkey is without doubt Europe's most exotic city, and is the ideal place to escape to for a weekend city break, or a romantic weekend getaway.
Atmospheric city - a potent mix of East and West - The Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia - Superb choice of hotels.
It is important to see all the sights in Istanbul, and so your weekend Istanbul vacation needs careful planning, and you should plan to arrive in Istanbul as early as you can on a Friday, leaving as late as possible on a Monday, because you really need four days to see the sights whether it is for a weekend getaway or a romantic city break.
This vibrant metropolis - Europe's largest city - combines atmosphere with great architecture and a fascinating history. The former church, now mosque, of the Aya Sofia, the beautiful Blue Mosque, and the Topkapi Palace are just three of the sights of this often overlooked city, which for centuries was rivalled only by Rome. Just three and a half hours from the UK, this is a perfect destination for a long weekend.
On day one of your weekend getaway to Istanbul should take in the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Hippodrome after checking into your Istanbul accommodation, and your Istanbul hotel need not be expensive. There is a great deal of sense in booking a hotel in the heart of historic old Istanbul, called the Sultanahmet, so when you are planning your weekend getaway then this is where you should look for your accommodation. The Four Seasons would be a top class Istanbul Hotel especially for a weekend break. Istanbul's bustling and frenetic streets evoke the history of a colourful past. The city is a potent mix of East and West, blended together over the course of the last 800 years.
On the agenda: shopping at the Grand Bazaar and the spice market, visit to the Blue Mosque with its six minarets that made Mecca green with envy, the magnificient Saint Sophia, a byzantine basilica converted to a mosque, the impressive Topkapi, palace-museum of the Sultans stretching on over 70 000 m². Also, push open the door of the Holy Saviour in Chora, a Roman basilica adorned with lovely Byzantine mosaics, plan a caïque ride on the Bosphore to see the former Byzantium and the Yalees (half-timber houses), bordering the shores of the river. Do not also miss the Prince Islands, scattered across the Marmara Sea.
Eat breakfast on a roof terrace with outstanding views across the Bosphorus Strait that separates Europe from Asia. There is no better place to shop, and no better place to put haggling skills to the test than Istanbul. Drink glasses of sweet mint tea and admire the carpets, leather goods and silverware on offer.
Your first afternoon after lunching in one of the many restaurants in this part of Istanbul, should be on foot, with a walking tour of Sultanahmet, but restricting yourself to the above mentioned Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and the Hippodrome, and possibly the Sunken Palace Cistern, which are all within close walking distance, or at worst a two or three stop tram ride.
Your second day of your weekend city break should include Topkapi Palace which is right on your doorstep, and the Grand Bazaar.
You need to be at the Topkapi Palace before it opens and go to the Harem to book your place on the escorted tour, before exploring the rest of the Palace. Lunch in the Konyali Restaurant overlooking the Bosphorous and the Sea of Marmara is the ideal mid day break, after which you can take the short tram trip to the Grand Bazaar for an unforgettable shopping experience. A firm no thank you does work, but be fair to the traders by not pretending interest when no interest is there.
You could take a taxi to the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, the Kariye Muzesi, where there are outstanding Byzantine mosaics.
Walk drink and dine in the evening along the Istiklal Caddesi otherwise known as La Grande Rue de Pera, provoding it is a Friday or Saturday and you will find plenty of small family run Tavernas, Cafes, and Bars.
Your third day could be a Cruise on the Bosphorous assuming it is a Saturday or a Sunday, and on your last day visit the Archaelogical Museums, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, the Egyptian market or take the ferry over the Bosphorous and back again allowing you to say you have been on two different continents on the same day!!
Istanbul is like that, being two quite different continents in one, and just a perfect choice for a romantic weekend city break getaway
Stay at the superb Ciragan Palace hotel, once a residence for Ottoman sultans and now part of the renowned Kempinski group. This hotel has a prime location with views across the Bosphorus. Alternatively, choose the immaculate Four Seasons, set around an open courtyard just yards from the Blue Mosque, or the four-star boutique Hotel Ajia, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus