"If the earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital." Thus declared Napoleon Bonaparte-and his words ring as true today as they did in 1800. The Turks themselves say that in Istanbul one can hear the nation's heartbeat. There is so much to see and do that any definitive overview would fill volumes, but following are some travel highlights in Turkey.
Begin with its historic sights, which have been designated World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
The Roman Hippodrome was the center of Byzantine life for 1,000 years, and the center of Ottoman culture for another 400 years. The Hippodrome was the scene of countless political and military dramas, including rival chariot races. During your Turkey tour, see the impressive granite obelisk, carved in Egypt around 1,500 BC and brought to Constantinople in 390 AD. The Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque is a masterpiece of 17th century Ottoman architecture, famous for its unique hand-made original Iznik tiles. The Hagia Sophia is absolutely spectacular-some say it is the most beautiful church ever built. Other famous Turkey travel destinations include the Basilica Cistern, and the Topkapi Palace, the seat of the Ottoman government and its resident sultans for 500 years; see its Imperial Ottoman Treasury, which includes the famous Spoonmaker Diamond.
The Suleyman Mosque is a monumental building, a masterpiece of Ottoman architecture. The Dolmabahce Palace, built around 1843, was an administrative center during the Ottoman Empire and later residence of the sultans. This ornate and vast palace overlooks the Bosphorus, and is well worth a visit as you travel Turkey.
The Grand Covered Bazaar is a marketplace of staggering proportion-with over 4,000 shops it is a world within itself. This is the very heart of Turkish culture, a sensory overload of sights, sounds and color.
The Kariye Museum is housed in a charming small church with beautiful mosaics and frescoes, and is a wonderful example of Byzantine architecture. The Jewish Museum of Turkey catalogs and celebrates the history and contribution of Jewish Turks. Located in the former Zulfaris Synagogue, its exhibits depict the daily lives of the local Jewish community throughout different periods of history. Other splendid sights well worth a visit during your tour of Turkey include the Church of Cora, Archeological Museum, Tile Museum and the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts.
We recommend a cruise on the Bosphorus Strait at sunset, where one literally crosses from Europe into Asia. And for those who don't mind a few steps, the top of the Galata Tower is the best place to take in the complicated geography and gorgeous views of Istanbul.