Straddling the Bosphorus, its skyline studded with domes and minarets, İstanbul is one of the truly great romantic cities. Its history tracks back from Byzantium to Constantinople to its place at the head of the Ottoman Empire. Today it hums as Turkey's cultural heart and good-time capital.
In this sprawling, continent-spanning city you can tramp the streets where crusaders and janissaries once marched; admire mosques that are the most sublime architectural expressions of Islamic piety; peer into the sultan's harem; and hunt for bargains in the Kapalı Çarşı (Grand Bazaar).
Side by side with Old İstanbul you'll find hip bars and clubs, flashy executives, malls and haute cuisine. And then there is a rich arts culture - opera, music, cinema - which nods its head to the Ottoman and Byzantine ways while taking cues from Europe. All this history, hustle and bustle coexists around the spine of the Bosphorus, a constantly busy, heaving mass, dotted with ships and ferries, and providing the link between Europe and Asia.
Whatever your interest - architecture, art, nightlife, cuisine, history, religion, shopping - İstanbul has more than enough of it, at prices which are among the lowest in Europe.
Facts for the traveller
Off the beaten track