For many years I believed Turkey was a destination for families taking beautifully hot summer holidays on the coast. Then I heard about Istanbul and it changed my mind about wanting to visit Turkey.
The country is right on the border or Europe and Asia, where mosques co-exists with churches and there are Roman remnants crumbling around the country. There are plenty of activities to do, which go easy on your wallet but consume your time. The number one place I want to visit is Istanbul.
The city can make you experience sensory overload, backstreets full of people pushing handcarts, grilled food from street side vendors, the chatter of hawkers around reverberating around the street. Istanbul is the only city in the world that has played a part in both Christian and Islamic empires, and retains influences of both. You should check the Aya Sofya, the Byzantine cathedral. It's easy to spot thanks to the massive domed structure, it was commissioned in the 6th century, and by the 15th century it had been converted to a mosque, with minarets being added. In 1934 it was turned into a museum. For century's it was the largest enclosed space. The interior is filled with shafts of light from the high windows around the dome and it's profoundly impressive.
The Blue Mosque, its name coming from the 20,000 tiny blue mosaic tiles on the inside, actually named Camii Sultanahmet. It's instantly recognisable with its six minarets, and inside it's four "elephant foot" pillars obscuring parts of the building and dwarfing the dome they support. The mosque's real name comes from the Sultan Ahmet, and his tomb is outside the precinct wall, he's buried along with his wife and three of his sons.
North of Aya Sofya, is the Topkapi Palace, it's the city's second unmissable sight. The palace was the centre of the Ottoman empire for nearly four centuries. From the ticket hall you go into the beautifully restored Divan which cotains the Imperial Council Hall. It costs extra to get into the Harem, but is apparently well worth the additional cost. Once upon a time, the only men allowed in were Eunuchs, and guardsmen, though they were blinkered and only allowed in during certain hours of the day.
When in Istanbul, make sure not to miss the covered bazaar. It's a huge web of passages containing over 4,000 shops! You'll need an hour or two to work your way through the ever- persuasive salesmen- though don-t forget to haggle- and soak up the bustling atmosphere.