As the only major city in the world situated on two continents—Asia and Europe—Istanbul has attracted many people to its shores since ancient times. The former capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, Istanbul’s 8,500-year past is the centrepiece of a thriving modern metropolis.
The city is an open-air museum of rich Turkish culture. It’s so historically dynamic, you’re certain to stumble upon a monumental piece of the past at every turn. From ancient city walls and grand palaces to stunning mosques and churches, the largest city of modern Turkey is a cultural crucible and a place where empires and religions, history and contemporary life, converge.
The Asian side of this unique city is where most of Istanbul’s residents call home. The European side, by contrast, is the commercial and cultural core. It’s further divided into the Old City and the Modern City by a narrow channel of water, referred to as the Golden Horn.
HISTORIC CHARM, MODERN COMFORTS
The Old City is where you’ll find Istanbul’s historic heart. The awe-inspiring Hagia Sophia and ornate Blue Mosque are sure to capture your attention. Take a trip to the nearby Grand Bazaar, a bustling marketplace with thousands of Turkish vendors and a personality all its own. Grab a bite to eat a few blocks away at Nar Lokanta, a new gem for fine dining headed up by the man responsible for popularizing Ottoman Empire cuisine, Vedat Başaran, executive head chef and researcher of food history. Fine spices and food items, such as Turkish Delight, can be found at The Spice Market. Cap it off with a visit to the Basilica Cistern, a remarkable ancient sight beneath the city of Istanbul and one of the only historic venues available for banquets and special events.
The Galatas district, in the Modern City, is the centre for shopping and art. Istikal is a must-see, vibrant pedestrian street, near the bustling Taksim Square, in Istanbul’s cultural and entertainment centre. Street vendors will tempt you with roasted chestnuts and Turkish bread, but be sure to stop at an open-air café for Turkish coffee or tea at kid-sized tables that keep you low to the ground.
LAP OF LUXURY
There’s no shortage of choice when it comes to Istanbul hotels. Nearly every major hotel chain in the world has a property in the city. But there is none more impressive than the Ciragan Palace Kempinski—a 313-room (and 20-suite) hotel complete with modern luxuries and attached to a historic palace, which is now used for meetings and events of up to 1,000 people. Ladies in red treat guests to in-room check-ins and wake-up calls come complete with tea or coffee service. Wash away any sign of jet lag with the traditional Turkish bath, a Hamam, upon arrival. For fine-dining opulence, try
Tugra restaurant. Their signature dish is lamb, but the individual mezzes (a traditional appetizer plate complete with six to 12 Turkish dishes) is sublime. From the Palace dock, take a private cruise of the Bosphorus, the winding strait that separates Europe from Asia. After the sun goes down, Reina, a beautifully modern supperclub, is the ultimate locale for dancing and cocktails.
But beyond the historic sights and modern opulence, Istanbul is where people meet. Ranked number seven worldwide for international congresses in 2010 by the International Congress and Convention Association, Istanbul enjoys three distinct congress districts that, combined with 70,000 guestrooms, make the city ideal for 500 to 50,000 delegates.
The airport area is Istanbul’s exhibition district. At its core is the CNR Expo, the largest international trade fair centre in Eurasia, with 1.6-million sq. ft. of indoor space. Congress valley, in the city centre, is walking distance to four- and five-star hotels and two conference facilities. Finally, in the Golden Horn district, between Taksim Square and the Old City, the Halic Congress Center boasts over 100,000 sq. ft. of magnificent open-air waterfront space ideal for al fresco events.
Istanbul is a city of many monikers because it’s so much to so many people. A city of the past, present and future, its international appeal, much-talked-about Turkish cuisine and commitment to both the traditions of the past and the luxuries of the future engrain Istanbul as a place that needs to be experienced at least once—for business and pleasure.
—Christine Otsuka is Assistant Editor of Meetings + Incentive Travel
Turkey requires a visa from most countries’ citizens upon arrival. The fee is $60 USD for Canadians and $20 USD for Americans. Visas can be purchased at the airport or arranged prior to the trip.
It is customary for the host to serve Turkish coffee to guests as soon as they arrive, as a gesture of hospitality.