The number of tourists travelling to Turkey has drastically declined over the last two years. This is partly due to security concerns after a spate of terror attacks frightened many into staying away. Domestic political tensions within the country have also played a role, as the recent referendum in the country has led many to believe that Turkey is becoming more conservative and authoritarian.
A pro-government rally in Istanbul after an attempted coup in July 2016 (image: Anadolu Agency)
When I visited Istanbul last year shortly after the bombing of Taqsim Square, the plane from Heathrow to Istanbul was almost empty while the flight back was completely full. This is a sad development as Turkey is a beautiful, diverse and welcoming country. Istanbul in particular is a fun and lively city with a rich culture and history, and now is as good a time as any to visit! Here are six reasons why:
- Istanbul’s history as the centre of the world
As the former capital of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, Istanbul is one of the most historically significant cities in the world. From the time of the famous Silk Routes until today, Istanbul has been a gateway between East and West. The city that once divided empires now separates continents, with both eastern and western historical influences coming together in its harmonious architecture, food, art and people.
Istanbul is famously multicultural and is often referred to as “the gateway between East and West” (image: Daily Sabah)
- Iconic architecture
Istanbul rises up on either side of the Bosphorus River and the view from one side of the city to the other is spectacular. Ottoman mosques with their large central domes and multiple minarets rise out of the maze of tiny, winding streets – the most spectacular of which is the famous seventeenth century Sultanahmet Camii, also known as the Blue Mosque. Another of the city’s architectural wonders is the Hagia Sophia, which has been both a Greek Orthodox basilica and an imperial mosque with the passing of empires.
Istanbul’s iconic Blue Mosque (image: oboifullhd.ru)
Inside the Sultanahmet Camii (image: angelshomehotel.com)
Inside the Hagia Sophia (image: travelandleisure.com)
- Friendly, welcoming people
One of the most extraordinary things about Istanbul is that it represents a cross section of Turkey’s diverse social fabric, which is made up of a myriad of different ethnic and religious groups living side by side. Whatever their differences, one thing they have in common is their remarkable hospitality – you won’t leave the city without experiencing it in one way or another! We spent two hours in a shop in the Grand Bazaar during our trip with a Kurdish family selling art and carpets who insisted on feeding us copious amounts of tea and Turkish delight.
The people of Istanbul are friendly and welcoming (image: Pampelmuse and Me)
- Arts and culture
Istanbul has become known for its contemporary arts scene – and with its winding alleyways filled with edgy coffee shops and bars nestled between architectural gems, it is no surprise that local artists and creatives find inspiration in its streets. One of the most “artsy” hubs in the city is the cosmopolitan and distinctly bohemian district of Beyoğlu, which is home to edgy boutiques, culinary delights, and hipster art spaces.
The bustling streets of Beyoğlu (image: fairychimneys.com)
Street art in Istanbul (image: Property Turkey)
The food scene in Istanbul – like the city itself – consists of a delicious fusion of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Aside from the well-known kebab and Turkish delight, another tasty dish you must try is pide (or Turkish pizza), a flatbread baked in a wood-fired oven with a variety of toppings including meats, vegetables and cheese. Sipping Turkish coffee by the Bosphorus River is also an essential – as much for the experience as for the coffee itself.
Pide, or Turkish pizza (image: Edible Communities)
Turkish coffee with a view over the Bosphorus River (image: BBC)
- Value for money
Though the decline in tourism has sadly had a negative effect on the Turkish economy, it has made it cheaper for tourists to visit the city (another reason why now is the perfect time to go!). Direct flights from London to Istanbul can cost less than £100 depending on the time of year, and the current lack of tourists has pushed hotel prices down. Daily costs such as food and transport are also relatively low – meaning you can save your money for the bazaar…
A trip to Istanbul is incomplete without a visit to the world famous Grand Bazaar (image: theistanbulinsider.com)
As President Erdogan tightens his grip, the political landscape is changing in Turkey. Many fear that this diverse, outward looking country that was once hailed as a democratic example for the region will become increasingly conservative and tyrannical. With this uncertain future in mind, there is no time like the present to visit Istanbul, the city that offers the most intriguing (and fun!) insight into Turkey’s unique history and rich culture.
A view from the river of Istanbul’s Galata Tower (image: getyourguide.com)
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