Still in Sultanahmet, Topkapi Palace, the royal residence of the Ottoman Sultans for around 400 years is a sprawling masterpiece, with pavilions, courtyards, gardens, and a lavish harem. The remarkable underground Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici), on the site of a former basilica, is the largest of hundreds of ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city, filtering water for the inhabitants. While the sights here are something, it wouldn’t be Istanbul without a shopping excursion to the maze-like 15th century Grand Bazaar where you can get lost haggling for Oriental lanterns, colourful tea glasses and, of course, a Turkish carpet.
But Istanbul is the heart of the country’s economy, art and culture, not just a theme park of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman monuments. It’s across the Galata Bridge, often packed with fishermen throwing rods and reels over the side, and up the steep streets of Beyoğlu that you really see the cosmopolitan nature of the city, spilling out into the narrow alleys either side of the main thoroughfare, İstiklâl Caddesi. These lanes are filled with bars, cafes, restaurants, pubs, and clubs, as well as performance spaces, art galleries, cinemas, and theatres. On any given night here, after feasting on plates of delicious Turkish meze (the traditional shared starters of any Turkish meal), you can hear superb live jazz or a traditional bağlama (long-necked lute) performance in a club, dance to pop music or Turkish folk songs with the locals at a laneway bar, or boogie at a rooftop nightclub.