Combining an incredibly rich legacy of Hellenistic, Roman, Ottoman, Middle Eastern and modern architecture and cultures, Turkey’s alluring cultural appeal, budget-friendly destinations and great hospitality simply make it a rewarding experience in the world of tourism. Though falling from the throne of empires when the last Ottoman Sultan was deposed and a republic declared nearly a century ago, Turkey has grown ever since as a modern and robust economic and political bulwark, vying for entry into the EU while still maintaining that unique Eastern charm which so much enchants all travelers alike.
Dinner under the moonlight in the Bosphorus…Romantic, isn’t it? But not far-fetched either. Istanbul, as the major cultural and economic powerhouse of Turkey, is not just the clichéd ‘bridge’ between East and West, but rather an astounding city of culture and delight rarely seen elsewhere. From the towering and emblematic Hagia Sophia Mosque, to the impressive Bosphorus Bridge linking Asia with Europe, to the picturesque Dolmabahce Palace and Maiden’s Tower, Istanbul is a magical city ready to spellbound you with its timeless relics and vibrant lifestyle, and nowhere is this East-West charm so easily felt than strolling through Istiklal Avenue, Istanbul’s most popular, most colorful, and its most stylish. Old-style tramways ferry a sea of people who wander through its shops and cafes at daytime, and at night, it’s even more exciting: adjacent is Cicek Pasaji, a roofed gallery replete with taverns, cafes, fine restaurants, and shops all housed in typical Ottoman architecture, all offering travelers a unique experience of old Eastern charm with new Western vibrancy. If you wish, however, to go full gears into the East, look no further than the halls of Istanbul’s famed Grand Bazaar, deemed to be one the first shopping malls in the world. The bustling activity coupled with the old Ottoman architecture and the colorful goods paraded are so typical and so alluring. For equal glamour, there are also the rather Westernized Bagdat and Abdi Ipekci Avenues, both with a touch of shopping frivolity. You can also head to Nisantasi quarter, a neighborhood of upscale shops, cafes and apartment buildings, also charmingly decorated during Christmas. Remember that dinner under moonlight in the Bosphorus? Istanbul is also legendary in its exquisite seafood, and the best places are located (you guessed it) on either shores of the strait. There, hundreds of restaurants are packed with clientele eager to savour the produce of the sea with that unique touch of Turkish inventiveness in dishes like balik dolma or balik iskender. While Turkish cuisine is renowned for its immensely varied breakfasts and the hundred or so styles of kebab, seafood is another culinary experience worth trying. And now that you’re by the sea, why not try a short ferry ride to the Prince’s Islands, a small archipelago in the Sea of Marmara. A day trip there is unforgettable: the islands are populated by old Ottoman-style mansions, some converted into ultra-luxury hotels. There is no traffic there except horse-drawn carriages slowly commuting through cobbled streets flanked by colorful cafes and fine restaurants. The air of placidity on the islands contrasts greatly with the flamboyant vibrancy of Istanbul.
The ‘Jewel’ of the Turkish Riviera, it’s the largest international sea resort and one of the fastest growing cities in Turkey. Like Copacabana and Ipanema in Rio, Antalya boasts with its own Mediterranean versions—Konyaalti and Lara. They both form a great contrasting landscape as they lie against the rising backdrop of the snow-capped Taurus Mountains. Just picture this: cold and snow behind, with sun and fun by the sea! Antalya itself is full of ancient sites like its famed walled city called Kaleici, which includes Hadrian’s Gate, Hidirlik Tower ad its placid gardens, and the impressive Yivli Minaret. As major resort destination, Antalya is not short of excellent hotels, restaurants and fine shopping districts. Just 40 kilometres west is Kemer, a more serene, upscale resort town famous for its utterly beautiful Moonlight Beach.
Facing the Aegean, Bodrum is another seaside jewel famed for its vibrant nightlife and excellent beaches. Above all, it is the site of the famed city of Halicarnassus and its legendary Mausoleum, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. But today, the city itself is a wonder with the imposing St. Peter Castle rising high above the sea, charming public gardens and picturesque homes lining the seaside. There are numerous beaches lining the coast, with pedestrian boulevards packed with cafes and restaurants offering exquisite Turkish seafood. The town has a rather more pleasant, more placid profile than Antalya, which makes it ideal for those seeking the sun to themselves.