If you’re looking for a really exotic holiday with plenty of things to see and do, then you can’t go wrong with a trip to Istanbul with a cheap hire car. This ancient metropolis famously straddles two continents, Europe and Asia, and is a unique mix of Eastern and Western cultures. Its great mosques and soaring minarets sit easily alongside sleek office blocks, and the world’s biggest covered bazaar rubs shoulders with thoroughly modern shopping centres and luxury boutiques.
Istanbul is such a sprawling city that hiring a car for the duration of your stay is the perfect way to see all it has to offer. There are two modern suspension bridges across the Bosphorus and there’s nothing like driving along the banks of the Golden Horn or Sea of Marmara, with a fresh breeze blowing and all the sights and sounds of the incomparable city passing by at a leisurely pace. Stop off at one of the many open cafes and fish restaurants for refreshments or a meal, and admire the dazzling walls and domes of Seraglio Point where the Sultans used to enjoy sipping iced lemon sherbets surrounded by fawning eunuchs and favourites from the harem.
Istanbul is the city to head for to experience ‘Islam light’ in all its glory, a unique blend of modern Western and exotic Eastern influences, everywhere evident from the glamorous spice bazaars and calls to prayer to the pounding international club scene and some of the best shopping on the planet.
Some of the top attractions in the world are here in Istanbul, a city fairly drenched in history. Topkapi Palace was home to the Ottoman Sultans for more than 400 years and tourists have access to its four spacious inner courtyards. A museum in the palace houses some of the awesome treasures from the glory days of Ottoman history, including a gem-encrusted dagger worn by Suleiman the Magnificent and the incredible ‘Spoonmaker’s Diamond’, which is the size of a large egg.
The church of Hagia Sophia was the greatest in the Christian world for a thousand years or more, and its vast dome even now leaves you breathless with admiration. When the Turks captured the city, then called Constantinople after its founder the Byzantine Emperor Constantine, in 1453 they turned it into a mosque and now it is a secular museum.
When you’ve had your fill of Istanbul’s unparalleled historical monuments, museums and galleries you can chill out in one of its many modern international restaurants and taste some of the best and most varied cuisine in the world. It draws on a diverse range of culinary traditions that reflect the vast size of the old empire and the many cultures it encompassed. Or alternatively simply stop off at a good, old-fashioned kebab shop. You can enjoy a great three course meal on a shoestring here, and there’s not much that can compare with spending a mild summer evening sipping lemon tea from a tulip-shaped glass and watching the old steam ferries criss-cross the Marmara to a backdrop of domes and minarets – a timeless scene.
Guest writer David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.