For visitors who enter the country via one of its more laid-back coastal resorts, Istanbul may come as a shock to the system – Turkey’s capital city is distinctively bustling and traditional, which is precisely part of its charm. To experience its beguiling cultural blend of East and West, visit the twin architectural gems of Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque – masterpieces of Byzantine design, decorated with exquisite inlaid mosaic patterns; take in the lavish quarters and dazzling gem collection of the Topkapi Palace, home to Turkey’s sultans and their families for centuries; or visit the beguiling Basilica Cistern, Istanbul’s ancient water reservoir, now evocatively revamped with ethereal lighting and background music sources . More frivolous pursuits include trawling the Grand Bazaar’s stash of beautifully crafted goods – including traditional Turkish kilims, wooden backgammon boards inlaid with mother-of-pearl detail – or indulging in fine dining or Mediterranean meze in one of the city’s many trendy eateries and cafes in the trendy district of Beyoglu.

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