Without a shadow of a doubt, Istanbul – like London, New York or Paris – is one of the world’s great cities. Superbly situated either side of the blue ribbon of the Bosphorus Strait separating Europe from Asia it is, unlike any other city in the world, split between two continents.
It is an ancient city, originally founded by the Greeks in the seventh century BC. In the fourth century AD it became Constantinople, capital of a Byzantine Christian world which kept the warriors of Islam from Western Europe for several centuries, before finally falling to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The relics of these two great powers stud the old quarter, from the mighty Byzantine Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia or Aya Sofya), through to the splendid pavilions of the fulcrum of the Ottoman Empire, the Topkapı Palace.
As with most European capitals sometimes hot and humid July and August see locals decamp en masse to rural retreats and Aegean/Mediterranean resorts. The upside of this is that there is less bustle and public transport a little-less crowded. The evening warmth also allows you to enjoy a drink at a trendy roof-top bar, dine at a Bosphorus-front fish restaurant or puff contentedly on a nargile (water pipe) in a courtyard garden in the shadow of an Ottoman mosque. The downside is that many music venues, clubs and the like close or slow-down. September and October’s generally clear, sunny days provide the ideal weather to explore in the best possible way – on foot - but it is still plenty warm enough to eat outside, take a Bosphorus Cruise or even swim in the Sea of Marmara from one of the pretty Princes’ Islands.