Photo: Elaborately decorated interior of museum

Built in just six years by Byzantine Emperor Justinian, Istanbul's opulent Hagia Sophia has been a cathedral and a mosque, and now it's a museum.

Photograph by Panoramic Images

East meets West in Istanbul, the city divided by the Bosporus and spanning two continents. From the historic sites in the Sultanahmet neighborhood to the shops and restaurants in the Beyoglu district, the European half of Istanbul has plenty to offer. Old Istanbul is comprised of seven hills, each topped with a mosque. The best known is the Hagia Sophia, a cathedral built in A.D. 537 that centuries later became the city’s greatest mosque, and today is a museum. Also visit Topkapi Palace, part of the beautiful Blue Mosque. Reserve a family loft suite at Sumahan on the Water in the Cengelkoy district. To get to downtown Istanbul, use the hotel’s complimentary launch or the nearby ferry service.

Where to Play

For local crafts, food, and everything else you can imagine, head to the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul’s market that boasts 5,000 vendors. Near the Bosporus and less intimidating is the Egyptian Bazaar. To get a grasp of Istanbul’s history—which covers three millennia—head to the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. To explore the Asian side of Istanbul, hop on a ferry from the Golden Horn.

At Day’s End

The whole family will be mesmerized by the whirling dervishes during their performances at Istanbul’s Hocapasa Cultural Center. Performances are held at 7:30 every day except for Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Details

Click here for National Geographic's ultimate guide to Istanbul.

Official Istanbul website: www.icvb.org.

Based on articles from National Geographic Traveler and compiled by Stephanie Robichaux

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