Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s Turkish delight on a moonlit night.
It truly has “been a long time gone,” since famous swing lyricist, Jimmy Kennedy, originally sang those surprisingly catchy lyrics back in ‘53. One thing that has remained constant is Istanbul’s status as a “Turkish Delight.” This beautiful city is home to spectacular architecture, outstanding cuisine and a fascinating interplay of historical and modern influences. No matter on which side of the Bosphorus you stay, you’re bound to have plenty to explore.
Istanbul, which — as the famous song reminds us — was originally named Constantinople, is a uniquely historical city, combining Greek, Byzantine, Christian and Muslim traditions in a heritage that goes back to 600 B.C.E. — 900 years before Emperor Constantine the Great established his self-named city as the center of the Roman Empire in the year 324 C.E.
Constantinople officially became Istanbul in 1923, although the city has had multiple names during its long history and still is known by many different monikers, depending on whom you ask. Right now, for example, if you have a date in Stamboul or Mikligarour, they’ll be meeting you in Istanbul.
What should you do while you’re in Istanbul? Start by setting up a home base in one of Istanbul’s many luxury hotels. You’ll want to look for a hotel within the city center, close to the business district — where English, the language of international business, is spoken as often as Turkish — and preferably one that offers other traveler-friendly amenities. Park Hyatt Istanbul, for example, combines traditional Turkish decor with modern design, and is a popular choice for both business and leisure travelers.
Once you’ve got your hotel sorted, it’s time to start looking into the many ways to enjoy yourself in this amazing city. Keep in mind that the Bosphorus strait cuts the city in half, and that each side of Istanbul actually resides in a different continent; the western side of the city is in Europe, and the eastern side is in Asia. (Since both halves of Istanbul are part of Turkey, you do not need a special visa to cross from one bank of the Bosphorus to the other.)
Take an afternoon to sip Turkish coffee, which is stronger and sweeter than its American equivalent, and consider booking an architecture walking tour to become familiar with the layout of the city as well as its numerous historical buildings that span centuries of architectural style. If you are into shopping and fashion, Istanbul is the fashion center of Turkey, and you will find numerous malls and boutiques available for your browsing pleasure.
Then, take a trip to the Golden Horn, the peninsula that holds what the tour guides often call “Old Istanbul.” The Golden Horn’s position within the Bosphorus strait made it a key military defense position for the numerous armies that guarded the city during its long history, and the true military buff can continue this exploration across the Bosphorus at the Military Museum (Asker Muzesi).
Finish your Istanbul evening at a traditional Turkish restaurant, eating small plates called meze and numerous fresh seafood options. In the United States, Turkish dishes such as grape-leaf dolmas get lumped in with other non-Turkish Mediterranean foods, such as falafel; few people get the chance to experience a true Turkish meal, so take the opportunity to enjoy Turkish yogurts, kebabs, and authentic baklava while you can.
One final note: If the only thing holding you back is the memory of news headlines warning of travel overseas; be sure to check out the current situation as well as what professional travelers currently have to say before you let fear persuade you to stay at home. For example, as Conde Nast travel writer Wendy Perrin recently noted: “I continue to think that smart travelers can visit Istanbul just as safely and pleasantly as they can visit any other major city … including New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, and Rome. And that they will likely find people in Turkey friendlier.”
If that’s not a ringing endorsement of this one-of-a-kind city, which blends a 2,600-year heritage with its role as the center of modern Turkey, then you’ll just have to go to Istanbul and see for yourself. Apply for Turkey e visa to reach Turkey.