Located on the Bosphorus Straight, Istanbul merges East and West. You can find most of the top tourist sites, including mosques, museums, and bazaars, on the west side. The luxury hotels of Istanbul, as well as less expensive accommodation, are here as well. On the east side, you are near more bohemian diversions, such as the bars and nightlife enjoyed by students, as well as cheap hotels in Istanbul.
The historic sites alone can keep you busy for days. Arguably the city's most iconic site, Hagia Sophia, was once a church and mosque and is now a museum. Other must-sees are the Blue Mosque with its six minarets, Topkapi Palace, once the residence of Ottoman sultans, and the Grand Bazaar, with over 5,000 shops where you can bargain for leather, gold, carpets, spices, and ceramics. For a taste of modern Turkish life, head to the harbor for a cruise on a ferry or yacht. If you stay at one of the hotels near Beyazit Square, also called Freedom Square, you are near Istanbul University, where the country's brightest minds prepare for the future.
The casual eateries, known as meyhane, typically offer small plates of vegetables and seafood and, in some cases, more substantial dishes of kebabs. Go with a group so you can enjoy raki, the local alcohol. Look for a meyhane that hosts fasil, or Turkish song and dance, but expect to join in whether you know the language or not. If you're on a budget, head for Bar Street, or Kadife Sokak, on the Asian side. Here, you'll come across many establishments that serve up good drink, along with live indie bands and DJ-spun international music.
Whichever side you choose for your vacation stay, Travelocity can help you find the best opulent Istanbul hotels or a less expensive, clean and basic hotel in Istanbul.