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Where East meets West; two continents converging at the might Bosporus river. Istanbul is an absolute must for culture vultures and lovers of the classics, Istanbul is an easy and fascinating city to explore. We recommend you base yourself in Sultanhamet for your stay. It may be a bit touristy, but with all of the major sights in easy walking distance, it is a practical choice. And whilst tourist bars and restaurants aren't on the top of everyone's list, who can resist a roof top terrace with stunning views. Sitting and watching the sun set against a back drop of an ancient and modern skyline, whilst listening to the call to prayer wafting over the rooftops, you can't possibly fail to be seduced. Please read on for more information about the top sights to see:
One of Istanbul's most iconic buildings, the Blue Mosque sits proudly over-looking the Bosphorus. It's beautiful minaret and blue tiled roof gives it a majestic appearance. Inside, the vast spaces and high dome are impressive and, as it is still used as a mosque, it has a very spiritual air, despite the hoards of tourists. The mosque is still used for prayers, and so closes five times a day. Check with your hotel before you set out. Men should wear trousers to visit and ladies should cover their heads and shoulders. There is talk of the authorities providing smocks for tourists to wear over their clothes, to ensure that dress codes are adhered to.
Just down the road from the Blue Mosque is its older sibling, the Aya Sofia. Built by the Romans in 537, this magnificent building was originally a basilica, converted to a mosque in the 1400's. The Blue Mosque was built with the intention of out doing its rival in the 1600's but the Aya Sofia remains a magnificent building in its own right. Decommissioned as a place of worship by Attaturk, it is now a museum displaying an intriguing fusion of Islam and Christianity. The ancient frescoes and vast size of the building make it a must-see. Audio guides are available at the entrance for those wanting to go into more detail during their visit.
Laid out as an Imperial Palace, the Topkapi Palace has a series of courtyard each leading to another more intimate and exclusive courtyard. Visitors in imperial Turkey were allowed in according to their status and importance. The harem is a must-see, but be warned, you will need to buy an extra ticket once inside. Entering into this warren where the eunuch, concubines and wives lived and jostled for position, you can only imagine what an intense and competitive life the women lived there had. Each vying for more power and influence, desperate to bear the sultan a son. As with all imperial palaces, this was built to impress and there are many ostentatious displays of wealth. Intricate carvings, beautiful tiles and vast tulip gardens and a beautiful pagoda where the Sultan held court. The palace is a popular visitor attraction and will be heaving with tourists. Beware the sulky teenagers and Japanese groups (the latter are much better at waiting their turn in the queues.) You can get a guide or an audio-guide at the gate, but a decent guide book should also provide you with enough to get a good understanding of what it is all about. If you can face the queues, the treasury is worth a look for impressive displays of opulence and some good views of the Istanbul. Also of interest are the Sacred Safekeeping Rooms where you can see relics such as Moses' staff, Abraham's saucepan and Joseph's turban, as well as several other artefacts.
The Topkapi Palace has to be one of the highlight of Istanbul and you will need about 3 hours to visit. Visitors in spring will be particularly lucky as the gardens in the 3rd and 4th courtyards are planted with hyancinths and tulips. There are cafes and toilets inside the complex. The palace is closed on Tuesdays.
An eerie yet beautiful sight, the cisterns were built in 532 as an underground Byzantine water storage system. Over time, the cistern was forgotten about, but can now be visited. Large pillars prop up the ceilings and you can see carp swimming in the water below. Walking past the massive solid columns, you will see signs to the Medusa. Follow these and you will be rewarded with the sight of two large Medusa head supporting two columns. This incredible beauty was said to be able to turn people into stone if they looked directly into her eyes. Her purpose here is said to warn off evil spirits. The Cisterns offer a cool respite to the heat of the city and are well worth a visit.
A visit to the vast covered market makes for an interesting excursion. Reached easily on foot from Sultanahmet, or a short trip on the tram, the market is a bustling hub full of locals and tourists alike.
There are stalls selling everything from jewellery to carpets, football shirts, souvenirs, bags and, of course, carpets. Vendors will try their hardest to attract your attention but this is generally done in good humour. The price of goods is not marked, so if you want to do some shopping, work out beforehand how much you are willing to pay, go in low and then work your way to a mutually agreeable price. Remember, you don't have to buy anything, you are free to walk away from a negotiation at any time. The most important thing to do is to enjoy the experience and emerge with your good humour in tact!
A cruise on the Bosphorus si just one of those iconic things you must do in Istanbul. The river connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and, of course, divides Europe from Asia. Usedby ferries, shipping companies and pleasure boats, this busy waterway has also achieved Hollywood status, having starred alongside Daniel Craig in James Bond. The banks of the river are full of restaurants, attractive suburbs, mosuqes and palaces making it a must-see acvtivity for visitors to Istanbul. Added to that, after all the sight seeing, it's a good excuse to sit down for a few hours and rest those weary mueum feet.
Which Bospohorus cruise to choose rests entirely down to personal preference. Your hotel and local travel agent in Istanbul will be able to sell you a full day or half day package which usually includes a cruise, a visit to a spice market and a chance to visit one of the palaces on the banks of the river. Evening dinenr cruises are also possible. Half day cruises start at around €35 per person.
If you have a full day to spare, you could rely on Istanbul's ferry service and travel up the Bosphorus, taking the time to explore on the shore as you go.
There are also shorter cruises available, showing you the highlights. Expect to pay around 12TL for a 90 minute trip. Turyol is one such company. For this option, you can pick up your tickets on the quay side. Turn up 1/2 an hour before you ferry is due to depart to make sure you get a good seat. (You want to sit on the left hand side of the boat when the boat is facing forward)
Remember to check the boat to make sure that you are satsified it has life vests and a life boat before you head off.
As with everything in life, you get what you pay for. Accommodation in European cities is expensive and Istanbul is no exception. Your choice depends broadly on two factors; budget and personal preference.
Given that nearly all hotels have labelled themselves 'boutique,' this is no longer a useful differentiator. For the purposes of this guide, we will segment hotels into small and large. Large hotels have 25+ rooms and all the rooms are exactly the same. You can expect professional service with high standards of cleanliness. In more expensive hotels, you can also expect to see top notch facilities which may appeal if you are travelling with children. Some families will welcome the opportunity to have a hotel with a pool to jump into after a day out sight-seeing.
Some people love the feel of a larger hotel, others prefer something more intimate. These smaller hotels tend to be independent, family rin affairs, which leaves you more subject to the owners and their personalities. Rooms are often decorated individually and you should expect a more friendly, informal service. Personal touches mean that you are more likely to get to know your hosts. However, you may find gaps in professionalism and more quirks. It is also worth noting that smaller hotels book up quickly.
Price-wise, 3* is decidedly mid-range. Whilst you can get lucky and find a gem, the quality of hotels in this price randge is variable. Larger hotels in the 3* bracket seem stuck in the 1990's whist the small hotels in this category can seem neglected and a little rough around the edges.
4* delivers hotels with good facilities. Pools, generous roof terraces and quality fixtures and fittings can all be expected from larger hotels. Small hotels won't have the pool, but will benefit from gardens or a roof terrace with beautiful views. Service for both should be slick in this price range.
5* sees you in the luxury category occupied by hotels suchs as the four seasons. They deliver everything you would expect for rooms at this price, but you would hope so with rooms starting at €600.
All of the hotels listed for Istanbul have been personally visited by a member of the Tourdust team. Please feel free to contact us to discuss options.
Finding a holiday to do with teenagers can be something of a challenge. Too old for many family itineraries that are served up, but often too young to participate on adult holiday itineraries, this is an age group that can be often over-looked. We have a selection of unique holidays that will appeal to both parents and their teenage children. Many of the holidays that we sell are entirely private so can easily be tailored to your individual requirements, please don't hesitat to get in touch if you have any questions.
Although not a combination you would think of immediately, our trek and surf holiday in Morocco has proven to be very popular, especially with older families. The two week holiday (which can be compressed into one) includes a three day valleys trek in the Atlas Mountains, followed by a stay in a boutique riad in Marrakech and then finally a week surfing on Morocco's Atlantic Coast. There are daily surfing lessons, but if not everyone in the family fancies it, then nearby Essaouira is a lovely town to visit or you could stay at one of our properties with a pool and relax in the gardens.
We have several kayaking holidays, but the one best suited to teens is our sea kayaking holiday in Greece. Available to children aged 12+ this holiday is suitable for beginners as well as those with more experience. Staying in a family run guest house, there is a different guided trip each day, exploring the coastline and hidden beaches and bays along the way. Group sizes are kept at a limit of eight and while the kayaking takes all day, only three hours are spent paddling, the rest of the time is spent snorkelling, playing on the beach and learning new techniques. Accommodation is based in a small village in walking distance (15 mins) of the island's small capital, Plaka. This is the perfect place to give your teens some independence. The nightlife is not like that of some of the other Greek Islands, so you can relax in a local taverna and allow your teenagers some freedom to explore.
If you are an active and are all game for a challenge, then you might want to consider one of our challenging treks. There is nothing more bonding that completing a tough trek together. With excellent guides and delicious food, your teens will remember the experience forever. Closer to home and probably our most challenging trek, we have the Toubkal Circuit which is a 6 day challenging trek culminating in the ascent of Mount Toubkal, North Africa's highest mountain. The views are incredible and the trekking is hard-going, with some long days, but the sense of achievement felt by reaching the summit is indescribable. A couple of nights in the enchanting city of Marrakech after the trip rounds of the experience perfectly. Another further afield option is the Inca Trail. With thfour days trekking, this is shorter than the Toubkal circuit but it offers some fabulous views and some fascinating insights into Incan life.
Kenya is a fantastic destination for a family safari. Visits are possible during all school holiday periods, with the exception of Easter Holidays which coincide with the long rains.
Visiting Kenya in Christmas and February Half Term coincides with the dry season (December, January, February, Early March): This is also a good time to visit. There is no rain and a good chance of seeing wildlife as it gathers round watering holes. As with the rest of the year, you still have a good chance of seeing all the big game; lion, elephant, crocodile, buffalo, wildebeest, hippo . Flight prices escalate over the Christmas / New Year period, otherwise expect to pay £450-£600 return per person ex UK.
During the Easter Holidays the long rains fall in Kenya (late March, April, May): This is the down season in the park. With regular rain falling pretty much every day. The weather tends to settle into a pattern of rain in the evenings, overnight and mornings. It tends to clear up around 10am and start raining again around 3pm. The big problem is the state of the roads in the reserve, many of which can become impassable even for 4wds. This tends to effect the smaller tracks rather than the main roads running through the park Still, despite the rains, many frugal travellers choose this time of year to snap up bargain rates at high end lodges.
Visiting Kenya during the May / June half term coincides with the end of the long rains, expect everything to be very lush, with the chance of some showers if the rains are late. Long grass can make some of the game harder to see, but it is still a good time to visit, with reasonable International flights (circa. £450-£600 per person ex UK)
Visiting Kenya in the July / August summer holidays coincides with the wildebeest migration (late June, July, August and early September): Mid June usually heralds the arrival of the wildebeest migration and this is without doubt the time to visit the park, with the herds moving on in September. This also coincides with the most expensive International flights (circa. £650-£900 per person ex UK)
October Half Term in Kenya coincides with the short rains (late September, October, November): This season is known as the short rains. A little rain falls during these months, usually early in the morning or late in the evening, but nothing to hamper your enjoyment of the Maasai Mara. The roads in the park are also fine.