The Romantic Side of Istanbul, Turkey

It's easy to get lost in Istanbul. Whether your meandering down a twisting, cobblestone alleyway or walking through the Istanbul Grand Bazaar, getting lost will be a part of your journey, and it may very well be your favorite part. For each turn brings you another breathtaking view of a minaret backlit by the Sea of Marmara or past another friendly merchant ready to serve you a small glass of tea while he proudly shows you his rugs. In short, getting lost is the best way to truly experience this city.

Straddling two continents and once serving as the capital city of three major empires, Istanbul should be suffering from an identity crisis. Instead, the city on the Bosphorus is reveling in its unique status, enchanting travelers year round as one of the most romantic and intriguing destinations in the world.

Istanbul is split by the Bosphorus, the narrow channel that separates Europe from Asia while connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and on to the Aegean. Most visitors stay on the European side that contains old Istanbul, a land of mosques, palaces, bazaars and ruins, where simply the names—Haghia Sophia, Spice Bazaar, Blue Mosque—paint an exotic and irresistible portrait.

As old as civilization itself, Istanbul was simply known as "The City" for millennia, for it was accepted that there was no greater, richer or more powerful city anywhere in the world. Travel agents think it should be renamed "The Romantic City," for Istanbul has the power to inspire souls and lift hearts like no other.

Travel agents have the power to create the perfect romantic journey to Istanbul, complete with plenty of time for you to enjoy the major sites that seem to leap out at every turn. Notoriously friendly Turkish people will gladly take a photo of you and your partner in front of any of these classic postcard icons, like the Haghia Sophia, a true wonder of the world, with its richly decorated dome that stood out as the largest in all the lands for centuries.

Other classic sights include the 400-year-old Sultanahmet Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque for the priceless, bright blue Iznik tiles that decorate its interior; the Grand Bazaar, where rows and rows of merchants sell just about anything in the world's oldest indoor market; and the Topkapi Palace, 172 acres of garden-filled courtyards, ornate chambers, pools and passageways, that was home to the Ottoman imperial family for 450 years.

Once your "Must-See" checklist is all checked off, you can relax and let the romantic side of Istanbul sweep you off your feet. Romance begins each night with fine dining, for Turks simply don't dine any other way; the culinary landscape is a beauty to behold and savor. Surrounded by four seas, Turkey makes the most of fresh fish, but its culinary imagination is not limited to just aquatic creations. In fact, there are more than 100 varieties of kebabs; the hardest part is choosing.

Choosing continues to be difficult after the meal when it comes to your entertainment options. You can easily find a quiet bar where painters and writers meet on Istiklel Avenue near Taksim Square, lose yourself in the beats of a thumping nightclub right on the Bosphorus or become enthralled listening to a gypsy band play at a lively meyhane, Turkey's version of a trattoria.

From wherever you spend the evening, the Bosphorus will glimmer beneath the moonlight, begging you to return to its waters the next day. Romantics often do return for a ferry ride down this fabled waterway of legend and myth, a swathe of blue in constant, peaceful motion, animated with ferries, sailboats and fishermen. To Istanbulites, the Bosphorus is a treasured friend of many faces and moods, but always beautiful and winning. To you, it will become an enchanting presence, one you won't want to forget.

Along the riverbanks you'll spy beautiful, old wooden homes built along both sides of the strait. These yalis were where the city's wealthier residents in the 18th and 19th century would escape the bustle of the city and retreat to their gardens to sip tea and swim lazily beneath their bedroom windows. Yali means ‘shore,' and staying at these historic, architecturally wondrous summerhouses is the perfect way to complete your romantic journey to Istanbul, where your last days can be spent in complete tranquility, staring off across a river that never stands still.

Complete tranquility is a fabulous way to spend a vacation, but it can also be the ideal way to plan it. Why throw yourself into a hectic whirlwind of airline planning, hotel reservations, tour scouting and general safety when a travel agent or tour operator will gladly take care of these details for you? With more travel experience than your entire neighborhood combined, travel agents have special contacts around the world, and they'll gladly call upon those contacts to provide a unique and utterly wondrous vacation for you and your companion.

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