Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, constituting the country's economic, cultural, and historical heart. With a population of 13.9 million, the city forms one of the largest urban agglomerations in Europe and is among the largest cities in the world by population within city limits.
Having served as the capital of three different empires throughout the history the city is no longer the capital of Turkey, however still remains the country's cultural and business centre. Considered a global city, Istanbul is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan economies in the world. It hosts the headquarters of many Turkish companies and media outlets and accounts for more than a quarter of the country's gross domestic product.
Istanbul is the world's only metropolis that lies on two continents, linking East and West, present and past. An appreciation of the past - both cultural and monumental - and a willingness to forge the old with the new are two of Istanbul's greatest assets. Both are vital factors in the creation of a city identity that is unique and always fascinating.
With the lean minarets piercing the sky alongside glittering modern skyscrapers, there is no other place on earth that matches Istanbul when it comes to contrasting old and new and East and West. Istanbul is a hectic mix of cultures, styles, smells, and lifestyles, and it can be a challenge for the uninitiated. The city's over-abundance of important historic buildings and exciting new art galleries and museums provides visitors with more than enough to see during the day, but it's at night that the place swings into high-velocity, mega-stylish action.
Among the awe-inspiring historical sites to see in Istanbul are; Blue Mosque, with its fascinating blue tile exterior, Haga Sofia, the church-turned-mosque-turned-museum, whose interior size and grandeur will take your breath away, Topkapı Palace, home to generations of sultans and the harems and peaceful Yerebatan Cistern where you can wander on walkways over the water, with classical music playing in the background.
The culture of Istanbul is reflected very much in its culinary tradition too. A rich and diverse blend of cultural influences accumulated over the years, the cuisine of Istanbul offers visitors an extravagant spread of the very best traditional Turkish dishes.
Istanbul has a climate which is influenced by a continental climate, with hot and humid summers and cold, wet and occasionally snowy winters. Sun in the summer, snow in the winter, but the humidity is a constant in sea-encircled Istanbul. Festival-filled spring and autumn are the best times to visit Istanbul, but the chill of the winter is brightened up by magical snowfalls and relaxed evenings by the Bosphorus is the upside of the humid heat in the summer.
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