Although not the official capital of Turkey, Istanbul is still very much the heart of all activities of the country. It is Turkey's largest and most populated city, and is also the centre of tourism of the country. It's played a huge role in the history of the Roman and Ottoman empires, and the city's rich heritage can still be seen in the many imperial structures.
Of the many names the city has had, the name Istanbul has actually served for the shortest time so far. Known as Byzantium and Constantinople throughout history, the city of Istanbul has always been one of the most important European cities. Today, it is the 7th largest city in the world, and also one of the most heavily populated. Any visit to Turkey should always include Istanbul. The city's vibrance and imperial heritage make it one of the most beautiful cities you can visit in the country and indeed in Europe. It served as the capital of both, the Byzantine and the Ottoman empires, and the numerous cathedrals, mosques and palaces erected by the rulers can still be seen all over the city. Most of these beautiful structures can be seen along the Bosphorus Strait, the thin dividing waterway between Europe and Asia, between European Turkey and Asian Turkey. Cruises along the strait are a hugely popular activity as they afford you some spectacular views of the cityscape. When we talk about cityscape, the marvellous structures of Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the Topkapi Palace and the Dolmabahe Palace just have to be mentioned, widely considered to be the most imposing and important buildings in the city today. Almost all of these buildings today serve as museums, providing insight into the grand lives of the emperors and kings, spectacular Byzantine and later European architecture, and also some stunning works of art. Not just these imperial museums, Istanbul also has some splendid gardens, such as the Gulhane and the Emirgan, which come alive during spring when the tulips start to bud and the colours start to flourish. The city is also a shopper's paradise, with one of the world's first 'shopping malls', the Grand Bazaar, and several streets dedicated to all types of shops and stores. And then when you're done with everything, you can let loose at some of the best Istanbul bars with some amazing views of the city.
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