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Turkish Delight Bursting at the seams with culture, art, history and fabulous food, bustling Istanbul is the ultimate city break

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Istanbul city

Istanbul city

Erin at the Grand Bazaar

Erin at the Grand Bazaar

The central Novotel Istanbul Bosphorus

The central Novotel Istanbul Bosphorus

Food to feast on

Food to feast on

The famous Hagia Sophia

The famous Hagia Sophia

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Istanbul city

The cat was black and fluffy with pointy ears, and very cute. I approached it without caution and reached to pet its head. And just like that, it had scratched my hand.


It didn’t draw blood but I could feel a shot of pain as I stood nursing my hand. This was not a random cat on a street in Dublin, but one of the many strays that seem to be everywhere in Turkey, and especially in Istanbul.

There are cats lazing outside kebab shops, cats in restaurants where they slink around the customers’ legs, and even cats in mosques. At one point, I saw a high-end designer shop with a stunning bejewelled gown on display — and a cat asleep on the window, underneath it.

Don’t be put off, however, by my run-in with an unfriendly puss — which took place in Taksim Square, in the centre of Istanbul. Most of the furry felines are friendly, as they depend on strangers for food.

There is, of course, far more to Istanbul than cats. This is a vibrant metropolis of over 15 million people, which is bursting with culture, due in part to its unique geographical location. Divided by the impressive Bosphorus strait, one half of Istanbul is in Europe and the other in Asia.

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The central Novotel Istanbul Bosphorus

The central Novotel Istanbul Bosphorus

The central Novotel Istanbul Bosphorus

Given that it’s just a three-and-a-half hour flight from Dublin, Istanbul is a fantastic city break, combining history, culture and art, with great restaurants and an exciting nightlife.

We were lucky to fly business class with Turkish Airlines which made the journey even sweeter with access to the exclusive airport lounge and, once on board, spacious reclining seats, mouth-watering Turkish cuisine and a wide selection of drinks.

Arriving in Istanbul, it’s hard not to be struck by the sheer size of the airport. Opened in 2018, it’s the biggest in the world. The size of the city also quickly becomes apparent.

On a short break you can only hope for a tantalising taste of Istanbul, so there’s no time to be wasted. We don our walking shoes and begin with a visit to the Hagia Sophia. This iconic sixth century Byzantine building towers elegantly above the city. Once the centre of religious, political and artistic life in Istanbul, it was built as a church, turned into a mosque after 900 years, later again was a museum and more recently it became a mosque once more.

Marvel at the stately marble columns, the intricate mosaics, gold calligraphy and the beautiful dome, which delicately filters the daylight above you.

There are no seats but you can sit down on the thick turquoise carpet of the mosque. It’s hard not to be struck by a sense of peace and hushed reverence inside this stunning building. A 10-minute walk away is Topkapi Palace. This ornate structure was the court of the Ottoman Empire, housing famous sultans, courtiers, concubines and eunuchs, between the 15th and the 19th centuries.

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The famous Hagia Sophia

The famous Hagia Sophia

The famous Hagia Sophia

It reflects the wealth, status and history of the Turkish ruling class at every turn. Highlights include the Armoury, which has an impressive selection of ornate swords and antique weaponry on display.

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In the Treasury, you can admire the beautifully crafted jewellery of the era. Leave some time to wander leisurely through the four perfectly manicured courtyards in the Turkish sunshine. All the while saving energy for the Grand Bazaar.

This vast, bustling, covered market dates back to 1455 and is retail heaven for those who like a bargain. It houses over 4,000 shops and stalls selling everything from luxury leather goods to antiques and carpets, jewellery and knock-off designer fare.

Be prepared to haggle with handsome Turkish traders who will offer you Turkish tea and flirt unashamedly for a sale. You’ll be hungry after all that haggling and you’ll find lots of restaurants in the warren of side streets off Taksim Square.

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Food to feast on

Food to feast on

Food to feast on

Expect a delicious selection of hot and cold mezze dishes for starters. Hummus, baba ganoush, haydari (garlic yoghurt dip) and muhammara (roasted red pepper and walnut dip), among many others, all come with hot-out-of-the-oven flat bread.

A kebab is a must for the mains, although the Turkish kebab is an altogether more elegant affair than the Irish take-away version. Think succulent, finely-seasoned lamb pieces on skewers with fresh chargrilled peppers, onions and tomatoes. You’ll need a glass of the surprisingly good Turkish wine to wash it down. And do check under the table for a friendly cat. Chances are you’ll find one!

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