10 reasons Istanbul is the best city on Earth

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If our city walls could talk, they’d recite hundreds of legends involving mythological gods, prophecies fulfilled, and tales of love lost and betrayal that make our city so enchanting. The Bosphorus itself — the strait between Asia and Europe — was born of the myth of the beautiful mortal Io. She was turned into a cow by Zeus to hide their tryst from his vengeful wife, Hera. Not to be fooled, Hera stung Io with a horsefly, sending Io crashing away, leaving behind the legendary strait — otherwise known as the “passage of the cow”.

From Ancient Hellenic sites to modern-day architectural feats, our enduring monuments — the ancient Hippodrome, the 20th-century Bosphorus bridges, August Jasmund’s Sirkeci train station, Mimar Sinan’s Süleymaniye Mosque — are celebrated worldwide for their grandeur and style.

The seven hills of Istanbul transform into a winter wonderland when the temperatures drop towards zero from December. Snowball fights in Sultanahmet Park, surrounded by the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque dusted in snow, is a favorite way to spend a winter’s day in the city.

Speaking of remnants — we can also access the Istanbul of centuries past by heading underground. Organized tours take us directly into the Byzantine past, to the bygone palaces that undergird our mosques, to ancient chapels hidden under the kilim stores of Sultanahmet. The spaces our ancestors used as cisterns are today restaurants and wedding halls. If you want to catch a glimpse of this subterranean shadow city, make sure to check out the Museum of Great Palace Mosaics in Sultanahmet Square, the Basilica Cistern next to the Hagia Sophia, and Sultan Sarnıç (now a wedding ceremony hall).

The winter greys make way for springtime colors in April when 20 million tulips bloom throughout our city for the annual International Istanbul Tulip Festival. With camera in hand, we head to Emirgan and Gülhane parks to see the best of the displays the city has to offer.

Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and Agatha Christie all found their muse in Istanbul. Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk earned a Nobel Prize for his writings about the city. Countless songwriters, poets, designers, and photographers have all uncovered a creative utopia here.

International festivals celebrating theatre, film, music, jazz, visual arts, and culture at large take center stage on a yearly basis, complementing the regular events at Istanbul Modern, Pera Museum, Santral Istanbul, Garajistanbul, and the art galleries of Tophane.

We say drinking Turkish coffee with friends is worth 40 years of friendship, but the dark grinds within the coffee cup can show how loyal those friendships will remain. Inquisitive souls can head to the kahve falı (coffee reading) cafés in Kadıköy and off Istiklal Street to slowly sip a demitasse of Turkish coffee before having their fortune read to see what fate awaits them.

A blend of three empires, eight bordering countries, four neighbouring seas, and myriad ethnicities goes into our cuisine. Add to the mix generous amounts of Western gourmet influences and spicy flavours from Southeast Asia, and you’ve got some of the best food anywhere.

The absence of a city center means our neighbourhoods are the places to appreciate the lifestyles that make our city so vast and wondrous. You can people-watch in a café in tourist-friendly Sultanahmet, get down with the city buskers of bohemian Galata, feast on the gourmet delights of culinary Karaköy, and explore Kadıköy and Moda, the newest hotspots for Istanbul’s youth.

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