The only city in the world spanning two continents, Istanbul blends the best of Eastern and Western cultures. Flanked by Ottoman domes and Greek and Roman palaces, the city's skyline is a stunning site just begging to be explored. For couples on their honeymoon, the romance here can be felt at every turn as you roam through remnants of an empire that endured for over 1,500 years. Don't think it's all ancient history, though. Istanbul is embracing modern times with former bank vaults and Neoclassical buildings transforming into contemporary art galleries and boutique hotels. Here are five other reasons why this cosmopolitan city offers plenty of romance for honeymooners looking for a getaway that's heavy on culture while still whimsical enough to offer an exotic escape that feels far from your typical European getaway.
1. History at Every Turn
Maybe you're more into museums and they're more into exploring architecture and history. You won't have to worry about your first fight as a married couple just yet. Compromising won't be hard when it comes to sightseeing in Istanbul. In Old Istanbul, or the Sultanahmet district, you'll be walking in the streets that once held Roman-era chariot races. Soak in the city's culture touring the sixth-century Hagia Sophia museum (formerly a Greek Orthodox basilica and mosque) before heading underground to the fourth-century Basilica Cistern, the largest of hundreds of Byzantine cisterns still sitting beneath the city. When you're ready for a break from sightseeing, get lost in the maze of shops at the Grand Bazaar. One of the oldest covered markets in the world, the bazaar is filled with over 5,000 vendors selling everything from gold to ceramics and spices, and it's one of the best places to buy your first piece of home décor as a married couple. Turkish rug, anyone?
2. Home of the Turkish Bath
Sure, you've visited hammams and steam rooms at spas back in the States, but nothing compares to an authentic Turkish bath set in a historic building built by sultans in centuries past. Out of Istanbul's 237 hammams, 60 are still in use, ranging from the more traditional experience to something spa-like. This is the part where you and your new spouse will go your separate ways indulging in a full scrub-down leaving you cleaner and more refreshed than you've ever felt before. If you want something on the more modern side that still sports an ancient feel, book treatments at the recently renovated 16th-century Kiliç Ali Pasa, set in one of the harbor's landmark Ottoman-style buildings.
3. Turkish Breakfast
Thought Sunday brunch was lavish? Wait until you sit down for your first Turkish breakfast. One of the most scenic spots to indulge in this spread is along the water at the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus. Take a seat on the terrace and get ready to dig into a Turkish tradition with the typical mix of eggs, yogurt, olives, feta cheese, and Kaymak clotted cream, served alongside pastries and Turkish tea.
4. Golden Sunsets
The city literally glows gold come sunset and both sides of the Bosphorus—as well as on the strait itself—offer up picture-perfect views. Head up to Büyük Çamlica Tepesi, or Big Camalica Hill, on the Asian side, known for some of the most stunning sunset vistas of the city. Sitting almost 900 feet high with panoramic views over the southern part of the Bosphorus and Golden Horn, the hill is the tallest of Istanbul's seven, with charming pavilions to post up under. On the European side in Galata, make your way to the top of the 14th-century stone Galata Tower for sunset cocktails and 360-degree views of the city.
5. Cruising Between Continents
One of the best ways to admire the city is by cruising between it on the Bosphorus Strait, which divides the Asian and European sides of Istanbul. Set off at sunset toasting to your new union with champagne as you admire the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman landmarks lining either side of the strait. As the sunset seeps away, the scene will be replaced by glowing lights twinkling from buildings and bridges over the water.