By Azamara Club Cruises on Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Istanbul, Turkey is where West meets East, and tourists can visit Europe and Asia in the same day. The city is an exotic, fascinating mix of old and new. World travel expert Lee Abbamonte wrote “Istanbul can be maddening at times, but Istanbul is a treat for the senses and will take your breath away. It is one of my favorite cities in the world.”
We currently have 28 voyages that begin or end in Istanbul. Once you book, you might want to extend your vacation by a few days to explore this incredible city. Or, make the most of your time in Istanbul by choosing a Land Discoveries tour that will help you hit all the highlights. Our voyages feature late-night departures and overnight stays, so there’s no need to rush. Though Istanbul itself is a bustling metropolis, your time there shouldn’t feel hectic. After all, you’re on vacation!
Istanbul has lots to offer, but we’ve narrowed down the list to five things you must experience while you’re there.
Istanbul is home to many incredible museums that highlight the city’s rich history. Topkapi Palace (pictured here) was home to Ottoman Sultans (and their harems) for over 300 years, but is now a museum. Visit to see the grandeur of the palace, the famous Topkapi Diamond, and other historical treasures.
The famous Hagia Sophia was once a church, then a mosque, and is now a museum. This makes it one of the most interesting places in Istanbul, both historically and architecturally. You’ll see both Ottoman and Byzantine influences under one great dome, as well as spectactular Byzantine mosaics that weren’t uncovered and refurbished until 1930.
For those with a deeper interest in history, the Istanbul Archaelogy Museums are a highlight and can be found near Topkapi Palace.
Istanbul’s Blue Mosque is the city’s most famous mosque, and absolutely worth visiting. From the outside, you may wonder how the mosque got its name. Inside, the Blue Mosque is covered with 20,000 spectacular, shimmering blue-green tiles. 260 stained glass windows and intricate floral patterns painted on the ceiling give the mosque a bright, airy atmosphere very different from the experience of the Hagia Sophia.
Of course, the Blue Mosque is not the only beautiful mosque in Istanbul. The Süleymaniye Mosque is the second-largest in the city, and features a grand courtyard. At Rüstem Pasha, you’ll find the best examples of Iznik tiles (the distinctive Ottoman decoration) in all of Istanbul.
Turkish cuisine is diverse, flavorful and world-renowned. Indulging in street food is a must, as well as enjoying a leisurely late-night dinner. (There’s another reason to be thankful that Azamara ships stay late in port – great cuisine should never be rushed!)
Döner: Turkey’s most popular street food, a sandwich filled with meat (usually lamb) that has been thinkly sliced from a rotating spit.
Börek: Phyllo pastries with a variety of fillings, like ground meat, cheese and spinach.
Meze: Instead of a main course, order these shareable plates of cold starters. Eggplant, artichokes, yogurt, chilis and tomatos are common ingredients.
Midye: Mussels (and seafood in general) are popular in Istanbul. You’ll see roving vendors carrying baskets piled with shells, which have been stuffed with mussels, rice, herbs and spices. At snack bars, look for mussels that have been battered and fried.
Kumpir: Huge baked potatos, taken hot out of the oven and split, then filled with a variety of toppings – cheese, pickles, olives and more. It’s not uncommon to ask for six or seven ingredients. The kumpir-maker mixes everything up and stuffs it back into the potato skin.
Simit: Sesame-coated bread rings. Simit is the ultimate street food – cheap, delicous, easy to eat and seemingly available on every corner.
Baklava: A popular Turkish dessert made with phyllo pastry, nuts and syrup.
Turkish Tea and Coffee: Turkish black tea is the national drink, and consumed plentifully. Turks often add cubed sugar, but never lemon or milk. Turkish coffee is made with sugar and very finely ground coffee. It’s typically double- or triple-boiled, with some of the grinds remaining in the bottom of the cup. The result is a strong, flavorful cup of coffee that is traditionally served with a glass of water.
Rugs, linens, fabrics, jewelry, art, antiques, spices, ceramics… the list of things to buy in Istanbul is endless! Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. It spans 61 streets, is home to over 3,000 shops and attracts anywhere from 250,000 to 400,000 daily visitors. Bring your bargaining skills, and take your time as you wander this incredible complex.
Photo Credit: Azamara guest Diane
Sometimes night is the best part of your day. In Istanbul, that couldn’t be truer. The city is vibrant and fun-loving, and comes alive after dark. Settle in at a meyhame for platters of hot and cold meze, or find a great rooftop patio where you can sip a cocktail and take in the views.
This June voyage embarks from Dubrovnik, Croatia and visits several popular Greek ports before concluding with an overnight stay in Istanbul.
By Azamara Club Cruises on Thursday, March 19, 2015
Beaches are great, but there’s more to summer than sunbathing. Imagine strolling down the cobblestoned streets of a village that appears to be straight from the pages of a fairytale, or cruising through mystical Fjords highlighted by picturesque waterfalls. The natural beauty of Northern Europe is best experienced in the summer, and it will take your breath away.
Belfast is no longer a destination that travelers should avoid. The city has undergone quite the transformation and visitor numbers are on the rise. Find Donegall Square in the heart of the city to see the Edwardian City Hall, and the Titanic Memorial. Afterwards, grab a pint at the Crown Liquor Saloon, a Victorian pub dating back to the 1880s.
Copenhagen is known for its skyline of spires, its colorful waterfront and its beautiful parks. Explore Tivoli Gardens, or cruise the canals with our Land Discoveries tour.
Douglas, Isle of Man
Douglas on the Isle of Man is small, but definitely worth visiting. Charming cafes and restaurants line the sea front, gardens brighten up quaint streets, and the island’s village of Cregneash is home to the fascinating Manx community.
A cruise through the Norwegian Fjords might remind some of Disney’s hit film Frozen. It’s a place so magical, you’ll think you must have entered a fairytale. A small luxury cruise ship is the ultimate way to explore the fjords and see the spectacular Seven Sisters Waterfalls.
When our ships dock in Edinburgh (Leith), Scotland, we often spend several nights. You’ll be thrilled to have so much time to explore this incredible city. Begin your day at Edinburgh Castle, perched high above the city.
The quiet seaside town of Cobh in County Cork is your gateway to this stunning part of Ireland. Explore Cobh’s hitosry of seafaring and relationship with the Titanic, see the fortress and monestrey on Spike Island, or take the train to the charming village of Cork.
Traditional architecture meets modern design in Helsinki. Visit Kauppatori Market Square to find fresh, local food and unique handicrafts. Join our Land Discoveries tour, and you’ll visit one of the largest ice bars in the world. How cool is that?
Fans of the British TV series Broadchurch have all fallen in love with the show’s locale, England’s stunning Jurassic Coast. Dover’s steep white cliffs and sparkling ocean made for a stunning panorama, so pack your camera.
Honningsvag, Norway, is the last village before North Cape and home to only 4,000 people. From Honningsvag, you can the majestic cliff of North Cape where the Atlantic meets the Arctic.
St. Petersburg, Russia
Enjoy several days exploring art and history in St. Petersburg, Russia. The stunning Catherine Palace (pictured here), the Hermitage, Peter and Paul Fortress and the Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood are only a few of the city’s must-see spots. Land Discoveries tours can help you make the most of your time in port.
Isle of Skye, Scotland
Portree, Scotland is your gateway to the magical Isle of Skye. Soak in the ambiance of rolling green hills, thick misty air and rugged coastline. The spectacular Quirang hike will leave you breathless. This is what Scotland is all about.
Guernsey, Channel Islands
If you’re in a book club, there’s a good chance you’ve read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The work of fiction brings Guernsey during wartime to life for readers. The small island of Guernsey was occupied by Germans during WWII, a fact that makes it such an interesting place to visit today.
Love sports? Music? History? There’s something for everyone in Liverpool. The city is home to excellent rugby, football (or, soccer, to Americans) and golf, and is the birthplace of The Beatles.
Tromso, Norway is situated far North of the Arctic Circle, and boasts a dramatic landscape of snowcapped mountains, stunning fjords and scattered islands. The town’s Arctic Cathedral is an architecural masterpiece, with eleven arching triangles representative of icebergs.
The fairytale-like town of Tallinn, Estonia will charm you immediately. There’s no need to rush here. Find a seat at an outdoor cafe along the Palace Square and enjoy your surroundings.
Ahh, Athens. The cradle of European civilization and the birthplace of democracy. That’s quite a reputation! Athens offers incredible sightseeing opportunities for tourists, thanks to the immense history of the city. But there’s another side to Athens, too. Resident Athenians and visiting night owls have been showcashing the incredible beauty of the city after dark using the hashtag #AthensByNight on Instagram. We searched through thousands of photos and selected ten of our favorites to share.
Athens glows at night. It’s the perfect city to take a few days to explore, before or after your cruise. Azamara Club Cruises has sixteen upcoming voyages that embark or disembark in nearby Piraeus.
The Acropolis is a wondrous place to visit during the day, but it’s even more beautiful when it’s lit up at night. In the evening, find a rooftop bar that faces the historic site and enjoy a glass of Ouzo and your breathtaking surroundings. Though hotel bars aren’t often frequented by locals, “A” for Athens in Monastiraki is an exception. The Terrace Bar at Central Hotel is another favorite. Wherever you go, arrive early to ensure you get a good view.
Culture lovers will enjoy Athens in the summer, when you can easily find outdoor concerts, folk dance and theater performances. The Lykavittós theatre is a magical venue, carved into rock and perched high above the city, close to the summit of Mount Lykavittós.
Athens is a foodie paradise. If you’re eating at a restaurant, check out what locals are ordering and follow suit. But don’t leave Athens without ordering a traditional Greek salad at least once. Horiatiki is a rustic salad made with tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, Kalamata olives and delicious feta cheese. No matter how great a Greek salad you think you’ve had before, it won’t compare to the real thing in Greece.
You also may want to try tyropita (cheese pies), souvlaki (kebabs), tyropita (cheese pies), and a tasty dessert of Greek coffee and baklava. Don’t forget to indulge in some street food! Greece is famous for its gyros. Gyro actually means “turn”, and the sandwich gets its name from the meat roasted on a vertical spit. The pita is filled with meat, onions, tomatos, french fries and tzatziki sauce.
Make your way to the Plaka neighborhood in Athens one evening. Plaka sits beneath the Acropolis, is the oldest section of Athens and is a favorite part of the city for many. You’ll be instantly charmed by the cobblestone streets lined with tavernas, cafes and shops. Sit back, sip on a frappé (a popular iced coffee drink) and enjoy the sounds of nearby street musicians.
While you’re in Plaka, visit Brettos. This old-fashioned distillery dates back to 1909, and draws guests in with its colorful, unique decor. The distillery boasts over 30 flavors of liquors, based on delicious Mediterranean fruits, herbs and spices. You can also sample Greek wines by the glass.
At Syntagma Square, you’ll find the Greek Parliament building. Visit during the day to witness the Changing of the Guards (this occurs every hour), but return at night for another photo opportunity – the illuminated building is beautiful.
World traveler Lee Abbamonte wrote a blog about visiting Athens and said: “…Ask the locals what’s good when you’re there, if you want a little off the beaten path. Athenians love to help tourists and share their city.”
Croatia is a beautiful country, home to many ports we love to call on. But Dubrovnik, with its stunning coastline, sparkling turquoise waters, medieval city walls and red tiled roofs, has a special place in our hearts. These things also make Dubrovnik one of the most photogenic cities in the world, the kind of place you daydream about while sitting at your desk on a dreary Monday.
Dubrovnik’s ancient city walls are the finest in the world, and the main attraction for most visitors. They provide stunning views over Old Town, and the sparkling Adriatic Sea. Take your time as you walk the walls, stopping for breaks and photo opportunities. Don’t forget to bring a couple bottles of complimentary water from your stateroom for your day of exploring! Though as this next photo shows, Dubrovnik is stunning even in stormy weather.
Dubrovnik is just as beautiful – maybe even more so – at night. Try local wines and fresh seafood at restaurants in Old Town, and mingle with friendly locals at quaint pubs. Live music, especially at the jazz-focused Troubador Cafe. Absorbing the nightlife is one of the best ways to really get to know a city, and one of the reasons Azamara ships stay later in port. In fact, we have two upcoming cruises that include overnight stays in Dubrovnik:
In addition to incredible history, cuisine and shopping, Croatia is known for its beautiful beaches. Dubrovnik’s Banje Beach may be pebbly, but is still a favorite spot for swimming, sunbathing and people-watching. This August 2015 cruise includes a stop in Dubrovnik.
By Azamara Club Cruises on Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Love is all around. Especially in these romantic spots! It’s easy to be happy when you’re with the one you love, but visiting these swoon-worthy destinations during a luxury cruise will add to the enchantment.
1. Santorini, Greece
Santorini is the epitome of a Greek island daydream. The whitewashed villages, blue roofs, cliffside views and sparkling waters make it an idyllic paradise. Since we stay late in port, you can relax and watch the sunset with that special someone.
2. The Norwegian Fjords
Who said summer has to be hot? There’s something wonderful about snuggling up together with cups of hot cocoa and taking in some of the most breathtaking views nature has to offer. Cruising the Norwegian fjords on a small luxury ship is an experience you’ll never forget. Just like love, memories last forever!
Ooh la la! When we think of romance, we think of France. This transatlantic cruise was made for lovers. From Honfleur, you can enjoy an exursion to Paris, “The City of Love”. Cross the Atlantic and call on Montreal and Quebec City, two of Canada’s most beautiful (and most romantic) cities.
5. Venice, Italy
If France has a competitor for the most romantic country in the world, it’s Italy. If you want a dreamy, amorous atmosphere, look no further than Venice. Take in a sunset gondola ride, then listen to the orchestras perform at St. Mark’s Square at night. It will be a date night you’ll never forget. This June 2015 cruise embarks from Venice, so you can spend a few days there before setting off for other charming ports along the Adriatic.
Give the gift of world travel to the one you love! Our Valentine’s Day Special is on until February 16, 2015. Click here to view the offer.