Although many Westerners will be familiar with Nobel Prize author Orhan Pamuk's description of Istanbul, I prefer that of another author, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar. He described Istanbul as "a composition". "This composition," he writes "came about from the fusion of many entities which are small or big, meaningful or meaningless, local or foreign, beautiful or ugly."
To this day, Istanbul remains a city of joyful paradoxes. Its 12 million inhabitants and 2,000 years of tumultuous history make it a beguiling place. Try to arrive at night for a festival of lights and an inkling of the excitement that awaits you, and be prepared for contrasts: west-east, wealth-poverty, modern-historical.
Kapalicarsii (the Covered Bazaar), for instance, used to be the innovation centre of the Ottoman Empire. Each year, representatives from 50 different unions presented their latest products to the Sultan, hoping to receive a prize. Nowadays, it is visited by thousands of tourists every day in search of souvenirs: you'll find anything from trinkets to carpets. Don't hesitate to shop around and haggle with the seller for the latter, since they can reach thousands of dollars.
To continue your historical voyage through the city, drop in at Beyoglu. This district was developed as an antithesis to Kapalicarsii in an effort to modernise the empire and reached the height of its influence in the last 100 years of the empire. Today Beyoglu is enjoying a new kind of prosperity.
Many local and foreign artists, as well as intellectuals, choose to live here and the area has a bohemian atmosphere. Beyoglu is the perfect place to recover from a hard day's sightseeing: sipping a cocktail at any of the roof bars around the area with a view of the Bosphorus doesn't get much better. Try Loft, the restaurant and bar inside Istanbul's Museum of Modern Art, or Reina, which doubles up as a night club.
Those bars are particularly popular with the business people of the neighbouring 'city' district of Levent. Just like every other business area in the world, it's full of skyscrapers built in the past 20 years. For a quick bite between meetings, try Tike, which serves traditional kebabs, or sit down at Sans Restaurant. Although most business meetings and events take place in Levent, businesspeople prefer to stay in the more lively districts of Taksim or the Old City.
The traffic can be terrible in Istanbul, so it's important to choose somewhere central. Hotel Marmara and Richmond Hotel are two good options in Taksim. The Four Seasons, at the heart of the Old City, is more upmarket and a short taxi ride away. Taxis are cheap, so the trip will cost you less than $10.
The Old City is a good base to explore Istanbul's sights, such as the Topkapi Palace (which houses the Ottoman Museum), the Yerebatan Basilica Cistern (a fine example of Byzantine era architecture), the Hagia Sophia Museum and the magnificent Suleymaniye Mosque. Its stunning Ottoman architecture conveys a sense of grandeur and depth.
A boat trip along the river will take in Istanbul's skyline and give you a sense of the city's divided identity. Hotels will be able to provide you with information on trips, from simple cruises to luxury packages. For a simpler option, take one of the ferries ($1) that run between Besiktas and uskudar. This 10-minute trip will take you from modern to traditional Istanbul, and from Europe to Asia. Uskudar is another world: fewer bars dot the streets and traditional values still reign.
Although it sounds cliched, dinner on the Bosphorus is a must. I would suggest Feriye, which serves fusion Turkish cuisine. At the crossroads of Europe and Asia, you will enjoy Istanbul's unique mix and wonderful diversity.