In a place like Istanbul, it’s not just a question of seeing the sights. ELISE RANA gives an all-sensory guide to enjoying Turkey’s finest city.

If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.” French romantic poet Alphonse de Lamartine certainly had a point with this little quip. But the eyes shouldn’t have it all – for this is the City of Grand Delights, a treat for all the senses. Best to let them be your guide.

Istanbul’s continent-bridging status gives it an interesting history, to say the least, and nowhere is this more beautifully illustrated than in its most famous monument. Built by Justinian at the heart of the Byzantine Empire, Aya Sofya reigned for nearly 1000 years as Christendom’s greatest church. With the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, it was converted by Mehmet – the Conqueror – into a mosque. Today it’s a museum, its vast dome and graceful minarets the centrepiece of the city’s Golden Horn skyline, and glory not just to God but to the achievements of humankind. Raise your eyes skyward as you enter and even if you don’t fall over backwards, you’ll be lost for words.

Turkish music isn’t all wailing pop divas, despite what the taxis may blare at you. Last summer, acclaimed documentary Crossing The Bridge: The Sound Of Istanbul proved just this with its showcase of national heroes like rocker Erkin Koray and superstar songstress Sezen Aksu along with fringe acts like rapper Ceza and grungecore bands Duman and Replikas. Istanbul, at its core, is a rock ‘n’ roll city, the movie claims – so pick up a copy of Time Out Istanbul, head out to some of the city’s ever-multiplying clubs and live venues with your ears pricked up and check it out for yourself.

It may feel at times like an overspill of the tout-assault course that is the Grand Bazaar, but the Spice Bazaar still retains a charm and ‘local’ feel that makes it almost more worthy of a visit than its big brother (unless you do happen to be in the market for a carpet or knock-off designer handbag, that is). Middle Eastern food is all about the aromatics – rosewater, cinnamon, mint – and with stacks of every herb, spice, potion and lotion on sale it’s an olfactory experience that must be sniffed at. Feeling hungry? Continue out into the warren of surrounding streets and try – go on, just you try – to resist the smell of the kebabs being cooked on huge open grills.

You know that dubious-looking chocolate-covered goo in the pink wrapper? Well, forget that. The real Turkish Delight is to be found here, its birthplace, at the original shop on Hamidiye Caddesi, established in 1777 by one Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir.
The Turkish sweet tooth is a voracious and inventive thing, and it was Ali Muhiddin’s disatisfaction with soft traditional desserts and unyielding hard candies that led him to create a delectably squidgy halfway house between the two – rahat lokum, the ‘comfortable morsel’ went down a storm with the palace and it became a prized delicacy across the Empire and beyond. His descendants are still there today, serving up the divine-tasting and beautifully packaged treats (don’t leave without trying the traditional rosewater or the pistachio-studded ones).

Modern-day Istanbul houses only a fraction of the hamams existing in Ottoman times, when these communal bath-houses – inherited from the Byzantines and the Romans before them – became an integral social part of the culture, a day-long affair of exfoliation, depilation and chatting to your friends/relatives/business associates. Still, you shouldn’t pass up a chance to experience the steamy, soapy delights of the Turkish bath when you’re here.

Constructed in 1741 and committed to celluloid in numerous films, Cagaloglu on Yerebetan Caddesi is the city’s most impressive hamam and to be lathered up and pummelled here is to follow in the footsteps of everyone from Kaiser Wilhelm and Florence Nightingale to Indiana Jones. The ‘Sultan Treatment’ costs around €30 and includes bath, massage and exfoliation.

• Elise Rana travelled in Turkey with Fez Travel (+90 212 516 9024). Tours start at £199 including transport, guide and three-star accommodation with breakfast.