Istanbul. It’s 12pm and as I roll off the bus from Ephesus the urge to explore grips immediately. An Islamic city without the radical factor is an attractive option in this day and age.

The peaceful Topkapi Palace is first cab off the rank. In its outdoors, all four courtyards of it, the silence is only broken by the soft tweets of the avian residents.

Destination guide: Istanbul

This air of serenity is accompanied by a rich royal history: Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1494-1566) insisted everyone walked around in silence to avoid compromising his tranquility. However his son Selim (1524-1574), known as The Sot (drunkard), lacked his father’s regal composure and eventually drowned on a bathhouse floor after an indulgent tryst with champagne.

Another sultan, Ibrahim the mad (1615 -1648) ordered his counsel to find him the most obese woman possible and nicknamed his new sex pet ‘Piece of Sugar’. Then, upon hearing gossip that his concubines had been sullied by another man, he had 280 of his harem drowned in the Bosporus Sea. Speaking of impressive stories, the palace also houses a hair from the beard of the prophet Mohammed and an atrophied hand of St John the Baptist.

The next day, palace curiosity satiated, the requisite visit to the Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque, where the high ceiling is lined with the 20,000 blue tiles that give the mosque its popular name and create one of Istanbul’s finest sights, is completed.

Then the Aya Sofia – once the greatest church in Christendom until the Muslim conquests of 1453 when it was converted to a mosque  – beckons. Inside, the Muslims covered every exisiting gilded mosaic with their own art but the original, magnificent depictions of Christianity are gradually being restored.

Book an Anzac Day tour

Istanbul old and new

Later, I sail calmly on a boat down the Bosphorous Strait between the Europe and Asia. The saline-infused air is rejuvenating as I study the shores of a city that has seen many rises and falls.

Imposing, centuries-old fortresses guard silently on verdant hills while, sprawled among Ottoman architecture, chic outdoor cafes have their genteel hub-bub disturbed only by the wailing of the call to prayer.

The mosques and markets of Istanbul

If there’s enough of you, hire a private boat for as little as 30TL each at the wharf. The standard tourist cruise boats blast out garish disco music, ruining the peace.

Eat a kebab in Istanbul.

What to eat in Istanbul

Sailing creates an appetite but it’s too far to backtrack to where I had lunch – the generous Pudding Shop Lale restaurant (near the Blue Mosque) – so I head to nearby Zinhan Kebab house. It was originally a women’s prison but the fare is as far from jail grub as you can get. As I tuck in, the realisation dawns that this a high-class, but not budget-blowing, way to experience Turkish cuisine.

My magnificent chicken shish, punctuated with sharp sparks of spice, plants itself firmly in the number one spot of my Turkish taste experiences.

And Zinhan keeps on giving: high above the city, it proves a great spot for night-time pics – imagine illuminated mosques, glowing to let the big man in the sky know he’s never forgotten, complemented by the glimmering emanations from the city’s lights as Istanbul comes to life for the night ahead.

Istanbul, Anzac Day

Anzac day in Turkey

Head to Gallipoli this Anzac Day on April 25 to pay your personal tribute to the troops from NZ and OZ who fought so bravely in World War I. The only way to attend the Anzac Day ceremonies is on an organised trip run by a tour company.

Book an Anzac Day tour

Most Anzac Day tours leave Istanbul on April 24. It’s then a six-hour journey to Gallipoli. Once you arrive, you will secure a spot on the grass until the Dawn Service begins, which is a simple but poignant ceremony remembering the heroism and sacrifice of the soldiers who waded ashore in the first light of April 25, 1915. Take a sleeping bag.

Anzac Day tours will include trips to the Lone Pine Australian Memorial and the New Zealand Memorial.

Gallipoli, Turkey on Anzac Day

Essential information

WHEN TO GO: Any time, but spring and autumn are best. August is extremely hot.
GETTING THERE: Plenty of flights leave London daily for Istanbul, which has two airports: the major Atatürk International Airport and Sabiha Gökçen Airport further afield.
GETTING AROUND: The tram and bus are easy and cheap to use. There’s also the funicular, which takes you up to Beyoglu.
VISAS: Australians and South Africans need to buy their visas at the airport in Turkey for £10, €10 or US$10 cash.
CURRENCY: Turkish lira. 1 GBP = 2.29 TRY. Euros are often accepted for accommodation.
LANGUAGE: Turkish.
GOING OUT: A beer costs about 2.25 lira.
ACCOMMODATION: Dorm beds cost from €11; a double room in a budget hotel is from €50.

» Jahn Vannisselroy travelled to Turkey with On The Go Tours (020 7371 1113; on the 11-day ANZAC Bonzer tour – £599 including nine nights’ three-star accommodation, an English-speaking Turkish guide, transfers and transport, nine breakfasts and six dinners.