AS a travel writer, I normally try to avoid the cliches like “city of contrasts” and “a melting pot where East meets West”, but then I return to Istanbul. Türkiye’s largest city is both of those cliches writ large, a veritable assault on all the senses that soars across both banks of the lifeblood Bosphorus.

I joke about the cliches with jovial guide Ali Faik Anayurt as we bounce across the Bosphorus Strait on the old-timer ferries that still chug beneath the mosques, minarets and skyscrapers, dodging cruise ships, naval vessels and the new fleet of tourist boats.

“That is the thing about my city. It has so many colourful sides, it’s impossible to be bored here. Each of our districts is very different never mind just the European or Asian sides,” he smiles.

We arrive in Kadiköy on the Asian side, which is gloriously alive. Its raffish cafes and hipster bars remind me of East Berlin. It’s a less slick side of Istanbul compared to the European core around Taksim Square, almost feeling like a different city.

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We wander around with the cats – Istanbul is a city awash with cats, which my two daughters love. The cats pop up everywhere, from shop window displays to shopping baskets, even under your table in restaurants. My girls cannot stop taking photos of them.

Pushing back to Besiktas, our hotel lies in the shadow of the eponymous football team’s home ground, but Ali is a Galatasaray fan: “I remember your Graeme Souness, he was a hero for us and did some crazy things on and off the pitch. My girlfriend is half-Scottish, there are many links between our two countries. And we love your whisky too!”

Our hotel is the Conrad Istanbul Bosphorus (, a soaring five-star – our room on the 14th floor is like a helicopter ride over the city. I wake early every morning just to catch the sunrise over Istanbul. Their excellent Summit Bar & Terrace offers similarly impressive views along with superb sushi and an introduction to Türkiye’s excellent and seriously underrated wines – our sauvignon blanc is a minerally wonder.

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Part of the reason I’ve brought my girls here in the Easter holidays is to show them another world and we cut right to the heart of that at Hagia Sofia. Built as the world’s largest church, it was a museum the last few times I’ve been in Istanbul, but it has just recently been converted into one of Istanbul’s largest mosques. The architecture is breathtaking with its soaring domes and minarets; the call to prayer remarkable no matter your religious beliefs.

The Islamic faith was at the heart of the Ottoman Empire I studied at university, a vast richly cultured empire that reached the gates of Vienna. Just a few metres away lies Topkapi Palace. This elegant seat of the sultans is an oasis of flower-kissed gardens and wee courtyards. We wander its collections – my youngest, Emma, is stunned to find a staff said to have belonged to Moses, as well as some of the personal effects of the Prophet Muhammad.

There are plenty of specifically family-friendly attractions too in Istanbul. At the Museum of Illusions, my girls are contorted with mirrors, surreal imagery and all sorts of visual trickery for camera-pleasing photos that they are keen to share with their pals at home. There is no sharing the sweeties they snare at its Hans and Gretel shop.

The “shop” that really sets their synapses popping is the Grand Bazaar with its 3000 or so colourful traders. The aromas of myriad spice fill the air as waiters zoom cups of fresh apple tea into the carpet shops as part of their irrepressible sales pitch.

You could spend weeks delving through the layers of Istanbul’s cultures, religions and peoples. We spend four days savouring bite-sized chunks that set the girls’ minds whirring and lead to lots of questions over dinner.

And what meals we savour: Istanbul is one of the world’s great foodie cities. At Besiktas Kizilkayalar we sample delicious “wet burgers”, at Beltas in Ortakoy local fast food staple Kumpir (loaded baked potatoes), then a mezze-style feast at Yanyali Fehmi under the guidance of a TV chef.

One of our best meals is at Galataport, the new cruise ship dock with its shopping and entertainment hub on the European side. This district is just one demonstration of how Istanbul is not content to sit on its historical laurels, constantly weaving in the new alongside the old.

I wander by the latest outlet from Salt Bae (remember him for his impromptu appearance on the pitch at the World Cup final?), the soon-to-open Zara and settle into Muutto. Here we dine on octopus, king prawn and shashlik kebabs as the boats bob by and the lights of Asia blink back across the Bosphorus.

Not a bad place to finish a trip to this ultimate “city of contrasts”.

More information at Turkish Airlines ( fly to Istanbul from Edinburgh.