Istanbul (Turkish: İstanbul) is a city of fantastic history, culture and beauty. Called Byzantium in ancient times, the city's name was changed to Constantinople in 324 CE when it was rebuilt by the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine. The name "Istanbul", which - perhaps surprisingly - comes from Greek and could be translated as a corruption of "to the city". While the term had been in widespread use for centuries, it only became the official name of the city upon the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in the 1920s.
The most populous city in Europe, Istanbul forms the financial center of Turkey and confidently straddles the borders between Asia and Europe as it has for millennia: this is the result when you mix ancient Christendom, a medieval metropolis and the modern Middle East. Situated on either side of the Bosphorus, Istanbul retains its metropolitan status: the city's population is more than 14 million people, making it one of the largest cities in the world.
Lauded in antiquity as "the second Rome", this is a city where you most certainly should roam — culture and excitement lie around every corner and more than 2,000 years of history await you.
The system of districts and municipalities of Istanbul is quite sophisticated and was changed in 2009. Here is a simple division of the city into approximate regions:
|Sultanahmet/Fatih (The Old City) |
Essentially Constantinople of Roman, Byzantine, and much of the Ottoman period, this is the walled inner city, with most of the famous historical sights of Istanbul.
|Galata (Galata, Beyoğlu)|
Housing many of the nightlife venues of the city, this district which includes Galata, Istiklal Street, and Taksim Square has also its own share of sights and accommodation.
|New City |
Main business district of the city, also home to many modern shopping malls, and districts such as Elmadağ, Nişantaşı, Levent, and Etiler.
European bank of Bosphorus that is dotted by numerous palaces, parks, water-front mansions, and bohemian neighborhoods.
|Golden Horn |
Banks of Golden Horn, the estuary that separates European side into distinctive districts. Eyüp with an Ottoman ambience is located here.
|Princes' Islands |
An excellent getaway from the city, made up of an archipelago of nine car-free islands—some of them small, some of them big—with splendid wooden mansions, verdant pine forests and nice views— on the islands, and also on the way there.
|Asian Side |
Eastern half of Istanbul, with lovely neighborhoods at the Marmara and Bosphorus coasts.
|Western Suburbs |
Western chunk of the European side.
|“||Istanbul was Constantinople. Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople||”|
—Jimmy Kennedy, Istanbul (Not Constantinople), 1953
While relics of prehistoric human settlement were found in the Yarımburgaz Cave near the Küçükçekmece Lake and during the construction of a subway station in Yenikapı, Greek colonists from Megara, directed by their legendary leader Byzas, have been traditionally accepted as the founders of Istanbul. Expanding the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium by the order of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, the imperial city of Constantinople was for nearly a thousand years the heavily-fortified capital of the Eastern Roman (later termed Byzantine) Empire. To this day, the Ecumenical Patriarch, head of the Eastern Orthodox Church continues to be the Archbishop of Constantinople, who is still based in Istanbul. It was finally conquered by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II on 29 May 1453, an event sometimes used to mark the end of the Middle Ages. It was the nerve centre for military campaigns that were to enlarge the Ottoman Empire dramatically. By the mid-1500s, Istanbul, with a population of almost half a million, was a major cultural, political, and commercial centre. Ottoman rule continued until it was defeated in the first World War and Istanbul was occupied by the allies. When the Republic of Turkey was born in 1923 after the War of Independence, Kemal Atatürk moved its capital to the city of Ankara, strategically located in the centre of the new republic. However, Istanbul has continued to expand dramatically; today its population is approximately 14 million and increases at an estimated 400,000 immigrants per year. Industry has expanded even as tourism has grown. It continues to be a city that creates its own history at the intersection where both continents meet.
Istanbul is divided in three by the north-south Bosphorus Strait (İstanbul Boğazı, "the strait of Istanbul"), the dividing line between Europe and Asia, the estuary of the Golden Horn (Haliç) bisecting the western part and the Sea of Marmara (Marmara Denizi) forming a boundary to the south. Most sights are concentrated in the old city on the peninsula of Sultanahmet, to the west of the Bosphorus between the Horn and the Sea. Across the Horn to the north are Galata, Beyoğlu and Taksim, the heart of modern Istanbul, while Kadıköy is the major district on the comparatively less-visited Anatolian side of the city. The Black Sea forms the relatively less developed northern boundary of Istanbul.
|Climate chart (explanation)|
Istanbul has a temperate oceanic climate which is influenced by a continental climate, with hot and humid summers and cold, wet and occasionally snowy winters.
Istanbul has a high annual average rainfall of 844 mm (which is more than that of London, Dublin or Brussels, whose negative reputation Istanbul does not suffer), with late autumn and winter being the wettest, and late spring and summer being the driest. Although late spring and summer are relatively dry when compared to the other seasons, rainfall is significant during these seasons, and there is no dry season as a result. Istanbul has high annual relative humidity, especially during winter and summer with the accompanying wind chill and concrete-island effect during each respective season.
Summer is generally hot with averages around 27°C during the day and 18°C at night. High relative humidity levels and the ‘concrete-island effect’ only make things worse. Expect temperatures of up to 35°C for the hottest days of the year. Summer is also the driest season, but it does infrequently rain. Showers tend to last for 15–30 minutes with the sun usually reappearing again on the same day. Flash floods are a common occurrence after heavy rainfalls (especially during summer), due to the city's hilly topography and inadequate sewage systems.
Winter is cold and wet, averaging 2°C at night and 7°C during the day. Although rarely below freezing during the day, high relative humidity levels and the wind chill makes it feel bitterly cold and very unpleasant.
Snowfall, which occurs almost annually, is common between the months of December and March, with an annual total snow cover of almost three weeks, but average winter snowfall varies considerably from year to year, and snow cover usually remains only for a few days after each snowfall, even under intense snow conditions.
Late spring (late May to early June) and early autumn (late September to early October) are very pleasant and therefore the best times to visit the city. During these periods it is neither cold nor hot, and still sunny, though the nights can be chilly and rain is common.
For visitors an umbrella is recommended during spring, autumn and winter, and during the summer to avoid the sun and occasionally the rain. However, it’s not such a big problem, since streets of Istanbul are suddenly filled by umbrella sellers as soon as it starts raining. Although the umbrellas they provide are a little shoddy, going rate is 5 TL per umbrella (though you can find much better umbrellas for that price at shops if you look around a bit).
Light clothing is recommended during summer and a light jacket and/or light sweater if the summer evenings do become chilly, warm clothing is essential during winter and a mixture of the two during spring and autumn.
Because of its huge size, topography and maritime influences, Istanbul exhibits a multitude of distinct microclimates. Thus, different sections of Istanbul can experience different weather conditions at the same time. For example, at the same moment, it can be heavily raining in Sarıyer in the north, mildly raining in Levent in the business district, while Taksim further south is having a perfectly sunny day.
See Turkey#Get in for visa requirements. From 2020, most EU, UK, CIS and South American visitors do not need a visa. Those from many other countries including Australia, Canada and US can get an e-visa online, valid for 90 days.
- 1 Istanbul Airport (IST IATA). Istanbul's chief airport, and the main port of entry into Turkey. 30 km northwest of the city in Arnavutköy, on the Europe-side Black Sea coast. It was partly opened in Oct 2018 and fully in April 2019. It has a very wide range of international flights, by Turkish Airlines and other carriers, and domestic flights at least daily to all the major Turkish cities.
- 2 Atatürk Airport. Closed to passenger flights in April 2019, becoming mostly a cargo airport. (It may remain open for private aviation.) Beware of out-of-date road signage and maps, and crooked taxi drivers who will profess amazement that they have taken you to a demolition site, and demand ransom to convey you to where they know you need to be. Driving out from the city, you should be heading noticeably north, e.g. on D020, or O-3 to turn north on O-7. If you're keeping south on D100, the old place is where he intends to take you.
Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen International Airport
Istanbul's Asia-side airport is 30 km east of city centre. It has many domestic flights, often by Anadolu Jet (the budget offshoot of Turkish Airlines). In addition, Pegasus and other carriers have extensive international flights all across Europe, the Middle East, Northern Africa and Western Asia, especially in summer when this is a low cost route to the Turkish beach resorts and Northern Cyprus. None of the airlines that use Sabiha Gökçen have announced plans to relocate to the new Istanbul Airport: it's big enough to take them, but not convenient for Istanbul's Asia side.
Plan plenty of time when departing from SAW—if you have to drop off luggage or have not checked in online arriving 2 hr prior to scheduled time of departure is cutting it very close. It is a large airport, with the full range of passenger facilities ground-side and air-side. The ground-side departure hall is fairly comfortable. If you have a long stopover here, the LGM CIP Lounge is a good deal, with unlimited free beer, wine, soft drinks, light meals and snacks for €12 entry per person. Outbound, there's a security check just to enter the terminal (they will inspect but not confiscate liquids), then the usual check after bag-drop to get air-side. There is a hotel at the airport, some half-a-dozen at Kurtköy 2 km north, then another dozen at Pendik town (on the Marmara coast near the YHT station) 6 km south.
Waiting times when connecting through SAW can be very long, sometimes 12 hr. This way they are collecting all the passengers for the continuing flights. However, there was no free Wi-Fi at the airport in 2019, so plan ahead how you are going to spend your time. But of course you can always go on a shopping spree, which is apparently the second reason why waiting time for connecting flights are sometimes so high.
While it is planned to connect SAW to the metro eventually and there are even some maps that show the to be built connection, the metro stops well short of the airport and there's no good or reliable bus connection from the last metro stop to the airport
- Train – Sabiha Gökçen Airport is 12 km from Pendik YHT railway station, take a taxi or bus 132H to catch fast trains east to Ankara and Konya.
- The Metro does not yet reach the airport, but Line M4 has been extended to Tavşantepe near Pendik.
- Havabüs – It runs from the airport to Taksim in the city centre (50 km, 60-90 min, 18 TL), Yenisahra an Asia-side transport hub (50 min, 10 TL) and Kadıköy the ferry quay for Eminönü in Sultanahmet Old City (60 min, 14 TL + ferry 3 TL). Buses run every 30 min between 04:00 and 01:00. Buy your ticket on the bus, Istanbulkart is valid.
- City bus (İETT bus) – They are the cheapest. The main routes are:
- to Kadıköy by bus E-10 (via Kurtköy, runs 24 hours) or E-11, taking 60-90 min, more in heavy traffic. You need a two-zone ticket, price 7 TL.
- to Taksim and elsewhere on the European side, take bus E-3 to 4.Levent metro station. It runs 24 hours, takes 2 hours and needs a three-zone ticket for 10 TL.
- Other routes include E-9 to Bostanci, 16S to Metrobus Uzunçayir, KM-20 to Pendi̇k & Kartal Metro, KM22 to Cevi̇zli̇ Platforms, E-18 to Altuni̇zade & Ümrani̇ye, and 122H via Yeni̇şehi̇r to 4.Levent Metro.
- Shuttles – A minibus shuttle to the European side of the city might cost €90 for 4 people.
- Taxis – To Taksim will cost around 120 TL, and to Kadıköy around 90 TL.
Since the heyday of the legendary Orient Express, travelling by train has been the classic way of reaching Istanbul. It's still an interesting journey, but the trains no longer reach their classic termini. Those from Europe terminate at Halkali west of the city, where you change to the frequent cross-city Marmaray train to reach the centre. Those from the east terminate at Söğütlüçeşme in Kadıköy on the Asian side.
This means that Istanbul has two large terminus stations that don't have any mainline trains. 1 Sirkeci on the European side is on the Marmaray network, with cross-city and Metro trains deep underground but nothing at street-level. 2 Haydarpaşa in Asia has no trains at all. Both stations are worth a quick visit as monuments to a bygone age of rail travel. And both of them have ticket offices, though it's usually simpler to buy online from the website of Turkish Republic State Railways, TCDD.
Trains from the east
High speed trains (known as YHT: "yüksek hızlı tren") now reach central Istanbul once again, temporarily arriving at 4 Söğütlüçeşme on the Asian side, close to the future Haydarpaşa terminus. Two trains a day continue under the Bosphorus calling at Bakırköy in the western suburbs and terminating at Halkali. They don't stop anywhere in the Sultanahmet/Old City area, and they don't connect with the Europe trains; change to the frequent Marmaray trains for both purposes.
There are frequent YHT services from Eskişehir (3 hours) and Ankara (4½ hours), and three per day from Konya (4½ hours). YHT services are affordable and very popular, so book a few days ahead to guarantee a seat even though the price remains the same no matter when you book. Change in Konya for Adana and in Ankara for Erzurum, Kars and Tatvan (which has connections to Tabriz and Tehran in Iran). A train from Ankara via Kars to Tbilisi and Baku is expected to start in autumn 2019.
On the eastern edge of the city, YHT trains also call at Bostanci, Pendik and Gebze. 5 Pendik, 25 km east of city centre, is a convenient stop for transfers from Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen airport (10 km, taxi or bus). Consider this route if you intend to fly into Istanbul and immediately head east. Pendik itself is a small township with hotels and cafes, with the bus station and taxi ranks north side of the YHT station.
Since July 2019 there's an overnight passenger service between Istanbul and Ankara, called Ankara Express. The train leaves Istanbul Halkali nightly at 22:00, picking up at Söğütlüçeşme, Bostanci and Pendik plus nine other intermediate stations, reaching Ankara before 07:00. The return service has the same times, taking about nine hours altogether, and there are both seats and sleepers plus a dining car.
Trains from Europe and European Turkey
A sleeper train departs Sofia around 21:00 nightly, running via Plovdiv, Kapikule on the border, and Edirne, to terminate at Halkali at 07:40. From June to Sept another sleeper, the Bosphor Express, departs Bucharest at 12:40, running via Ruse to Kapikule. Here it's coupled to the train from Sofia, and passengers on both trains have to get out for border procedures, before continuing to Halkali. The westbound service leaves Halkali at 21:40 to reach Sofia by 09:00 and Bucharest by 19:00 next day. From Oct to May, the through-train from Bucharest doesn't run, so you change at Ruse then again at Kapikule, with a similar timetable. Trains from Budapest to Bucharest, and from Belgrade to Sofia, don't connect with the onward trains to Turkey, so you need an overnight stay.
The Budapest-Belgrade line is disrupted throughout 2020 for engineering works. Belgrade-Sofia trains are running normally, but you'll struggle to find a sensible connection from Budapest to Belgrade, so it's better to reach Turkey via Bucharest.
Between Halkali and downtown use the Marmaray cross-city train, which started in March 2019. Allow an hour; trains run every 15 min and the fare is about 4 TL (and see "Get around"). Morning trains into the city are busy with commuters, the late evening outbound services should be quiet.
There's also a regional train from Kapikule via Edirne to Halkali once a day. In July 2018 this train derailed near Tekirdağ, killing 24 people. The accident was caused by heavy rain undermining the track. The damage was quickly repaired and trains resumed running as normal.
The terminus 6 Halkali station is 25 km west of central Istanbul. Few facilities here - in particular, nowhere to change currency until you get downtown.
For a luxurious stylish journey, once a year the Venice Simplon Orient Express. runs from Paris to Halkali. You travel in lovely restored 1930s luxury coaches and enjoy first-rate cuisine. Tickets start at €13,500; sorry, your Eurail pass won't help here.
Turkey has an extensive system of intercity buses for travel around the country. The majority of intercity buses servicing both European and Asian parts of Turkey depart and terminate at the Esenler Bus Station.
Many of the bus companies have offices around the city and free courtesy mini-buses known as a "servis," collect passengers from the city and take them to either the main bus stations or their own mini-terminals near the main motorways.
Alibeyköy (Alibeyköy cep otogar)
The 7 Alibeyköy bus station is secondary hub for the European side and is located at Güzeltepe Alibeyköy Cep Otogarı, Eyüp near the outer beltway of Istanbul. Despite its orderly and cool steel-and-glass look, and much smaller size compared with Esenler, this is an unexpectedly chaotic bus station.
Buses to and from Anatolia stop here en route to Esenler Bus Station (which is 20 to 25 minutes away).
With no convenient public transport connecting it to the city centre, you may find it useful only for getting to/from the offices of the bus companies around the Taksim Square by using taking a servis to Taksim Square. Nilüfer and Pamukkale are two companies that operates servises from this station. Before selecting to arrive at this station confirm that a servis is available (better to ask in advance than to stuck in the middle of nowhere).The only problem with this option is that servis drivers rarely speak English and passengers sometimes have to wait for a servis. Note that no servises go to Sultanahmet.
The Alibeyköy bus station is connected to the new Istanbul airport by the iETT operated H-7 city bus (which has limited luggage space).
Esenler bus station (Esenler otogar)
Often called simply 'the Otogar' (Bus Station) or occasionally 'Bayrampaşa Otogar' the colossal 8 Esenler bus station, is located at Yavuz Selim Avenue No.3, in the Bayrampaşa district near the district of Esenler, about 10 km (6 miles) northwest of Sultanahmet. This is the city's main bus station (Ph. +90 212 658 0505) for intercity (including Gallipoli) and many international routes (such as Greece).
Despite having been renamed the 15 Temmuz Demokrasi Otogar (also called the 15 Temmuz Şehirler Otogar) in memory of those who died during the abortive coup attempt of 15 July 2016, most bus companies continue to use the Esenler Otogar name.
With 168 ticket offices and gates, shops, restaurants, hotel, police station, clinic and mosque, the Büyük Otogar ("big bus station") is a town in itself, although it lacks a central information desk, so you will have to ask around the individual offices for prices and timetables for your destination.
It is served by the Otogar metro station on the M1 metro line. Connections to major destinations within the city are as follows:
- Sultanahment: From the Otogar metro station you can take the metro to Aksaray or Zeytinburnu and then easily connect with a tram to Sultanahmet (about 30 minutes via Aksaray) or Kabataş/Taksim. If you travelling with a lot of luggage you may prefer to transfer between the tram to the Metro at Zeytinburnu as the stations are side by side, whereas at Yusufpaşa it is necessary to carry your luggage up and down the steps of an underpass to get to Aksaray Metro station. Going via Zeytinburnu will take longer. The journey will be cheaper if you purchase and recharge an İstanbulkart from the machines at the entrance to the metro station. The total fare between the bus station and Sultanahmet if you use a İstanbulkart 2.60 TL (initial) + 1.85 TL (transfer) = 4.5 TL (plus the initial purchase cost of the card) or two 5 TL Jeton tokens (one for the metro and the other for the tram). A taxi will cost approximately 55 TL to either Sultanahmet or Taksim.
- Beyoğlu: Take the M1 Metro line to Yenikapı, then change there for the M2 Metro line in the direction of Hacıosman, and get out at Sishane or Taksim. An alternative is to take IETT bus 830 which departs from the bus station at 06:00. 07:00, 07:35, 09:00, 11:00, 13:15, 15:55, 17:15 and 18:35 M to Sa, and at 11:00, 13:00, 15:00 and 17:15 on Sundays. It takes approximately 60 minutes to reach Taksim Square. You'll need a Jeton or İstanbulkart to pay for your fare.
- Bus connections: You can reach the Esenler bus station by taking the 280 Beşiktaş - Terminal, 303B Silivri Prison - Terminal, 390 Yeşilpinar - Terminal, 750 Terminal - Mecidiyeköy, 910 Terminal - Eminönü, 500ES Tuzla - Esenler, 760 Cihangir - Avcılar - Terminal or 830 Terminal - Taksim buses. Refer to the IETT website for timetables. Esenler is approximately 39 km from the new Istanbul airport. They are connected by the IST-3 airport bus service operated by Havaİst. The journey takes 60 to 75 minutes.
- Courtesy mini-buses: Some bus companies such as Pamukkale operate servis between the bus station and various pickup and drop-off points around the city.
Emniyet garajı bus station
This bus station which is also known as the Uluslararasi Emniye Terminali or Emniyet Otogar is on Küçük Langa Cd in the Aksaray neighborhood of the Fatih district on the European side of the city. It provides international services to Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, [[Germany, Hungary, Iraq, Iran, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania.
From/to Thessaloniki (Greece): ticket prices are around €45 (one way), €80 return. From/to Sofia and Varna (Bulgaria): ~€25 (one way). From/to Skopje (North Macedonia): ~€40 (one way)
Companies that operate from this station include Ast Turizm, Aybaki Tur, Golden Turizm, Mahmut Turizm, Mahmudoğlu Turizm, Metro Turizm, Ortadoğu Turizm, Nişikli Turizm, Nugo Turizm, Özlem Turizm, Öznuhoğlu, Perla Trans, Star Turizm, Troy Turizm and Vardar Turizm.
It is less than 400 m from the Yenikapı station on the M1 and M2 metro lines and the Marmaray train line. It is also approximately 500 m from the Yusufpaşa İstasyonu station on the T1 tram line to provides a service to and from Sultanahmet and beyond.
The IST-1Y airport bus service operated by Havaİst connects the Aksaray neighborhood with the new Istanbul aiport. The closest stop to the bus station is 700 m away on Gazi Mustafa Kemal Pasa Cd.
Buses travelling to and between Istanbul's Esenler bus station and Anatolian destinations stop on the Asian side of Istanbul to pick up and drop off passengers. If you are travelling between the European side of Istanbul and Anatolia (i.e., Asian Turkey) it's worth considering getting on or off the bus on the Asian side as it takes anything between 1¼ and 1¾ hours to travel to and across one of the Bosphorus bridges and traverse the traffic on the European side to reach the Esenler bus station. It then takes 35 to 50 minutes to travel by public transport from the Esenler bus station to Sultanahmet or Beyoğlu.
For many years the principal bus station on the Asian side of Istanbul was at Harem (pronounced hah-REHM) right on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus, south of Üsküdar and north of Haydarpaşa.
From Harem (which is not to be confused with the ladies' quarter of the Topkapı Palace with the same name) regular car ferries (which take walk-on passengers) cross the Bosphorus to Sirkeci (just east of Eminönü) on the European side. There are also regular passenger ferries from Kadikoy and Üsküdar south and north of Harem to Besiktas (for Beyoğlu) and Kabatas on the European side.
Many of the bus companies (especially the larger ones offering a long list of destinations) have relocated to their own mini-terminals or hubs in the outlying neighborhood of Dudullu in the Ümraniye district or further east to Samandıra in the Sancaktepe district. These locations provide more convenient access to the major Anatolian motorways. They use servis to transfer passengers between various locations (including Harem, Kadıköy and Üsküdar) and their mini-terminals.
Reserve a seat in advance as some buses arrive on the Asian side from Esenler with no empty seats.
Harem bus station (Harem otogar)
On the bank of the Bosphorus, 9 Harem bus station is in the Üsküdar district at Harem Otogarı No:34, Selimiye, which runs off Üsküdar Harem Sahil Yolu.
The bus station is opposite the car ferry terminal, and is within a short dolmuş ride of the passenger ferry terminal at Üsküdar. At Üsküdar you can connect to the M5 metro line and the Marmaray train line (the later of which travels under the Bosphorus to Sirkeci.
Harem is easily accessible by car ferry from Sirkeci, near Eminönü, which is accessible by tram from Sultanahmet and by tram and funicular from Taksim. The ferry operates every 30 minutes M-Sa 05:30-23:00 and Su 19:00-22:00. The passenger fare is 2.60 TL when purchased with an Istanbulkart. Companies which use this location include: Ben Turizm, Efe Tur, ES Turizm, Mersin Nur Turizm and Pamukkale.
It is possible to reach Harem via local buses 12 Kadiköy - Şile, 13M Şerifali - Üsküdar, 16A Pendik - Üsküdar, 16F Findikli - Üsküdar, 16M Ataşehir - Üsküdar, 16U Uğurmumcu - Üsküdar, 18Y Yenidoğan - Samandira - Üsküdar, 139 Üsküdar - Şile, 139A Üsküdar - Şile - Ağva, 320A Samandira - Üsküdar.
Ataşehir dudullu mini-terminal
This is on the corner of Turgut Özal Blv. and Barbaros Cad. in the Ümraniye district near the junction of the O-2 and O-4 motorways. From Ataşehir Dudullu, servises transfer passengers to Asian suburbs, including Kadıköy and Üsküdar. It takes 1¾ hours to travel between Ataşehir Dudullu and Esenler. It is approximately 3 km from the Dudullu station on the M5 Metro line. Companies which use this location include:
- Efe Tur,
- Gülen Turizm.
- Nevsehir Seyahat.
- Nilüfer. They operate servises, including a route to Harem and Üsküdar.
- Özkaymak Turizm.
- Pamukkale. They operate six servises routes as described on pamukkale.com. The servis bus No.1 operates every 30 minutes (except between 00:30 and 05:30 when it runs hourly) to Kadıköy, Harem and Üsküdar.
Atasehir ferhatpasa mini-Terminal (Ulusoy turizm ataşehir terminali)
This terminal which is used by Ulusoy is located at the corner of Samindira Cad. and 52 Sok in the Ümraniye district near the junction of the O-2 and O-4 motorways. It is approximately 5 km from the Dudullu station on the M5 Metro line.
Samandıra mini-terminal (Samandira tesis)
This terminal used by Metro Turizm is located on the corner of Fabrika Caddesi and Hatıra Sok in the Sancaktepe district. It takes 1¾ to 2 hours to travel between Samandıra and Esenler.
The planned extension of the M5 metro line hasn't reached the suburbs surrounding this mini-terminal.
Ümraniye dudullu mini-terminal
This is used by Kamil Koc and is located on Hüsrev Sokağı in the Ümraniye district near the junction of the O-2 and O-4 motorways. It is approximately 3.3 km from the Altinsehir station on the M5 Metro line. It takes 1¼ to 1¾ hours to travel between this station and Esenler.
Kamil Koc provide free servis to various locations on the Asian side including Harem and Üsküdar. Servis No.9 provides a transfer (which takes 25 to 30 minutes) between the Harem bus station and ferry terminal.
There are Black Sea ferries several times a week to Chornomorske, the main port for Odessa in Ukraine, taking 27 hours. They run all year and take vehicles; indeed trucking is an important part of their business, as so many travellers nowadays fly. The ferry terminal is at Haydarpaşa, by the old railway station. These ferries used to sail to other Black Sea ports but they no longer do.
There are no other international ferries to Istanbul - see "Get around" for local ferries around the Sea of Marmara. Cruise ships usually dock on the European side, around Karaköy/Galataport, closer to the historic centre. These ships are on cruise itineraries, check with the operator whether a point-to-point journey ending in Istanbul is possible.
Traffic in Istanbul can be manic; expect a stressful drive because you will be cut off and honked at constantly. It seems that half of the cars in Istanbul are parking while the other half is stuck in traffic.
Even if you are on a one-way road, always expect someone coming towards you. The city hosts more than 1½ million cars and there is a strong demand for building of new or alternate highways which of course fill up with traffic as soon as they're built.
If you've arrived in Istanbul by car, and you're not familiar with the streets, it's better to park your car in a safe place and take public transportation to get around.
The city, lying on two different continents and separated by the Bosphorus, is connected by three bridges. Both are toll bridges, and you must pay a fee to cross.
Neither bridge accepts cash: payment must be made by using electronic cards, either by a sticker type (HGS) or via a transponder mounted on the front of the car (OGS).
On weekdays, there are potentially hour-long traffic jams on the highways leading to both bridges, particularly heading west in the mornings and east in the evenings, since most people live on the Anatolian side but work on the European side.
There is a great shortage of parking in Istanbul, and existing lots are quite expensive. You will see many cars parked on the sides of the road, in front of garage doors even.
Street signs are rare. It is a common thing to pull over and ask for directions, something the natives and taxi drivers do quite often.
Istanbul is huge, so you'll need public transport between your accommodation and your pick-up/drop-off point. Leaving the city, the best routes are:
- West into Europe: you want to be on main highway E-80. First take bus 448 from Yenibosna metro station (southern line, near Ataturk Airport) north towards Mimarsinan. Get off after about 5 km when you cross the E-80.
- East into Asia: again, you want to reach highway E-80. Probably the closest you can start thumbing is Pendik: reach it by metro as described for the YHT railway station. Then start hitching on D-100 which will join E-80. A local lift as far as Gebze or Izmit will also be close to that highway.
Istanbul's public transit system can be difficult to figure out; the lines connect poorly, maps are rare and you often have to transfer, and pay another fare, to get where you are going. However, if you put some effort into it, you can avoid taxis and not walk too much.
Unless you use the Istanbulkart, each time you use a tram, metro, bus, or boat on the public transport system, you will need to use a ticket or pass. The single use tickets cost 5 TL (Jan 2017) and can be bought at various vending machines at bus, railway and metro stations or authorized ticket/Istanbulkart sellers (usually newspaper kiosks). Ticket fares across buses, trams and metros differ. Only cash in Turkish lira is accepted at ticket kiosks of public transport, no credit cards or foreign currency. The Istanbul subway system does not offer transfer tickets: each change to a new line requires a new fare.
When travelling to Istanbul by air, it is much cheaper (and more fun) to use the bus (or metro system once it is extended) to get as close to your accommodation as possible before walking and/or taking a taxi to where you are staying. Although the public transport may be slightly confusing, taxis/charter buses from the airport are notoriously overpriced.
If public transport is your choice of getting around, consider using smartphone public transportation applications so that you can easily see stops, stations and terminals nearby or see alternate routes for your planned destination. İETT has an official one called Mobiett which is available for iOS, Android or Windows. But also Google Maps is very reliable to guide your way using public transport.
The İstanbulkart is Istanbul's public transport smart card, which can be used as a ticket on buses, trams, suburban trains, metro, local ferries, etc. If you are in Istanbul for more than a day or two and intend to use public transport, it will pay for itself in a few trips. There is a one time unrefundable deposit of 6 TL for the card. Top up can only be bought using notes. Hence, you must purchase the card (10 TL) with 4 TL as its balance. Any credit left on the Istanbulkart is not refundable, so make sure it's empty when you return the card for deposit. It can be purchased at a number of small corner shops throughout the city. But there are recharge machines at most stations (though not necessarily at all entrances), only excepting notes.
You touch the Istanbulkart to a reader when you get on the bus or enter the tram or metro platform. The great advantage for a group of travellers is that you can buy only one and touch it as many times as there are passengers (unlike London's Oyster card, there is no need to touch out). You can buy or refill them at designated booths located at any major bus, tram, or metro station, as well as some other places such as newspaper stands close to bus stops. There are refill machines located at most metro or tram stops and ferry terminals. An Istanbulkart provides significantly discounted rates (a bit over half price for unlinked trips and even cheaper for transfers) compared to regular single tickets, as well as discounts on transfers and short round trips (when used multiple times within a limited period, roughly 1½ hr since the last time you used it). For instance, a trip with Istanbulkart costs ~2.60 TL, while a single ticket is 5.20 TL. The round trip to the airport pays for more than half the cost of this card.
Note, some connections charge 5.20 TL initially because their range is very large, e.g. the Marmaray train but even buses. However, there are refund machines at the exit of stations that serve these long distance connections. In case you only travel a short distance tap your card there, and you will be reimbursed some money. Either way, if you feel like you paid too much, tap or just always tap—you won't get charged twice.
The Istanbulkart is relatively new, and replaces the older Akbil metal touch-token which is deprecated. Though some Kiosks still have Akbil signs rather than Istanbulkart signs - but you can usually buy or top up your Istanbulkart at any kiosk where the Akbil sign is displayed. There is also the so-called "mavi kart" or blue card which is a cheaper option for frequent users of public transport but has some restrictions, can be used by one person whose photo and name are printed on it, it gives 180 trips in bus/tram/metro that have to be used up within a maximum period of 30 days and costs about 200 TL + 10 TL for printing the card the first time.
While constant constructions and reroutings in pedestrian areas make the city streets fairly hard to negotiate by wheelchair users, the public transportation administrations of the city have taken steps to accommodate them.
Pavements along many major streets in the central areas, as well as pedestrian crossings, have tacile pavings installed. Many pedestrian traffic lights also alert by voice (only in Turkish, though).
Buses: The process of replacing old buses with newer ones accessible for people using a wheelchair is ongoing. Many buses on central lines have a low floor and a built-in ramp (consult the driver to lean the bus down nearer to the ground, to open the ramp, and to assist into the bus, though any of these might unfortunately be impossible during peak hours in interval stops. Think of a sardine-packed bus unloading all of its passengers to lean down).
LCD screens show the stop names while approaching the stop and voice announcements are made.
Trams: They are accessible for people using a wheelchair from the station platforms which are low and equipped with gentle ramps right from the street (or sidewalk) level.
All stations are announced both on a display and by voice in the trams.
Metro: Almost all stations of Istanbul's metro system are accessible for people using a wheelchair, with lifts/elevators down or up to the platforms from the street level available around the station entrances. All through the system, the trains are easily accessible from the station platforms. For assistance, look for the security guards in grey/black uniforms near the station entrances.
All stations are announced by voice in the metro trains. In most lines it is also announced on a display, but not in the older trains of the M1A/M1B. Instead, you should look at the signs in the stations, which are big and common enough.
Most metro stations have detectable surface indicators guiding the visually impaired from the street level right to the platform.
The Marmaray cross-town train, opened in March 2019, links Halkali mainline station in the west with Zeytinburnu, Sirkeci and Üsküdar either side of the Bosphorus, and Bostancı, Kartal, Pendik and Gebze to the east; plus many small suburban stations. (Pendik and Gebze are on the YHT main line.) Trains run every 15 min 06:00-23:00 and between city centre and end of the line takes an hour, for a fare of about 4 TL. The central sections are shared with the metro.
The city Metro has six lines, of which only the first two are of much use to the visitor:
- Line M1A connects the main coach station (Otogar) to Aksaray, from where you can catch tram T1 to the city centre, and onward to train hub Yenikapı for connections to M2 and Marmaray. There is also a branch line (M1B) which serves the western suburb of Kirazlı. All trains serve the section between Yenikapı and the bus station.
- Line M2 starts from Yenikapı and crosses the Golden Horn, continuing via Şişhane and Taksim Square to Mecidiyeköy and Levent in the business district, and further north to Hacıosman (a major bus hub for suburbs on the north European side, eg Sarıyer).
- Line M3 continues northwest from M1B terminus Kirazlı.
- Line M4 on the Asian side goes from Kadıköy to the suburbs along the Marmara coast to Kartal and Pendik (but 1 km away from Pendik YHT station.) It's planned to extend to Sabiha Gökçen airport in the next few years.
- Line M5 on the Asian Side runs between Üsküdar on the Bosphorus and the outer suburb of Çekmeköy through Ümraniye.
- Line M6 (also called Mini Metro) is a shuttle from the Levent station of M2, and serving the upscale district of Etiler and the main campus of Boğaziçi University in Hisarüstü.
Much of the city is not yet served by the metro (it will be years before the new airport is connected), and the distance between stations is larger than in most European cities. But the metro is fast where it does go and meticulously clean and modern, with much of it dating to the 21st century. Most lines are deep underground and some have entrances amidst busy streets with pedestrian tunnels or bridges the only access, so be prepared to walk quite a bit when going to and from stations. Transfers virtually always require exiting and re-entering the system which means a new full fare (with single use tickets) or a reduced fare for the connection (with Istanbulkart). You do not have to swipe any card on exit for metro or tram routes but you do have to do so for Istanbulkart on Metrobus, else you'll be charged the maximum distance fare.
Istanbul's first underground system dates to the 19th century, when the funicular subway "Tünel" was constructed to operate from Karaköy to Istiklal Street in 1875, travelling 573 m up a steep hill. It's still running and is handy for going from Galata Bridge (Beyoglu side) to the famous Istiklal Caddesi (main street).
Heavy construction on extensions and new lines continues apace, with the gap between the M1 and the M2 plugged with Yenikapı station. You can connect M4 and M5 via Marmaray from Yenikapı station. Unfortunately most network maps already show the yet to be built extensions in a lighter shade which can be confusing for a casual glance and frustrating when contemplating where you might be able to go if only you visited Istanbul a year or two later.
The old plastic tokens are no longer valid: the only way to pay for metro is Istanbulkart or limited-pass cards. The metro stations do not have a staffed ticket booth, so you must obtain your tickets or top-up your Istanbulkart through ticket machines. To buy limited pass cards, insert coins or notes and then press the button marked onay/okay. A single pass costs 4 TL on any urban rail in Istanbul though an Istanbulkart (see above) may be more cost effective during your trip.
Much used by the travellers as it serves many popular sites and ferries, Istanbul's main tram line (T1) snakes its way along its almost 20-km route for much of the European side between Kabataş, its eastern terminus on the Bosphorus (connected to the M2 metro line by the two-stop F1 funicular) and its western terminus at Bağcılar (connected to the M1B and M3 metro lines), a suburb in the northwest. Among its major stops, from east to west, are Karaköy and Eminönü respectively on the northern and southern banks of the Golden Horn (which is crossed by the Galata Bridge), Sirkeci, Gülhane, Sultanahmet (near most of the historic sites of the old city), Çemberlitaş, Beyazıt, Laleli, Aksaray (10 minutes' walk away from the Yenikapı station of Marmaray), Yusufpaşa (near the Aksaray station of the M1A and M1B metro lines), Topkapı (near the ancient city walls), and Zeytinburnu (another connection to the M1A). West from Topkapı, it reaches far out to the western suburbs, which are rarely, if ever, visited by the average traveller.
The route of the T1 is served by two differently numbered lines: #38 runs along the entire length of the T1 between Kabataş and Bağcılar, while the significantly shorter #47 runs between the Eminönü and Cevizlibağ stations (the latter of which is abbreviated as C.bağ-A.Ö.Y. on the signage of tram cars). However, both lines call at stations that are of most interest to travellers through the Old City. During morning and evening rush hours every alternate tram runs as #47, while during the rest of the day, most run as #38.
Although you may use the same AKBİL/Istanbulkart on the metro and tram, you must pay another fare each time you change lines (on a progressively discounted rate if you use İstanbulkart).
During morning and evening rush hours (roughly between 07:00-09:00 and 17:00-19:30 respectively), tram cars run jam-packed so if you intend to take it for a couple of stations down the way, don't even bother—walking instead is not only less tiresome than standing in what is essentially more crowded than a sardine can, it's also quicker as you will most likely be able to get in the second or even third tram calling at the station due to the crowd.
There is also another tram line linking the residential and industrial suburbs in the north with the city centre: T4 (which is more like metro-tram systems of northwestern Europe, as it lies underground for part of its route), which heads for Sultançiftliği, connecting to the Topkapı station of the T1 line. However, this line is of very little, if any, use to the average traveller.
Other than the above modern trams, Istanbul has two short, separate heritage tram lines, which are more of attractions than practical transport options. Renovated trams dating back to the 1920s rattle along the İstiklal Street on the European side (T2 or NT), while on the Asian side, a circular system between Kadıköy and the nearby Moda district is served by 1960s streetcars imported from Germany (T3).
Tram lines are run by Metro Istanbul.
Unique Istanbul liners (large conventional ferry boats), sea-buses (high speed catamarans), or mid-sized private ferries travel between the European and Asian sides of the city. The crossing takes about 20 minutes and costs 3 TL, and gives great views of the Bosphorus. Sometimes the ferry when arriving at a dock can bounce off the pier accidentally, even on calm days. This can cause people to fall over if they are standing up, so it is advisable to remain seated until the ferry has come to an absolute stop.
In Istanbul, liners from any given quay generally take only a certain route, and these quays are signposted ‘X Iskelesi’ (“X Landing stage/pier”). For instance, Eminönü alone has more than 5 landing stages (including the ones used by other ferries apart from liners), so if you should head for, say, Üsküdar, you should take the ferry which departs from ‘Üsküdar Iskelesi’. Replace ‘Üsküdar’ with the destination of your choice.
Istanbul liners travel on the following routes:
- Üsküdar–Karaköy–Eminönü–Eyüp (The Golden Horn Route)
- Istinye–Emirgan–Kanlıca–Anadolu Hisarı–Kandilli–Bebek–Arnavutköy–Çengelköy (The Whole Bosphorus Route)
- Anadolu Kavağı–Rumeli Kavağı–Sariyer
- Eminönü–Kavaklar (Special Bosphorus Tour, Recommended For Tourists)
- Sirkeci–Adalar–Yalova–Cınarcık (The Princes' Islands Route)
Furthermore, the sea-buses (deniz otobüsü) follow the same (or more) routes, usually much faster than liners. Returning to Yenikapi from Kadikoy by sea-bus is a fast and convenient way to cross the Bosphorus; at Yenikapi there is a railway station with frequent trains to Sirkeci/Eminönü and the Yenikapi fish restaurant area is close by (or one stop on the train).
Four main private ferry routes for travelling between Asia and Europe sides are:
- Kabataş–Üsküdar (close to tram and funicular system in Kabataş)
- Eminönü–Üsküdar (close to tram in Eminönü)
- Eminönü–Kadıköy (close to tram in Eminönü)
Very useful are the fast ferryboats (travelling at 55 km/h) running from several points, such as the Yenikapi–Yalova one, that allows you (with a connecting bus in Yalova) to be in Bursa centre in less than three hours. Prices are marginally higher and the gain in time is considerable, though the view is not as nice.
All of the ferries, including private ones, can be paid for using the AKBIL/Istanbulkart system.
Public transportation buses are either run or inspected by İETT. Public buses in Istanbul come in many colours and shapes, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that ticket sales on board have completely been phased out, so you will have to obtain one (or an İstanbulkart, which is accepted on all public transport methods) prior to boarding the bus.
Istanbul's heavily used BRT system, locally called Metrobüs, are served by long hybrid buses running on their special lanes along the city's inner beltway, separated from all other traffic and thus saving lots of time in Istanbul's generally congested roads. While an extremely important transport option for the locals, the system covers areas not usually visited by the travellers, between Beylikdüzü in the far western suburbs of the city and Kadıköy on the Asian Side via Bakırköy, Cevizlibağ outside the old city walls near the Topkapı Gate, the business district in Mecidiyeköy, and the Bosphorus Bridge.
Most bus lines operate roughly 06:00-23:59, usually with a reduced volume of services after 22:00. Some lines between major centres operate 24/7 though, as is the Metrobüs, with about an hour intervals. After midnight, buses cost two tickets per person rather than the usual one.
Night Time Bus Lines:
- A double check from İETT website is strongly recommended.
- TH-1 Taksim - Atatürk Airport (does not operate between 01:00 - 04:00)
- 40 Taksim Square–Rumelifeneri/Garipçe
- E10 Kadikoy–Sabiha Gokcen International Airport
- 15F Kadikoy–Beykoz
- 130 Kadikoy–Tuzla
- 34A Sogutlucesme(Kadikoy)–Edirnekapi (Metrobus)
- 34 Avcilar–Zincirlikuyu (Metrobus)
As a tourist, you are most likely to use the tram and the metro in the Sultanahmet and Taksim area since there are no bus lines operating in the area anymore.
Buses and streetcars tend to be very crowded during rush hours, especially on Mondays and Fridays. That can also create opportunities for pickpockets.
Taxis are an easy and cheap way to get around. Start off rate is 4 TL and then 2.5 TL for each km afterwards (Feb 2019). Distances up to 2½ km are subject to a fixed price of 10 TL, after that distance the meters track at the above rates. A one-way travel from Taksim Square to Sultanahmet costs approximately 20 TL. Tipping is generally unnecessary. Frequently, drivers will refuse to start the meter and try to negotiate a fixed price (e.g. 80 TL for a short trip from Yenikapı ferry terminal to Sultanahmet, to which should cost less than 20 TL). You should avoid these cabs and take another one as you will almost certainly end up paying too much. To be sure, before getting in, just ask "how much to go to ...?" (most of the drivers understand basic English) since the price they tell then is quite accurate. Tell them then to put the taximeter on. Drivers do normally work with the taximeter, so they will not be surprised at all when you ask them to put it on. The price at the end will be quite close to the one they tell you at the beginning. There is no extra fare at night.
If you have internet connection on your laptop or mobile device, always use Istanbul Taxi Fare Calculator just before taking a taxi from airport, hotel or restaurant. It will help you to easily estimate taxi fare based on pick-up and drop-off locations anywhere in Istanbul, give an outline about the journey and avoid potential taxi scams.
Even when agreeing to take you on the meter, taxis in Istanbul have several dodges to catch the unwary traveller. The meter is often situated right in front of the gear stick and drivers somehow manage to advance the meter while changing gear. Not putting the meter back to the starting rate, i.e. adding your fare to the previous one, is also common. Taxis that wait near a bus station or at Yenikapı ferry terminal are usually a tourist trap. They start the meter but charge you 20 TL at least. Emphasize to the driver that you will pay for the meter price before getting in. Do not buy their quick-sell tricks. Always try to stop a taxi that is passing by on the road or find a legitimate taxi stop.
Insist on going to the destination that you want because some drivers are paid a commission each time they deliver someone to a certain hotel, restaurant, shop, etc.
Istanbul taxis are colored yellow or maroon. The yellow taxis' license plates start with 34 T and maroon ones start with 34 M. Yellow taxis are more common, as the maroon ones work mainly around western suburbs. They can not pick travelers from yellow taxis' region and vice versa.
Be careful of what notes you hand them for payment; some drivers have tried to pretend that the 50 TL note that was handed was just a 5 TL note. Occasionally taxi drivers may actually also rip notes you give them, and tell you it is no good, in order to make you hand them a 50 TL note. So, make sure the notes are not ripped, and is actually the right one before you hand them over. Also, if you are not familiar with the city the taxi driver may drive a detour in order to charge you more.
Traffic can be very bad, it can take an hour for a few kilometers through the old city. You might be better off taking the metro out of the old city and then a taxi from there.
Some important routes with distances and estimated taxi fares are:
- Istanbul New Airport (IST) - Taxim Square ~ 44 km
- Istanbul New Airport (IST) - Sultanahmet Square (Old City) ~ 47 km
- Taxim Square - Sultanahmet (Old City) ~ 5.5 km
- Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW) - Kadikoy (Chalcadonia) Ferry Terminal ~ 36 km
- Esenler (Bus Terminal) - Topkapı Palace (Sultanahmet) ~ 10.5 km
Dolmuş (Turkish: "full") is a shared taxi, travelling on a fixed route, which costs more than a city autobus but less than a normal taxi. They can carry up to 8 passengers and may only take cash. They carry a Dolmuş sign on top. They will only start driving when all eight seats are full, which is also where the name derives from.
The main and most important routes for dolmuşes are :
- Taksim–Eminönü (Taksim stop, near the Atatürk Cultural Centre, in Taksim square)
- Taksim–Aksaray (Taksim stop, Tarlabasi Avenue, close to Taksim square)
- Kadıköy–Bostanci (Bostanci stop, in front of the Bostanci ferry port)
- Taksim–Tesvikiye (Taksim stop, in front of Patisserie Gezi, in Taksim square)
- Beşiktaş–Nisantasi (Beşiktaş stop, in front of the Beşiktaş - Üsküdar ferry port)
- Kadıköy–Üsküdar (Üsküdar stop, Near the Üsküdar - Beşiktaş and Üsküdar - Kabataş ferry port)
If you want the driver to make a stop, you can say İnecek var. (EE-neh-djek war! -- Someone's getting out.) or Müsait bir yerde. (mU-sa-EEt bir yer-deh. -- At a convenient spot.)
İsbike docked bikes are very cheap to rent.
However, if the İsbike smartphone app, website and machines do not accept your foreign credit card you may not be able to rent the bikes without first obtaining the personalized mavi (blue) İstanbulkart described above.
Alternatively if you have a Turkish friend they may be willing to accept the deposit on their card, as it is only 50TL blocked for a few days per bike as of 2019.
Although the smartphone app is in English as well as Turkish it can sometimes be confusing for tourists. For example it only tells you the number of empty docking slots for each station: so presumably locals know the total number of slots and thus whether enough bikes are available before going to their starting docking station.
The Turkish government offers a museum pass for many sights and museums, and key spots on Sultanahmet, for 220 TL. The pass can be bought at the entrance of every museum listed below or online. Check out what is included, and buy it if it makes sense for you. Numerous sights can still be seen for free and the biggest joy is propably just walking around and sucking in the atmosphere.
The non-transferable pass allows one free entry to each of these museums:
- Topkapı Palace and Harem
- Hagia Sophia
- Hagia Irene
- Istanbul Archaeological Museums
- Istanbul Mosaic Museum
- Museum for the History of Science and Technology in Islam
- Museum of Turkey and Islamic Arts
- Chora Museum
- Galata Mevlevi House Museum
- Yildiz Palace
- Rumeli Hisar Museum
- Fethiye Museum
In addition to saving money when visiting these sites, the card allows you to skip the queue for tickets and go straight to the gates at all sites. Most museums in Istanbul are closed on Mondays or Wednesdays, so checking the website first or ringing is a sensible option before setting off.
Alternatively, you can consider buying the much more expensive Istanbul Tourist Pass, 2-day pass costs €95, 3-day pass €115, 5-day pass €135, 7-day pass €145 (April 2019). It includes entrance to all of the above museums, a couple of boat tours, three days mobile internet, and even a one-way discounted Istanbul airport transfer (€20). However, it consistently receives negative reviews due to bad organisation and intermittent problems with accessing some of its included services.
With its long history at the centre of empires, Istanbul offers a wealth of historic and religious places to take in. The bulk of these ancient monuments, dating back to Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods, including the Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque, free), and Basilica Cistern are around Sultanahmet Square, while some others are dispersed throughout the peninsula of old city, such as the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora (Kariye Müzesi), the entire inside of which is covered by mindblowing frescoes and mosaics. An impressive section of mostly intact Theodosian walls, which mark the full length of western boundary of the peninsula, is right next to this particular church.
North of the peninsula of the old city, across the Golden Horn, is Galata, crowned by the Galata Tower. Istanbul Modern, with its exhibitions of contemporary Turkish art, is on the nearby waterfront of Karaköy. Another sight of the district, just north of the Tower, is the museum converted from the Dervish Hall of the Sufi Mevlevi order, which those interested in the teachings of Rumi will want to take a peek at. Further north is the Istiklal Avenue, Istanbul's prominent pedestrian street running from near Galata Tower to Taksim Square, the central square of whole city.
Heading west rather than north from the old city brings you deeper into the banks of the Golden Horn estuary. A neighbourhood perhaps well worth a visit here is Eyüp, to visit the city’s holiest Islamic shrine and, with all the religious people wandering around the narrow cobblestone streets with their turbans and what not, just to see what the daily life in Ottoman Istanbul might be like. On the opposite shores of the Horn, in Sütlüce is the Miniaturk, the first miniature park in the city, with models from around the former Ottoman Empire.
North of Taksim Square is New Istanbul, main business district of the city. If venturing out to this direction, don't forget to check out Military Museum, where Ottoman military music concerts (Mehter) are held every afternoon. Most of the skyscrapers of the city are located in the north of this district, around Levent and Maslak, with a totally different skyline from that of the old city. However southern reaches of the very same district has some fine neo-classical and Art Nouveau buildings from the turn of the 20th century, around the neighbourhoods of Osmanbey, Kurtuluş, and Nişantaşı. Just east from here, with a little drop in elevation as you approach the shore, is the banks of Bosphorus, that is lined by pleasant neighbourhoods full of waterfront mansions (yalı) and a number of waterside palaces where you can admire what money could buy in times gone by.
Across the Bosphorus to east is Asian Side, centred around the historical districts of Kadıköy and Üsküdar, and perhaps best symbolized by Maiden’s Tower, located at about the halfway between these districts, on an islet just off the shore. Bosphorus and Marmara coasts of this half of the city is characterized by quite picturesque neighbourhoods, overlooked by Çamlıca Hill, one of the highest hills of the city which also has a view of much of the rest of the city, with a café and a pleasant park on its summit.
Southeast of the city, off the southern coast of Asian Side are the Princes' Islands, an archipelago of nine car-free islands, characterized by stunning wooden mansions and pine groves.
Long ignored for their bad connotation with the Tulip era of 1700s, a period of ostentation and costly parties conducted by state elite amidst large gardens full of tulips (and also when the first bulbs were introduced to the Netherlands from Istanbul, by the way), which was later accused of economic destruction and the eventual dissolution of Ottoman Empire, tulips have regained much of their former popularity in the last decade and now serve as some sort of symbol of both Istanbul and the whole Turkey. They bloom from late March to early May (best bet is early to mid April) and while they can be seen on many avenues of the city wherever there is enough space for planting at the sides and the central strip of the road, if you are after admiring and/or photographing large patches of tulips with relatively exotic varieties, head to Sultanahmet Park and Gülhane Park in Sultanahmet; Emirgan Park near the northern Bosphorus neighbourhood of Emirgan; or Çamlıca Hill in Asian Side.
- Hamam – Sultanahmet has many historical hamams. Some are very extravagant and cater mainly to tourists.
- Waterpipe – Most of the places where you can smoke a nargile are in Yeniçeriler Caddesi, near the Kapalı Çarşı (Grand Bazaar). Çorlulu Ali Paşa and Koca Sinan Paşa Türbesi are both in secluded internal courts, just around the corner from some tomb yards, while Rumeli Kahvesi is actually inside the cemetery of an old medrese, though it’s not as spooky as you might think. In the south of Sultanahmet, near the sea, is Yeni Marmara (Çayıroğlu Sokak), where you can also sit in the terrace and enjoy the view. In Beyoğlu, at the Ortakahve (Büyükparmakkapı), there’s even the choice of a wide range of flavors. Another area with few big good looking places is the Rıhtım Caddesi, between Galata bridge and Istanbul Modern Museum.
Museums and such: Haghia Sophia, then on to the Topkapı museum (these two should take at least three to five hours), preferably along the road in the back of the Haghia Sophia, where there are some nicely restored houses. Then on to the Blue Mosque and the square with the obelisks on it (At Meydani). Along its side is the very good Museum of Islam Art. Descend slightly and find the small Haghia Sophia with its nice garden (it was under restoration, but you probably can get in). Then uphill to the Sokollu Mehmet mosque complex, top notch tiles inside.
Take a tram or walk to Eminönü (where the boats leave for trips to Asia or up the Bosphorus). Visit the New Mosque at the back, then the Egyptian Bazaar next to it, and going further in that direction, locate the Rüstem Pasha mosque with its excellent tiles. It's on a raised platform near an old clothes market, you may have to ask directions. Then take a cab or find a bus to Eyüp mosque complex, a mile or three up the Golden Horn. Visit this Eyüp complex at your leisure (the mosque is not particular, the court is, and the milling of believers, with many boys-to-be-circumcised among it; a Friday might be a good day to do this). Then, if you have the stamina, it might be nice to walk back too; maybe all the way (8 km or so), but taking a route along part of the city wall to first the famous Kariye Church with its mosaics, then on to Selimiye Mosque with its great view on the Golden Horn (and a fine mosque by itself), then the Fatih Mosque (passing through some very religious and lively neighborhoods), then on to the well-restored Sehzade mosque, and next to Süleymaniye (don't forget to enjoy the view from the Golden Horn side). If you have some energy left, you might go on to the University complex, and by then you are very close to the Beyazit mosque. A book market (it’s small) is behind this good, unexceptional (nice courtyard though) mosque.
Once again go to Eminönü, but this time take the boat (those large ferries) to Üsküdar. You will arrive before a fine mosque in front, another one 400 m off to the right, slightly inland behind a traffic roundabout, and a third, very small, at the sea front. See the market stretching inland, walk about and don't forget to walk along the shore, maybe eating a fish meal in one of the bobbing boats along it. This is a good visit for late afternoon, early evening, fleeing the city. You will be joined by thousands of people going home from "town" but the way back will be on a near-empty ferry. The frequency of ferries will go down in the evening, so make sure there is a connection back.
Go to the railroad station and find a Sirkeci-Halkali suburban train, and get out at (from memory, Yedikule station). You will be quite close to Yedikule, a nice fortress, and will have fine views of the city walls. The trains leave every 15 minutes or so, the ride is peculiar (the material is bad, but if you are in luck every second stop another salesman will enter and try selling his wares, it’s fun). The ride is takes anywhere from twenty minutes to half an hour. This is not a "must", but it can be great fun.
You will have missed the covered bazaar in all this. That is because you will get there anyhow. If you go to Beyazit and the book market you are almost at two of its many entrances. Try and find the Nuruosmaniye Mosque and its complex at the other side, it’s worth it. And after having explored the covered part, take a relaxing walk downhill, into the general direction of Eminönü, where it is "uncovered bazaar" all the way. Cross the Galata bridge to see some things on the Northern side (for instance take the "tünel" teleferik ride up much of the hill (entrance close to the opposite side of Galata bridge, ask around)), then continue to Taksim. Shops are of the international variety.
Theodosian Walls Walk
From 408 CE the original walls of Constantine were replaced in the reign of Theodosius. These walls then became the critical point of defence of the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and their Ottoman successors. They are still almost completely intact, marking the western border of the peninsula of Old City, with some sections suffering from somewhat unsightly restoration done in early 1990s. The section around the Topkapı Gate (not to be confused with Topkapı Palace which is located in an altogether different place) can be easily accessed from Pazartekke tram station, which lies about 300 m east of the walls. Some remoter sections may not be very safe and may require some caution.
A 7-km walk along and on these remaining portions of the city wall offers a window into antiquity and puts emphasis on Turkey’s terrible historic monument legacy. Download and print a scholarly historical and technical description of the walls before you visit Istanbul; this will certainly add to the pleasure. From Eminönü, take the Golden Horn ferry to Ayvansaray. This ferry terminal is separate from the Bosphorus terminals adjacent and east of the Galata Bridge. Walk west through the Galata bridge underpass, then through the bus station to a pedestrian lane way which leads to the small terminal building. The fare is 1.50 TL. Leave the ferry at Ayvansaray and cross the park to the wall on the other side of the main road. You have a choice of walking up the outer wall or the inner wall but access to the top of the battlements is usually on the inside naturally enough, so go up the small street across the road which then cuts back behind the wall and the towers. Here you can climb up onto this section of unrestored wall on crumbling brick and stone and continue on some hundreds of yards climbing as necessary. This path comes to an obvious end and one can short cut back to the street. Sometimes there are dwellings and commercial enterprises hard up against the wall, sometimes a bus depot, a rubbish dump or often just the road. These walls replaced the earlier walls of Constantine in 408 CE after which they went through constant upgrade and repairs to earthquake damage. The different work done over the centuries was all of varying style and quality. Quite surprisingly there are a number of small streets still using the narrow gates. At Hoca Çakır Cd one comes across a restored section of the wall where the heights are accessed by stairs (junction of Hoca Çakır Caddesi and Kariye Bostani Sokak), some along the top of the wall of the steeper variety. This restoration from the 1980s is in conflict with the original. The wall is then breached for the main road Fevzi Paşa Cd. Cross this and continue along the street at the back of the wall. Look for foot pads and breaks in the wall which allows access and a good look around. The wall is breached again for Adnan Menderes Blv (unofficially and widely known as Vatan Caddesi). Past here one see here quite clearly the double line of defence with outer moat. The next breach is for Turgut Özal Cd (unofficially and widely known as Millet Caddesi) which hosts the tram line heading back to Sultanahmet for those who have run out of steam. Walking now on the outside of the walls, various breaks in the outer wall allow access via broken stonework or later via modern sets of steps in disrepair. Between the walls is the disquieting evidence of the number of people sleeping rough in Istanbul. Persevere in staying between the walls because soon you will arrive at another impure restoration project at Mevlanakapı Cd gate. Entry to the gate towers has been closed at the gate, so entry is only from the walls. From here it is better to proceed on the outside of the walls because market gardens occupy the moat and the city side abuts buildings. These couple of kilometres will give a further perspective of the ravages of time and earthquake on the walls. Finally you will arrive at the Golden Gate and Yedikule Fortress which fronts the Marmara Sea and was Byzantium’s triumphal point of entry. This is in excellent condition not least because the Ottomans upgraded it and then used it right up to the 19th century. There is an entry fee and it has a toilet. The high walls and towers are all accessible, and one tower still has internal wooden floors. So you have now surveyed the protective land walls which kept Byzantium and the Eastern Roman Empire safe for all those years after the fall of Rome, breached only by the 4th Crusaders and the Ottomans. What of their future? Given that recent restoration work is fairly suspect scholars may think it is better to leave them be. Now return to the city either in the Eminönü Bus (#80) from the village square outside the main gate, just wait there, or walk down Yedikule Istasyonu Cd about 300 m to the railway line to Sirkeci, both heading for centres close to Sultanahmet.
The classic Bosphorus cruise
From the terminal immediately east of the Galata Bridge starts the large ferry cruising to Anadolu Kavagi at the northern entrance of Bosphorus to the Black Sea via various stops. The fare is 25 TL. The departure time is early and is very popular, so arrive early and queue. The open decks are hugely popular, so unless you have an outside seat expect people to be standing all around you constricting the view. The ferry waits some hours in Anadolu Kavagi so as you alight you are confronted by a numerous restaurants and their spruikers. Firstly take the walk to the Yoros Kalesi, a strategic castle overlooking and controlling the entry to the Black Sea. This important fortification with a commanding view has been fought over for many years and was last in use in the 19th century. It has fallen into serious disrepair, but Christian engravings are still visible in the stonework. There are restaurants actually in the castle surrounds and naturally have spectacular views. There is plenty of time left to wander back to the village for lunch. It is late afternoon before arrival back at Eminonu, but a day well spent. A cheaper and faster Bosphorus cruise alternative is a 10-TL trip on a shorter cruise.
Istanbul has five clubs playing in the Süper Lig, the top tier of Turkish association football: Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray, Başakşehir and Kasımpaşa. The first three have always been in the top tier and have international reputations. Matches between these sides are played in front of fiercely partisan sell-out crowds; getting tickets requires booking way in advance. As the atmosphere is extremely hostile to the away teams, spectators should avoid wearing away team colours after the match, and avoid any signs of crowd trouble.
Beşiktaş JK play at Vodafone Park, a 41,903-capacity stadium. It's on the European bank of the Bosphorus next to Dolmabahçe Palace, 1 km east of Taksim metro station.
Fenerbahçe SK play at the 47,834-capacity Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium (also called Ülker Stadium). It's on the Asian bank of the Bosphorus, 1 km east of Kadıköy metro station and ferry quay.
Galatasaray SK play at the 52,332-capacity Türk Telekom Stadium on the north edge of European Istanbul, take metro to Seyrantepe.
Başakşehir FK play at the 17,319-capacity Fatih Terim stadium. It's a long way out on the northwest edge of the city, 1 km north of Metrokent station on line M3.
Kasımpaşa SK play at the 14,234-capacity Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Stadium, in Beyoğlu district just north of the Golden Horn. It's named for the current Turkish President, who grew up nearby and played football in his youth.
The Turkish national stadium is Atatürk Olympic Stadium (Atatürk Olimpiyat Stadı), a 76,000-capacity arena at the western edge of the city, use either Olimpiyat or Olimpiyat Parkı metro station. It doesn't have a resident team, but several clubs have had spells here when their own stadium was unavailable. There are plans to expand it to 92,000 capacity by removing the running track, but this would end its Olympic prospects.
Many foreigners visiting or living in Istanbul decide to study Turkish formally in a language school.
Some of the biggest and most respected Turkish language schools in Istanbul are:
- ITI Istanbul in 4.Levent.
- Dilmer in Gümüşsuyu .
- Iladil in Fatih.
- Tömer, Ankara University affiliated.
- Concept Languages in Etiler.
- Boğaziçi University. Runs a summer long intensive Turkish language course for all levels.
Both Boğaziçi University and Bilgi University have well established Study Abroad programs in English for foreigners.
TEFL: Many foreigners living in Istanbul support themselves by teaching English. Finding a good teaching job is usually easier with a well-recognized certificate like the ones listed below:
- ITI Istanbul in 4. Levent runs Cambridge University's CELTA and DELTA courses year-round
If you already speak Turkish, Ottoman Turkish may also be interesting to learn. Ottoman Turkish was the courtly form of Turkish spoken during the era of the Ottoman Empire, and is significantly different to the form of Turkish spoken today. Approximately 80% of Ottoman Turkish words were loanwords from other languages, mostly Arabic, Persian and French. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, language reforms were implemented, including the establishment of the Türk Dil Kurumu (Turkish Language Association), which is the official regulatory body of the Turkish language. This association, with a philosophy of linguistic purism, decided to cleanse the Turkish language of loanwords and replace them with more Turkic alternatives. As such, only about 14% of modern Turkish words are of foreign origin.
Ottoman Turkish is the key to learning about Turkey's Ottoman past. With Ottoman Turkish, not only can you read historical archives, but you can also read Ottoman literature and letters dated back to the Ottoman period. In Istanbul, you can learn Ottoman Turkish from the following places:
- İsmek +90 212 531 01 41 İskenderpaşa Mahallesi, Ahmediye Caddesi, Hacı Salih Efendi Sokak, 6 Fatih.
- Tarih Vakfı +90 212 522 02 02 Zindankapı Değirmen Sokak, 15 Eminönü.
There is always a high demand for qualified - and, to a lesser extent, unqualified - ESOL/EFL teachers in Istanbul. Many teachers work with private instructional companies. Others contract out on a freelance basis.
Istanbul is Turkey's financial capital. All big investment banks, commercial banks, large foreign retail and consumer companies have offices in Istanbul. The business district has been coming up with high-rise buildings and business centers in the last decade.
Euro and US dollar are accepted at places frequented by tourists. Although, certain tourist attractions such as the Hagia Sophia only accept liras. Currency exchanges (döviz bürosu) and banks are plentiful in Istanbul and offer extremely competitive exchange rates with no commission charged. If you are planning to visit Istanbul, bring hard foreign currency and exchange them after you arrive (not at the airport!), preferably at a bank or a currency exchange. Exchange rates at the airport are terrible, only in the city you well get excellent rates with a sell-buy-spread of about 1-2%. But all other major currencies are excepted as well, but rates are not that excellent. Exchange leftover lira directly before leaving, in many foreign countries it can be hard to get rid of them at a proper rate.
Connecting east and west, the will to control the major trading routes was the reason why Istanbul was founded in the first place, so shopping should definitely not be overlooked in your Istanbul experience.
Shops may be closed on Sundays. Most major shopping malls have security checkpoints you usually see in airports and museums prior to entry.
Here are some of what are popular to buy while in the city:
- Turkish Delight, or Lokum (as the locals call it) – A good buy since you're in Turkey. It is advisable to buy it fresh rather than in pre-packed boxes and to get a variety of flavours rather than the stereotypical rose-water or lemon flavors available abroad. Pistachio in particular is very good. The best place to buy lokum in Istanbul is from a store. Istiklal Caddesi in particular features a number of stores that sell Turkish sweets by the kilogram including lokum and helvah. There are quite a few shops selling Turkish Delight in the Grand Bazaar, although unless you are very good at haggling better prices can be found elsewhere.
- Turkish Tea (çay, chai) – The national drink of Turkey, brewed from leaves grown on the steep, verdant mountain slopes of Turkey's eastern Black Sea coast. Traditionally, Turkish tea is brewed samovar-style, with a small pot of very strong tea sitting on a larger vessel of boiling water. Pour a small amount of strong tea into a little tulip-shaped glass and cut it to the desired strength with hot water. Turks usually add cube sugar (never milk, although you can often get milk if you ask.) Having fresh, hot tea always available everywhere is one of life's splendid little luxuries in Turkey. Elma Çayı: apple tea, like hot apple juice (EHL-mah chah-yee) is the flavour of preference, although it's more for tourists; Turks prefer Siyah Çay (black tea).
- Turkish Coffee Roasted and then finely ground coffee beans are boiled in a pot (cezve), usually with sugar, and served in a cup where the grounds are allowed to settle. A classic of Turkish culture.
- Nargile (hookah) – It is a single or multi-stemmed instrument for smoking flavored tobacco called shisha in which the smoke is passed through a water basin (often glass based) before inhalation. Different sizes of nargile make it easier to carry one home with you.
- Rugs and kilims – Can be a good buy while in the city. Most rug-specialized stores in the city, though, are aimed at tourist trade, so pick up basics of bargaining to avoid being ripped off at these stores. They are mostly located around Sultanahmet.
- Chalcedony – A semi-precious gemstone named after the nearby town of Chalcedon, and is sold in many of Istanbul's multitude of jewellery shops.
Istanbul's historical bazaars with an oriental ambiance, once sitting firmly on the western terminii of the Silk Road and spice routes, all dating back to Ottoman era, are all located in the peninsula of Old City. Note, many are very touristy nowadays, and they are good for taking some nice pictures. But shopping should be only be done where the tourist-local ratio is very low, e.g. prices at the Spice Market (Sultanahmet) are twice or triple as high as in the rest of the city.
On the other hand, modern shopping malls (alışveriş merkezi, usually shortened to AVM), popping all around the city in the last three decades, are mostly to be found in New Istanbul and western suburbs, though they are by no means exclusively located in these districts.
For individual restaurant listings, check district articles.
- Meze Meze is basically Turkish version of tapas, served in small portions both hot&cold. Best place to eat meze would be "meyhane".
- İskender Best version of Döner. It is basically döner served on a plate with a buttery tomato sauce on top and some plain yoghurt as a side.
- Döner. Always a good option for having fast and cheap food. The entrance to Istiklal Street contains dozens of small doner restaurants and they serve almost around the clock; though for a better experience (and a better food quality) you may want to wander about in residential neighbourhoods, since anything near a commercial or tourist area can be highly overpriced and greatly reduced in quality.
- Lahmacun It is "meat with dough", is a round, thin piece of dough topped with minced meat (most commonly beef and lamb) and minced vegetables and herbs including onions, tomatoes and parsley, then baked. Lahmacun is often served sprinkled with lemon juice and wrapped around vegetables, including pickles, tomatoes, peppers, onions, lettuce, and roasted eggplant; a typical variants may be found employing kebab meat or sauces.
- Dürüm a traditional Turkish wrap (which is made from lavash or yufka flatbread) that is filled with typical kebab or döner ingredients.
- Balık-Ekmek. Balik-Ekmek (literally "fish and bread") is a fish sandwich served in small boats and little buffets in Eminönü. It is also increasingly popular in buffets in Kadıköy coast. A regular sandwich consists of one small fried fish, slices of tomatoes and onion. However, the taste is beyond expectations for such a basic menu. The price is around 8 TL. Again, it's a local favorite.
- Hamsi. In Autumn and Winter the Black Sea Anchovy migrate through the Bosphorus, the local fishermen coming out in force to take advantage. All fish restaurants have them on the menu in season. It seems the classic serving is a handful of deep fried fish with raw onion and bread. Eat the fish whole, it's a winner. Look for the small restaurants behind the fish merchants on the Karakoy side of the Galata Bridge, western side. Expect to pay TL6.
- Patso. Patso is a type of sandwich consisting of hot dog and French fries. It's usually served in small buffets along the Uskudar coast and a sandwich costs 2.50 TL. The cheap price can raise eyebrows but these buffets are open 24/7 and they serve around 1000 sandwiches per day. Even though the profit margin is low, they make a fortune, so they don't lower the quality too much (except hamburgers, don't touch those in Uskudar, but definitely try the spicy hamburgers in Taksim).
- One thing not to be missed is the local ice cream sold at the street stands, called dondurma. While flavors are relatively standard for the region, the ice cream usually incorporates orchid root extract, which gives it an incredibly chewy and stringy texture, also lending itself to be used for marketing and attracting attention while the sellers do tricks to try to sell the ice cream. Try it!
- Kumpir is a snack which can easily be a full meal. It is originated from Albania but is quite unique to Istanbul in its present form. It consists of a baked potato with various fillings such as grated cheese, mayonnaise, ketchup, pickles, sliced red cabbage, sweetcorn, sausage slices, carrots, mushrooms, and Russian salad among others, any of which can optionally be added to or omitted from the mix. While kumpir can be had at many cafes throughout the city, it is best had from one of the cafes in Ortaköy, which have a long tradition of preparing kumpir and offer really filling and tasty ones. About 7-8 TL each.
- Roasted chestnuts("kestane Kebap, as locals call it) are sold from carts around the city, and is a very nice snack to have when the weather is cold, as it keeps your hands warm. 3 TL for 100 g. Eat in winter time.
- Boiled and roasted corn on the cob is sold from carts around the city, and is a fantastic snack to walk around. Price varies from cart to cart and area of the city (1-1.5 TL).
- Don't miss the "simit," a warm bread sold from carts around the city, and is a fantastic snack to walk around. The texture and taste is a bit like a sesame bagel. Price varies from cart to cart and area of the city (1-2 TL).
- Also, be sure to try Ayran, a local drink based on yoghurt, although sour and much thinner. It isn't always on the menu or displayed, but it's there, so ask for it.
- Freshly squeezed juice and juice blends are sold from stands and small shops all around the city, and are a refreshing treat (especially in the warmer months). The combinations range from a simple orange juice to the more rare options like pomengranate or kiwi. Price varies from shop to shop, area of the city and complexity of your order (2-4 TL).
- Bebek is a small town on the European Bosphorus, 10 km north of downtown, with fancy restaurants and bars. Great place to have a walk on the seaside after a nice dinner.
- Bagdat Caddesi is a very long avenue full of good restaurants, boutiques and high-end stores on the south Anatolia side of Istanbul.
- Karaköy is the rising star of the city, with its underground parties with views over the Marmara Sea.
- Beyoğlu has lively night life, with cafes and bars with live music.
- Nişantaşı is the place for young entrepreneurs and artists, but prices are higher than in Taksim.
- Kadıköy also has a nightlife scene, serving mostly locals of this part of the city. It's easy-going, with local pubs and wine houses and traditional meyhanes.
- Nightclubs are found all over the city, but two of the hottest are in Ortaköy.
In general, it is possible to find some kind of accommodation in any district of Istanbul. Here is a quick list of the districts where they are concentrated most:
- Harbiye is a popular place to stay, as in the main centre of the new city on the European side, and contains a variety of international standard apartments, hotels, and moderate hotels for budget travelers. Nişantaşı and Taksim are 5 minutes from Harbiye so you can stay in Harbiye and benefit from all activities in Nişantaşı and Taksim.
- Taksim is the main centre of the new city on the European side. Locals and tourists go to Taksim for shopping and entertainment, as well as moderate hotels for budget travelers. There are also two hostels in this area.
- Sultanahmet the main centre for the old city on the European side. It has a selection of quality, reasonably priced hotels, many with terraces overlooking the Golden Horn, or with views of the Marmara Sea and the Blue Mosque. Most hostel-type accommodation frequented by independent travellers are located in this district, although it is possible to find a few upmarket hotels.
- Quite pricey hotels can be found in western suburbs, especially around the airport, as well as on/overlooking the banks of Bosphorus.
- With the closure of relatively central Ataköy caravan park, the place where you can tow your caravan nearest to the city is now located in Selimpaşa, a far outer western suburb of the city, though it is still a good 40 km away from central parts of the city.
- As with most European cities, but especially in crowded areas of Istanbul, watch your pockets and travel documents as pickpockets have devised all sorts of strategies to obtain them from you. Do not rely too much on the 'safe' feeling you get from the omnipresence of police. Taksim Square, Sultanahmet Square, Istiklal Avenue, Kadikoy Square etc. security cameras monitored by police non-stop.
- If prices are not on display, always ask beforehand (even for a tea) instead of just ordering something like in Europe. This can be fatal in Istanbul because tourists are constantly overcharged. Unfortunately, often prices are not on display, like in sweet shops or even restaurants. Skip these places or ask for a price knowing what the approximate or fair price is.
- Istanbul is home to three of the biggest clubs in Turkey and maybe European football: Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe, and Galatasaray. It is advisable not to wear colours associating yourself with any of the clubs—black&white, navy&yellow, and red&yellow respectively, particularly on the days of matches between the sides due to the fearsome rivalry they share.
- In Istanbul, most drivers won't abide any rules. Even if you have priority on a road junction, crosswalk, or even during green light, always be aware of your surroundings. Even if you are in a one way road, check both sides before crossing the road. It is common for Turkish drivers to use shortcuts.
- A major earthquake with epicenter in the nearby Sea of Marmara is expected within the next few decades, so read the earthquake safety article here before you arrive.
Note, most of the following summaries are already almost 10 years old. Turkey has changed a lot since then, due to modernization, political uproar, the war in Syria, and many other things. Nowadays, the situation is actually far less fierce as it may seem in these outlines. So, relax! Nevertheless, know and read about them, to be aware. The most import ones you should keep in mind are the overpriced night clubs and bars, pickpocketing and overly friendly strangers.
Blue Mosque scam "guides"
When walking through the gates of the Blue Mosque, beware of smiling, friendly chaps who offer immediately to be your de-facto guide through the mosque and its surrounds; they'd be pretty informative on just about anything relating to the mosque; etiquette, history and Islamic practices. However, needless to say, they would eventually demand a price for their "services", a quotation that can be as high as 50 TL. You would be better off booking a private tour online; or not at all, since the mosque is essentially free to all anyway.
A notable scam for convincing tourists to visit overpriced restaurants with mediocre food involves the following: While walking along, you are overtaken by a Turkish man who claims to recognize you from the hotel at which you are staying (e.g. he will tell you that he works there as a waiter or a receptionist). He will ask where you are going. If you are going out for food, he will recommend a restaurant, claiming that it is where he takes his family or friends when they eat out. He may give you some other advice (e.g. the best time to visit the Topkapi palace) to make the conversation feel genuine and friendly. The restaurant he recommends will almost certainly be mediocre or low quality, and the staff there will try to sell you expensive dishes without you realizing. For instance, they may promote dishes which are marked as 'MP' (market price) on the menu, such as 'salt fish' (fish baked in salt), which may cost over 100 TL. They may also serve you additional dishes which you haven't ordered and then add them to the bill for an additional 25-50 TL, together with extra charges for service and tax. One restaurant that seems to be using this scam to get customers is Haci Baba in Sultanahmet.
Bar and club scams
High-drink price scams encountered in so-called night-clubs mostly located in Aksaray, Beyazit and Taksim areas. These clubs usually charge overpriced bills, based on a replica of the original menu, or simply on the menu that had been standing upside down on the table. Two or three drinks can already produce a fantasy bill that easily exceeds 1,000 TL.
Also be aware of friendly behaving groups of young men or male-female couples striking up a conversation in the street and inviting you to a "good nightclub they know". This has frequently been reported as a prelude to such a scam. The people in on the scam may offer to take you to dinner first, in order to lower your suspicions. Another way they will try to lure you in is by talking to you in Turkish, and when you mumble back in your language they will be surprised you're not Turkish and immediately will feel the urge to repay you for their accident with a beer.
Another variant of this involves an invitation in Taksim to male tourists to buy them beer (as they were "guests"). At the club, attractive women, also with beers, join them. When the bill comes, the person inviting the tourists denies having said he would pay for the drinks, and a large bill is presented, e.g. for 1500 TL; when the tourists object, burly "security" personnel emerge to accompany the tourists to an ATM machine (presumably to clean out their bank account). Any bar that looks like it could be a strip club is more than likely a scam joint.
In either of these scams, if you refuse to pay the high prices or try to call the police (dial #155) to file a complaint, the club managers may use physical intimidation to bring the impasse to a close. If you find yourself in such a situation for any reason, you should do whatever they want you to do, pay the bill, buy the things they are forcing you to buy, etc. Try to get out of the situation as soon as possible, go to a safe place and call the police.
Also be wary of men in Taksim who splash water on the backs of your neck. When you turn around, they will try to start a fight with you as another man comes in and robs you. These men tend to carry knives and can be very dangerous.
A frequent scam, often in smaller hotels (but it can also happen in a variety of other contexts), is to quote prices in lira and then later, when payment is due, claim the price was given in euros. Hotels which reject payment early in a stay and prefer you to "pay when you leave" should raise suspicions. Hotels which operate this scam often offer excellent service and accommodation at a reasonable price and know most guests will conclude as much and pay without complaint - thus this can be a sign of a good hotel.
Another scam is coin-related and happens just as you're walking into the streets. A Turkish guy holds you and asks where you are from. If you mention a euro-country, the guy wants you to change a €50-note from you into €2-coins he is showing. He is holding the coins stack-wise in his hands. For the trouble, he says he will offer you '30 €2-coins, making €60 in total'. Do not agree with this exchange of money, as the first coin is indeed a €2-coin, but (many of) the rest of the coins will probably be 1-lira coins (looking very similar), but worth only 1/4 of the value of €2.
Many bars in the Taksim area give you counterfeit bills. They are usually well-made and hard to identify as fakes in the dark. One way to verify its authenticity is to check its size against another bill. Another is to hold the bill up to a strong light, face side up, and check for an outline of the same face which is on the bill. The value of the bill (20, 50, etc.) should appear next to the outline, light and translucent. If either if these two security features are missing, try to have the bill changed or speak to the police.
Some men will walk around Taksim (or other tourist-frequented areas) with a shoeshine kit, and the brush will fall off. This is a scam to cause some Western tourist with a conscience to pick it up and return it to the owner, who will then express gratitude and offer to shine your shoes for free. While doing that, he will talk about how he is from another city and how he has a sick child. At the end, the shiner will demand a much higher price for the "free" services provided than is the actual market norm. A similar trick is to ask for a cigarette and proceed similarly.
If you actively decide that you would like your shoes shined, then expect to pay not more than 5 TL for both.
Taxis are plentiful in Istanbul and inexpensive by Western European and American standards. They can be picked up at taxi hubs throughout the city or on the streets. Empty cabs on the streets will honk at pedestrians to see if they would like a ride, or cabs can be hailed by pedestrians by making eye contact with the driver and waving. Few taxi drivers speak languages other than Turkish, but do a fair job at deciphering mispronounced location names given by foreign riders. It is advisable to have the name of the destination written down and try to have a map beforehand to show the driver, to avoid any misunderstanding and also potential scams. Though taxis are plentiful, be aware that taxis are harder to find during peak traffic hours and traffic jams and when it is raining and snowing. They are also less frequent during nights, depending on the area and are hard to find after midnight.
Try to avoid using taxis for short distances (5–10 minutes of walk) if possible. Some taxi drivers can be annoyed with this, especially if you called the cab from a taxi hub instead of hailing it from the street. If you want taxis for short distances, just hail them from the street, do not go to the taxi hub.
Few taxis have seatbelts, and some drivers may seem to be reckless. If you wish for the driver to slow down, say "yavash lütfen" (slow please). Your request may or may not be honored.
As in any major city, tourists are more vulnerable to taxi scams than locals. Be aware that taxi drivers use cars affiliated with a particular hub, and that the name and phone number of the hub, as well as the license plate number, are written on the side of each car. Noting or photographing this information may be useful if you run into problems. In general, riding in taxis affiliated with major hotels (Hilton, Marriot, Ritz, etc.) is safe, and it is not necessary to stay in these hotels to use a taxis leaving from their hubs.
Others may take unnecessarily long routes to increase the amount due (although sometimes alternate routes are also taken to avoid Istanbul traffic, which can be very bad). Some scams involve the payment transaction; for example, if the rider pays 50 TL when only 20 TL are needed, the driver may quickly switch it with a 5 TL note and insist that the rest of the 20 TL is still due or may switch the real bill for a fake one and insist that different money be given.
Methods to avoid taxi scams:
1. Sit in the front passenger seat. Watch the meter. Watch the driver's actions (beeping the horn, pumping the brakes, etc.) and note what the taximeter does. While it is rare, some drivers will wire parts of their controls to increase the fare upon activation. If you're with your significant other, do it anyway. Save the cuddling for after the ride. Check if the seal on the taximeter is broken. Use your phone for light. This will make the driver realize that you are cautious. For women it is better to sit in the back seat (where you can see the meter from the middle), as there are occasionally problems with taxi drivers getting overly friendly, and sitting in the front is a sign that a woman welcomes such behavior.
2. Ask "How much to go to...?" (basic English is understood), before getting in the taxi. Price will be quite accurate to the one in the taximeter at the end of the ride. If the price sounds ok for you, get in the cab and tell them to put the Taximeter on. The rate they are applying is same during night and day.
3. Know the route. If you have a chance, find a map and demand that the driver take your chosen route to the destination. Oftentimes they will drive the long way or pretend not to know where you're going in order to get more money out of you. If the driver claims not to know the route to a major landmark or gathering place, refuse his services as he is likely lying.
4. Choose an elderly driver. Elderly taxi drivers are less likely to cheat passengers.
5. Let taxi driver see money on your hands and show values and take commitment on it. This is 50 lira. OK? Take this 50 lira and give 30 lira back OK?. This guarantees your money value. Otherwise, your 50 lira can be 5 lira immediately on his hands. Try to have always 10 lira or 20 lira bills in your wallet. This makes money scams in general more difficult. If you realize that the driver tried to use the 50 lira to 5 lira trick on you, call the police (#155) immediately and write down the license plate.
6. Create a big scene if there is a problem. If you are absolutely positive you have been subject to a scam, threaten to or call the police and, if you feel it will help, start yelling. Taxi drivers will only rip off those they think will fall for it; creating a scene draws attention to them and will make it easier to pay the correct rate.
Watch the menu carefully in street cafes for signs that prices are not discriminatory — if prices are clearly over-inflated, simply leave. A good indication of over inflation is the circulation of two different types of menu — the "foreigner" menu is typically printed on a laminated card with menu prices written in laundry marker/texta, i.e., prices not be printed; in these cases, expect that prices for foreigners will be highly inflated (300% or higher).
While this is not really a problem in Beyoğlu or Ortaköy, avoiding the open air cafes toward the rear courtyard of the Spice Bazaar (Sultanahmet) is wise. The area immediately north of the Spice Bazaar is also crawling with touts for these 'infamous' cafes.
Having nargile (water pipe) is a famous activity in Istanbul,Tophane(top-hane)is a famous location for this activity where a huge number of nargile shops are available and can easily be reached by the tram, avoiding a place called "Ali Baba" in Tophane is wise, usually you will be served there with plates you did not ask for like a nuts plate, and expect to have a bill of around US$50 for your nargile!
Men intent on stalking foreign women may be present in tourist locations. Such men may presume that foreigners have a lot of money or liberal values and may approach foreign women in a flirtatious or forward manner looking for sex or for money (either by theft or selling over-priced goods). If you are being harassed, use common sense and go to where other people are; often this is the nearest store. Creating a public scene will deter many stalkers, and these phrases may be useful in such cases:
- İmdat! – "Help me!"
- Ayıp! – "Rude!"
- Bırak beni! – "Leave me alone!"
- Dur! – "Stop it!"
- Gider misin?! – "Will you go?!"
Or to really ruin him:
- Beni takip etme?! – "Can you please stop stalking me?!"
- Polisi arıyorum – "I am calling the cops!"
- Siktir Git – "Fuck off!"
Occasionally try not to use Turkish as the stalker will like it more, just scream and run and find a safer place with crowd and police.
Istanbul PD has a "Tourism Police" department where travelers may report passport loss and theft or any other criminal activity by which they are victimized. They have an office in Sultanahmet and can reportedly speak English, German, French, and Arabic.
- Tourism Police (Turizm Polisi), Yerebatan Caddesi 6, Sultanahmet (in the yellow wooden building between Hagia Sophia and the entrance of Basilica Cistern, few meters away from each), ☏ , fax: .
Tap water may not be safe depending on where you drink it. Although the tap water itself is clean, many local water tanks are not maintained properly, and one should try to avoid tap water if possible. Locals widely prefer bottled water and the same applies for the restaurants. Expect to pay for water in restaurants (around 2 TL).
Food and drinks are mostly of international standards. Some Turkish foods are known to use a variety of spices which may affect international tourists who may not be accustomed to such ingredients, although most of it is edible for any tongue.
Use common sense when buying certain foods, particularly from street vendors. Delicacies such as "Firin Sutlac" (a kind of rice pudding) can go bad rapidly on a hot day, as can the oysters occasionally for sale on the streets.
For general information on SIM cards, Wi-Fi and Internet see the country article.
Istanbul is the only city or province in Turkey that has more than one telephone code: 212 for European side, 216 for Asian side and Princes' Islands. When calling from one continent to the other, the usual dialing format used for intercity calls should be used, as if it’s an intercity call: 0+area code (212 or 216)+7-digit telephone number. It may appear as an intercity call, but it will be treated as a local call in respect to payment. When making an intercontinental call, if you forget to dial the code, your call will not be automatically routed to the other continent number, it is likely that you will be connected to the “wrong” number which is in the same continent with you, because much of the number sets are used on both continents (albeit with different codes of course). When dialing a number that is on the continent you are already standing on, only 7-digit number is enough. Don’t forget to dial the code first no matter which continent you are in if you are calling a landline number from a cell phone (even if it’s a number that is in the same continent with you), though.
Istanbul's less-than-scrupulous hotel and restaurant owners are as market savvy as they come—they actually read the popular travel guides to Istanbul and when they get listed or favorably reviewed, they raise prices through the roof and skimp on costs. For mid-range and cheap hotels/restaurants, you may actually have a better time if you avoid places listed in your guide. Trust your nose.
Many of the consulates in Istanbul are housed in elegant and imposing buildings dating back to the previous centuries, when they served as embassies to the Ottoman Empire, before its collapse and the move of the capital to Ankara by the then-newly established republic. An interesting fact about them is that they are all located in the Beyoğlu area with one exception, the Iranian consulate, as the imperial authorities did not allow representatives from non-Muslim lands to be based within the official borders of the city at that time, which more or less equaled to the peninsula of the Old City.
The area of European Turkey to the west of Istanbul is called Thrace. It has many historic towns with Byzantine and Ottoman heritage.
- Edirne, two hours to the northwest, is a beautiful historic city, and was the Ottoman capital before power moved to Istanbul. You need at least a day here. A slow scenic route winds north via Kıyıköy, ancient Medea, a fisherman's village on the Black Sea with some traditional architecture, partially rebuilt ancient city walls and a nearby rock-cut monastery. The next town on that route is Vize, an old town with a well preserved Byzantine cathedral.
- Head into Western Europe either via Sofia in Bulgaria or Bucharest in Romania.
- Or perhaps you can follow the ancient Via Egnatia all the way to the Adriatic and across to Rome.
- The Marmara Islands are across the sea, much further away and less urban than the Princes Islands just offshore of the city.
- Bursa to the southeast is a former Ottoman capital with many historical sights plus Uludağ National Park just south. İznik, rich in Byzantine, Seljuk, and early Ottoman heritage, is worth a detour on the way.
- A scenic route towards Izmir is to head west then south into the Gallipoli peninsula, with its World War 1 sites, cross the Dardanelles to Çanakkale, then past ancient Troy and Pergamon (Bergama). A short ferry-ride brings you to the charming island of Bozcaada.
In Istanbul you've only stepped on the threshold of Asian Turkey. Continue east across Anatolia for so much more: rejuvenated Ankara, unworldly Cappadocia, surreal Mount Nemrut, faraway Kars. And further still across the lands of the former Ottoman Empire: follow in the footsteps of ancient traders, medieval travellers, pilgrims, and hippies.
|Routes through Istanbul|
|Edirne ← Çorlu ← Junction (W) ←||W E||→ İzmit → Ankara|