“Istanbul was Constantinople. Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople” — Jimmy Kennedy, Istanbul (Not Constantinople), 1953
As the above, profound lyrics demonstrate, Istanbul (Turkish: İstanbul) is not Constantinople. It is however a city of fantastic history, culture and beauty. Called Byzantium in ancient times, the city's name was changed to Constantinople when it was rebuilt by the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine. It was renamed once again in 1928, becoming Istanbul, a name which had already been in use for centuries.
The most populous city in Europe, Istanbul forms the financial centre 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 still retains its metropolitan status: the city's population is estimated to be between 12 and 19 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 two thousand years of history await you.
The system of districts and municipalities of Istanbul is quite sophisticated and was changed in 2009. Hereby you may see a simple division of the city into approximate regions of the city:
|Sultanahmet/Fatih (The Old City)
Essentially Constantinople of Roman, Byzantine, and much of the Ottoman period, this is the walled inner city where most of the famous historical sights of Istanbul are located.
Housing many of the nightlife venues of the city, this district which includes Beyoğlu, Istiklal Street, and Taksim Square has also its own share of sights and accommodation.
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.
Banks of Golden Horn, the estuary that separates European Side into distinctive districts. Eyüp with an Ottoman ambience is located here.
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—both on the islands themselves, and also on the way there.
Eastern half of Istanbul, with lovely neighborhoods at the Marmara and Bosphorus coasts.
Western chunk of the European Side.
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 last remaining outpost of the Roman (later termed Eastern Roman or 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.
|Daily highs (°C)||7||8||10||15||20||25||27||27||24||19||13||10|
|Nightly lows (°C)||2||2||4||8||12||16||18||18||16||12||8||5|
See the 4 day forecast for Istanbul at the Turkish State Meteorological Service
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.
If there is a negative reputation that Istanbul does suffer from, it is the 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 only TRY5 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.
Also take note that due to 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.
- Main article: Istanbul Atatürk Airport
Sabiha Gökçen Airport
Istanbul also has a second airport, 2 Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (IATA: SAW), in the Anatolian side of the city. Charter flights as well as European low cost carriers operate from here most of the time.
A Havatas bus connects this airport with Taksim in the city centre (60 min, closer to 2 hours in heavy traffic, TRY13), Kozyatağı, a transportation hub of Asian Side (TRY10) and Haydarpasa port in Kadiköy, from where direct ferries take you to Eminönü in Sultanahmet Old City (50min, TRY8 + ferry TRY3). If you arrive in the middle of the night, you can move to the departure hall after passing customs and rest on very comfortable seats — you will even find coin-operated Japanese massage chairs. Then, at 05:00 the first Havatas bus will take you to town. The Havatas bus schedule is sometimes linked to the arrival/departure times of planes.
A cheapest option is to take public bus line #E9 to Kaynarca (get off at Tersane Lojmanlari) in (30min, TRY2); see timetables [dead link]). From Kaynarca, you can take a suburban train (Banliyö Treni) to Haydarpasa (50min, TRY2), from where you can take a ferry to Karaköy (TRY2). Total travel time is approximately 1h 40min and costs TRY6.
Another cheap option is to take bus E3 to 4.Levent metro station (TRY 6.45) and then continue your journey by metro (TRY1.95). This takes 50 minutes.
When arriving at Sabiha Gökçen airport, there are people offering shuttle services to the European side of the city, most costing €10, which is much cheaper than booking a taxi with your hotel/hostel (about €50-60). It is the best option after the Havatas airport buses.
Various private operators offer internet bookable shared minibuses to central locations — a good choice when arriving late. A typical price being €90 for 4 people to a hotel in Laleli. A taxi to Sabiha Gökçen airport from Taksim, which lies around 50 km from the airport, takes ~35 minutes at 03:30 with no traffic. The meter will show c. TRY65, plus there is c. TRY6 in tolls. Note the security screening is before the check-in counters, so add some extra time to make the cutoff times (45 minutes for international, 30 for domestic).
For the return journey, officers are quite zealous with luggage checks and they systematically remove the cap from bottled water once at the gate. It is recommended not to buy water before the flight although you can take the open bottle on board. Another surprising feature of Sabiha Gökçen airport is the luggage check at the main entrance, but fortunately you are allowed to take drinks in the airport at this point.
If you have a long stopover in Sabiha Gökçen, the LGM CIP Lounge offers unlimited free beer, wine, soft drinks, light meals and snacks for €12 entry per person.
There are no mainline trains in central Istanbul. Trains to Europe via Bucharest or Sofia historically ran from the 3 Sirkeci station, but this line is disrupted by the Marmaray project and by other work in Bulgaria. There are replacement buses from Sirkeci, at the usual departure time of 10 pm, to link with the westbound train, and returning from the incoming train around 8 am (but often very late). As the engineering work grinds on this link has variously been at Halkali at the city’s edge, at Cerkezkoy 115 km away, or at Kapikule on the Bulgarian border. This project has been interminably delayed and (as at 2016) no completion is in sight. Sirkeci was also the terminus for international trains to Thessaloniki and these too are suspended indefinitely. So the station has no trains, but the ticket office remains open, and the escalator just outside gives access to Sirkeci Marmaray station for metro services across the Bosporus. Also from July 2016, a regional train to Edirne runs once a day from Halkali.
You probably need a visa in advance to enter Turkey by train – see the note on visas in the separate page on Ataturk airport.
Trains east to Ankara and beyond historically ran from 4 Haydarpaşa, Asian side of the Bosporus, but this closed in 2012. High speed trains (“YHT”) now run from 5 Pendik, 25 km east of city centre. The simplest way there is by Marmaray line under the Bosporus then metro to Pendik metro station, then walk or taxi 1.5 km south down Adnan Menderes Bvd to Pendik mainline station. Allow 90 minutes for all this, and note that the first metro of the morning will not get you there in time for the first Ankara train at 6.30 am. To return into the city, exit Pendik mainline station north side via the subway to emerge at the transport drop-off / pick-up point. You could take a taxi from here to Pendik metro station, or on foot turn right (east) along the highway which then turns north up Adnan Menderes Bvd towards the metro; or if a westbound 251 bus is just about to depart, take it as far as Kartal metro station on the same line. (Until October 2016, the metro terminated at Kartal, so this was the usual route between city centre and YHT.)
Pendik has a frequent YHT service to Eskişehir (2 hours) and Ankara (3½ hours), and a twice daily service to Konya (4½ hours). Also Pendik is convenient for Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen airport (10 km, taxi or bus) so consider this route if you intend to fly in and immediately head east.
For timings and reservations (strongly recommended) see TCDD (Turkish Republic State Railways). For destinations in eastern Turkey, take the YHT to Ankara and change, but see that page for disruptions to those services, expected to last till 2018. For Adana, travel via Konya and Karaman. The international trains to Iran, Syria and Iraq are suspended indefinitely, but the train to Georgia may resume in 2017.
The YHT line between Pendik and Haydarpaşa is due to be completed in 2018, so Haydarpaşa will again become the Asian terminus, and travel times to Ankara and other cities will be reduced by over an hour. At some future date, mainline trains will also run through the Marmaray tunnel to a European terminus at Halkali.
Buses and coaches terminate at the colossal 6 Esenler bus station (Esenler Otogar, also called Bayrampaşa Otogar, albeit rarely), about 10 km west of the city centre, located on the European side. 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 lacking a central information desk, so you will have to ask around the individual offices for prices and timetables for your destination. Courtesy minibuses (servis) provided by the bus companies for free or taxis will easily get you into the centre. The metro (M1A, M1B) also stops at the otogar.
In addition to any city and sizeable town across the country, there are several daily buses to/from cities in Bulgaria, Greece, Republic of Macedonia and Romania. From/To Thessaloniki (Greece): ticket prices are around €45 (one way), €80 return. From/To Sofia and Varna (Bulgaria): c. €25 (one way). From/To Skopje (Macedonia): c. €40 (one way)
A secondary hub for the European side is at 7 Alibeyköy 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. 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, provided that a servis bus is available (better to ask in advance than to stuck in the middle of nowhere).
Right on the banks of the Bosphorus, 8 Harem (not to be confused with the ladies' quarter of the Topkapı Palace with the same name) is the major hub for the buses on the Anatolian (Asian) side, which can be reached easily from Sirkeci on the European side with a ferry. However, instead of driving into this station, some bus companies (especially the larger ones offering a long list of destinations) nowadays put up their own hubs in scattered locations in the suburbs of this side, taking the passengers out with servis buses from central areas such as Kadıköy.
Bus from Georgia terminates at Aksaray bus terminal, near Yenikapi metro station.
International ferries, carrying tourist groups from outside Turkey stop at 9 Karaköy Port. The port is ideally located close to Sultanahmet and Taksim.
Cruise ships often dock close to downtown. Passengers not on tours will find taxis readily available at the port entrance, and modern streetcars a short walk away.
Traffic in Istanbul can be manic; expect a stressful drive because you will be cut off and honked at constantly. The city currently hosts more than 1,500,000 cars and there is a strong demand for building of new or alternate highways.
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 two bridges. The bridge on the south, closer to the Marmara Sea, is called the "Bosphorus Bridge". The bridge closer to the Black Sea is named "Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge" and is longer than the first one. Both are toll bridges, and you must pay a fee to cross.
Either bridge does not accept cash anymore, and 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, drivers should be aware of 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.
Drivers unfamiliar with the city should also be aware that 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'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.
Each time you use a tram, metro, bus, or boat on the public transport system, you will need to use a token. The small plastic tokens cost 4 TL (Jan 2016) and can be bought at various ticket kiosks & machines at bus, railway and metro stations. Ticket fares across buses, trams and metros are at a flat rate (i.e. not dependent on how far you go). Only cash in Turkish lira is accepted at ticket kiosks of public transport, no credit cards or foreign currency. Also be aware that the Istanbul subway system does not offer transfer tickets and as such each new line requires a new fare, unless you use an Istanbulkart or Akbil, see below.
Note: When travelling to Istanbul by air, it is much cheaper (and more fun) to use the metro system 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 by slightly confusing, taxis/charter buses from the airport are notoriously overpriced.
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.
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, to 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 (almost twice as cheap) compared to regular single tickets, as well as discounts on transfers and short round trips (when used multiple times within a limited period, roughly an hour and a half since the last time you used it). For instance, a trip with Istanbulkart costs c. TRY2.15, while a single ticket is c. TRY4.0. The round trip to the airport pays for more than half the cost of this card. You must purchase the card (TRY10) with TRY4 as its balance, the card is not refundable, and neither is any credit left on the Istanbulkart. The card can be purchased at a number of small corner shops throughout the city.
The Istanbulkart is relatively new, and replaces the older Akbil metal touch-token which is being phased out (You can't use akbil after the end of 2015). 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.
Istanbul's first underground system dates back to 19th century, when the funicular subway "Tünel" was constructed to operate from Karaköy to Istiklal Street in 1875, travelling 573m up a steep hill. It's still running to this day and is handy for going from Galata Bridge (Beyoglu side) to the famous Istiklal Caddesi (main street).
Istanbul's modern metro consists of five lines, only the first two of which are of much use to the casual visitor:
- Line M1A connects the airport (Havalimani) and 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. Every train serve the common part of the system between Yenikapı and the bus station, from where they are diverged towards either the airport or Kirazlı.
- 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 serving the locations in the northern reaches of the city near the Black Sea, such as Sarıyer).
- Line M3 continues northwest from M1B terminus Kirazli.
- Line M4 on the Asian side goes from Kadıköy to the eastern suburbs.
- Line M6 (also called Mini Metro) is more like a shuttle starting from the Levent station of the M2, and serving the upscale district of Etiler and the main campus of Boğaziçi University in Hisarüstü overlooking the Bosphorus from a distance.
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 via Marmaray from Yenikapı station.
Nowadays, most metro stations do not have a staffed ticket booth, so you will have to obtain your token from automatic token dispensers. Insert coins or notes and then press the button marked onay/okay. A token 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 tokens (4 TL) or 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, seperate 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, while on the Asian side, a circular system between Kadıköy and the nearby Moda district is served by 1960s streetcars imported from Germany.
Istanbul's dilapidated suburban rail network got a big boost in October 2013 when Marmaray, a fabulously expensive transcontinental tunnel from Europe to Asia under the Bosphorus, finally opened after ten years of construction. The line zips from train terminus Yenikapı with a stop in central Sirkeci (T1) to Üsküdar and Ayrılıkçeşmesi (M4) in minutes, with lengthy extensions in the works at both ends. It's nowhere near as scenic as the ferries, but considerably faster, and a true engineering marvel.
The old suburban/commuter train lines (banliyö treni) travelling west from Sirkeci (Europe) and east from Haydarpaşa (Asia) have been shut down for upgrading and integration into Marmaray, with reopening, postponed several times already, expected in 2017 or so.
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 TRY3, and gives great views of the Bosphorus. Be aware that 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 55km/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 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 universally accepted on all buses) 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:
Note: A double check from İETT website is highly 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. As of September 2016, start off rate is 3.40 TL (€1.1) and then 2.1 TL (€0.6) for each km afterwards.. A one-way travel from Taksim Square to Sultanahmet costs approximately TRY 10–15. Tipping is generally unnecessary. Frequently, drivers will refuse to start the meter and try to negotiate a fixed price. You should avoid these cabs and simply 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. As of Oct 2009, 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 are usually a tourist trap. They start the meter but charge you TRY20 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.
Beware riding a taxi other than the "yellow-coloured" ones since the other-coloured taxis are registered under different cities and have a different rating system.
Be careful on what notes you hand them for payment; some drivers have tried to pretend that the TRY50 note that was handed was just a TRY5 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 TRY50 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 km 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 :
- Ataturk Airport (IST) - Taxim Square ~ 21 km.
- Ataturk Airport (IST) - Sultanahmet Square (Old City) ~ 18 km.
- Taxim Square - Sultanahmet (Old City) ~ 5,5 km.
- Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW) - Kadikoy (Chalcadonia) Ferry Terminal ~ 36 km.
- Esenler (Bus Terminal) - Topkapi Palace (Sultanahmet) ~ 10,5 km.
- Esenler (Bus Terminal) - Ataturk Airport (IST) ~ 15 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. They are easy to recognize, because they also have the yellow painting as taxis and carry a Dolmus sign on its top. They will only start driving when all eight places are filled, which is also where the name derives from.
The main and most important routes for Dolmuses 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.).
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).
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 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.
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.
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 (entrance fees : 40TL), Topkapı Palace (40TL), Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque, free), and Basilica Cistern (careful! unequal price, TRY20 for foreigners, less for Turkish) are located 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 has a view of much of the rest of the city as well, 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.
A visit to a hamam (Turkish bath) is an essential part of any trip to Istanbul and is something you'll be sure to repeat before leaving. There are at least one historical hamam in each neighborhood of Istanbul. Take care in selecting a hamam, as they can vary greatly in cleanliness. Most places will offer a scrubbing and/or a massage. Just being in the Hamam (as a sauna), is enough for seeing and experiencing the place, but the scrubbing is a great experience. The massage is not necessarily better than those found in western countries.
Sultanahmet has many historical hamams. Some are very extravagant and cater mainly to tourists.
Nargile (Hooka/Water Pipe)
Once upon a time, the nargile, or Turkish water pipe, was the centre of Istanbul’s social and political life. Today some of the locals still consider it one of life’s great pleasures and is something interesting to try. 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 (five miles 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 four hundred meters 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 408AD 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 metres 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 laneway which leads to the small terminal building. The fare is TRY1.50. 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 408AD 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 80s 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. Note that 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 kms 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 boasts a loo. 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 300m 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 TRY25. 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 TRY10 trip on a shorter cruise.
Football (soccer) is the most popular sport in Turkey, and Turkish football fans are known for their passion. Many teams from other parts of Europe consider the atmosphere to be very intimidating when they have to play away matches in Turkey. The most intense rivalries in Turkish football are between Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe, and Galatasaray, and matches between these sides are always played in front of 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.
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 [dead link] in 4.Levent.
- EFINST Turkish Centre in 1. Levent .
- Dilmer in Gümüşsuyu .
- Iladil in Fatih .
- Tömer, Ankara University affiliated .
- Concept Languages in Etiler  [dead link].
- 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.
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 centres in the last decade.
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.
The currency used in Istanbul is the Turkish Lira (TL) though the euro and US dollar are also 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, preferably at a bank or a currency exchange. Exchange only what you need as you will find difficulty exchanging your leftover TRYback to foreign currency after you leave the country. Alternatively, withdraw money from ATMs whenever you need cash.
Shops may be closed on Sundays. Most major shopping malls have security checkpoints you usually see in airports and museums prior to entry.
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.
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.
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 Çay: apple tea, like hot apple juice (EHL-mah chah-yee) is the flavour of preference, although it's more for tourists; Turks prefer Saya 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.
- Off the Beaten Path. Places that offer the best at what they do but are not on any of the traditional tourist paths.
- ArkeoPera, Yenicarsi Caddesi, 16/A Petek Han, Galatasaray, +90 212 2930378 . Best antiquarian bookshop in Turkey, owner knows every Turkish excavation site first hand.
- Gonul Paksoy, 6/A Atiye Sokak, Tesvikiye, +90 212 2360209. Peerless one-of-a-kind dresses made for royalty from refined, antique Ottoman-era cloth.
- Iznik Foundation, 7 Oksuz Cocuk Sokak, Kurucesme, +90 212 2873243 . Offers neo-Iznik pottery after recreating original formulas from original Iznik kilns, which functioned between 1450 and 1650.
- Sedef Mum, 50 Irmak Caddesi, Dolapdere, +90 212 2535793. Artisans of the time honoured art of candle making, intricately sculpted and aromatic wares make very portable gifts.
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 Eminonu. 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 TRY7-8 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 Lr for 100 gr.
- 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 (between 1 and 1.5 Lr).
- 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 (between .75 and 1 Lr).
- 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 (between 2 and 4 Lr).
- Bebek is small town right on the Bosphorus 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 nice restaurants, boutiques and high-end stores located at the Anatolian Side of Istanbul.
- Karaköy is the rising star of the city, mostly notable with its underground parties with amazing view of Marmara Sea. A must see.
- Beyoğlu is notoriously known for its night life; it's full of cafes and bars with live music. People from all classes and ethnicity can be found here.
- Nişantaşı is the place for young entrepreneurs and artists, the prices are higher than Taksim.
- Kadıköy also has a nightlife scene, serving mostly locals of this part of the city. It is usually has more easy-going style of nightlife, usually with local pubs and wine houses and traditional meyhanes. If you are not staying on that side of the city, it may not worth the trouble to make an inter-continental trip just to have a drink, but drop by if you are around and thirsty.
- Nightclubs - While there are night clubs all over the city, two of the hottest clubs of Istanbul 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.
Istanbul is the only city/province in Turkey which 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.
Prepaid SIM cards can be bought (for around TRY30 with TRY5 usable balance) at Vodafone, Türk Telekom or Turkcell kiosks at the airport or in shops around town. They might ask to make a copy of your passport.
You can use foreign phones for approximately two weeks, before the IMSI gets blocked by all carriers (except if you're roaming with a foreign SIM card) and you need to register the phone, which you can only do every 2 years.
Hotel: Every hotel has their own Wi-Fi. Some hotels do have trouble with their network setup or the connection due to the historical location however at the least you will have free wi-fi at your hotel. All you have to do is to learn the wifi password to access the internet.
Every café, bistro, restaurant share their internet with their guests. Even the small restaurants now have internet access. Stability and speed depend on where you are and what kind of café, bistro or restaurant you are in. Starbucks, Nero etc. typically have stable wi-fi unless very crowded. If you are in a Starbucks all you have to do is connect your device (SSID should be TTNET or DorukNet, AND if you are in Nero DorukNet) and fill out some basic information for verification that you have to fill. After that, you are ready to go. And if you are in the other restaurant or cafés you can just ask to your waiter to get SSID and Password and after that you are ready to go. Many cafés and restaurants along Istiklal Caddesi in Beyoglu have the system.
Public Center and Squares:
Municipality of Istanbul recently announced that free public wi-fi will be available in most common city centers and squares. All you have to do is (when you near of one of these centers of course) register your id via your cell phone and you will get an access password.
Wi-Fi on the Go:
You can rent a mobile wifi hotspot during your stay in Turkey. It works based on 3G connection in the whole country, and you can connect up to 10 devices at the same time. These pocket-sized devices can be easily booked online. While there are plenty of international companies that rent a mobile hotspot, mainly two local companies are operating:
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 policemen. Taksim Square, Sultanahmet Square, Istiklal Avenue, Kadikoy Square etc.. security cameras monitored by police 24/7 non-stop.
Istanbul is home to three of the biggest clubs in Turkey and arguably European football: Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe, and Galatasaray. It is advisable not to wear colours associating yourself with any of the clubs—black&white, blue&yellow, and red&yellow respectively, particularly on the days of matches between the sides due to the fearsome rivalry they share.
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 50TL (or equivalent to €25 or UK£20). One would be better off booking a private tour online; or not at all, since the mosque is essentially free to all anyway.
Tourists must be aware of high-drink prices 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 1000 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 person(s) 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.
A recently encountered variant of this involved an invitation in Taksim to two male tourists (separately, within an hour of one another) to buy them beer (as they were "guests"). At the club, two attractive ladies, also with beers, joined them. When the time came for the bill, the person inviting the tourist denied having said he would pay for the drinks, and a bill was presented for 1500 Lira; when the tourists in question expressed an inability to pay such a high amount, burly "security" personnel emerged, who the manager explained would accompany the tourist to an ATM machine (presumably to clean out their bank account). In one of the above examples, the tourist escaped by shouting for the police once on the street; in the other, a much lower amount was accepted from the tourist.
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 (dial #155). That said, sometimes there is a chance to run, such as a case in August, 2009, when a man was able to escape. His sudden leave may have caught the waiters off guard; in all hastiness they forget to put someone at the door, thus leaving an opening.
Any bar that looks like it could be a strip club is more than likely a scam joint. 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 (ironically) 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 lira 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.
Unfortunately, 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 TRY50 when only TRY20 are needed, the driver may quickly switch it with a TRY5 note and insist that the rest of the TRY20 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. Note that 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. Since 2009, 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 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 ariyorum - "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 2TL).
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.
Keep in mind that 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.
Gumussuyu/Taksim, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com.
- Airports — You can easily connect to Atatürk airport via the Metro (possibly with a tram transfer. However, if your flight is before when the Metro starts working, you can use the Havaş airport shuttle which departs from various points of the city from as early as 04:00. Scheduling information can be found here and clicking on the airport you need: Havaş airport shuttle information [dead link]. An example would be from Taksim Square, which leaves as early as 04:00, costs 10 TL, and takes 40 min.
The northern outskirts of the city, on both sides of the Bosphorus, is the covered by lush forests, marked by some historic sites and villages.
- Belgrad Forest — An ancient woodland along the northern edge of the city, almost the only intact section of the forests that once dominated the area. The forest, quite easy to access by the public buses, is dotted by numerous Ottoman-era dams and aqueducts — as the area was for long the main water source for the city — in addition to the Atatürk Arboretum, which has gorgeous autumn scenery, as well as distants views of the Bosphorus. Looking for a quiet spot for birdwatching? The observation towers in the arboretum might fit the bill.
- Anadolu Kavağı — Officially the northernmost neighbourhood of the city, Anadolu Kavağı (also known sortly as Kavak) on the Asian bank of Bosporus is practically a separate village, accessible only by a windy and narrow road through the forest, by infrequent public buses, or by ferries (the best way to go there). The ferries depart from Eminönü (a couple times daily, from the pier named Boğaz İskelesi) and Sariyer (much more frequently), which is the northernmost district on European side (take the buses from Hacıosman, the northern terminus of the M2 metro line, for Sarıyer). Once in Anadolu Kavağı, climb up to the hilltop Yoros Castle (follow the signs starting from the square near the quay, it takes about 20 minutes on foot, free admission). While it is unclear who built it, maybe the Byzantines or the Genoese perhaps, it is pretty obvious that it was built to protect the northern entrance of Bosphorus. The castle offers a view of the mouth of the Bosporus and the Black Sea beyond, and it would look as if not much had changed since Jason and the Argonauts sailed through here in pursuit of the Golden Fleece, if it weren't for the recently-built Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge that blocks part of the view north. When you turn your back to Black Sea on the other hand, you’ll have a distant view of business district of the city, full of skyscrapers. When you’re done in the castle, return back to town centre, and before boarding the ship that will take you back to the city, have a waffle and a hot coffee in one of the cafés near the shore if it’s winter. Recently a number of open-air cafes just across the street from the citadel has been opened as well, overlooking the pleasant wooded vale, the village, and the Bosphorus below. (Note: The citadel and surrounding areas get really crowded at weekends during summer months, which makes falling into mythical dreams a little difficult. Also avoid staying around the castle after the night falls in winter, as scarily large dogs occupy all over the place.)
- Polonezköy — A village in the Asian side of Istanbul, about 20 km away from central parts of the city. It was founded by Polish settlers in 19th century.
Further north is the Black Sea coast, with beaches and resorts villages. Swimmers, inexperienced and experienced alike, should note that the sea is rough, and high waves and rip currents typical in the area make it difficult and somewhat dangerous to swim. Drownings occur every year. For your safety, do not swim outside the limits of the designated swimming area, which are marked by buoys.
- Kilyos — On the European side, Kilyos is a half-hour drive from Taksim under normal circumstances. The village has more than a dozen private and public beaches, some of which require membership to enter. Though there are ways to get to Kilyos with buses and dolmus, the best way is to use a private car, since the journey will take longer than usual during summer.
- Şile — On the Asian side, Şile is a 45 minutes drive to Taksim, although, it will take ca. 1.5–2 hours to get there if you take the bus from Üsküdar. It is a village growing rapidly, famous for its fish and special cotton fabric Şile Bezi (cloth of Şile). Similar to Kilyos, Şile also has its own private and public beaches.
- Ağva — Lying to the east of Şile, you can get to Ağva by bus or car. By car, it will take 20-30' and by bus ca. 1 hour. Ağva is a tourist-attracting, small holiday village. It has less make-up for tourist. You can observe the local life. Although it is less crowded than Kilyos and Şile due their relative proximity to Istanbul, its beach became due to the increase of visitors dirty recently. But if you ask locals, you can find wonderful, hidden beaches (such as "Kilimli"). Ağva also has the added charm of a river, the banks of which are lined by pleasant restaurants.
- Büyükçekmece — not many travellers think of the western suburbs of the city as a sightseeing destination, but this little lakeside town can fill up some spare hours thanks to its 16th-century stone bridge, mosque, and caravanserai
- Çatalca — a nearby town in the northwest, a good base to explore the rock-cut monasteries at İnceğiz, and the longest and, ironically, the least known of the defensive walls of Constantinople, the Anastasian Wall
- Silivri — a 45 minutes drive to Istanbul, Silivri is a domestic holiday destination with many summer houses inhabited by those living in Istanbul for most of the year. It also has a hilltop old town, with some Byzantine ruins.
- Edirne — about two hours away in the northwest, this beautiful historic city was the Ottoman seat before the imperial capital was moved to Istanbul. While feasible as a long day trip out of Istanbul, spare at least a night in Edirne to enjoy all the sights. With one more day in your hands, you can take the longer northern route to Edirne, and visit Kıyıköy, or 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.
- Sofia, Bulgaria — using a night bus each way could even make this an interesting (if tiring) day trip to the capital of Bulgaria.
South and East
To the south of Istanbul is the Sea of Marmara with many islands. Across the sea is Anatolia and the Middle East beyond.
- The Princes' Islands — A group of islands off the southern coast of the Asian Side of Istanbul. "Büyükada", the biggest and most famous of them all, has fairly frequent ferry connections to Eminönü and Kabatas (on the European side) and Bostanci and Kadikoy (on the Asian side) (depending on the time of year - check out the IDO and Mavi Marmara ferry services. Out of season it might be necessary to travel via Bostanci using the Mavi Marmara ferries). At Büyükada you can rent bikes and find some very secluded spots perfect for a picnic, highly recommended for when you're tired of being in a huge city with millions of people.
- Marmara Islands further out in the Sea of Marmara is a less urban alternative to Princes' Islands, and with connections to Asian mainland (to Bandırma via Erdek) can be a stopover on the longer route to Izmir.
- Bursa to the south/southeast, about the exact opposite direction of Edirne, can be another long day-trip, possibly combined with a de-tour to İznik on the way. Bursa is another former Ottoman capital with many earlier historical sights, as well as Uludağ National Park just south of the city.
- Çanakkale, about three hours away in the southwest, is a pleasant city on the banks of the Straits of Dardanelles, and is the hub for visiting many nearby sites, such as Gallipoli World War I memorials, ancient Troy, and charming island of Bozcaada.
- Istanbul to New Delhi over land, a.k.a. "The Hippie Trail" — over land route deep into South Asia.
- Istanbul to Cairo over land — over land route deep into Middle East.
Istanbul is geographically huge, spanning two continents, so it is hard to hit the road with your thumb up immediately, although not entirely impossible. Here are a few ideas for spots (accessible by public transport) where to raise your thumb up when leaving the city.
- West (towards Europe): take public bus #448 (Yenibosna Metro-Mimarsinan) which departs from the bus stops located next to the ‘Yenibosna’ station of southern metro line. #448 takes you to the highway leading to west, to a highway on-ramp out of city, near Mimarsinan town. Don’t get off the bus until it leaves the highway by turning right in the on ramp junction. (fare: TRY1.50/person, though you’ll have to buy multi-use cards (at least 5 uses for TRY7.50), which makes a bad investment assuming that you are leaving the city. You can pay directly to the driver inside the bus the single-use fare, though)
- East and South: it may be best to get to the neighbouring city of Izmit first. The cheapest option was the trains, although they are fewer and much more expensive due to the arrival of the high-speed lines currently. Near the train station in Izmit is a major highway junction, take east for Adapazari/Ankara/Central Anatolia/Black Sea Turkey, south for Yalova/Bursa. If you are eager for more southern locations such as Antalya, take eastward road to Adapazari first, then hit the southward road there (which eventually reaches Antalya after hundreds of kilometers). Another option to leave the city is to take the not-so-cheap fast ferries to Yalova, if you don’t object to pay much for public transport. There are also public buses from Kadiköy, Istanbul’s main centre on Asia, to Tuzla (#130 and #130A; fare: TRY1.50/person, 7days/24 hours service ), which is the easternmost district of the city. If you take one of these buses, get off as soon as the bus leaves the highway (colloquially known as E-5, pronounced “ay besh” in Turkish, 4-lane one-way, you can easily recognize what is this highway and what is not). Where you will get off is as far as you can get on that highway with a public bus, though most of the cars passing there will be too fast to be able to stop right beside you, so carrying along a sign with your destination is a good idea.
|Routes through Istanbul|
|Edirne ← Çorlu ← Junction (W) ←||W E||→ İzmit → Ankara|