Istanbul is a very attractive city to visit, receiving 8 million foreign tourists each year. It is the only city in the world that connects two continents, Europe and Asia. Istanbul provides a unique experience as it offers a modern European city, as well as an ancient culture with Eastern-style bazaars and Ottoman architecture.
Istanbul is the only city in the world, which has been the capital city of both Muslims and Christian Empires. It was the pearl of the Byzantine Empire, known as Constantinople. It was known as the most important city of the Christian world for more than 1000 years. The city was known as ‘Istanbul’ during the Ottoman Empire and it was home to the Ottoman Sultans.
Istanbul owes its historical importance to its strategic location and access to the Bosphorus . The French discoverer, Pierre Gilles, wrote in his book in the 16th century: “Though all other cities have their periods of government and are subject to the decays of time, Constantinople alone seems to claim a kind of immortality and will continue to be a city as long as humanity shall live either to inhabit or rebuild it.” Pierre Gilles was right as Istanbul still is a strategic location even today. Although Ankara is the capital city of Turkey, Istanbul is the biggest and most crowded city of Turkey as it is home to the most important trade centres, busiest port and the largest Turkish companies.
Istanbul has large number of expensive apartments, boutiques, elegant cafes, mainly in sections such as Bebek , Nisantasi , Arnavutkoy , Goztepe , Caddebostan and Bagdat Road . However, the most expensive houses in Istanbul are the Bosphorus villas located along the coastline, selling well over $120 million.
For those who will travel to Istanbul as a tourist, the most attractive places to visit are the historical centres, such as Sultanahmet Mosque, Topkapi Palace , Dolmabahce Palace , Hagia Sophia . Three great civilizations, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, shaped Istanbul, making it a multi-cultural and unique place to visit. The most famous places to visit from the Byzantines include: Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya), the impressive mosaics of the Kariye mosque ( Kariye Museum ) and Theodosius Walls. Istanbul has numerous buildings and mosques from the Ottomans. Out of all the mosques, Suleymaniye and Sultan Ahmet ( Blue Mosque ) is probably the most popular ones. Topkapi Palace , which was the residence of the Ottoman Sultans, is the museum attracting the highest number of visitors.
The coldest months of the year are January and February when the temperature can go as low as -8 °C, however the average during these months is 7 °C. The hottest months are June, July, August. Although the average temperature during these months are 30°C, it might be over 40°C for a couple of days.
March, April, May, September, October and November can be considered as the best times to visit Istanbul.
Bosphorus : None of the tourists visiting Istanbul leaves the city without taking a photo of the Bosphorus . It is the most breath-taking section of this beautiful city.
Kapalicarsi or Grand Bazaar or the Covered Bazaar : You can visit Kapalicarsi not only to buy souvenir, but also to experience the old Istanbul .
Large number of old mosques
Buildings from the Ottoman Empire, such as Topkapi Palace and Dolmabahce Palace
Nightlife : Istanbul has one of the best nightlife in Europe, with high quality night clubs and bars open until 6am.
Places to Visit in Istanbul
Old Istanbul used to be built on seven hills, close to Sarayburnu and Sultanahmet . This area is home to the majority of the touristic areas that you might like to visit, such as Hagia Sophia , Kapalicarsi ( Grand Bazaar ), Sultan Ahmet Mosque ( Blue Mosque ) , Suleymaniye Mosque , Caria or Kariye Mosque ( Kariye Museum ) , Yerebatan Sarnici ( Basilica Cistern ) and Topkapi Palace .
Cagaloglu Hamam Turkish Bath
Cagaloglu Hamami, on Kazim Ismail Gurkan road, is famous for its beautiful hararets or steam rooms. It was built in 1741 by Mahmut II to pay for the upkeeping of the library in Ayasofya Hagia Sophia . The bath featured in several movies, including Indiana Jones.
Misir Carsisi – Eyptian Bazaar
At Misir Carsisi ( Egyptian Bazaar ), the main bulk of produce sold was traditional spices. This L shaped bazaar, received goods from Cairo, which is why it has been named as Egyptian Bazaar. You can buy a variety of Lokums ( Turkish Delight ).
The majority of the cheaper shops are located on the adjacent back streets. You can also buy towels, bed linens, dried fruits and coffee from Misir Carsisi.
The Golden Horn located in Halic
It is believed that during the invasion of the Ottoman Empire, the Byzantine citizens threw away the gold and valuable objects to the sea from this place, so that they will not be taken away by the Ottomans. Halic was an important harbor for the Ottoman Empire supplying Venetian, Genoese and Jewish colonies. Additionally, it used to be an important site for ship construction.
The Halic walls are a good spot to have a rest and have tea or coffee between visiting nearby attractions.
Kapali Carsi- The Covered Bazaar or Grand Bazaar
Kapalicarsi is the largest covered bazaar in the world with 66 streets and over 4,000 shops. There are also market halls that produce some of the hand crafted goods sold in the bazaar.
Years ago, shops on each street was selling only one good, and the name of the street was reflecting the goods being sold. However, as some of the goods available during the Ottoman Empire time are not available anymore, this concept has shifted. The Bazaar used to have strict rules to support fair-trading and to reduce competition.
Every tradesman was allowed to have only one shop and they were not allowed to have chain shops or even open a second shop unit.
The best time to visit the bazaar is weekdays as it gets extremely busy during Saturdays. It is very easy to get lost as the streets look alike and some of them are not properly signposted. However, if you are looking for a certain good, you can visit Kavaflar Street for shoes, Terlikciler for slippers, Tavuk Pazari, Kurkculer street Perdahcilar Road and Bodru Han for leather goods, and Kalpakcilar Basi Road and Kuyumcular Road for gold. Large number of carpet sellers are available throughout the bazaar. However, higher quality, more expensive ones are generally available in shops located on Takkeciler Road, Keskiciler Road and Halıcılar Carsisi, while the cheaper rugs can be purchased from Rubiye Han or İc Cebeci Han. Ceramics can be purchased from Yaglikcilar Street.
If you would like to have a tea or coffee break, you can try Sark Kahvesi located on Yaglikcilar Street. Additionally, you can also try Fes Coffee on Halicilar Carsisi Road. Both of the cafes offer a more traditional experience.
Galata - Beyoglu
During the Ottoman times, Galata was known as the European quarter, as the residents were mainly Spanish, Jews, Greeks and Armenians. After Galata become overly populated, new residents started to locate to the upper sections of the district called Pera, currently known as Beyoglu. The architecture of Beyoglu still reflects the power and wealth by its first residents. After the completion of Orient Express Railways in 1889, the area expanded rapidly with the growing number of large hotels, such as Pera Palas Hotel.
The area was the nightlife quarter even during the 17th century. Beyoglu used to be full of taverns, music halls, operettas and restaurants. Recently, Beyoglu has been transformed. The government made the main street, Istiklal Street , pedestrianized in 1990 and they restored the antique tramway. Currently, Istiklal street has number of lively bars, clubs open until 6 am. You can also visit Beyoglu during daytime for a lunch or coffee.
Istiklal Caddesi, previously known as Grand Rue de Pera, is 1.5 km long and leads to Taksim Square . Very close by on Galip Dede Road, you can visit Galata Mevlevihane (Divan Literature Museum). On the second and last Sunday of each month, you can watch the whirling dervishes perform sema dance with Sufi music at 5 pm. The entrance fee is approximately 25 TL.
Istiklal Caddesi has many Art Nouveau style buildings such as the Botter House, Palais de Hollande and St Mary Draperis Church built in 1789. The Church of St Antoine is a brick building built in Neo-Gothic style.
The famous Cicek Pasaji ( Flower Arcade ) is also located on Istiklal Street. In 1930s, it used to be an entertainment centre where the Russian emigrants danced for free. Today, Cicek Pasaji has nice restaurants, however as the area is touristy, it is little bit overpriced.
We would advice you to visit Nevizade Street , which is full of nice fish restaurants and lively bars and clubs.
It has a stone reservoir constructed in 1732 to distribute water brought from the Belgrad Forest . The area also has small stone birdhouses above the doors, constructed in the style of miniature Ottoman houses.
Taksim Park, located on the north side of Taksim Square, offers a relaxing atmosphere away from the busy life of Istanbul.
1.5 km north of Taksim Square is the Military Museum (Askeri Muze), situated along Cumhuriyet Road. You can watch the marching band on summer afternoons between 3pm and 4pm. Mehter Band used to accompany the sultan into the battle. Years later, the band became the symbol of the powerful empire, and influenced the music in Europe, including Spanish a la turca, Beethoven’s Ruinen von Athens, Mozarts’s Marcia Turca. Currently, the band plays songs from the 17th and 18th centuries.
Topkapi Palace, located in Istanbul Sarayburnu , was the government building for 400 years during the Ottoman Empire, as well as being the home of the Ottoman sultans. In total, 4000 people used to live in this building.
The building was constructed in 1478 by Fatih Sultan Mehmet ( Mehmet the Conquerer ). Although the palace used to be built on 700 acres of land, it currently occupies 80 acres. When the sultans started to move to other palaces, such as Dolmabahce Palace and Yildiz Palace , Topkapi was left to the government. Sultan Abdulmecit opened the building as a museum so that public and foreigners can view the wealth of the Ottoman Empire. During 1985, Topkapi Palace was chosen as the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Some of the most important objects and buildings worth visiting in Topkapi Palace are: Haseki Hamami Turkish Bath ( Bath of Roxelana ); Saadet, Otluk and Balikhane gates; Zeynep Sultan Mosque; Bagdat, Sofa, Incili, Revan and Cinili Pavillions; and the old boat shed.
Dolmabahce is a grand palace with 600 meters of waterside frontage. Dolmabahce Palace was built in the 19th century by the Balian family, ordered by Sultan Abdulmecid, at the spot where the Mehmet the Conqueror launched his attack on Constantinople. The architect was the Armenian Karabet Balian, and he made all the yellow sections of the building from solid gold.
The palace has two sections: haremlik and selamlik. These two sections are divided by a 36 meter high wall, supported by 56 columns. The palace has a massive chandelier, one of the largest ever made, with 750 bulbs, and it was a present from Queen Victoria. Dolmabahce is also where Ataturk dies in 1938.
When you visit Dolmabahce (located in Besiktas ), you can see collections from the 19th and early 20th centuries, offering a glimpse of late Ottoman lifestyle. The works of the first Ottoman painter to display his work abroad, Osman Hamdi Bey (1842-1910), are also available at the palace, including Women with Mimosas and Sevret Dagi.
Ciragan Palace ( Ciragan Sarayi )
The palace was built when Sultan Abdulmecid decided to move out of Dolmabahce in 1855. It was fully completed in 1874 during the time of Sultan Abdulaziz , who either was killed or committed suicide here. Later, Murat V was imprisoned here by his brother. In 1991, the building was restored and opened as a hotel, Ciragan Palace & Kempinski Hotel. Ciragan in known as one of the most luxurious hotels in Istanbul with breathtaking views of the Bosphorus. However, the prices are expensive and daily room rates start from €300, and goes up to €13,000. The Sultan Suit is the 14th most expensive hotel room in the world. Similar to Dolmabahce Palace, Ciragan Palace was designed with European architecture, however Middle East influenced decorations were added later, during the time of Sultan Abdulaziz . Dolmabahce is 10 minutes walking distance from Besiktas ferry terminal, towards Ortakoy .
Dolmabahce is 10 minutes walking distance from Besiktas ferry terminal, towards Ortakoy.
A Daily Get Away
Located opposite Ciragan Palace, Yildiz Park offers a nice walk through mansions, lakes, gardens and pavilions. The park was very important during the Ottoman Empire, especially during Abdulhamid II. The park is worth visiting for fresh air and to have a nice day out as it is located on a hill, with stunning views over the Bosphorus and Istanbul.
To visit the park, you can get the minibus from Besiktas to Barbaros Boulevard (Bulvari). You can get off just after the British Council and follow the signs for Yildiz University.
While you are at the park, you can also visit Yildiz Palace Museum and Sale Kosku.
Buyukada is the largest and most famous one out of the Istanbul islands (Adalar). You can have a daily trip to this island, offering a tranquil and relaxing atmosphere. The boats travelling to Buyukada are available from Eminonu .
Top Tips for Holiday
- Always haggle if you are shopping at Kapalicarsi ( Covered or Grand Bazaar ) or the Misir Carsisi ( Egyptian Bazaar ).
- If you would like a cheap transportation, you can use the ferries, which also offer stunning views.
- If you want cheap and quick transportation, you can use the metro. If you are at the Ataturk International Airport, you can take the Ataturk Airport – Aksaray route, which stops at Istanbul Expo Center, Yenibosna , Atakoy Sirinevler , Bahcelievler , Bakirkoy , Zeytinburnu , Merter , Davutpasa , Terazidere , Otogar Bus Stop, Kocatepe , Sagmalcilar , Bayrampasa , Vatan, Topkapi , Fatih and Aksaray . There are eight more metro routes in Istanbul that you can use.
- As Istanbul is very large, do your research on the places that you would like to visit and book a hotel close to these places. Due to the distance and the traffic, you might lose half a day only travelling from your hotel to the touristic areas.
- Before going into a restaurant, you might want to check the menu for prices as Istanbul has restaurants a lot more expensive than London and New York.
If you want a cheap nightlife, you can visit Taksim; however, for higher budgets, we would advice Reina nightclub.
Getting to Istanbul
Traveling from Ataturk Airport to Istanbul
You can take the taxi from the airport. The taxi fares are as follows:
To Sultanahmet – 42 TL
To Nisantasi – 77 TL
To Taksim – 59 TL
To Besiktas – 66 TL
To Levent – 60 TL
METRO AND TRAM
To Sultanahmet – 45 minutes – 1.5 TL
There are large number of car rental companies located inside the airport building such as Avis, Hertz, National, Budget, Europcar, Airport tur, Alamo.
You can take Bus 96T to and from Taksim, while Bus YH1 takes you to Yenikapi .
Traveling from Sabiha Gokcen Airport to Istanbul
To Sultanahmet – 95 TL
To Nisantasi – 85 TL
To Taksim – 88 TL
To Besiktas – 86 TL
To Levent – 91 TL
There are number of car rental companies located inside the airport building such as Hertz, Decar, Avis and WRC World.
The buses that you can use are as follows:
Bus SG1 to/from Kadikoy
Bus 18H to/from Sultanbeyli
Bus SH2 to/from Taksim
Eating in Istanbul
Out of all the cities available in Turkey, Istanbul has the largest number of restaurants available. We would highly advice you to try traditional Turkish and Ottoman food. Click for the restaurants and cafés in Istanbul
Shopping in Istanbul
Fashion is very important in Istanbul. While the majority of the branded shops use Turkish companies to get their goods produced, Istanbul is home to very fashionable shops. You might want to shop during the Istanbul Shopping Fest, when the shops are open till late. Click for shopping centers in Istanbul
Distances from Istanbul
Izmir – 566 km 8 hours by car (If you use IDO Bandirma ferries, it would be 6 hours)
Bursa – 232 km 3 hours by car
Canakkale – 505 km 7 hours by car
Bodrum – 794 km 11 hours by car