Istanbul is the biggest city in Turkey with the population of nearly 15 million. The city has played an influential role in world history as it unites the continents of Asia and Europe.
Top photo via Flickr
Turkey implements different visa requirements according to the county of origin. At the moment, citizens of 78 countries are able to enter Turkey without a visa and remain in the country up to 90 days. For those who must obtain a visa, Turkey currently offers an ‘e-visa’ option prior to arrival. To find out about your country’s visa requirement, please check the government website.
Best time to visit Istanbul
Due to the location on the Mediterranean, Istanbul has varied climate – you will need to adjust your clothing during different times of the year. Thankfully, there is no bad time to visit as every season has its charm.
- Spring and Fall are the best times to visit as long as you don’t mind a little rain or wind.
- April is a good time to visit as the Judas trees will be in full bloom.
- October is when the city comes to life with the colorful leaves of Autumn.
- Summer in the city is warm and somewhat humid. It is a popular tourist destination as many Europeans head south in search of good weather. During this time it may be hard to find accommodation in Istanbul – good prices can be especially challenging.
- Winter – there is so much to do in Istanbul despite the cold weather, brisk wind, and occasional snow. Historical sites are open all year round and if you are looking for frequent cultural events winter is the best time.
Istanbul: City tips
There are two major airports in Istanbul. One is located on the Asian side (Sabiha Gökçen Airport), the other on the European side (Atatürk Airport). There are shuttle services for both airports to Taksim Square. If you are looking for a cheaper option, public transport is quite convenient. There is a metro that runs from Atatürk Airport every day from 6 am to midnight and there are multiple buses for Sabiha Gökçen Airport with different schedules.
Mind that taxis are a little expensive in Istanbul and if there is traffic it can make prices go higher. Luckily, you can reach almost everywhere with public transport. On arrival, you can purchase an ‘Istanbul Card’ for use on public transport. The card costs 10 Turkish liras and you can reload the card whenever you want to use.
Finding someone who speaks English in Istanbul is easy. A great deal of the young population speaks English as a second language and you can always meet expats in the city.
Bargaining is considered normal in touristic shops. However, it is not acceptable in chain stores or convenience stores. If you are adverse to bargaining you shouldn’t shop from a store that doesn’t display price labels. If you are shopping from popular tourist centers places, such as Grand Bazaar or Egyptian Bazaar, try to get help from a local for a good bargain.
Getting A Hotel In Istanbul
Istanbul is a great place to discover a culture that is a cross between eastern and western philosophy. Options in this uniquely ancient and contemporary city are limitless, widespread and unique. It is veiled with layers of culture and nature.
- 1. Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı)
This ancient cistern is located in the historical quarter of Sultan Ahmet Square. The underground structure was originally built in the Early Roman Era and it was used as a commercial art center. During Byzantine Empire, it was converted to a water filtration system that was later used by the Ottomans as well. Note: the Basilica Cistern is hiding a face from mythology. There are two Medusa heads decorating the column bases, just waiting to catch the gaze of brave visitors.
- 2. The Grand Bazaar and Egyptian Bazaar
The historical shopping centers used by many empire residences are offering a colorful and diverse site for nowadays visitors. This lively shopping experience is not limited to stone walls of the bazaar. It is surrounded by many smaller, yet interesting bazaars waiting to be discovered.
- 3. Rumelihisarı and Anadoluhisarı
These two fortresses sit opposing each other on the narrowest point of the Bosporus Strait and are great sites for both nature and history. Originally, Rumelihisarı was constructed to protect Constantinople from invaders and Anadoluhisarı was built to conquer Istanbul. This beauty of irony is a must-see on sunny days.
- 4. Prince Islands
There 9 islands in the Sea of Marmara, they can be observed from Asian shore of Istanbul. The only way to reach these islands is by boat. Motorized vehicles are not allowed in the island, besides walking, bikes and horse carriages favorable as transportation. The islands are a unique experience in this busy, crowded city. Wooden houses and villas with marvelous gardens offer a spectacular view for peace seekers. ‘Büyükada’ is the largest island; it literally means ‘the big island’. The famous Ayia Yorgi Church is located on the highest hill in Büyükada. Legend says that if you climb the hill barefoot without speaking, your prayers will come true.
What to eat in Istanbul
Istanbul is the perfect place to find different cuisines. Kebabs are the most known Turkish food in the world. There numerous options at kebab restaurants to keep you coming back for more.
Besides kebabs, Istanbul is quite famous for its fish restaurants. Additionally, ‘midye dolma’ (mussels with rice stuffing) is something that visitors should not miss.
You can also try small places that serve home-cooked meals. These diners are usually run by local families, it is the best way to taste traditional ‘home cuisine’. If you are looking for vegetarian/ vegan options, these diners are the best place for it.
Turkish taverns are an important part of eating/drinking culture. There are many places to get acquainted with ‘rakı’ and ‘meze’.
Best Istanbul tours
1. Bosporus tours
Cruising this narrow strait that separates Europe and Asia is the best way to see both shores at the same time. You can purchase a ticket on the boat and tours are approximately 2 hours long. Keep in mind to bring a jacket or a shawl with you – it can be really cold and windy even in summer.
2. City Sightseeing Bus Tours
There are a couple companies operating bus tours around the historical city center. Ticket prices vary according to the company and the length of the tour. It is wise to bring a bottle of water for the tour. Some busses may not stop anywhere that you can shop so it is good to check the itinerary before deciding on a bus company.
3. Culture Tours
Depending on your preferences tour agencies are able to organize cultural tours to historical places or to see modern/contemporary art. You can find these agencies online or you can visit their offices in person.
4. Helicopter Tours
Even though it is a pricey option compared to others, it is worth it, if only for the aerial view of Istanbul. The tour is typically one hour long and prices will change depending on the season. On a sunny day, this is the best way to see the Golden Horn and the Bosporus Strait.
What to bring to Istanbul
Istanbul can be really cold during winter; therefore you must bring a warm coat, hats, shawls, gloves etc. Waterproof shoes, boots are necessary parts of winter clothing.
Summers are usually sunny and warm; you can bring light clothing, sandals, sunscreen and a jacket for colder nights.
Spring and autumn weather requires a wide range of clothing from light clothing to warm ones. Waterproof shoes or boots are useful. Carrying a raincoat can be crucial for spring.
For all seasons, comfortable walking shoes and a roomy backpack is essential. If you are coming from outside of Europe, don’t forget to bring your plug converter.
Don’t bring an umbrella to Istanbul. You can find cheap umbrellas almost every corner, especially when it is raining.
If you’re visiting a religious place, like a church or a mosque, you might have to meet some clothing requirements or cover up.
Be aware of pickpockets and scams. Always keep your belongings somewhere safe in the public transport.
Tip: Climb to 7 hills of Istanbul and enjoy the scenery of the Bosporus.