Istanbul (Turkish: İstanbul) is a very large city of fantastic history, culture and beauty. Called Byzantium in ancient times, the city's name was changed to Constantinople in 324 CE when it was rebuilt by the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine. The name "Istanbul", perhaps surprisingly, comes from Greek and could be translated as a corruption of "to the city". While the term had been in widespread use for centuries, it only became the official name of the city upon the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in the 1920s.
The most populous city in Europe, Istanbul forms the financial and cultural center of Turkey and confidently straddles the borders between Asia and Europe as it has for millennia: this is the result when you mix ancient Christendom, a medieval metropolis and the modern Middle East. Situated on either side of the Bosphorus, Istanbul retains its metropolitan status: the city's population is more than 14 million people, making it one of the largest cities in the world.
Lauded in antiquity as "the second Rome", this is a city where you most certainly should roam — culture and excitement lie around every corner and more than 2,000 years of history await you.
The system of districts and municipalities of Istanbul is quite sophisticated and was changed in 2009. Here is a simple division of the city into approximate regions:
|Sultanahmet and the Old City |
Essentially Constantinople of the Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans, this is the walled inner city, with most of the famous historical sights of Istanbul.
Once the European-populated district of Ottoman Istanbul, Galata pays full tribute to this heritage. Beyoğlu and its core, İstiklal Avenue are lively as always, and Taksim Square is perhaps the most central point in the city life.
|New City |
The main business district of the city is also home to many modern shopping malls and designer fashion outlets in areas such as Nişantaşı.
Covers the European bank of the Bosphorus, lined by numerous palaces, parks, waterfront mansions, and bohemian neighborhoods.
|Golden Horn |
The banks of the Golden Horn, the estuary that separates the European side into distinctive areas. Eyüpsultan holding on tightly to its Ottoman and Islamic heritage is the highlight.
|Princes' Islands |
An excellent getaway from the city, this is an archipelago of car-free islands of various sizes, with splendid wooden mansions, verdant pine forests and nice views: not only on the islands, but also on the way there.
|Asian Side |
The eastern half of Istanbul, with lovely neighborhoods along the Marmara and Bosphorus coasts. Kadıköy is a busy and artsy quarter in its centre.
|Western Suburbs |
The western chunk of the European side, including the countryside across the Çatalca Peninsula, home to scattered Byzantine ruins and lonely beaches.
|“||Istanbul was Constantinople. Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople||”|
—Jimmy Kennedy, Istanbul (Not Constantinople), 1953
While relics of prehistoric human settlement were found in the Yarımburgaz Cave near the Küçükçekmece Lake and during the construction of a subway station in Yenikapı, Greek colonists from Megara, directed by their legendary leader Byzas, have been traditionally accepted as the founders of Istanbul. Expanding the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium by the order of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, the imperial city of Constantinople was for nearly a thousand years the heavily-fortified capital of the Eastern Roman (later termed Byzantine) Empire. To this day, the Ecumenical Patriarch, head of the Eastern Orthodox Church continues to be the Archbishop of Constantinople, who is still based in Istanbul. It was finally conquered by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II on 29 May 1453, an event sometimes used to mark the end of the Middle Ages. It was the nerve centre for military campaigns that were to enlarge the Ottoman Empire dramatically. By the mid-1500s, Istanbul, with a population of almost half a million, was a major cultural, political, and commercial centre. Ottoman rule continued until it was defeated in the first World War and Istanbul was occupied by the allies. When the Republic of Turkey was born in 1923 after the War of Independence, Kemal Atatürk moved its capital to the city of Ankara, strategically located in the centre of the new republic. However, Istanbul has continued to expand dramatically; today its population is approximately 14 million and increases at an estimated 400,000 immigrants per year. Industry has expanded even as tourism has grown. It continues to be a city that creates its own history at the intersection where both continents meet.
Istanbul is divided in three by the north-south Bosphorus Strait (İstanbul Boğazı, "the strait of Istanbul"), the dividing line between Europe and Asia, the estuary of the Golden Horn (Haliç) bisecting the western part and the Sea of Marmara (Marmara Denizi) forming a boundary to the south. Most sights are concentrated in the old city on the peninsula of Sultanahmet, to the west of the Bosphorus between the Horn and the Sea. Across the Horn to the north are Galata, Beyoğlu and Taksim, the heart of modern Istanbul, while Kadıköy is the major district on the comparatively less-visited Anatolian side of the city. The Black Sea forms the relatively less developed northern boundary of Istanbul.
|Climate chart (explanation)|
Despite what its stereotypes, artificially placed palm trees, or misleading tourism brochures may imply, Istanbul is not the sunny, warm year-round holiday destination some people might hope it is. In fact, Istanbul has way more in common with Southwestern France or the Pacific Northwest than with virtually all of the cities near the Mediterranean Sea, with an average temperature around 12-14°C, it is only 1°C warmer than New York, and around the same average temperature as Portland, Oregon or Bordeaux, France.
Simply put, Istanbul has an oceanic climate with some Mediterranean influences. This means very warm, mostly sunny summers, and cool to chilly, bleak winters, with very frequent rain and, on occasion, snow.
Istanbul is a fairly cloudy city, especially for the Eastern Mediterranean, with around 1,700-2,300 hours of sunshine, which means the skies are overcast around half of the time. Overcast conditions can occur because of dense fog, which is common year-round, affecting certain inland parts of Istanbul for an impressive 200 days per year. However, because of the urbanization of Istanbul and the resulting 'urban heat island', fog has become increasingly rare in the densely inhabited coastal regions of Istanbul, making summers much sunnier than they once were.
Another potentially surprising part of Istanbul's climate is its frequent rainfall, as even though rainfall varies a lot depending on where you are in the city, the city average is somewhere around 800mm over some 150 days of the year. This makes umbrellas useful, especially in summer and fall when rains tend to be heavier. Istanbul is wetter than most major European cities, such as London, Paris, or Berlin. However, a large part of Istanbul's rainfall happens in the colder months, leaving the warmest months to sunny, moderately dry weather.
Before getting into more detailed information, it's important to understand that because of its huge size, topography, and maritime influences, Istanbul exhibits a multitude of distinct microclimates. Thus, different sections of Istanbul can experience different weather conditions at the same time. A good example of this would be the occasional summer showers in the city. These showers often affect the north of the city much more than the south, and the south would likely stay dry while the north gets soaked.
Summer (Jul-Aug) is generally quite warm, averaging around 26°C during the day and 17°C at night. The weather is often pleasant, and there is an almost constant northeasterly wind called Poyraz that prevents the city from experiencing temperatures higher than 32-33°C on most years. However, the same breezy conditions, also bring very humid air from the Black Sea, causing very muggy conditions, which raises the perceived temperature quite a bit.
Summer is relatively dry, but generally not rainless, with around four to five rainy days a month. The rain that does fall during this time can get heavy however, and for a number of reasons Istanbul is known to be a severe weather hotspot, with, among other things, around 2-3 hailstorms per year, which is extremely high for a Mediterranean-influenced city.
Light clothing is recommended during summer. A light jacket and/or light sweater if the summer evenings do become a little cooler than average could be useful.
Spring and Autumn
Spring (Apr-Jun) and fall (Sep-Nov) are both mild, with a good mix of rain and shine. Late spring (late May to early June) and early autumn (late September to early October) are quite pleasant and the best times to visit the city. During these periods temperatures are pleasantly warm, and the weather is less rainy than in winter; even though the nights can get a little chilly, and rain can definitely not be ruled out.
Winter (Dec-Mar) is generally chilly, averaging around 8°C during the day and 2°C at night, but the high relative humidity levels make the winter air quite a bit more miserable, and the wind chill can make the temperatures feel much colder. There can be mild and cold periods as well, these usually changing with the wind patterns. A southwesterly wind, called Lodos, can bring relatively comfortable but showery days with highs around 12-16°C, while northerly winds bring daytime temperatures at or slightly above freezing.
This time of year is infamous for its rain. Rain generally falls as a light, intermittent and barely noticeable kind of drizzle, but it can go on for a week or more at a time, with almost three weeks of rain on average per month. This kind of rain can easily be managed without an umbrella (and indeed, most locals tend to prefer raincoats or warm clothing instead), however if you do want an umbrella when it's raining out, the streets of Istanbul are suddenly filled with umbrella sellers as soon as it starts raining. Although the umbrellas they provide are a little shoddy, the going rate is 5 TL per umbrella, and you can find much better umbrellas for that price at shops if you look around a bit.
Snowfall is somewhat common between December and March, however this changes quite a bit from year to year. Mild winters can get only a trace of accumulation, while colder winters can bring up to three weeks of snow cover. One other thing to note here is how heavy the snow can get in Istanbul. This is because Istanbul's snowfall comes from an event called sea or lake effect snowfall, where bands of heavy snow showers lash the coasts of Istanbul, bringing waves of showery snow. These events generally don't go on for long, as when the colder weather leaves Istanbul, so does the snow. However, accumulations of up to 75 cm in a single day have been recorded, even in the warmer city center.
Warm clothing is essential during winter even if temperature extremes aren't common, wind chill can make most people feel absolutely miserable otherwise.
See Turkey#Get in for visa requirements. From 2020, most EU, UK, CIS and South American visitors do not need a visa. Those from many other countries including Australia, Canada and US can get an e-visa online, valid for 90 days.
- 1Istanbul Airport (IST IATA). Istanbul's chief airport, and the main port of entry into Turkey. 30 km northwest of the city in Arnavutköy, on the Europe-side Black Sea coast. It was partly opened in Oct 2018 and fully in April 2019. It has a very wide range of international flights, by Turkish Airlines and other carriers, and domestic flights at least daily to all the major Turkish cities.
As of October 2021, the new rail connection to central Istanbul is under construction. As a result, the most common means of tranport to the city center is by taxi.
Atatürk Airport is closed to passenger flights. Beware of out-of-date road signage and maps, and crooked taxi drivers who will profess amazement that they have taken you to a demolition site, and demand ransom to convey you to where they know you need to be. Driving out from the city, you should be heading noticeably north, e.g. on D020, or O-3 to turn north on O-7. If you're keeping south on D100, the old place is where he intends to take you.
Istanbul's Asia-side airport is 30 km east of city centre. It has many domestic flights, often by Anadolu Jet (the budget offshoot of Turkish Airlines). In addition, Pegasus and other carriers have extensive international flights all across Europe, the Middle East, Northern Africa and Western Asia, especially in summer when this is a low cost route to the Turkish beach resorts and Northern Cyprus. None of the airlines that use Sabiha Gökçen have announced plans to relocate to the new Istanbul Airport: it's big enough to take them, but not convenient for Istanbul's Asia side.
Plan plenty of time when departing from SAW—if you have to drop off luggage or have not checked in online arriving 2 hr prior to scheduled time of departure is cutting it very close. It is a large airport, with the full range of passenger facilities ground-side and air-side. The ground-side departure hall is fairly comfortable. If you have a long stopover here, the LGM CIP Lounge is a good deal, with unlimited free beer, wine, soft drinks, light meals and snacks for €12 entry per person. Outbound, there's a security check just to enter the terminal (they will inspect but not confiscate liquids), then the usual check after bag-drop to get air-side. There is a hotel at the airport, some half-a-dozen at Kurtköy 2 km north, then another dozen at Pendik town (on the Marmara coast near the YHT station) 6 km south.
Waiting times when connecting through SAW can be very long, sometimes 12 hr. This way they are collecting all the passengers for the continuing flights. However, there was no free Wi-Fi at the airport in 2019, so plan ahead how you are going to spend your time. But of course you can always go on a shopping spree, which is apparently the second reason why waiting time for connecting flights are sometimes so high.
- Metro – Line M4 runs from the airport to Kadıköy, taking about an hour. The line is not (yet) connected to the rest of the metro network, but you can continue to the European side by ferry or transfer to the Marmaray train at Ayrılık Çeşmesi.
- Train – Sabiha Gökçen Airport is 12 km from Pendik YHT railway station, take a taxi or bus 132H to catch fast trains east to Ankara and Konya.
- Havaist – It works on both airports. A prepaid solution is available via mobile application.
- Havabüs – It runs from the airport to Taksim in the city centre (50 km, 60-90 min, 18 TL), Yenisahra an Asia-side transport hub (50 min, 10 TL) and Kadıköy the ferry quay for Eminönü in Sultanahmet Old City (60 min, 39 TL + ferry 3 TL). Buses run every 30 min between 04:00 and 01:00. Buy your ticket on the bus, Istanbulkart is valid.
- City bus (İETT bus) – They are the cheapest. The main routes are:
- to Kadıköy by bus E-10 (via Kurtköy, runs 24 hours) or E-11, taking 60-90 min, more in heavy traffic. You need a two-zone ticket, price 7 TL.
- to Taksim and elsewhere on the European side, take bus E-3 to 4.Levent metro station. It runs 24 hours, takes 2 hours and needs a three-zone ticket for 10 TL.
- Other routes include E-9 to Bostanci, 16S to Metrobus Uzunçayir, KM-20 to Pendi̇k & Kartal Metro, KM22 to Cevi̇zli̇ Platforms, E-18 to Altuni̇zade & Ümrani̇ye, and 122H via Yeni̇şehi̇r to 4.Levent Metro.
- Shuttles –
- Taxis – To Taksim will cost around 310 TL (as of May 2022).
Arriving from other airports
When coming from Europe you also want to consider to fly to Thessaloniki, Burgas, Varna, Sofia or Plovdiv and then take an intercity bus to Istanbul. To these airports there are ultra low-cost flights from many European destinations. This is also an alternative if your final destination is in the far north west of Turkey. Alternative airports in Turkey are in Ankara and Izmir. Antalya has loads of flights from most of Europe during the summer season and a lesser but still impressive set of flights during the winter.
Since the heyday of the legendary Orient Express, travelling by train has been the classic way of reaching Istanbul. It's still an interesting journey, but the trains no longer reach their classic termini. Those from Europe terminate at Halkali west of the city, where you change to the frequent cross-city Marmaray train to reach the centre. Those from the east terminate at Söğütlüçeşme in Kadıköy on the Asian side.
This means that Istanbul has two large terminus stations that don't have any mainline trains. 3 Sirkeci on the European side is on the Marmaray network, with cross-city and Metro trains deep underground but nothing at street-level. 4 Haydarpaşa in Asia has no trains at all. Both stations are worth a quick visit as monuments to a bygone age of rail travel. And both of them have ticket offices, though it's usually simpler to buy online from the website of Turkish Republic State Railways, TCDD.
The disused railway into Sirkeci is intact, hugging the coast from Kazlicesme, and it's intended to reinstate it. Work might start in 2023 but don't hold your breath, given the usual scale of delays to Turkish rail projects.
Trains from the east
YHT high speed trains (yüksek hızlı tren) run to 5 Söğütlüçeşme on the Asian side, close to their future Haydarpaşa terminus. Two trains a day continue under the Bosphorus calling at Bakırköy in the western suburbs and terminating at Halkali. They don't stop anywhere in the Sultanahmet or Old City area, and they don't connect with the Europe trains; change to the frequent Marmaray trains for both purposes.
There are frequent YHT services from Eskişehir (3 hours) and Ankara (4½ hours), and three per day from Konya (4½ hours). One per day runs from Karaman via Konya. YHT services are affordable and very popular, so book a few days ahead to guarantee a seat even though the price remains the same no matter when you book. In 2022 the single fare from Ankara is 168 TL economy, 252 TL business; from Konya it's 201 TL economy, 302 TL business. Change in Konya for Adana and in Ankara for Erzurum, Kars and Tatvan (which has connections to Tabriz and Tehran in Iran). A train from Ankara via Kars to Tbilisi and Baku might start in 2022.
On the eastern edge of the city, YHT trains also call at Bostanci, Pendik and Gebze. 6 Pendik, 25 km east of city centre, is a convenient stop for transfers from Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen airport (10 km, taxi or bus). Consider this route if you intend to fly into Istanbul and immediately head east. Pendik itself is a small township with hotels and cafes, with the bus station and taxi ranks north side of the YHT station.
The Ankara Express is an overnight passenger service between Istanbul and Ankara. It leaves Istanbul Halkali nightly at 22:00, picking up at Söğütlüçeşme, Bostanci and Pendik plus nine other intermediate stations, reaching Ankara before 07:00. The return service has the same times, taking about nine hours, and there are seats and sleepers plus a dining car.
Trains from Europe and European Turkey
A sleeper train departs Sofia around 18:30 nightly, running via Plovdiv, Kapikule on the border, and Edirne, to terminate at Halkalı at 05:40. From June to Sept another train (with couchettes but no sleeper berths), the Bosphor Express, departs Bucharest at 12:40, running via Ruse to Kapikule. Here it's coupled to the train from Sofia, and all passengers have to get out for border procedures, before continuing to Halkalı. The westbound service leaves Halkalı at 21:40 to reach Sofia by 09:40 and Bucharest by 19:00 next day. From Oct to May, the through-train from Bucharest doesn't run, so you change at Ruse then again at Kapikule, with a similar timetable. Trains from Budapest to Bucharest, and from Belgrade to Sofia, don't connect with the onward trains to Turkey, so you need an overnight stay.
TCDD quote fares for these trains in euros. In 2022 a basic single from Sofia is €31.68. Add €10 for a couchette, €15 for a bed in a shared 2-person cabin or €35 for the entire cabin.
The Budapest-Belgrade line remains closed in 2022 for engineering works. Belgrade-Sofia trains may be running but are not confirmed, you might have to take local trains and change at Niš and Dmitrovgrad. Altogether it's better to reach Turkey via Bucharest.
There's also a regional train once a day from Kapikule via Edirne to Halkalı, and another from Uzunköprü.
Between Halkalı and downtown use the Marmaray cross-city suburban train, and allow an hour; trains run every 15 min and the fare is about 12 TL (and see "Get around").
7 Halkalı station the terminus is 25 km west of central Istanbul. Few facilities here - in particular, nowhere to change currency until you get downtown, and the ticket machines only accept Turkish cash.
For a luxurious stylish journey, once a year the Venice Simplon Orient Express runs from Paris to Istanbul. You travel in lovely restored 1930s luxury coaches and enjoy first-rate cuisine. Tickets start at €13,500; sorry, your Eurail pass won't help here.
Turkey has an extensive system of intercity buses for travel around the country. The majority of intercity buses servicing both European and Asian parts of Turkey depart and terminate at the Esenler Bus Station.
Many of the bus companies have offices around the city and free courtesy mini-buses known as a "servis," collect passengers from the city and take them to either the main bus stations or their own mini-terminals near the main motorways.
The 8 Alibeyköy bus station (Alibeyköy Cep Otogarı) is a secondary hub for the European side and is located at Güzeltepe near the outer beltway of Istanbul. Despite its orderly and cool steel-and-glass look, and much smaller size compared with Esenler, this is an unexpectedly chaotic bus station.
Buses from Anatolia stop here en route to Esenler bus station, 20–25 min further.
The T5 tram line connects this bus station to the M7 metro line, which can be used to get to Mecidiyeköy, a major hub for public transport and the business center of the city, the BRT Metrobüs line, and to Eminönü all the while providing the passengers a scenic ride along the Golden Horn. There are also somewhat infrequent shuttle services available although none heads for Sultanahmet, they are slower than the tram, and don't expect their drivers to speak much English.
Often called simply 'the Otogar' (Bus Station) or occasionally 'Bayrampaşa Otogar', the colossal 9 Esenler bus station (Esenler Otogarı), is located at Esenler (although officially within the Bayrampaşa district), about 10 km (6 miles) northwest of Sultanahmet. This is the city's main bus station (☏ ) for intercity (including Gallipoli) and many international routes (such as Greece and Bulgaria).
Despite having been renamed the 15 Temmuz Demokrasi Otogar (also called the 15 Temmuz Şehitler Otogar) in memory of those who died during the abortive coup attempt of 15 July 2016, most bus companies continue to use the Esenler Otogar name.
With 168 ticket offices and gates, shops, restaurants, hotel, police station, clinic and mosque, the Büyük Otogar ("big bus station") is a town in itself, although it lacks a central information desk, so you will have to ask around the individual offices for prices and timetables for your destination.
It is served by the Otogar metro station on the M1 metro line. Connections to major destinations within the city are as follows:
- Sultanahment: From the Otogar metro station you can take the metro to Aksaray or Zeytinburnu and then easily connect with a tram to Sultanahmet (about 30 minutes via Aksaray) or Kabataş/Taksim. If you travelling with a lot of luggage you may prefer to transfer between the tram to the Metro at Zeytinburnu as the stations are side by side, whereas at Yusufpaşa it is necessary to carry your luggage up and down the steps of an underpass to get to Aksaray Metro station. Going via Zeytinburnu will take longer. The journey will be cheaper if you purchase and recharge an İstanbulkart from the machines at the entrance to the metro station. The total fare between the bus station and Sultanahmet if you use a İstanbulkart 2.60 TL (initial) + 1.85 TL (transfer) = 4.5 TL (plus the initial purchase cost of the card) or two 5 TL Jeton tokens (one for the metro and the other for the tram). A taxi will cost approximately 55 TL to either Sultanahmet or Taksim.
- Beyoğlu: Take the M1 Metro line to Yenikapı, then change there for the M2 Metro line in the direction of Hacıosman, and get out at Sishane or Taksim. An alternative is to take IETT bus 830 which departs from the bus station at 06:00. 07:00, 07:35, 09:00, 11:00, 13:15, 15:55, 17:15 and 18:35 M to Sa, and at 11:00, 13:00, 15:00 and 17:15 on Sundays. It takes approximately 60 minutes to reach Taksim Square. You'll need a Jeton or İstanbulkart to pay for your fare.
- Bus connections: The main lines from the centre include 28O from Beşiktaş, 75O from Mecidiyeköy, 91O from Eminönü, and 83O from Taksim. Refer to the IETT website for timetables. Esenler is approximately 39 km from the new Istanbul airport. They are connected by the HVIST-5 airport bus service operated by Havaİst. The journey takes 60 to 75 minutes.
- Courtesy mini-buses: Some bus companies such as Pamukkale operate servis between the bus station and various pickup and drop-off points around the city.
10 Emniyet Terminali (also known as the Emniyet Otogar or Laleli Uluslararası Yolcu Transfer Merkezi) is the main bus station for international connections, on Küçük Langa Cd, south of Aksaray.
It provides international services to the Balkans (Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Romania), the eastern half of Europe (Germany, Hungary, and Poland), the Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia), and the Middle East (Iraq, and Iran).
Companies that operate from this station include Ast Turizm, Aybaki Tur, Golden Turizm, Mahmut Turizm, Mahmudoğlu Turizm, Metro Turizm, Ortadoğu Turizm, Nişikli Turizm, Nugo Turizm, Özlem Turizm, Öznuhoğlu, Perla Trans, Star Turizm, Troy Turizm and Vardar Turizm.
It is less than 400 m from the Yenikapı station on the M1 and M2 metro lines and the Marmaray train line. It is also approximately 500 m from the Yusufpaşa station on the T1 tram line, which serves Sultanahmet.
The HVIST-12 airport bus service operated by Havaİst connects Aksaray with the new Istanbul airport. The closest stop to the bus station is 700 m away on Adnan Menderes Blvd.
Buses travelling to and between Istanbul's Esenler bus station and Anatolian destinations stop on the Asian side of Istanbul to pick up and drop off passengers.
If you are travelling between the European side of Istanbul and Anatolia it's worth considering getting on or off the bus on the Asian side as it takes anything between 1h 15min and 1h 45min hours off the total travel time.
For many years the principal bus station on the Asian side of Istanbul has been at 11 Harem (pronounced hah-REHM; not to be confused with the ladies' quarter of the Topkapı Palace with the same name) right on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus, south of Üsküdar and north of Haydarpaşa.
From Harem, regular car ferries (which take walk-on passengers) cross the Bosphorus to Sirkeci (just east of Eminönü) on the European side (every 30 minutes M-Sa 05:30-23:00 Su 07:00-22:00). There are also regular passenger ferries from Kadıköy and Üsküdar south and north of Harem to Beşiktaş and Kabataş on the European side. Dolmuşes and many bus lines make the quick run to Üsküdar, from where you can also connect to the M5 metro line, and Marmaray cross-city suburban train.
Many of the bus companies (especially the larger ones offering a long list of destinations) have relocated to their own mini-terminals or hubs in the far-flung suburbs of Dudullu, Ferhatpaşa, and Samandıra, as these locations provide a more convenient access to the major motorways. While some of these hubs are relatively close to various stations of M5, none are directly on that metro line, so better catch the servis minibuses into various central areas, including Harem, Kadıköy and Üsküdar.
Reserve a seat in advance as some buses arrive on the Asian side from Esenler with no empty seats.
There are Black Sea ferries several times a week to Chornomorske, the main port for Odessa in Ukraine, taking 27 hours. They run all year and take vehicles; indeed trucking is an important part of their business, as so many travellers nowadays fly. The ferry terminal is at Haydarpaşa, by the old railway station. These ferries used to sail to other Black Sea ports but they no longer do.
There are no other international ferries to Istanbul - see "Get around" for local ferries around the Sea of Marmara. Cruise ships usually dock on the European side, around Karaköy/Galataport, closer to the historic centre. These ships are on cruise itineraries, check with the operator whether a point-to-point journey ending in Istanbul is possible.
Istanbul lies on the European highway E80, and relatively short distance north of E90, both stretching from Lisbon at the opposite end of the continent. As for the Asian highways, AH-1 from Tokyo, and AH-5 from Shanghai pass through the city before terminating at the Turkish-Bulgarian border in the west, but they are not signposted in Turkey.
Traffic in Istanbul can be manic; expect a stressful drive because you will be cut off and honked at constantly. It seems that half of the cars in Istanbul are parking while the other half is stuck in traffic.
Even if you are on a one-way road, always expect someone coming towards you. The city hosts more than 1½ million cars and there is a strong demand for building of new or alternate highways which of course fill up with traffic as soon as they're built.
If you've arrived in Istanbul by car, and you're not familiar with the streets, it's better to park your car in a safe place and take public transportation to get around.
The parts of the city on either continent separated by the Bosphorus are connected by three bridges and a road tunnel. All require paying a toll to cross, and none accepts cash: payment must be made by using electronic stickers called HGS, obtainable from postoffices.
On weekdays, there are potentially hour-long traffic jams on the highways leading to bridges, especially those two closer to the city centre, and particularly heading west in the mornings and east in the evenings, since most people live on the Anatolian side but work on the European side.
There is a great shortage of parking in Istanbul, and existing lots are quite expensive. You will see many cars parked on the sides of the road, in front of garage doors even.
Street signs are rare. It is a common thing to pull over and ask for directions, something the natives and taxi drivers do quite often.
The Sultan's Trail (2,500 km) and the Sufi Trail (800 km) are cycling and hiking trails approaching the city from the west and the east, specifically Vienna and Konya respectively. The former retraces the campaign of Suleiman the Magnificent onto the Habsburg capital, while the latter follows an Ottoman Hajj pilgrimage route.
Otherwise, you will have to approach the city on D-100 from either direction, or on the northern (and relatively less busy) route D-020 from the west, and perhaps switch to the bike paths along the Marmara coast once the suburban development begins, as all other main routes leading into the city are classified as motorways, and thus the bikes are forbidden on them.
Istanbul is huge, so you'll need public transport between your accommodation and your pick-up/drop-off point. Leaving the city, the best routes are:
- West into Europe: you want to be on main highway E-80. First take bus 448 from Yenibosna metro station (southern line, near Ataturk Airport) north towards Mimarsinan. Get off after about 5 km when you cross the E-80.
- East into Asia: again, you want to reach highway E-80. Probably the closest you can start thumbing is Pendik: reach it by metro as described for the YHT railway station. Then start hitching on D-100 which will join E-80. A local lift as far as Gebze or Izmit will also be close to that highway.
Istanbul's public transit system can be difficult to figure out; the lines connect poorly, maps are rare and you often have to transfer, and pay another fare, to get where you are going. However, if you put some effort into it, you can avoid taxis and not walk too much.
Unless you use the Istanbulkart, each time you use a tram, metro, bus, or boat on the public transport system, you will need to use a ticket or pass. The single use tickets cost 5 TL (Jan 2017) and can be bought at various vending machines at bus, railway and metro stations or authorized ticket/Istanbulkart sellers (usually newspaper kiosks). Ticket fares across buses, trams and metros differ. Only cash in Turkish lira is accepted at ticket kiosks of public transport, no credit cards or foreign currency. The Istanbul subway system does not offer transfer tickets: each change to a new line requires a new fare.
When travelling to Istanbul by air, it is much cheaper (and more fun) to use the bus (or metro system once it is extended) to get as close to your accommodation as possible before walking and/or taking a taxi to where you are staying. Although the public transport may be slightly confusing, taxis/charter buses from the airport are notoriously overpriced.
If public transport is your choice of getting around, consider using smartphone public transportation applications so that you can easily see stops, stations and terminals nearby or see alternate routes for your planned destination. İETT has an official one called Mobiett which is available for iOS, Android or Windows. But also Google Maps is very reliable to guide your way using public transport.
The İstanbulkart is Istanbul's public transport smart card, which can be used as a ticket on buses, trams, suburban trains, metro, local ferries, etc. If you are in Istanbul for more than a day or two and intend to use public transport, it will pay for itself in a few trips. The card itself costs 50 TL, which does not include any credit. Top up can only be bought using notes. Any credit left on the Istanbulkart is not refundable, so make sure it's empty when you return the card for deposit. It can be purchased at a number of small corner shops throughout the city. But there are recharge machines at most stations (though not necessarily at all entrances), only accepting notes.
You touch the Istanbulkart to a reader when you get on the bus or enter the tram or metro platform. The great advantage for a group of travellers is that you can buy only one and touch it as many times as there are passengers (unlike London's Oyster card, there is no need to touch out, except the BRT Metrobüs line). You can buy or refill them at designated booths located at any major bus, tram, or metro station, as well as some other places such as newspaper stands close to bus stops. There are refill machines located at most metro or tram stops and ferry terminals. An Istanbulkart provides significantly discounted rates (a bit over half price for unlinked trips and even cheaper for transfers) compared to regular single tickets, as well as discounts on transfers and short round trips (when used multiple times within a limited period, roughly 1½ hr since the last time you used it). For instance, a trip with Istanbulkart costs ~7.67 TL, while a single ticket is 15.40 TL. The round trip to the airport pays for more than half the cost of this card.
Note, some connections charge around 15 TL initially because their range is very large, e.g. the Marmaray train but even buses. However, there are refund machines at the exit of stations that serve these long distance connections. In case you only travel a short distance tap your card there, and you will be reimbursed some money. Either way, if you feel like you paid too much, tap or just always tap—you won't get charged twice.
The Istanbulkart is relatively new, and replaces the older Akbil metal touch-token which is deprecated. Though some Kiosks still have Akbil signs rather than Istanbulkart signs - but you can usually buy or top up your Istanbulkart at any kiosk where the Akbil sign is displayed. There is also the so-called "mavi kart" or blue card which is a cheaper option for frequent users of public transport but has some restrictions, can be used by one person whose photo and name are printed on it, it gives 180 trips in bus/tram/metro that have to be used up within a maximum period of 30 days and costs about 200 TL + 10 TL for printing the card the first time.
While constant constructions and reroutings in pedestrian areas make the city streets fairly hard to negotiate by wheelchair users, the public transportation administrations of the city have taken steps to accommodate them.
Pavements along many major streets in the central areas, as well as pedestrian crossings, have tactile pavings installed. Many pedestrian traffic lights also alert by voice (only in Turkish, though).
Buses: The process of replacing old buses with newer ones accessible for people using a wheelchair is ongoing. Many buses on central lines have a low floor and a built-in ramp (consult the driver to lean the bus down nearer to the ground, to open the ramp, and to assist into the bus, though any of these might unfortunately be impossible during peak hours in interval stops. Think of a sardine-packed bus unloading all of its passengers to lean down).
LCD screens show the stop names while approaching the stop and voice announcements are made.
Trams: They are accessible for people using a wheelchair from the station platforms which are low and equipped with gentle ramps right from the street (or sidewalk) level.
All stations are announced both on a display and by voice in the trams.
Metro: Almost all stations of Istanbul's metro system are accessible for people using a wheelchair, with lifts/elevators down or up to the platforms from the street level available around the station entrances. All through the system, the trains are easily accessible from the station platforms. For assistance, look for the security guards in grey/black uniforms near the station entrances.
All stations are announced by voice in the metro trains. In most lines it is also announced on a display, but not in the older trains of the M1A/M1B. Instead, you should look at the signs in the stations, which are big and common enough.
Most metro stations have detectable surface indicators guiding the visually impaired from the street level right to the platform.
The Marmaray cross-town train, opened in March 2019, links Halkali mainline station in the west with Bakırköy, Zeytinburnu, Sirkeci and Üsküdar either side of the Bosphorus, and Bostancı, Kartal, Pendik and Gebze to the east; plus many small suburban stations. (Pendik and Gebze are on the YHT main line.) Trains run every 15 min 06:00-23:00 and between city centre and end of the line takes an hour, for a fare of 7.67 to 15 TL. The central sections are shared with the metro.
The city Metro has seven lines, of which only the first two are of much use to the visitor:
- Line M1A connects the main coach station (Otogar) to Aksaray, from where you can catch tram T1 to the city centre, and onward to train hub Yenikapı for connections to M2 and Marmaray. There is also a branch line (M1B) which serves the western suburb of Kirazlı. All trains serve the section between Yenikapı and the bus station.
- Line M2 starts from Yenikapı and crosses the Golden Horn, continuing via Şişhane and Taksim Square to Mecidiyeköy and Levent in the business district, and further north to Hacıosman (a major bus hub for suburbs on the north European side, eg Sarıyer).
- Line M3 continues northwest from M1B terminus Kirazlı. M9 is an extension branching off this line.
- Line M4 on the Asian side goes from Kadıköy to the suburbs along the Marmara coast as far east to Kartal, Pendik (but 1 km away from Pendik YHT station), and Sabiha Gökçen Airport.
- Line M5 on the Asian Side runs between Üsküdar on the Bosphorus and the outer suburb of Çekmeköy through Ümraniye.
- Line M6 (also called Mini Metro) is a shuttle from the Levent station of M2, and serving the upscale district of Etiler and the main campus of Boğaziçi University in Hisarüstü. The funicular extension F4 connects to Aşiyan down on the Bosphorus.
- Line M7 mainly serves the densely populated residental areas in the north such as Bağcılar and Gaziosmanpaşa (also known as G.O.P.), connecting them to Mecidiyeköy, the business district and one of the major transport hubs. This line also connects to the metro lines M3 and M2 as well as the metrobüs and the tram lines T4 and T5.
Much of the city is not yet served by the metro (the new airport is expected to be connected soon), and the distance between stations is larger than in most European cities. But the metro is fast where it does go and meticulously clean and modern, with much of it dating to the 21st century. Most lines are deep underground and some have entrances amidst busy streets with pedestrian tunnels or bridges the only access, so be prepared to walk quite a bit when going to and from stations. Transfers virtually always require exiting and re-entering the system which means a new full fare (with single use tickets) or a reduced fare for the connection (with Istanbulkart). You do not have to swipe any card on exit for metro or tram routes but you do have to do so for Istanbulkart on Metrobus, else you'll be charged the maximum distance fare.
Istanbul's first underground system dates to the 19th century, when the funicular subway "Tünel" (F2) was constructed to operate from Karaköy to Istiklal Caddesi in 1875, travelling 573 m up a steep hill. It's still running and is handy for going from the Galata Bridge to İstiklal Caddesi, the famous throughfare of Beyoğlu
Heavy construction on extensions and new lines continues apace, with the gap between the M1 and the M2 plugged with Yenikapı station. You can connect M4 and M5 via Marmaray from Yenikapı station. Unfortunately most network maps already show the yet to be built extensions in a lighter shade which can be confusing for a casual glance and frustrating when contemplating where you might be able to go if only you visited Istanbul a year or two later.
The old plastic tokens are no longer valid: the only way to pay for metro is Istanbulkart or limited-pass cards. The metro stations do not have a staffed ticket booth, so you must obtain your tickets or top-up your Istanbulkart through ticket machines. To buy limited pass cards, insert coins or notes and then press the button marked onay/okay. A single pass costs 15 TL on any urban rail in Istanbul though an Istanbulkart (see above) may be more cost effective during your trip.
Snaking its way between its eastern terminus Kabataş on the Bosphorus and the western terminus at Bağcılar in the northwest, T1 is the most useful tram line, serving many popular sites across the Old City and ferry jetties. The most helpful interchange stations are Kabataş (for F1 funicular to Taksim), Karaköy (for F2 old funicular, Tünel, to the lower end of İstiklal Avenue and ferries to the Asian Side), Eminönü (for T5 tram and ferries to the Asian Side), Laleli-Üniversite (for M2 metro), Aksaray (for B1 Marmaray), Yusufpaşa (for M1 metro), Topkapı (for T4 light rail), Cevizlibağ (for BRT Metrobüs), Zeytinburnu (for M1 and BRT), and Bağcılar (for M1 and M3 metro).
During rush hours (roughly 07:00-09:00 and 17:00-19:30), every other tram runs only the central section between Eminönü or Sultanahmet and Cevizlibağ. Speaking of which, during rush hours, it's best to skip the tram entirely, as walking instead is not only less endeavouring than trying to stand in the most nightmarish sardine can, but also is quicker as the crowd won't disperse enough to allow you to get into the car before the second or even the third tram calling at.
Other tram lines are T5 from Cibali via Fener and Balat along the Golden Horn to Eyüp and Alibeyköy (the secondary bus station and interchange to M7 metro), and T4 (part underground; more like metro-tram light rail of some European cities) from Topkapı outside the city walls to the nondescript northwestern suburbs.
The vintage tram lines T2, 1920s tram cars rattling along İstiklal Avenue, and T3, 1960s German-made streetcars on a circular route between Kadıköy and nearby Moda on the Asian Side, are more of attractions than practical transport options.
As with other public transport, you use Istanbulkart for the payment, but you must pay another fare each time you change lines although on a progressively discounted rate.
Tram lines are run by Metro Istanbul.
Unique Istanbul liners (large conventional ferry boats), sea-buses (high speed catamarans), or mid-sized private ferries travel between the European and Asian sides of the city. The crossing takes about 20 minutes and costs 7.67 TL with Istanbulkart, and gives great views of the Bosphorus. Sometimes the ferry when arriving at a dock can bounce off the pier accidentally, even on calm days. This can cause people to fall over if they are standing up, so it is advisable to remain seated until the ferry has come to an absolute stop.
In Istanbul, liners from any given pier generally take only a certain route, and these piers are signposted as according to the destination. For instance, Eminönü alone has more than 5 piers (including the ones used by ferries other than liners), so if you should head for, say, Üsküdar, you should take the ferry which departs from Üsküdar İskelesi. Replace 'Üsküdar' with the destination of your choice.
Istanbul liners travel on the following routes:
- Üsküdar–Karaköy–Eminönü–Eyüpsultan (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 Yenikapı from Kadıköy by sea-bus is a fast and convenient way to cross the Bosphorus; at Yenikapı you can change to numerous urban rail routes.
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)
There is also a Golden Horn boat line, starting from Eyüpsultan and ending in the Asian Side, Üsküdar, passing through notable touristic places like Balat, Fener, Cibali and Karaköy. Although the trip takes around an hour to complete, the boat ride is quite enjoyable with beautiful scenery of the Golden Horn. The boats arrive in the stations only once every hour though, if you plan on taking this boat you should time it well.
All of the ferries, including private ones, can be paid for using the AKBIL/Istanbulkart system.
Very useful are the fast ferryboats (travelling at 55 km/h) running from several points, such as the Yenikapi–Yalova one, that allows you (with a connecting bus in Yalova) to be in Bursa centre in less than three hours. Prices are marginally higher and the gain in time is considerable, though the view is not as nice. There are also cheaper BUDO ferry lines from Eminönü to Mudanya, the port for Bursa. From there you can take a bus to the Bursa city centre.
Public transportation buses are either run or inspected by İETT. Public buses in Istanbul come in many colours and shapes, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that ticket sales on board have completely been phased out, so you will have to obtain one (or an İstanbulkart, which is accepted on all public transport methods) prior to boarding the bus.
Istanbul's heavily used bus rapid transit (BRT) system, locally called Metrobüs, are served by long hybrid buses running on their special lanes along the city's inner beltway, separated from all other traffic and thus saving lots of time in Istanbul's generally congested roads. While an extremely important transport option for the locals, the system covers areas not usually visited by the travellers, between Beylikdüzü in the far western suburbs of the city and Kadıköy on the Asian Side via Bakırköy, Cevizlibağ outside the old city walls near the Topkapı Gate, the business district in Mecidiyeköy, and the Bosphorus Bridge.
Most bus lines operate roughly 06:00-23:59, usually with a reduced volume of services after 22:00. Some lines between major centres operate 24/7 though, as is the Metrobüs, with about an hour intervals. After midnight, buses cost two tickets per person rather than the usual one.
Night Time Bus Lines:
- A double check from İETT website is strongly recommended.
- TH-1 Taksim - Atatürk Airport (does not operate between 01:00 - 04:00)
- 40 Taksim Square–Rumelifeneri/Garipçe
- E10 Kadikoy–Sabiha Gokcen International Airport
- 15F Kadikoy–Beykoz
- 130 Kadikoy–Tuzla
- 34A Sogutlucesme(Kadikoy)–Edirnekapi (Metrobus)
- 34 Avcilar–Zincirlikuyu (Metrobus)
As a tourist, you are most likely to use the tram and the metro in the Sultanahmet and Taksim area since there are no bus lines operating in the area anymore.
Buses and streetcars tend to be very crowded during rush hours, especially on Mondays and Fridays. That can also create opportunities for pickpockets.
Taxis are an easy and cheap way to get around. Start off rate is 9.8 TL and then 6.3 TL for each km afterwards (2022). Distances up to 2½ km are subject to a fixed price of 28 TL, after that distance the meters track at the above rates. A one-way travel from Taksim Square to Sultanahmet [dead link] costs approximately 20 TL. Tipping is generally unnecessary. Frequently, drivers will refuse to start the meter and try to negotiate a fixed price (e.g. 150 TL for a short trip from Yenikapı ferry terminal to Sultanahmet, to which should cost less than 60 TL). You should avoid these cabs and take another one as you will almost certainly end up paying too much. To be sure, before getting in, just ask "how much to go to ...?" (most of the drivers understand basic English) since the price they tell then is quite accurate. Tell them then to put the taximeter on. Drivers do normally work with the taximeter, so they will not be surprised at all when you ask them to put it on. The price at the end will be quite close to the one they tell you at the beginning. There is no extra fare at night.
If you have internet connection on your laptop or mobile device, always use Istanbul Taxi Fare Calculator just before taking a taxi from airport, hotel or restaurant. It will help you to easily estimate taxi fare based on pick-up and drop-off locations anywhere in Istanbul, give an outline about the journey and avoid potential taxi scams.
Even when agreeing to take you on the meter, taxis in Istanbul have several dodges to catch the unwary traveller. The meter is often situated right in front of the gear stick and drivers somehow manage to advance the meter while changing gear. Not putting the meter back to the starting rate, i.e. adding your fare to the previous one, is also common. Taxis that wait near a bus station or at Yenikapı ferry terminal are usually a tourist trap. They start the meter but charge you 20 TL at least. Emphasize to the driver that you will pay for the meter price before getting in. Do not buy their quick-sell tricks. Always try to stop a taxi that is passing by on the road or find a legitimate taxi stop.
Insist on going to the destination that you want because some drivers are paid a commission each time they deliver someone to a certain hotel, restaurant, shop, etc.
Istanbul taxis are colored yellow or maroon. The yellow taxis' license plates start with 34 T and maroon ones start with 34 M. Yellow taxis are more common, as the maroon ones work mainly around western suburbs. They can not pick travelers from yellow taxis' region and vice versa.
Be careful of what notes you hand them for payment; some drivers have tried to pretend that the 50 TL note that was handed was just a 5 TL note. Occasionally taxi drivers may actually also rip notes you give them, and tell you it is no good, in order to make you hand them a 50 TL note. So, make sure the notes are not ripped, and is actually the right one before you hand them over. Also, if you are not familiar with the city the taxi driver may drive a detour in order to charge you more.
The major ride-hailing companies are Uber, Bitaksi (the cheapest so far), and iTaksi (the most expensive one, also a lot of people complain about its cheating drivers). You can only access Uber through a VPN on your phone as the app is banned in Turkey. A ride-hailing driver may ask you to cancel the ride and pay in cash instead. It's better to refuse, because even if you verbally agree on a price based on the app, the driver can pretend there was a miscommunication and argue for a higher price.
Traffic can be very bad, it can take an hour for a few kilometers through the old city. You might be better off taking the metro out of the old city and then a taxi from there.
Some important routes with distances and estimated taxi fares are:
- Istanbul New Airport (IST) - Taxim Square ~ 44 km
- Istanbul New Airport (IST) - Sultanahmet Square (Old City) ~ 47 km
- Taxim Square - Sultanahmet (Old City) ~ 5.5 km
- Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW) - Kadikoy (Chalcadonia) Ferry Terminal ~ 36 km
- Esenler (Bus Terminal) - Topkapı Palace (Sultanahmet) ~ 10.5 km
Dolmuş (Turkish: "full") is a shared taxi, travelling on a fixed route, which costs more than a city autobus but less than a normal taxi. They can carry up to 8 passengers and may only take cash. They carry a Dolmuş sign on top. They will only start driving when all eight seats are full, which is also where the name derives from.
The main and most important routes for dolmuşes are :
- Taksim–Eminönü (Taksim stop, near the Atatürk Cultural Centre, in Taksim square)
- Taksim–Aksaray (Taksim stop, Tarlabasi Avenue, close to Taksim square)
- Kadıköy–Bostanci (Bostanci stop, in front of the Bostanci ferry port)
- Taksim–Tesvikiye (Taksim stop, in front of Patisserie Gezi, in Taksim square)
- Beşiktaş–Nisantasi (Beşiktaş stop, in front of the Beşiktaş - Üsküdar ferry port)
- Kadıköy–Üsküdar (Üsküdar stop, Near the Üsküdar - Beşiktaş and Üsküdar - Kabataş ferry port)
If you want the driver to make a stop, you can say İnecek var. (EE-neh-djek war! -- Someone's getting out.) or Müsait bir yerde. (mU-sa-EEt bir yer-deh. -- At a convenient spot.)
If you can find one İsbike docked bikes are very cheap to rent. However, if the İsbike smartphone app, website and machines do not accept your foreign credit card you may not be able to rent the bikes without first obtaining the personalized mavi (blue) İstanbulkart described above. Alternatively if you have a Turkish friend they may be willing to accept the deposit on their card, as it is only a small amount blocked for a few days per bike.
The Turkish government offers a museum pass for Istanbul's many sights and museums, and key spots on Sultanahmet, for 700 TL (Aug 2022). The pass can be bought at the entrance of many museums or online. Check out what is included, and buy it if it makes sense for you. Numerous sights can still be seen for free and the biggest joy is probably just walking around and sucking in the atmosphere.
The non-transferable pass is valid for five days from the date of the first visit, and allows one free entry to each of these museums:
- Topkapı Palace and Harem
- Hagia Irene
- Istanbul Archaeological Museums
- Istanbul Mosaic Museum
- Museum for the History of Science and Technology in Islam
- Museum of Turkey and Islamic Arts
- Galata Mevlevi House Museum
- Yildiz Palace
- Rumeli Hisar Museum
- Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi Museum)
In addition to saving money when visiting these sites, the card allows you to skip the queue for tickets and go straight to the gates at some sites (Galata Tower is the notable exception). Most museums in Istanbul are closed on Mondays or Wednesdays, so checking the website first or ringing is a sensible option before setting off.
Alternatively, you can consider buying the much more expensive Istanbul Tourist Pass, 2-day pass costs €95, 3-day pass €115, 5-day pass €135, 7-day pass €145 (April 2019). It includes entrance to all of the above museums, a couple of boat tours, three days mobile internet, and even a one-way discounted Istanbul airport transfer (€20). However, it consistently receives negative reviews due to bad organisation and intermittent problems with accessing some of its included services.
- Individual listings can be found in Istanbul's district articles
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 the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods, including the Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), and the Basilica Cistern are around Sultanahmet Square, while some others are dispersed throughout the peninsula of the old city, such as the former Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora (Kariye Camii), the entire inside of which is covered by mindblowing frescoes and mosaics. An impressive section of the mostly intact Theodosian walls, which mark the full length of the western boundary of the peninsula, is right next to this particular church.
North 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 — those interested in the teachings of Rumi will particularly be entertained here. Further north is Istiklal Avenue, Istanbul's prominent pedestrian street running from near the Galata Tower to Taksim Square, the central square of the city.
Heading west from the old city brings you deeper into the banks of the Golden Horn estuary. A neighbourhood perhaps well worth a visit here is Eyüpsultan, to visit the city’s holiest Islamic shrine and, with all the religious people wandering around the narrow cobblestone streets in their turbans and other traditional outfits, just to see what the daily life in Ottoman Istanbul might be like. On the opposite shores of the Horn, in Sütlüce is Miniaturk, the first miniature park in the city, with models from around the former Ottoman Empire.
North of Taksim Square is New Istanbul, the main business district of the city. If venturing out to this direction, it's worth checking out the 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 the 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, slopping down to the shore, is the banks of the Bosphorus, 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 the east is the Asian Side, centred around the historic districts of Kadıköy and Üsküdar, and perhaps best symbolized by the Maiden’s Tower, at about the halfway between these districts, on an islet just offshore. The Bosphorus and Marmara coasts of this half of the city are characterized by quite picturesque neighbourhoods, overlooked by Çamlıca Hill, one of the highest hills of the city affording a large panorama, with a café and a pleasant park on its summit.
Southeast of the city, off the southern coast of the Asian Side are the Princes' Islands, an archipelago of nine car-free islands, characterized by stunning wooden mansions and pine groves.
Beginning from the 2010s, many visitors to the city have wanted their trip to include, or have even devoted their whole trip to, the locations where their favourite Turkish drama series were shot. See Turkish TV series tourism for an in-depth discussion.
Tulips were long ignored for their association with the 18th-century Tulip era, a period of ostentation and costly parties thrown by the Ottoman elite amidst large gardens full of tulips (and also when the first bulbs were introduced to the Netherlands from Istanbul), which was later seen as one of the reasons for the financial weakening and eventual dissolution of the empire. However, as the 21st century arrived, tulips have made a significant comeback, regaining much of their former popularity and now serve as a symbol for both Istanbul and Turkey. Depending on the cultivar, they bloom from late March to early May; pick April for the best views. While they can be seen at the sides or the central strip of many avenues of the city wherever there is enough space, for truly enjoying large patches of tulips with relatively exotic varieties, head to Sultanahmet Park and Gülhane Park in Sultanahmet, Emirgan Park in the northern Bosphorus neighbourhood of Emirgan or Çamlıca Hill in the Asian Side.
- Individual listings can be found in Istanbul's district articles
- Hamam – Sultanahmet has many historical hamams. Some are very extravagant and cater mainly to tourists.
- Waterpipe – Most of the places where you can smoke a nargile are in Yeniçeriler Caddesi, near the Kapalı Çarşı (Grand Bazaar). Çorlulu Ali Paşa and Koca Sinan Paşa Türbesi are both in secluded internal courts, just around the corner from some tomb yards, while Rumeli Kahvesi is actually inside the cemetery of an old medrese, though it’s not as spooky as you might think. In the south of Sultanahmet, near the sea, is Yeni Marmara (Çayıroğlu Sokak), where you can also sit in the terrace and enjoy the view. In Beyoğlu, at the Ortakahve (Büyükparmakkapı), there’s even the choice of a wide range of flavors. Another area with few big good looking places is the Rıhtım Caddesi, between Galata bridge and Istanbul Modern Museum.
Museums and such: Haghia Sophia, then on to the Topkapı museum (these two should take at least three to five hours), preferably along the road in the back of the Haghia Sophia, where there are some nicely restored houses. Then on to the Blue Mosque and the square with the obelisks on it (At Meydani). Along its side is the very good Museum of Islam Art. Descend slightly and find the small Haghia Sophia with its nice garden (it was under restoration, but you probably can get in). Then uphill to the Sokollu Mehmet mosque complex, top notch tiles inside.
Take a tram or walk to Eminönü (where the boats leave for trips to Asia or up the Bosphorus). Visit the New Mosque at the back, then the Egyptian Bazaar next to it, and going further in that direction, locate the Rüstem Pasha mosque with its excellent tiles. It's on a raised platform near an old clothes market, you may have to ask directions. Then take a cab or find a bus to Eyüpsultan mosque complex, a mile or three up the Golden Horn. Visit this Eyüpsultan complex at your leisure (the mosque is not particular, the court is, and the milling of believers, with many boys-to-be-circumcised among it; a Friday might be a good day to do this). Then, if you have the stamina, it might be nice to walk back too; maybe all the way (8 km or so), but taking a route along part of the city wall to first the famous Kariye Church with its mosaics, then on to Selimiye Mosque with its great view on the Golden Horn (and a fine mosque by itself), then the Fatih Mosque (passing through some very religious and lively neighborhoods), then on to the well-restored Sehzade mosque, and next to Süleymaniye (don't forget to enjoy the view from the Golden Horn side). If you have some energy left, you might go on to the University complex, and by then you are very close to the Beyazit mosque. A book market (it’s small) is behind this good, unexceptional (nice courtyard though) mosque.
Once again go to Eminönü, but this time take the boat (those large ferries) to Üsküdar. You will arrive before a fine mosque in front, another one 400 m off to the right, slightly inland behind a traffic roundabout, and a third, very small, at the sea front. See the market stretching inland, walk about and don't forget to walk along the shore, maybe eating a fish meal in one of the bobbing boats along it. This is a good visit for late afternoon, early evening, fleeing the city. You will be joined by thousands of people going home from "town" but the way back will be on a near-empty ferry. The frequency of ferries will go down in the evening, so make sure there is a connection back.
Go to the railroad station and find a Sirkeci-Halkali suburban train, and get out at (from memory, Yedikule station). You will be quite close to Yedikule, a nice fortress, and will have fine views of the city walls. The trains leave every 15 minutes or so, the ride is peculiar (the material is bad, but if you are in luck every second stop another salesman will enter and try selling his wares, it’s fun). The ride is takes anywhere from twenty minutes to half an hour. This is not a "must", but it can be great fun.
You will have missed the covered bazaar in all this. That is because you will get there anyhow. If you go to Beyazit and the book market you are almost at two of its many entrances. Try and find the Nuruosmaniye Mosque and its complex at the other side, it’s worth it. And after having explored the covered part, take a relaxing walk downhill, into the general direction of Eminönü, where it is "uncovered bazaar" all the way. Cross the Galata bridge to see some things on the Northern side (for instance take the "tünel" teleferik ride up much of the hill (entrance close to the opposite side of Galata bridge, ask around)), then continue to Taksim. Shops are of the international variety.
Theodosian Walls Walk
From 408 CE the original walls of Constantine were replaced in the reign of Theodosius. These walls then became the critical point of defence of the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and their Ottoman successors. They are still almost completely intact, marking the western border of the peninsula of Old City, with some sections suffering from somewhat unsightly restoration done in early 1990s. The section around the Topkapı Gate (not to be confused with Topkapı Palace which is located in an altogether different place) can be easily accessed from Pazartekke tram station, which lies about 300 m east of the walls. Some remoter sections may not be very safe and may require some caution.
A 7-km walk along and on these remaining portions of the city wall offers a window into antiquity and puts emphasis on Turkey’s terrible historic monument legacy. Download and print a scholarly historical and technical description of the walls before you visit Istanbul; this will certainly add to the pleasure. From Eminönü, take the Golden Horn ferry to Ayvansaray. This ferry terminal is separate from the Bosphorus terminals adjacent and east of the Galata Bridge. Walk west through the Galata bridge underpass, then through the bus station to a pedestrian lane way which leads to the small terminal building. The fare is 1.50 TL. Leave the ferry at Ayvansaray and cross the park to the wall on the other side of the main road. You have a choice of walking up the outer wall or the inner wall but access to the top of the battlements is usually on the inside naturally enough, so go up the small street across the road which then cuts back behind the wall and the towers. Here you can climb up onto this section of unrestored wall on crumbling brick and stone and continue on some hundreds of yards climbing as necessary. This path comes to an obvious end and one can short cut back to the street. Sometimes there are dwellings and commercial enterprises hard up against the wall, sometimes a bus depot, a rubbish dump or often just the road. These walls replaced the earlier walls of Constantine in 408 CE after which they went through constant upgrade and repairs to earthquake damage. The different work done over the centuries was all of varying style and quality. Quite surprisingly there are a number of small streets still using the narrow gates. At Hoca Çakır Cd one comes across a restored section of the wall where the heights are accessed by stairs (junction of Hoca Çakır Caddesi and Kariye Bostani Sokak), some along the top of the wall of the steeper variety. This restoration from the 1980s is in conflict with the original. The wall is then breached for the main road Fevzi Paşa Cd. Cross this and continue along the street at the back of the wall. Look for foot pads and breaks in the wall which allows access and a good look around. The wall is breached again for Adnan Menderes Blv (unofficially and widely known as Vatan Caddesi). Past here one see here quite clearly the double line of defence with outer moat. The next breach is for Turgut Özal Cd (unofficially and widely known as Millet Caddesi) which hosts the tram line heading back to Sultanahmet for those who have run out of steam. Walking now on the outside of the walls, various breaks in the outer wall allow access via broken stonework or later via modern sets of steps in disrepair. Between the walls is the disquieting evidence of the number of people sleeping rough in Istanbul. Persevere in staying between the walls because soon you will arrive at another impure restoration project at Mevlanakapı Cd gate. Entry to the gate towers has been closed at the gate, so entry is only from the walls. From here it is better to proceed on the outside of the walls because market gardens occupy the moat and the city side abuts buildings. These couple of kilometres will give a further perspective of the ravages of time and earthquake on the walls. Finally you will arrive at the Golden Gate and Yedikule Fortress which fronts the Marmara Sea and was Byzantium’s triumphal point of entry. This is in excellent condition not least because the Ottomans upgraded it and then used it right up to the 19th century. There is an entry fee and it has a toilet. The high walls and towers are all accessible, and one tower still has internal wooden floors. So you have now surveyed the protective land walls which kept Byzantium and the Eastern Roman Empire safe for all those years after the fall of Rome, breached only by the 4th Crusaders and the Ottomans. What of their future? Given that recent restoration work is fairly suspect scholars may think it is better to leave them be. Now return to the city either in the Eminönü Bus (#80) from the village square outside the main gate, just wait there, or walk down Yedikule Istasyonu Cd about 300 m to the railway line to Sirkeci, both heading for centres close to Sultanahmet.
The classic Bosphorus cruise
The fare is 65 TL (round trip) on the public ferry, Sehir Hatlari, and tickets can only be bought at the ticket booth around one hour prior to departure. The departure time is early (10:35am) and is very popular, so arrive early and queue for a ticket (the ferry does not wait for people late to arrive to buy tickets). Touts for private ferry operators often attempt to sell alternative ferry tickets. They will attempt various tactics to make you feel uncomfortable, such as shifting the public ferry ticket office line to be in the hot sun and telling you that full cruise will waste a day of your stay in Istanbul. This is generally a scam, they will charge an extortionate rate, or a cheaper rate followed by an extortionate return fee. Note that the public ferry offers no audio commentary at all, it is very barebones and on you to spot sights of significance. The public ferry does not offer toilet paper and the washroom is generally in a deplorable state; you will need to bring your own toilet paper if needed and potentially wait in line for a great deal of time if you plan to use the washroom.
There are various other private ferry companies offering various cruises. Compared to the public ferry, they will typically charge significantly higher prices but may offer audio commentary via a loudspeaker, a washroom with toilet paper or have a shorter line. The private ferries almost exclusively offer the short Bosphorus tour starting at 70 TL.
The open decks are hugely popular on the weekends, 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.
After landing at Anadolu Kavagi, take the walk to the Yoros Kalesi, a strategic castle overlooking and controlling the entry to the Black Sea. The area can be dangerous and hazardous without good shoes, but the direct footpath to the castle is paved all the way, only the last 10m to the viewing points aren't. 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. It has a spectacular view of the mouth of the Black Sea.
There are restaurants actually in the castle surrounds, such as Yoros Cafe, and naturally have spectacular views but mediocre food and service. 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.
Istanbul has five clubs playing in the Süper Lig, the top tier of Turkish association football: Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray, Başakşehir and Kasımpaşa. The first three have always been in the top tier and have international reputations. Matches between these sides are played in front of fiercely partisan sell-out crowds; getting tickets requires booking way in advance. As the atmosphere is extremely hostile to the away teams, spectators should avoid wearing away team colours after the match, and avoid any signs of crowd trouble.
Beşiktaş JK play at Vodafone Park, a 41,903-capacity stadium. It's on the European bank of the Bosphorus next to Dolmabahçe Palace, 1 km east of Taksim metro station.
Fenerbahçe SK play at the 47,834-capacity Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium (also called Ülker Stadium). It's on the Asian bank of the Bosphorus, 1 km east of Kadıköy metro station and ferry quay.
Galatasaray SK play at the 52,332-capacity Türk Telekom Stadium on the north edge of European Istanbul, take metro to Seyrantepe.
Başakşehir FK play at the 17,319-capacity Fatih Terim stadium. It's a long way out on the northwest edge of the city, 1 km north of Metrokent station on line M3.
Kasımpaşa SK play at the 14,234-capacity Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Stadium, in Beyoğlu district just north of the Golden Horn. It's named for the current Turkish President, who grew up nearby and played football in his youth.
The Turkish national stadium is Atatürk Olympic Stadium (Atatürk Olimpiyat Stadı), a 76,000-capacity arena at the western edge of the city, use either Olimpiyat or Olimpiyat Parkı metro station. It doesn't have a resident team, but several clubs have had spells here when their own stadium was unavailable. There are plans to expand it to 92,000 capacity by removing the running track, but this would end its Olympic prospects.
Many foreigners visiting or living in Istanbul decide to study Turkish formally in a language school.
Some of the biggest and most respected Turkish language schools in Istanbul are:
- ITI Istanbul in 4.Levent.
- Dilmer in Gümüşsuyu .
- Iladil in Fatih.
- Tömer, Ankara University affiliated.
- Concept Languages in Etiler.
- Boğaziçi University. Runs a summer long intensive Turkish language course for all levels.
Both Boğaziçi University and Bilgi University have well established Study Abroad programs in English for foreigners.
TEFL: Many foreigners living in Istanbul support themselves by teaching English. Finding a good teaching job is usually easier with a well-recognized certificate like the ones listed below:
- ITI Istanbul in 4. Levent runs Cambridge University's CELTA and DELTA courses year-round
If you already speak Turkish, Ottoman Turkish may also be interesting to learn. Ottoman Turkish was the courtly form of Turkish spoken during the era of the Ottoman Empire, and is significantly different to the form of Turkish spoken today. Approximately 80% of Ottoman Turkish words were loanwords from other languages, mostly Arabic, Persian and French. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, language reforms were implemented, including the establishment of the Türk Dil Kurumu (Turkish Language Association), which is the official regulatory body of the Turkish language. This association, with a philosophy of linguistic purism, decided to cleanse the Turkish language of loanwords and replace them with more Turkic alternatives. As such, only about 14% of modern Turkish words are of foreign origin.
Ottoman Turkish is the key to learning about Turkey's Ottoman past. With Ottoman Turkish, not only can you read historical archives, but you can also read Ottoman literature and letters dated back to the Ottoman period. In Istanbul, you can learn Ottoman Turkish from the following places:
- İsmek [212 531 01 41|+90 212 531 01 41] İskenderpaşa Mahallesi, Ahmediye Caddesi, Hacı Salih Efendi Sokak, 6 Fatih.
- Tarih Vakfı [212 522 02 02|+90 212 522 02 02] Zindankapı Değirmen Sokak, 15 Eminönü.
There is always a high demand for qualified - and, to a lesser extent, unqualified - ESOL/EFL teachers in Istanbul. Many teachers work with private instructional companies. Others contract out on a freelance basis.
Istanbul is Turkey's financial capital. All big investment banks, commercial banks, large foreign retail and consumer companies have offices in Istanbul. The business district has been coming up with high-rise buildings and business centers in the last decade.
Euro and US dollar are accepted at places frequented by tourists. Although, certain tourist attractions only accept liras. Currency exchanges (döviz bürosu) and banks are plentiful in Istanbul and offer extremely competitive exchange rates. If you are planning to visit Istanbul, bring hard foreign currency and exchange them after you arrive (not at the airport!), preferably at a bank or a currency exchange. Exchange rates at the airport are terrible, only in the city you well get excellent rates with a sell-buy-spread of about 1-2%. All major currencies are accepted as well, but rates are not that excellent. Exchange leftover lira directly before leaving, in many foreign countries it can be hard to get rid of them at a proper rate.
- Individual listings can be found in Istanbul's district articles
Connecting east and west, the will to control the major trading routes was the reason why Istanbul was founded in the first place, so shopping should definitely not be overlooked in your Istanbul experience.
Shops may be closed on Sundays. Most major shopping malls have security checkpoints you usually see in airports and museums prior to entry.
Here are some of what are popular to buy while in the city:
- Turkish Delight, or Lokum (as the locals call it) – A good buy since you're in Turkey. It is advisable to buy it fresh rather than in pre-packed boxes and to get a variety of flavours rather than the stereotypical rose-water or lemon flavors available abroad. Pistachio in particular is very good. The best place to buy lokum in Istanbul is from a store. Istiklal Caddesi in particular features a number of stores that sell Turkish sweets by the kilogram including lokum and helvah. There are quite a few shops selling Turkish Delight in the Grand Bazaar, although unless you are very good at haggling better prices can be found elsewhere.
- Turkish Tea (çay, chai) – The national drink of Turkey, brewed from leaves grown on the steep, verdant mountain slopes of Turkey's eastern Black Sea coast. Traditionally, Turkish tea is brewed samovar-style, with a small pot of very strong tea sitting on a larger vessel of boiling water. Pour a small amount of strong tea into a little tulip-shaped glass and cut it to the desired strength with hot water. Turks usually add cube sugar (never milk, although you can often get milk if you ask.) Having fresh, hot tea always available everywhere is one of life's splendid little luxuries in Turkey. Elma Çayı: apple tea, like hot apple juice (EHL-mah chah-yee) is the flavour of preference, although it's more for tourists; Turks prefer Siyah Çay (black tea).
- Turkish Coffee Roasted and then finely ground coffee beans are boiled in a pot (cezve), usually with sugar, and served in a cup where the grounds are allowed to settle. A classic of Turkish culture. Some people use the remaining coffee grounds to tell their fortune.
- Nargile (hookah) – It is a single or multi-stemmed instrument for smoking flavored tobacco called shisha in which the smoke is passed through a water basin (often glass based) before inhalation. Different sizes of nargile make it easier to carry one home with you.
- Rugs and kilims – Can be a good buy while in the city. Most rug-specialized stores in the city, though, are aimed at tourist trade, so pick up basics of bargaining to avoid being ripped off at these stores. They are mostly located around Sultanahmet.
- Chalcedony – A semi-precious gemstone named after the nearby town of Chalcedon, and is sold in many of Istanbul's multitude of jewellery shops.
Istanbul's Ottoman bazaars with an oriental ambiance, once sitting firmly on the western terminii of the Silk Road and spice routes, are all located in the peninsula of the Old City. Note, many are very touristy nowadays, and they are good for taking some nice pictures. But shopping should be only be done where the tourist-local ratio is very low, e.g. prices at the Spice Market (Eminönü) are twice or triple as high as in the rest of the city.
On the other hand, modern shopping malls (alışveriş merkezi, usually shortened to AVM), popping all around the city since the 1990s, are mostly to be found in New Istanbul and the western suburbs, though they are by no means exclusively located in these districts.
- Individual listings can be found in Istanbul's district articles
- Meze Meze is basically Turkish version of tapas, served in small portions both hot&cold. Best place to eat meze would be "meyhane".
- İskender Best version of Döner. It is basically döner served on a plate with a buttery tomato sauce on top and some plain yoghurt as a side.
- Döner. Always a good option for having fast and cheap food. The entrance to Istiklal Street contains dozens of small doner restaurants and they serve almost around the clock; though for a better experience (and a better food quality) you may want to wander about in residential neighbourhoods, since anything near a commercial or tourist area can be highly overpriced and greatly reduced in quality.
- Lahmacun It is "meat with dough", is a round, thin piece of dough topped with minced meat (most commonly beef and lamb) and minced vegetables and herbs including onions, tomatoes and parsley, then baked. Lahmacun is often served sprinkled with lemon juice and wrapped around vegetables, including pickles, tomatoes, peppers, onions, lettuce, and roasted eggplant; a typical variants may be found employing kebab meat or sauces.
- Dürüm a traditional Turkish wrap (which is made from lavash or yufka flatbread) that is filled with typical kebab or döner ingredients.
- Balık-Ekmek. Balik-Ekmek (literally "fish and bread") is a fish sandwich served in small boats and little buffets in Eminönü. It is also increasingly popular in buffets in Kadıköy coast. A regular sandwich consists of one small fried fish, slices of tomatoes and onion. However, the taste is beyond expectations for such a basic menu. The price is around 8 TL. Again, it's a local favorite.
- Hamsi. In Autumn and Winter the Black Sea Anchovy migrate through the Bosphorus, the local fishermen coming out in force to take advantage. All fish restaurants have them on the menu in season. It seems the classic serving is a handful of deep fried fish with raw onion and bread. Eat the fish whole, it's a winner. Look for the small restaurants behind the fish merchants on the Karakoy side of the Galata Bridge, western side. Expect to pay 50 TL or more.
- 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 40-60 TL each.
- Roasted chestnuts("kestane Kebap, as locals call it) are sold from carts around the city, and is a very nice snack to have when the weather is cold, as it keeps your hands warm. 20 TL for 100 g (as of June 2022). Eat in winter time.
- Boiled and roasted corn on the cob is sold from carts around the city, and is a fantastic snack to walk around. Price varies from cart to cart and area of the city (1-1.5 TL).
- Don't miss the "simit," a warm bread sold from carts around the city, and is a fantastic snack to walk around. The texture and taste is a bit like a sesame bagel. Price varies from cart to cart and area of the city (3-5 TL as of May 2022, with cream cheese being an extra 2-4 TL). Beware that not all simit vendors are honest and they will try and upcharge you (as high as 50-100TL). In this case, you should just walk away and find another vendor selling simit for less than 10 TL.
- Also, be sure to try Ayran, a local drink based on yoghurt, although sour and much thinner. It isn't always on the menu or displayed, but it's there, so ask for it.
- Freshly squeezed juice and juice blends are sold from stands and small shops all around the city, and are a refreshing treat (especially in the warmer months). The combinations range from a simple orange juice to the more rare options like pomegranate or kiwi. Price varies from shop to shop, area of the city and complexity of your order (10-30 TL).
- Individual listings can be found in Istanbul's district articles
- Bebek is a small town on the European Bosphorus, 10 km north of downtown, with fancy restaurants and bars. Great place to have a walk on the seaside after a nice dinner.
- Bagdat Caddesi is a very long avenue full of good restaurants, boutiques and high-end stores on the south Anatolia side of Istanbul.
- Karaköy is the rising star of the city, with its underground parties with views over the Marmara Sea.
- Beyoğlu has lively night life, with cafes and bars with live music.
- Nişantaşı is the place for young entrepreneurs and artists, but prices are higher than in Taksim.
- Kadıköy also has a nightlife scene, serving mostly locals of this part of the city. It's easy-going, with local pubs and wine houses and traditional meyhanes.
- Nightclubs are found all over the city, but two of the hottest are in Ortaköy.
- Individual listings can be found in Istanbul's district articles
In general, it is possible to find some kind of accommodation in any part of Istanbul. Here is a quick list of the areas where they are concentrated most:
- Harbiye is a popular place to stay; it's close to 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 quite close so you can stay in Harbiye and benefit from all activities in those areas.
- Taksim is the main centre of the city on the European side. Locals and tourists go to Taksim for shopping and entertainment, and it has moderate hotels for budget travelers. There are also 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.
- Upscale hotels can be found in the western suburbs, especially around the former airport, as well as on or near the banks of the Bosphorus.
- Caravan parks exist in Ahırkapı south of Sultanahmet, in Maltepe in the Asian Side and in the outlying villages on both sides of the Bosphorus.
- As with most European cities, but especially in crowded areas of Istanbul, watch your pockets and travel documents as pickpockets have devised all sorts of strategies to obtain them from you. Do not rely too much on the 'safe' feeling you get from the omnipresence of police.
- If prices are not on display, always ask beforehand (even for a tea) instead of just ordering something like in Europe. This can be fatal in Istanbul because tourists are constantly overcharged. Unfortunately, often prices are not on display, like in sweet shops or even restaurants. Skip these places or ask for a price knowing what the approximate or fair price is.
- Istanbul is home to three of the biggest clubs in Turkey and maybe European football: Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe, and Galatasaray. It is advisable not to wear colours associating yourself with any of the clubs—black&white, navy&yellow, and red&yellow respectively, particularly on the days of matches between the sides due to the fearsome rivalry they share.
- In Istanbul, most drivers won't abide any rules. Even if you have priority on a road junction, crosswalk, or even during green light, always be aware of your surroundings. Even if you are in a one way road, check both sides before crossing the road. It is common for Turkish drivers to use shortcuts.
- A major earthquake with epicenter in the nearby Sea of Marmara is expected within the next few decades, so read the earthquake safety article here before you arrive.
Note, most of the following summaries are already almost 10 years old. Turkey has changed a lot since then, due to modernization, political uproar, the war in Syria, and many other things. Nowadays, the situation is actually far less fierce as it may seem in these outlines. So, relax! Nevertheless, know and read about them, to be aware. The most important ones are the overpriced night clubs and bars, pickpocketing and overly friendly strangers.
Blue Mosque scam "guides"
When walking through the gates of the Blue Mosque, beware of smiling, friendly chaps who offer immediately to be your de-facto guide through the mosque and its surrounds; they'd be pretty informative on just about anything relating to the mosque; etiquette, history and Islamic practices. However, they eventually demand a price for their "services", a fee that can be as high as 50 TL. You would be better off booking a private tour online; or not at all, since the mosque is essentially free to all anyway.
A notable scam for convincing tourists to visit overpriced restaurants with mediocre food involves the following:
While walking along, you are overtaken by a Turkish man who claims to recognize you from the hotel at which you are staying (e.g. he will tell you that he works there as a waiter or a receptionist). He will ask where you are going. If you are going out for food, he will recommend a restaurant, claiming that it is where he takes his family or friends when they eat out. He may give you some other advice (e.g. the best time to visit the Topkapi palace) to make the conversation feel genuine and friendly. The restaurant he recommends will almost certainly be mediocre or low quality, and the staff there will try to sell you expensive dishes without you realizing. For instance, they may promote dishes which are marked as 'MP' (market price) on the menu, such as 'salt fish' (fish baked in salt), which may cost over 100 TL. They may also serve you additional dishes which you haven't ordered and then add them to the bill for an additional 25-50 TL, together with extra charges for service and tax. One restaurant that seems to be using this scam to get customers is Haci Baba in Sultanahmet.
In Taksim, a variety of restaurateurs have taken to literally grabbing your arm and pleading with you in a friendly demeanour to eat at their restaurants. If a restaurateur is resorting to aggressive tout tactics, you are obviously being scammed.
Bar and club scams
High-drink price scams encountered in so-called night-clubs mostly located in Aksaray, Beyazit and Taksim areas. These clubs usually charge overpriced bills, based on a replica of the original menu, or simply on the menu that had been standing upside down on the table. Two or three drinks can already produce a fantasy bill that easily exceeds 1,000 TL.
Also be aware of friendly behaving groups of young men or male-female couples striking up a conversation in the street and inviting you to a "good nightclub they know". This has frequently been reported as a prelude to such a scam. The people in on the scam may offer to take you to dinner first, in order to lower your suspicions. Another way they will try to lure you in is by talking to you in Turkish, and when you mumble back in your language they will be surprised you're not Turkish and immediately will feel the urge to repay you for their accident with a beer.
Another variant of this involves an invitation in Taksim to male tourists to buy them beer (as they were "guests"). At the club, attractive women, also with beers, join them. When the bill comes, the person inviting the tourists denies having said he would pay for the drinks, and a large bill is presented, e.g. for 1500 TL; when the tourists object, burly "security" personnel emerge to accompany the tourists to an ATM (presumably to clean out their bank account). Any bar that looks like it could be a strip club is more than likely a scam joint.
In either of these scams, if you refuse to pay the high prices or try to call the police (dial #155) to file a complaint, the club managers may use physical intimidation to bring the impasse to a close. If you find yourself in such a situation for any reason, you should do whatever they want you to do, pay the bill, buy the things they are forcing you to buy, etc. Try to get out of the situation as soon as possible, go to a safe place and call the police.
Metro Scams and Theft
Each metro station has an insufficient amount of fare machines relative to their ridership, and only carry a handful of Istanbul cards. Scam artists camp out here (especially at Taksim Metro), offering to help you buy a ticket only to show you that the machine has run out of reusable metro cards (it's fairly likely they brought them all). They will then ask you where you're from, and offer to sell you a card loaded with 100 TRY, for 100-125 TRY as a helpful gesture. When you commence your metro trip, you will learn that the card only contains half or a quarter of that amount. If the machine is not working, you should look for an authorized point of sale near the station, such as a shop or another machine, not the helpful stranger with a dozen cards for sale.
These areas are also prone to pickpocketing because they are chaotic and frequented by tourists. The pickpocketing is generally unrelated to the scam artist operations. You should be especially careful to place your wallet in your front pocket here and to be mindful of your belongings. If someone touches you or places their hand on your shoulder at any point while in or near the Metro system, you are being pickpocketed and you should immediately turn in an unexpected direction, especially if you have belongings in your back pocket.
To avoid these instances at the Taksim Metro where these issues are especially common, buy your tickets or Istanbul Card at the lone fare machine on the bus level.
Also be wary of men in Taksim who splash water on the backs of your neck. When you turn around, they will try to start a fight with you as another man comes in and robs you. These men tend to carry knives and can be very dangerous.
A frequent scam, often in smaller hotels (but it can also happen in a variety of other contexts), is to quote prices in lira and then later, when payment is due, claim the price was given in euros. Hotels which reject payment early in a stay and prefer you to "pay when you leave" should raise suspicions. Hotels which operate this scam often offer excellent service and accommodation at a reasonable price and know most guests will conclude as much and pay without complaint - thus this can be a sign of a good hotel.
Another scam is coin-related and happens just as you're walking into the streets. A Turkish guy holds you and asks where you are from. If you mention a euro-country, the guy wants you to change a €50-note from you into €2-coins he is showing. He is holding the coins stack-wise in his hands. For the trouble, he says he will offer you '30 €2-coins, making €60 in total'. Do not agree with this exchange of money, as the first coin is indeed a €2-coin, but (many of) the rest of the coins will probably be 1-lira coins (looking very similar), but worth only 1/4 of the value of €2.
Many bars in the Taksim area give you counterfeit bills. They are usually well-made and hard to identify as fakes in the dark. One way to verify a bill's authenticity is to check its size against another one. 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 of these two security features are missing, try to have the bill changed or speak to the police.
Some taxi drivers agree on a price only to tell you your lira bills are counterfeit, or invalid, or have a wrong serial number. This is a scam to have you paying in Euro or USD, usually for a much higher price since they'll claim they don't have change.
Some men will walk around Taksim (or other tourist-frequented areas) with a shoeshine kit, and the brush will fall off. This is a scam to cause some Western tourist with a conscience to pick it up and return it to the owner, who will then express gratitude and offer to shine your shoes for free. While doing that, he will talk about how he is from another city and how he has a sick child. At the end, the shiner will demand a much higher price for the "free" services provided than is the actual market norm. A similar trick is to ask for a cigarette and proceed similarly.
If you actively decide that you would like your shoes shined, then expect to pay not more than 5 TL for both.
Taxis are plentiful in Istanbul and inexpensive by Western European and American standards. They can be picked up at taxi hubs throughout the city or on the streets. Empty cabs on the streets will honk at pedestrians to see if they would like a ride, or cabs can be hailed by pedestrians by making eye contact with the driver and waving. Few taxi drivers speak languages other than Turkish, but do a fair job at deciphering mispronounced location names given by foreign riders. It is advisable to have the name of the destination written down and try to have a map beforehand to show the driver, to avoid any misunderstanding and also potential scams. Though taxis are plentiful, be aware that taxis are harder to find during peak traffic hours and traffic jams and when it is raining and snowing. They are also less frequent during nights, depending on the area and are hard to find after midnight.
Try to avoid using taxis for short distances (5–10 minutes of walk) if possible. Some taxi drivers can be annoyed with this, especially if you called the cab from a taxi hub instead of hailing it from the street. If you want taxis for short distances, just hail them from the street, do not go to the taxi hub.
Few taxis have seatbelts, and some drivers may seem to be reckless. If you wish for the driver to slow down, say "yavash lütfen" (slow please). Your request may or may not be honored.
As in any major city, tourists are more vulnerable to taxi scams than locals. Be aware that taxi drivers use cars affiliated with a particular hub, and that the name and phone number of the hub, as well as the license plate number, are written on the side of each car. Noting or photographing this information may be useful if you run into problems. In general, riding in taxis affiliated with major hotels (Hilton, Marriot, Ritz, etc.) is safe, and it is not necessary to stay in these hotels to use a taxis leaving from their hubs.
Others may take unnecessarily long routes to increase the amount due (although sometimes alternate routes are also taken to avoid Istanbul traffic, which can be very bad). Some scams involve the payment transaction; for example, if the rider pays 50 TL when only 20 TL are needed, the driver may quickly switch it with a 5 TL note and insist that the rest of the 20 TL is still due or may switch the real bill for a fake one and insist that different money be given.
Methods to avoid taxi scams:
1. Sit in the front passenger seat. Watch the meter. Watch the driver's actions (beeping the horn, pumping the brakes, etc.) and note what the taximeter does. While it is rare, some drivers will wire parts of their controls to increase the fare upon activation. If you're with your significant other, do it anyway. Save the cuddling for after the ride. Check if the seal on the taximeter is broken. Use your phone for light. This will make the driver realize that you are cautious. For women it is better to sit in the back seat (where you can see the meter from the middle), as there are occasionally problems with taxi drivers getting overly friendly, and sitting in the front is a sign that a woman welcomes such behavior.
2. Ask "How much to go to...?" (basic English is understood), before getting in the taxi. Price will be quite accurate to the one in the taximeter at the end of the ride. If the price sounds ok for you, get in the cab and tell them to put the Taximeter on. The rate they are applying is same during night and day.
3. Know the route. If you have a chance, find a map and demand that the driver take your chosen route to the destination. Oftentimes they will drive the long way or pretend not to know where you're going in order to get more money out of you. If the driver claims not to know the route to a major landmark or gathering place, refuse his services as he is likely lying.
4. Choose an elderly driver. Elderly taxi drivers are less likely to cheat passengers.
5. Let taxi driver see money on your hands and show values and take commitment on it. This is 50 lira. OK? Take this 50 lira and give 30 lira back OK?. This guarantees your money value. Otherwise, your 50 lira can be 5 lira immediately on his hands. Try to have always 10 lira or 20 lira bills in your wallet. This makes money scams in general more difficult. If you realize that the driver tried to use the 50 lira to 5 lira trick on you, call the police (#155) immediately and write down the license plate. If a driver claims not to have change, you may want to consider sitting in the taxi and pointing to a nearby shop to have them break their bills there. This will usually cause them to magically find the necessary change, or frustrate them into accepting a lower fare.
6. Create a big scene if there is a problem. If you are absolutely positive you have been subject to a scam, threaten to or call the police and, if you feel it will help, start yelling. Taxi drivers will only rip off those they think will fall for it; creating a scene draws attention to them and will make it easier to pay the correct rate.
Watch the menu carefully in street cafes for signs that prices are not discriminatory — if prices are clearly over-inflated, simply leave. A good indication of over inflation is the circulation of two different types of menu — the "foreigner" menu is typically printed on a laminated card with menu prices written in laundry marker/texta, i.e., prices not be printed; in these cases, expect that prices for foreigners will be highly inflated (300% or higher).
While this is not really a problem in Beyoğlu or Ortaköy, avoiding the open air cafes toward the rear courtyard of the Spice Bazaar (Sultanahmet) is wise. The area immediately north of the Spice Bazaar is also crawling with touts for these 'infamous' cafes.
Having nargile (water pipe) is a famous activity in Istanbul,Tophane (top-hane) is a famous location for this activity where a huge number of nargile shops are available and can easily be reached by the tram, avoiding a place called "Ali Baba" in Tophane is wise, usually you will be served there with plates you did not ask for like a nuts plate, and expect to have a bill of around US$50 for your nargile!
Men intent on stalking foreign women may be present in tourist locations. Such men may presume that foreigners have a lot of money or liberal values and may approach foreign women in a flirtatious or forward manner looking for sex or for money (either by theft or selling over-priced goods). If you are being harassed, use common sense and go to where other people are; often this is the nearest store. Creating a public scene will deter many stalkers, and these phrases may be useful in such cases:
- İmdat! – "Help!"
- Ayıp! – "Rude!"
- Bırak beni! – "Leave me alone!"
- Dur! – "Stop!"
- Gider misin?! – "Will you go?!"
Or to really ruin him:
- Beni takip etme! – "Stop stalking me!"
- Polisi arıyorum – "I'm calling the cops!"
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 3 TL as of May 2022).
Food and drinks are mostly of international standards. Some Turkish foods are known to use a variety of spices which may affect international tourists who may not be accustomed to such ingredients, although most of it is edible for any tongue.
Use common sense when buying certain foods, particularly from street vendors. Delicacies such as "Firin Sutlac" (a kind of rice pudding) can go bad rapidly on a hot day, as can the oysters occasionally for sale on the streets.
For general information on SIM cards, Wi-Fi and Internet see the country article.
Istanbul is the only city or province in Turkey that has more than one telephone code: 212 for European side, 216 for Asian side and Princes' Islands. When calling from one continent to the other, the usual dialing format used for intercity calls should be used, as if it’s an intercity call: 0+area code (212 or 216)+7-digit telephone number. It may appear as an intercity call, but it will be treated as a local call in respect to payment. When making an intercontinental call, if you forget to dial the code, your call will not be automatically routed to the other continent number, it is likely that you will be connected to the “wrong” number which is in the same continent with you, because much of the number sets are used on both continents (albeit with different codes of course). When dialing a number that is on the continent you are already standing on, only 7-digit number is enough. Don’t forget to dial the code first no matter which continent you are in if you are calling a landline number from a cell phone (even if it’s a number that is in the same continent with you), though.
Istanbul has 4G from all Turkish carriers. 5G is expected to be rolled out in 2021.
Istanbul's less-than-scrupulous hotel and restaurant owners are as market savvy as they come—they 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 have a better time if you avoid places listed in the most popular guidebooks. Trust your nose.
Many of the consulates in Istanbul are housed in elegant and imposing buildings dating back to the previous centuries, when they served as embassies to the Ottoman Empire, before its collapse and the move of the capital to Ankara by the then-newly established republic. An interesting fact about them is that they are all located in the Beyoğlu area with one exception, the Iranian consulate, as the imperial authorities did not allow representatives from non-Muslim lands to be based within the official borders of the city at that time, which more or less equaled to the peninsula of the Old City.
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The area of European Turkey to the west of Istanbul is called Thrace. It has many historic towns with Byzantine and Ottoman heritage.
- Edirne, two hours to the northwest, is a beautiful historic city, and was the Ottoman capital before power moved to Istanbul. You need at least a day here. A slow scenic route winds north via Kıyıköy, ancient Medea, a fisherman's village on the Black Sea with some traditional architecture, partially rebuilt ancient city walls and a nearby rock-cut monastery. The next town on that route is Vize, an old town with a well preserved Byzantine cathedral.
- Head into Western Europe either via Sofia in Bulgaria or Bucharest in Romania.
- Or perhaps you can follow the ancient Via Egnatia all the way to the Adriatic and across to Rome.
- The Marmara Islands are across the sea, much further away and less urban than the Princes Islands just offshore of the city.
- Bursa to the southeast is a former Ottoman capital with many historical sights plus Uludağ National Park just south. İznik, rich in Byzantine, Seljuk, and early Ottoman heritage, is worth a detour on the way.
- A scenic route towards Izmir is to head west then south into the Gallipoli peninsula, with its World War I sites, cross the Dardanelles to Çanakkale, then past ancient Troy and Pergamon (Bergama). A short ferry-ride brings you to the charming island of Bozcaada. For more detailed descriptions, see Istanbul to Izmir.
In Istanbul you've only stepped on the threshold of Asian Turkey. Continue east across Anatolia for so much more: rejuvenated Ankara, unworldly Cappadocia, surreal Mount Nemrut, faraway Kars. And further still across the lands of the former Ottoman Empire: follow in the footsteps of ancient traders, medieval travellers, pilgrims, and hippies.
|Routes through Istanbul|
|Edirne ← Çorlu ← Junctions (N / S), (W), (E) ←||W E||→ Gebze → Ankara ()|
|Edirne ← Istanbul Airport ←||W E||→ Kandıra → Adapazarı|
|END ←||W E||→ Gebze → Ankara|