Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, it is a transcontinental city straddling the European and Asian continents across the Bosphorus Strait. Known as Constantinople and Byzantium it has been an important strategic city since 660BC. It oozes historic and cultural importance and sites.
Like many cities around the world, it has suffered from terrorist attacks and unrest in recent times and whilst the security measures were obvious during our trip in January 2017, it did not interfere with our travels at all. You can read more about our week in our Travel Tales-A week in Istanbul.
All major airlines have regular flights to Istanbul.
The national carrier is Turkish Airlines.
We flew into Istanbul from Tehran with Pegasus Airlines, a low cost subsidiary of Turkish Airlines.
Note: there are new hand baggage rules for some countries when flying from Turkey. It is best to check with your airline prior to arriving at the airport.
The public transport system in Istanbul is cheap, efficient and easy to use. There are multiple interconnected service types:
To get into the city from the Ataturk or Sabiha Gokcen Airports there is a bus located outside the arrivals hall, Havatas. You pay for the ticket on the bus.
We recommend you check with the Istanbul Insider website for more information on buses, drop off locations and timetables.
It is not recommended that you use a taxi from the airport as it is expensive, time consuming and given our experience the taxi driver may not be honest about the fare.
If you plan to use public transport a few times in your stay (and you will, it is a city built on 7 hills) purchase the Istanbulkart it will save you time and money. You only need one card for a family, it is easily purchased and topped up at train, tram, funicular and bus stations. The instructions on the machines are in multiple languages and available at most stations.
Taxis are notorious for ripping tourists off in Istanbul and we certainly had that experience, which you can read about in our Travel Tales.
You can obtain a tourist visa for entry to Turkey on line at https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/
This site has all the information you will need to apply for, make payment and request information.
The e- visa was emailed to us and we kept it on our smartphones and laptops.
The tourist visa lasts for 90 days from the date you specify as your arrival date on your application.
The list of countries that may apply for an e-visa is listed here
The cost of the e-Visa fee varies according to country of travel document and type of travel document, you can find out more information here. In January 2017 the cost for an Australian to obtain an e-visa was $60 USD.
We were advised to apply for our visas up to 30 days before arrival and did so; we had approval within a day of application.
The currency of Turkey is the Turkish Lira, currency code TRY. It has denominations of notes in 1,5,10,20,50,100 and 200 and coins in 1,5,10,20 and 50.
It is easily obtained from ATM’s and currency exchanges at the airports, or before you arrive.
There are a range of hotels, hostels and apartments aplenty in Istanbul.
Accomodation is reasonably priced.
We used AirBnB and for the first time had to make a complaint about the room and the owner.
We stayed near Taksim Square and Istiklal Caddesi, in the Beyoglu district which is central to most sites in the city and public transport.
Turkey is a secular state with a large muslim majority, although unlike other muslim majority states there are few restrictions on eating particular foods and drinking alcohol. However during Ramadan it is best to remain respectful and avoid drinking, eating or smoking in public where possible, this is especially true in conservative muslim areas.
It is common to shake hands as a greeting; as always take your cue from the person you are meeting.
In Istanbul it is not uncommon to see muslim women wearing head scarves in bars.
Food and Drinks
No trip to Istanbul would be complete with eating Baklava and Turkish Delight (known as Locum in Turkey), it is available in multiple shops on almost every street and it is worth sampling more than one kind.
Salep is a traditional Turkish drink made from orchid roots and warmed milk. It is delicious in winter and the perfect accompaniment to Baklava. It is available in small shops and cafes across the city.
Raki is the unofficial alcoholic drink of Turkey. It is an aniseed flavoured drink often served with seafood or meze and warms the heart on a cold winter night. Give it a try in pubs and bars, we found it in an Irish pub of all places.
Throughout the Beyoglu district we found small street stalls, often just a hole in the wall, selling Doner Kebab, DO NOT miss this. For less than $1 you can have a salad and meat sandwich and be on your way to the next site.
The streets surrounding Istiklal Caddesi are full of restaurants and judging by the prices they are aimed at tourists who don’t know any better. Walk down a few streets though and you will find small restaurants, cafes and take away places full of local people having a cheap meal of salad, vegetables, meat, fish and rice. These places are open at varying times throughout the day and night. Pide, Kokorec, Gozleme, Borek; they are all delicious, cheap and easy to get from small shopfronts across the city. Use our method of going at least 2 streets back from the tourist sites to find where the locals eat, pick one with lots of locals lining up for food. Avoid menus in English and you will be blown away.
As a rule we try to save money by self catering when travelling, there is absolutely NO need to do this in Istanbul, you can eat nutritious, tasty meals cheaper than you can shop in the supermarkets.
If you are craving something a bit different to traditional Turkish fare and a good quality bottle of red wine, there is a very nice Italian restaurant near Taksim Square, Faros Wine and Dine.
The streets around Istiklal Caddesi are filled with bars, cafes and restaurants. You can see live music of varying genres and enjoy a quiet or a noisy drink depending on your choice. It is worth wandering until you find the bar for you.
Check out our Travel Tale-A week in Istanbul for more details about eating and drinking in Istanbul.
Sites we loved
- The Blue Mosque or Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish – free to visit, closed during prayer times
- The Topkapi Palace and Museum – also an incredible view across the city
- The Basilica Cistern – do not miss this one
- Hagia (pronounce Haya) Sophia Museum – one of the World’s great sites in our opinion
- Istiklal Caddesi – day or night this is a thriving avenue and the busiest in Istanbul. We would recommend heading to the bars or restaurants in the evening, catch the historic tram from Taksim Square
- Catch a ferry up the Bosphorus to the Black Sea and the small seaside town of Anadolu Kavagi – you don’t need to take a tour boat, save some $ and catch the ferry
- The Grand Bazaar– one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets
- Try to get to the park situated between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia for the call to prayer. It is a moving experience to hear the Muezzin’s call, it feels as though they are calling to each other.
On the list for next time
Resources we used
- The Istanbul Insider is a fantastic website and blog, we used it both before we arrived and during our stay
- Here we go – Offline mapping App. (NB make sure you download the map for the country or region you are visiting BEFORE you arrive)
- Pegasus Airlines App – to manage flights and online check in
- GPSmyCity.com Istanbul City Walks Lite App (downloaded from App Store) for planning walks around the city, it also has themed walks you might like to take e.g the City Orientation Tour
- Istanbul Travel Guide with Metro map and Route planner App – free version. We only used this for the map of the metro which is contained in the free version of the app.
- Istanbul Eats website- a great resource for where and what to eat in this diverse city
You can read more about our travels in Istanbul in our Travel Tales-A week in Istanbul.
As always we welcome your feedback on this guide.
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