31 Jan Istanbul – the midst of Eurasia
Welcome to Istanbul
Istanbul is a fascinating city and the most populous city in Turkey. The two continents, Europe and Asia, straddle across the Bosphorus Strait, where many different cultures and traditions join together as east meets west. Contrary to popular belief, since 1923, Ankara has been the capital of Turkey, not Istanbul.
Turkey is predominantly Islamic, with over 90% of Istanbul’s population being Sunni Muslims. This is reflected in the city’s main attractions with impressive buildings like the Hagia Sophia. As a destination, Istanbul has it all. Partly a UNESCO World Heritage site, it boasts over 2500 years of history and showcases some fantastic architectural landmarks and cultural points of interest. The city, too, is known for its great weather, breathtaking views, amazing food and lively nightlife. It’s a melting pot of vibrant sights, sounds, smells and tastes, which will intoxicate you from the moment you get there.
How To Get To Istanbul
Many international flights fly into Istanbul, either at Atatürk Airport (IST), on the European side of the city or Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW) on the Asian side of the city. Search Wayaway or Skyscanner for great deals. Alternatively, you can get to Istanbul on selected trains from Europe.
Visas / Passports / Travel Insurance
Please check with your local authorities if your country passport requires a visa to enter Turkiye, or click this link for more information. All travel documents or passports must be valid for at least six months from your arrival in Türkiye, and please don’t leave home without Travel Insurance. Check our Travel Resources page for more information.
The currency in Istanbul is the Turkish Lira (TL). Popular tourist areas like the Grand Bazaar, Sultanahmet, and Taksim Square are great places to exchange your currency. We found the currency rates best at the Grand Bazaar compared to the rates at the airports. When you arrive at the airport, exchange a small amount for having handy. Once in the city, find an ATM or currency exchange booth to get your Turkish Lira.
Getting Around Istanbul
Once in Istanbul, the best way to get around is by bus, operated by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality; the network is excellent. It runs from 6 am to midnight and covers the city extensively. Though the buses don’t have maps, it’s worth picking one up at any terminal before alighting it.
The metro system here offers six lines, while trams run throughout the city too. In addition, taxis are easy to hail, and if you are up for it, ferries run multiple times a day between Istanbul’s European and Asian sides. Alternatively, a Hop on Hop Off sightseeing bus is an excellent way to start your journey to get an overview of the city.
Places Of Interest
The best things to do in Istanbul are easily accessible by foot. Start in the historic quarter of Sultanahmet – the Old Centre of Istanbul, where you will find the world-famous Hagia Sophia. Once you cross Galata Bridge, the modern side of Istanbul awaits – the Golden Horn in the Beyoglu district – where you can experience the Turkish lifestyle more than the usual sightseeing.
Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)
Hagia Sofia is a UNESCO World Heritage cathedral that dates back to the 6th century and is famous for its massive dome ceiling and four minarets. It was once the largest church in the world, then became a mosque, and today it is a museum. Being the most important landmark, visiting this building is a must on a trip to Istanbul.
Tip: We recommend buying your tickets in advance due to the crowds and long lines you may encounter during the peak season. Book here for guided tours.
The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque)
From Hagia Sofia (directly opposite) is the largest and most impressive Blue Mosque, noticeably unique for its six minarets. Entrance is only allowed outside prayer times. Please be respectful and dress appropriately. Shoes must be taken off when entering the mosque, and women must cover their heads and body, so please dress conservatively.
The Topkapi Palace, located next to Hagia Sophia, was once the residential quarters of the Sultans. Today, it is a museum exhibition showcasing the historical rule of the Ottoman Empire. Please note the palace is closed on Tuesdays.
The Istanbul Grand Bazaar is one of the world’s largest and oldest covered markets. It is full of colour, trinkets, jewellery, carpets and textiles. To experience authentic cuisine, you must try the abundance of Turkish delicacies and coffees! And don’t forget to visit the crowded farmer’s markets, an excellent opportunity to perfect your haggling skills! The Grand Bazaar is approximately a 15-minute walk from Hagia Sophia. Book for private tours here.
Built in 1664, the Spice Bazaar is one of the most colourful bazaars of Istanbul that offers unique, vividly coloured spices, saffron, Turkish delights, caviar, dried nuts, dried herbs, and dried fruits and honey. Not to be missed, to appreciate the abundance of colours and smells of authentic spices.
The heart of Istanbul is the two-storey high Galata Bridge that crosses the Golden Horn and connects Sultanahmet with Beyoglu. Here you will get spectacular views of the Süleymaniye Mosque and the city skyline. While you are on the bridge, look east towards Asia or west towards Europe – you are in the midst of Eurasia!
Being on the Galata Bridge has a bustling vibe full of traffic and people going about their business, catching ferry boats or simply having a family day out. Walk across the Galata Bridge at sunset to admire this wonderful city and later find your way underneath the bridge to an abundance of tasty and cheap Turkish street food. A place to be!
A medieval stone tower erected hundreds of years ago is quite visible, with the highest point depicting a cone cap dominating the local skyline from any direction. The Galata Tower has nine stories, with walls over 12 feet thick and was designed for military purposes back in the day, but today providing a 360-degree panoramic view of Istanbul. Take the Metro to the Sishane Station.
Tip: Galata tower is a popular attraction, and during the peak seasons, you can expect to queue up between 30 mins to 1 hour to gain access. A lift takes you close to the top, with only the last two floors to walk up. Be mindful that the viewing platform is very narrow, but once you’re through, it is worth it! Book tickets here.
The modern district of Beyoglu houses the city’s most famous shopping street lane, the İstiklal Caddesi. It stretches from the south -near the Galata Tower to the famous Taksim Square. You will notice a historic red tram meandering through the crowds in the middle of the pedestrian zone. Enjoy the many shops and eateries or their famous ice cream.
Turkish Delights at İstiklal Caddesi
Expect the Unexpected in Turkish Ice-Creaxm
Taksim Republic Monument is a commemorative sculpture to honour the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, located in the heart of Istanbul at Taksim Square. Celebrations, protests, official ceremonies, and many other activities are here. The famous Istiklal Avenue is located here too, where many shops, restaurants, art galleries, nightclubs, bars, theatres, cinemas, and bazaars line the Avenue.
St Antoine Kilisesi (St Anthony of Padua) Church
Crossing the Bosphorus Strait by Boat
The Bosphorus separates the European side of Istanbul from the Asian side and is one of the biggest highlights of your trip. You will get a stunning view of Istanbul from the ferry as you commute between the European and Asian continents. Book tickets here for a Bosphorus sightseeing boat tour.
Night cruise on the Bosphorus Strait
An evening dinner cruise on the Bosphorus Strait cruising along this waterway leads to the Black Sea. A great way to enjoy great authentic Turkish food, drinks, and a live show. We were invited to get up and dance with the locals and learn their traditional dance; it was so much fun! Book tickets here.
On board the ‘Orient Bosphorus” dinner & dance cruise boat
Where To Stay
There are three ideal places to stay in Istanbul — the historic centre of Sultanahmet, Taksim (Beyoğlu) or Sisli.
Sultanahmet is close to the city’s main attractions, Karakoy and Galata.
Taksim Square is a vibrant area that also houses many excellent hotels. While Beyoglu, Besiktas and Beyazit are lovely areas on the European side of the city.
For 5-star luxury, the location of Sisli has plenty of plush and exclusive establishments and upscale shopping centres.
We stayed at the JW Marriott Istanbul Bosphorus, a 4.5 star hotel, located in eclectic Karaköy with views of the Bosphorus Strait. Great location and a beautiful hotel. We highly recommend this hotel. Click here for great deals at Marriott Hotel.
Where To Eat
Istanbul is unique when it comes to food and eateries; with its chaotic streets, incredible food, and fascinating culture, the city boasts many fantastic cafes, restaurants and bars serving a great range of Turkish cuisine. We recommend Çiya Sofrasıa, located in the bustling Kadıköy Market on the Asian side of Istanbul. Alternatively, click here for more options on the best food and restaurants in Istanbul.
BUT if you want to try authentic turkish street food you must try balık dürüm (fish wrap). Fish wrap with no bones – The best 15 Lira you will spend in Istanbul! Everyone must try the ‘balık ekmek’, a fish wrap with no bones, perfected using a mixture of 20 ingredients, salads, herbs, spices and oils to tantalise your taste buds. Absolutely divine! Watch the YouTube video below.
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