Istanbul (Turkish: İstanbul) is Turkey's most populous city as well as its cultural and financial hub. Located on both sides of the Bosphorus, the narrow strait between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea, Istanbul bridges Asia and Europe both physically and culturally. Istanbul's population is estimated to be between 12 and 19 million people, making it also one of the largest cities in Europe and the world.
Expanding the ancient Roman 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 last remaining outpost of the Roman (later termed Eastern Roman or Byzantine) Empire. 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 WWI 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. 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.
Istanbul is divided in three by the north-south Bosphorus Strait (Istanbul Bogazi), 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 northern boundary of Istanbul.
Istanbul has a temperate oceanic climate which is influenced by a continental climate, with hot and humid summers and cold, wet and occasionally snowy winters.
Istanbul has a high annual average rainfall of 844mm (which is more than that of London, Dublin or Brussels, whose negative reputation Istanbul does not suffer), with late autumn and winter being the wettest, and late spring and summer being the driest. Although late spring and summer are relatively dry when compared to the other seasons, rainfall is significant during these seasons, and there is no dry season as a result.
If there is a negative reputation that Istanbul does suffer from, it is the high annual relative humidity, especially during winter and summer with the accompanying wind chill and concrete-island effect during each respective season.
Summer is generally hot with averages around 27ºC during the day and 18ºC at night. High relative humidity levels and the ‘concrete-island effect’ only make things worse. Expect temperatures of up to 35° C for the hottest days of the year. Summer is also the driest season, but it does infrequently rain. Showers tend to last for 15-30 minutes with the sun usually reappearing again on the same day. Flash floods are a common occurrence after heavy rainfalls (especially during summer), due to the city's hilly topography and inadequate sewage systems.
Winter is cold and wet, averaging 2ºC at night and 7ºC during the day. Although rarely below freezing during the day, high relative humidity levels and the wind chill makes it feel bitterly cold and very unpleasant.
Snowfall, which occurs almost annually, is common between the months of December and March, with an annual total snow cover of almost three weeks, but average winter snowfall varies considerably from year to year, and snow cover usually remains only for a few days after each snowfall, even under intense snow conditions.
Late spring (late May to early June) and early autumn (late September to early October) are very pleasant and therefore the best times to visit the city. During these periods it is neither cold nor hot, and still sunny, though the nights can be chilly and rain is common.
For visitors an umbrella is recommended during spring, autumn and winter, and during the summer to avoid the sun and occasionally the rain. However, it’s not such a big problem, since streets of Istanbul are suddenly filled by umbrella sellers as soon as it starts raining. Although the umbrellas they provide are a little shoddy, going rate is only TRY5 –about USD3- per umbrella (though you can find much better umbrellas for that price at shops if you look around a bit).
Light clothing is recommended during summer and a light jacket and/or light sweater if the summer evenings do become chilly, warm clothing is essential during winter and a mixture of the two during spring and autumn.
Also take note that due to its huge size, topography and maritime influences, Istanbul exhibits a multitude of distinct micro-climates. Thus, different sections of Istanbul can experience different weather conditions at the same time. For example, at the same moment, it can be heavily raining in Sarıyer in the north, mildly raining in Levent (northern terminus of metro line), while Taksim, the southern terminus of metro line, is having a perfectly sunny day.
Most planes arrive at Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IATA: IST), 20km west of the city centre. From the airport, there are various options for getting into Istanbul: you can take a taxi (about TRY60 to Taksim. There is no night fare in Istanbul anymore - the price would be the same at midnight or midday. About the same to Sultanahmet), the express bus service run by the local airport service called "Havataş"  which departs half-hourly between 4AM-midnight and costs TRY11 (April 2015) to Taksim and Aksaray, the public bus (line #96T) run by İETT costing TRY5 (TRY3.50 with İstanbulKart), which has fewer departure times now, due to Havatas, which is also a municipality engaged bus service. At the bus stop of your final destination, be wary of taxi drivers that come up to you or are overly friendly. Follow locals to a corner where most of the taxis are picking up customers.
Istanbul doesn't have services with local drivers such as Hailo or Lyft for the time being. However there is a service called Welcome Pickups, that selects and trains the best taxi drivers and connects them with you, to pick you up from the airport, drive you to your destination and give you a meaningful introduction to the city.
Then, there is the metro (06:00-00:05) (signposted "light rail" in the airport, when you get outside the baggage claim it's about a 10 minute walk in the airport to the metro line. Just follow the signs), which will take you directly to the Otogar (bus station) or to numerous stops within Istanbul (Aksaray in the city centre is the last stop, transfer stations for tram heading for deeper into old city is available at Zeytinburnu and Aksaray). It costs TRY3, by token (+an extra TRY4 when boarding the tram) and getting to Aksaray takes around 45 minutes. It is possible to be at your bus departing from Otogar within less than one hour after landing by taking the metro. (Actual travel time on the metro from the Aksaray station to the Airport station was 35 minutes and cost TL 2.15 with the Istanbulkart, January 2016. Obviously allow more time if you need to transfer on the way to the airport and keep in mind that you will have to pay for the transfer.)
When entering the metro station, you need to buy a jeton (token) for TRY4. Just hand the cashier TRY4 and he'll give you a token, or use the automatic dispenser (Jetonmatik), which accepts banknotes (TRY5, TRY10, TRY20) as well as coins. Use 'select' to choose the number of jetons and then push 'ok'. They don't accept credit card or foreign currency here. This will get you on the red metro line (towards Aksaray). From this line, if you are going to Sultanahmet, you can transfer at Zeytinburnu and buy another jeton (TRY4) - see the section on "Istanbulkart" if further travel within Istanbul's metro system will be undertaken. Note that the jeton token here is different than the first one. From Zeytinburnu, take the blue tram line T1, towards Kabataş which passes by: Sultanahmet, Eminönu and Tophane. The trip from the airport to Sultanahmet takes about 45min.
To get from Ataturk to the Asian side of Istanbul, the quickest way is to take a taxi to Bakikoy IDO Iskele (ferry pier), which takes about 10m and costs 20TL, and then take an IDO high-speed catamaran to Kadikoy (20m) or Bostanci (40m) for 7TL. This is much faster and cheaper than a taxi, which could take up to 2 hours if there is a lot of traffic. The boat runs from 7am to 9pm.
Other Notes: Note that people are working on commission at the airport trying to make you use special shuttle buses for very high fees (TRY30+), so for people who wish to travel more economically the Metro/tram-combination is easy and fairly quick, and offers very good value. Travel by metro/tram cost 1 token per trip which is equal to TRY3. No matter how long you travel, it costs 1 token per trip.
Visa: Depending on nationality, foreigners arriving in Istanbul may need to purchase tourist visas (around 20 nationalities including USA and some EU citizens). This can be done either online at https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/ (pay for your visa on-line and print it out at home prior to your trip) or in one of the automatic machines before clearing the immigration (the price should be the same whether you purchase it online or in the airport but several travellers reported that the machine in the airport charged him 20 TLY (around 10 USD) instead of 20 USD as it displayed). Visa can also be purchased in the visa office in the airport but it's reportedly more expensive.
Food and drink at the airport may cost up to five times more than in the city proper, like in other international airports. If you are travelling on budget and plan to spend some time at the airport, it may be wise to bring your own meals from town instead of buying them there. If you come from the Metro, there is a supermarket in the tunnel leading to the elevators / stairs to the airport proper where you can do some last-minute shopping.
Sabiha Gökçen Airport
The cheapest way to arrive from Sabiha Gökçen to the European side of Istanbul is by bus (E10 or E11 lines, from Sabiha Gökçen to Kadiköy) + ferry (from Kadiköy to many ferry stations, including some in the Sultanahmet area). Using Istanbulkart or Akbil (see below), the price is less than TRY7. That's about €2.50 in total. Every other option priced at €10 and above (TRY23 and above-by Feb 2013 rates) makes sense ONLY if you can't use this. Be aware that last ferries are between 10 and 11pm, yet the E10 continues throughout the night.
A pricier option is the Havatas bus connects this airport with Taksim in the city centre for TRY14 (Aug 2014) and takes about an hour and a half (closer to two or more in heavy traffic). There is also a Havatas service to the ferry pier in Kadıköy, a transportation hub of Asian Side, which costs TRY9. If you arrive in the middle of the night, you can move to the departure hall after passing customs and rest on very comfortable seats — you will even find coin-operated Japanese massage chairs. Then, at 05:00 the first Havatas bus will take you to town. The Havatas bus schedule is sometimes linked to the arrival/departure times of planes.
Various private operators offer internet bookable shared minibuses to central locations — a good choice when arriving late. A typical price being €90 for 4 people to a hotel in Laleli. A taxi to Sabiha Gökçen airport from Taksim, which lies around 50km from the airport, takes c. 35 minutes at 03:30 with no traffic. The meter will show c. TRY75, plus there is c. TRY6 in tolls. Note the security screening is before the check-in counters, so add some extra time to make the cut-off times (45 minutes for international, 30 for domestic).
Beware of the company running the "Hotel Information" office in the Sabiha Gökçen airport which offers "shuttle-to-hotel" services from €15 (they pretend to make a discount based on your group size, you can get it as low as €12.50 for 4 people) because their drivers are totally uninformed about any hotel address and they may get lost/the trip may take 2-3 times more than normal because of their lack of knowledge with hotel addresses.
Historically international trains from across Europe used to arrive at Sirkeci station, with Asian trains arriving at Haydarpasa station with a ferry linking the two of them. Last year the Marmaray underground railway tunnel was opened and there are now trains connecting the two sides as well as the ferries. Sirkeci station can still be used to buy international and domestic tickets even though the trains do not currently reach it.
International trains to Sirkeci
International trains to Haydarpasa
Schedule and price list of railway trips can be gathered from TCDD (Turkish Republic State Railways) .
When arriving at the Turkish border from Europe, you may need to buy a visa before getting your passport stamp. This counter accepts only Euros or USD, not Turkish Lira. You need to go to the visa counter first to purchase your visa, then to passport control to get it stamped.
Most buses and coaches terminate at the colossal Esenler Otogar, about 10 km west of the city center, located on the European side. The station can be easily reached via the Otogar stop on the M1. Companies may also have courtesy minibuses or taxis which will allow you to easily access the center of the city.
Buses depart/arrive for all regions of Turkey as well as for international destinations including cities in Bulgaria, Greece, Republic of Macedonia and Romania. The terminal is huge and each company has a separate office. The area can be a tourist trap with people wanting to help get you to the right office -- for a fee. It is easiest if you know who you want to travel with when you arrive.
With 168 ticket offices and gates, shops, restaurants, hotel, police station, clinic and mosque, the Büyük Otogar is a town in itself. From/To Thessaloniki (Greece): ticket prices are around €45 (one way),€80 with return . From/To Sofia and Varna (Bulgaria): ~30€ (one way). From/To Skopje (Macedonia): ~40€ (one way). Ticket prices may change related with petrol costs but on an avarage 100 kilometers costs 5€ (Euros). Some bus companies selling online tickets from their individual webpages. Varan, Ulusoy, Pamukkale and KamilKoç are considered as best bus companies of Turkey.
"Harem" is the major hub for the buses on the Anatolian (Asian) side, which can be reached easily from the European side with a Ferryboat.
Turkish bus companies mostly don’t have a toilet inside the bus. Buses stop for rest and needs usually every 4 or 5 hours. Rest duration is 30 minutes.
International ferries, carrying tourist groups from outside Turkey stop at Karakoy Port. The port is ideally located close to Sultanahmet and Taksim.
Cruise ships often dock close to downtown. Passengers not on tours will find taxis readily available at the port entrance, and modern streetcars a short walk away.
Traffic in Istanbul can be manic; expect a stressful drive because you will be cut off and honked at constantly. The city currently holds more than 1,500,000 automobiles and there is a strong demand for building of new or alternate highways.
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 city, lying on two different continents and separated by the Bosphorus, is connected by two bridges. The bridge on the south, closer to the Marmara Sea, is called the "Bosphorus Bridge". The bridge closer to the Black Sea is named "Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge" and is longer than the first one. Both are toll bridges, and you must pay a fee to cross.
Since 2006, the Bosphorus Bridge toll stations do not accept cash, and payment must be made using electronic cards, either manually (KGS) or automatically via a transponder mounted on the front of the car (OGS). The Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge does not accept cash either, only KGS or OGS. The minimum amount of credit which can be purchased for a KGS card is 50 Turkish Lyra (October 2012).
On weekdays, drivers should be aware of potentially hour-long traffic jams on the highways leading to both bridges, 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.
Drivers unfamiliar with the city should also be aware that 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.
Istanbul's public transit system can be difficult to figure out; 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.
There is an extensive bus system, including city-run and private buses, as well as one high-speed Metrobüs line; an extensive light rail system including four Metro (underground) lines, four Tramvays (aboveground), two Fünikülers (ascending/descending), two mini-lines called Teleferik, and the Marmaray (underwater) lines; and the ferries which travel the Bosphorus.
An important supplement to all of this (particularly late at night) is the fleet of private dolmuş minivans, which follow prescribed routes and wait until they fill up before departing. They range in price from 2-8 lira (paid in cash), depending on how far you're going. They run all night long, unlike most of the public transport lines. So if you find yourself stranded at Taksim at 4am, a dolmuş is your way home. Look for the yellow minivans, and ask them where they're going ("néreye gidiyórsunuz?").
Each time you use a tram, metro, bus, or boat on the public transport system, you will need to use a token (expensive) or a magnetic card (cheaper, see below). The small metal/plastic tokens cost 4 TL (July 2014) and can be bought at various ticket kiosks & machines at bus, railway and metro stations. Ticket fares across buses, trams and metros are at a flat rate (i.e. not dependent on how far you go). Only cash in Turkish lira is accepted at ticket kiosks of public transport, no credit cards or foreign currency. Also be aware that the Istanbul subway system does not offer transfer tickets and as such each new line requires a new fare, unless you use an an Istanbulkart or Akbil (see below).
Buying an Istanbulkart is a good idea if you are in Istanbul for more than a day or two, and intend to use public transport. This is a plastic card that looks like a credit card. It can be used as a ticket on buses, trams, suburban trains, metro, some cross-Bosphorus ferries, and even some public toilets. You touch the Istanbulkart to a reader when you get on the bus or enter the tram/metro platform. The great part for groups 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). You can buy or refill them at designated booths located at any major bus, tram, to metro station, as well as some other places such as newspaper stands close to bus stops. An Istanbulkart provides a flat fare of 2.15TL for the first ride, which is a cheaper option in comparison to tokens used in Metro and speed trams (jeton, 4TL). It is also 3,85TL to the Prince's Islands, instead of 6TL for a token, 4,15TL to Sabiha Gökçen airport instead of 5TL. Istanbulkart also allows discounts in transfers (when used multiple times within a limited period, roughly an hour and a half since the last time you used it). A deposit for the device itself is payable when you buy it (7 TL + any top-up), which is not refundable, and neither is any credit left on the Istanbulkart (when bought at the Ataturk airport metro terminus, 4TL deposit will be already on the card when bought). Note that there are different booths for buying the card and for charging it, and charging booths accept only 5, 10, and 20 lira banknotes.
Once you have bought and loaded the card, your first journey costs 2.15TL (except for Metrobus, which costs around 3TL). Then, any change within approximately 2 hours costs progressively cheaper: the second journey is 1.45TL, the third is 1.15TL, the fourth and fifth are 0.85TL (fares accurate as of Jan 2016). When several people are traveling using one card, the fare paid for the second, third etc. passengers may differ. Note that changing metro line or travel type, i.e., ferry to bus, or metro to tram, requires you to go out of the turnstiles and then back in to the new line or travel type. Therefore, this is extremely more economical than buying individual jetons at 4TL per journey.
The Istanbulkard is relatively new, and is replacing the older Akbil metal touch-token which is being phased out (but is still in wide use). It is now just about impossible to buy an Akbil. However, there are still some places that do not yet accept the Istanbulkart, so if you have an Akbil token left over from previous trips to Istanbul, keep hold of it: they still work. 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 are two types of public buses in Istanbul; those run by the private sector and those run by the city-owned İETT. You can differentiate these two types by their colors. Privately run buses are blue-green with yellow non-electronic destination signs while İETT-run buses come in many flavors including old red-blue ones, newer green ones and red double-deckers. The Akbil Transit Pass is valid universally while tickets that can be obtained in kiosks near bus stops for 1.40 TL are valid only on İETT buses and cash payment only on private buses, although if you get on an İETT bus the driver will normally accept cash (normally 1.50 TL but this is dependent entirely upon what the driver wishes to charge) and hand you his Akbil for you to use.
Recently installed Metrobüs, long hybrid buses running on their special lanes separated from all other traffic and thus saving lots of time in Istanbul's usually congested roads, connect western suburb of Avcılar with Kadıköy in Asian Side via Bakırköy, Cevizlibağ which is just out of old city walls near Topkapı Gate, and Mecidiyeköy.
Most bus lines operate between 6AM and around midnight, usually with a reduced volume of services after 10PM. Some lines between major centres operate 24 hr, though, as is the Metrobüs, with about an hour intervals. After midnight, buses cost two tickets pp rather than the usual one. Buses and streetcars tend to be very crowded during rush hours, especially on Mondays and Fridays. That can also create opportunities for pickpockets.
24 hr Bus Lines:
Istanbul's first underground system dates back to 19th century, when the funicular subway "Tünel" was constructed to operate from Karaköy to Istiklal Street in 1875. The distance travelled was 573 metres. This is a good way to go up the hill from the Beyoğlu side of the Galata Bridge to the famous Istiklal Caddesi pedestrian street.
Starting in the 1990's, a modern and extensive (and often confusing) light rail system has been constructed in all parts of the city. The newest (as of October 2014) addition is the Marmaray undersea tunnel, which crosses below the Bosphorus from the the Sultanahmet area to the Anatolian side. Underground lines are called "metro," above ground lines are called "tram," and there are also short, uphill lines called "füniküler," two tiny "teleferik" lines, and the undersea Marmaray. There is also a high-speed bus called Metrobüs, complementary to this whole network.
There are four Metro lines, the first of which has two branches. The most useful to most tourists will be M1A which visits both Atatürk Airport and the Otogar Bus Station, and the M2 which passes near to Sultanahmet and travels to Galata/Taksim and beyond.
All lines are still being extended, but as of October 2014, they include:
There is also a funicular system connecting Taksim to Kabataş, where you can take ferries across the Bosphorus to the Anatolian side, and also transfer to trams bound for the old city (see below). Another funicular, called Tünel, connects Şişhane to Karaköy (the eastern side of the Galata Bridge).
Nowadays, most metro stations do not have a staffed ticket booth, so you will have to obtain your token from automatic token dispensers (called Jetonmatic). Insert coins (except 1 or 5 kuruş) up to 4 TL and then press the button marked onay (Turkish for "approval", no English translations are given on all the machines).
A token costs 4 TL (around €1.30) on any urban rail in Istanbul.
A tram (line # T1) connects Zeytinburnu (connection to the metro line to the airport) to Kabataş (connection to the underground funicular to Taksim). The line is 14km long, has 24 stations and serves many popular tourist sites (e.g. in Sultanahmet) and ferries (e.g. Eminönü). An entire trip takes 42 minutes.
There are two tram lines running on the same tracks, the line numbered as 38 in front of tram cars runs along the entire T1 line between Kabataş and Zeytinburnu, while significantly shorter line #47 runs between Eminönü and Cevizlibağ stations (the latter of which is abbreviated as C.bağ-A.Ö.Y. on the signage of tram cars). However, both lines call at stations that are of most interest to travellers through the Old City. During morning and evening rush hours every alternate tram runs as #47, while during the rest of the day, most run as #38.
Although you may use the same tokens (2 TL) or AKBİL on the metro and tram, you must pay another fare each time you change lines.
The tram was put in service in 1992 on standard gauge track with modern cars, connecting Sirkeci with Topkapi. The line was extended on one end from Topkapi to Zeytinburnu in March 1994 and, on the other end from Sirkeci to Eminönü in April 1996. On January 30, 2005 it was extended from Sirkeci to Kabataş crossing Golden Horn after 44 years again. 55 vehicles built by ABB run on the line. The daily transport capacity is 155,000 passengers.
Tramway stations are: Zeytinburnu, Mithatpaşa, Akşemsettin, Seyitnizam, Merkezefendi, Cevizlibağ, Topkapı, Pazartekke, Çapa, Fındıkzade, Haseki, Yusufpaşa, Aksaray, Laleli (Üniversite), Beyazıt (Kapalıçarşı), Çemberlitaş, Sultanahmet, Gülhane, Sirkeci, Eminönü (ferryboats), Karaköy, Tophane, Fındıklı, Kabataş.
Between Taksim and Kabatas, there is a modern underground funicular to connect this tram line to the Taksim metro. The tram is also connected to the southern metro line (for the Otogar and Ataturk Airport) at Aksaray station, though the metro and tram lines are a short walk from each other.
During morning and evening rush hours (roughly between 7AM-9AM and 5PM-7:30PM respectively), tram cars run jam-packed so if you intend to take it for a couple of stations down the way, don't even bother—walking instead is not only less tiresome than standing in what is essentially more crowded than a sardine can, it's also quicker as you will most likely be able to get in the second or even third tram calling at the station due to the crowd.
There are also two other tram lines linking residential and industrial suburbs in the northwest with the city centre: T2, which heads for Bağcılar, and T4 (which is more like metro-tram systems of northwestern Europe, as it lies underground for part of its route), which heads for Sultançiftliği, connecting to the Zeytinburnu and Topkapı stations of the T1 line respectively. However, these lines are of very little, if any, use to the average traveller.
Information for disabled travellers
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).
By September 2011 LCD screens showing the stop names while approaching to the stop, and voice announcement is made.
Trams are accessible for people using a wheelchair from the station platforms if you can manage to get into the station in the first place. Some of the stations are located in the middle of very wide avenues and the only access to them is via underground passages (tens of stairs) or overpasses (more stairs!). Otherwise, platforms in tram stations are low and equipped with gentle ramps right from the street (or sidewalk) level. Moda Tramvay and Nostaljik Tramvay run older cars which are not wheelchair-accessible.
All stations are announced both on a display and by voice in the trams.
All stations and trains in the northern metro line are accessible for people using a wheelchair. Look around the station entrances for handicapped lifts/elevators. Only some of the stations in the southern metro line are equipped with such elevators (among the stations which have elevators are Aksaray-the main station of the city centre, Otogar-the main bus station, and Havalimanı (Airport) station), but whether there is an elevator or not, if you manage to get into the station (there is a good chance that you can do with a little assistance because the stations in the southern line aren’t located as deep as the stations of the northern line are; only about one floor’s height under the ground), all trains are accessible from the station platforms, though a little assistance more will be helpful for passing over the narrow gap between the train and the platform. You can ask the guys in grey/black uniforms (security guards, they can be seen in the entrances of the station platforms if not elsewhere) for assistance, it’s their duty.
All stations are announced by voice in the metro trains. In northern line it is also announced on a display, but not in the southern line. Instead, you should look at the signs in the stations, which are big and common enough.
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 1.50 TL, and gives great views of the Bosphorus. Be aware that 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 quay generally take only a certain route, and these quays are signposted ‘X Iskelesi’ (“X Landing stage/pier”). For instance, Eminönü alone has more than 5 landing stages (including the ones used by other ferries apart from liners), so if you should head for, say, Üsküdar, you should take the ferry which departs from ‘Üsküdar Iskelesi’. Replace ‘Üsküdar’ with the destination of your choice.
Istanbul liners  travel on the following routes:
Furthermore, the sea-buses (deniz otobüsü) follow the same (or more) routes, usually much faster than liners. Returning to Yenikapi from Kadikoy by sea-bus is a fast and convenient way to cross the Bosphorus; at Yenikapi there is a railway station with frequent trains to Sirkeci/Eminönü and the Yenikapi fish restaurant area is close by (or one stop on the train).
Four main private ferry routes for travelling between Asia and Europe sides are:
Very useful are the fast ferryboats (travelling at 55 kilometers) 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.
All of the ferries, including private ones, can be paid for using the AKBIL system or the new Smart RFID Card that is in the process of introduction.
A new metro line extension crossing the Bosphorus in a tunnel is under construction. This will change the ferry provision and is perhaps a good reason to visit Istanbul before it is completed.
Suburban/commuter trains (banliyö treni) using somewhat dilapidated stock and running on national rail network, connect suburbs along the European and Asian coast of the Sea of Marmara to main stations at Sirkeci and Haydarpaşa, respectively. These trains are one of the fastest connections between the old city and western suburbs, especially Bakırköy, although they, especially the line on European Side, are best avoided late at night.
Taxis are an easy and cheap way to get around. As of December 2011, start off rate is 2.70 TL (€1.2) and then 1.7 TL (€0.73) for each km afterwards. A one-way travel from Taksim to Sultanahmet costs approximately 10-15 TL. Tipping is generally unnecessary. Occasionally, drivers will refuse to start the meter and try to negotiate a fixed price (but most drivers will start taximeters at all times). You should avoid these cabs and simply take another one as you will almost certainly end 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 now, as of October 2009, just one fare unit, it means, there is no extra fare at night.
Taxis that wait near a bus station 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 payed by commission for each time they have someone go to a certain site.
Beware riding a taxi other than the "yellow-colored" ones since the other-colored taxis are registered under different cities and have a different rating system.
Be careful on what notes you hand them for payment; some drivers have tried to pretend that the 50 lira note that was handed was just a 5 lira 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 lira 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.
Traffic can be very bad, it can take an hour for a few km 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 prices are :
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. They are easy to recognize, because they also have the yellow painting as taxis and carry a Dolmus sign on its top. They will only start driving when all eight places are filled, which is also where the name derives from.
The main and most important routes for Dolmuses are :
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.).
With its long history at the center of empires, Istanbul offers a wealth of historic and religious places to take in. The bulk of these ancient monuments, dating back to Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods, including the Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), and Basilica Cistern are located around Sultanahmet Square, while some others are dispersed throughout the peninsula of old city, such as Church of St Savior in Chora (Kariye Müzesi), entire inside of which is covered by mindblowing frescoes and mosaics. An impressive section of mostly intact Theodosian walls, which mark the full length of western boundary of the peninsula, is right next to this particular church.
North of the peninsula of 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 religious significance close by is the Galata Whirling Dervish Hall of Sufi Mevlevi order, just north of the Tower. Further north is the Istiklal Avenue, Istanbul's prominent pedestrian street running from near Galata Tower to Taksim Square, the central square of whole city.
Heading west rather than north from the old city brings you deeper into the banks of the Golden Horn estuary. A neighbourhood perhaps well worth a visit here is Eyüp, to visit city’s holiest Islamic shrine and just to see what daily life in Ottoman Istanbul was like. On the opposite shores of the Horn, in Sütlüce is the Miniaturk, the first miniature park in the city, with models from around the former Ottoman Empire.
North of Taksim Square is New Istanbul, main business district of the city. If venturing out to this direction, don't forget to check out 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 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, with a little drop in elevation as you approach the shore, is the banks of Bosphorus, that is 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 east is Asian Side, centred around the historical districts of Kadıköy and Üsküdar, and perhaps best symbolized by Maiden’s Tower, located at about the halfway between these districts, on an islet just off the shore. Bosphorus and Marmara coasts of this half of the city is characterized by quite picturesque neighbourhoods, overlooked by Çamlıca Hill, one of the highest hills of the city which has a view of much of the rest of the city as well, with a cafe and a pleasant park on its summit.
Southeast of the city, off the southern coast of Asian Side are the Princes’ Islands, an archipelago of nine car-free islands, characterized by stunning wooden mansions and pine groves.
Long ignored for their bad connotation with the Tulip era of 1700s, a period of ostentation and costly parties conducted by state elite amidst large gardens full of tulips (and also when the first bulbs were introduced to the Netherlands from Istanbul, by the way), which was later accused of economic destruction and the eventual dissolution of Ottoman Empire, tulips have regained much of their former popularity in the last decade and now serve as some sort of symbol of both Istanbul and the whole Turkey. They bloom from late March to early May (best bet is early to mid April) and while they can be seen on many avenues of the city wherever there is enough space for planting at the sides and the central strip of the road, if you are after admiring and/or photographing large patches of tulips with relatively exotic varieties, head to Sultanahmet Park and Gülhane Park in Sultanahmet; Emirgan Park near the northern Bosphorus neighbourhood of Emirgan; or Çamlıca Hill in Asian Side. There is also a Tulip Festival throughout April organized at Emirgan Park .
See Hamams of Istanbul page for more information on Turkish Bath's in İstanbul. A visit to a hamam (Turkish bath) is an essential part of any trip to Istanbul and is something you'll be sure to repeat before leaving. There is at least one historical hamam in each neighborhood of Istanbul. Take care in selecting a hamam, as they can vary greatly in cleanliness.
Most places will offer a scrubbing and/or a massage. Just being in the Hamam (as a sauna), is enough for seeing and experiencing the place, but the scrubbing is a great experience. The massage is not necessarily better than those found in western countries.
Sultanahmet has many historical hamams. Some are very extravagant and cater mainly to tourists.
An example of a hamam frequented by locals is the Buyuk Hamam where a full session (massage plus scrub) will cost you TRY35 instead of the €60 of the tourist ones. The experience is true Turkish so don't expect any western standards.
Aziziye Hamam is on the Asian side of Istanbul. It's a very traditional, clean and cheap Hamam.
Nargile (Hooka/Water Pipe)
Once upon a time, the nargile, or Turkish water pipe, was the centre of Istanbul’s social and political life. Today some of the locals still consider it one of life’s great pleasures and is something interesting to try. 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 Eyüp mosque complex, a mile or three up the Golden Horn. Visit this Eyüp complex at your leisure (the mosque is not particular, the court is, and the milling of believers, with many boys-to-be-circumcised amongst 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 (five miles 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 neighbourhoods), 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 four hundred meters 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 railway 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 AD 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 metres east of the walls. Some remoter sections may not be very safe and may require some caution.
A 7km 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 laneway which leads to the small terminal building. The fare is TRY1.50. 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 un-restored 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 AD 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, some along the top of the wall of the steeper variety. This restoration from the 80s 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. Note that 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 kms 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 boasts a loo. 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 300m to the railway line to Sirkeci, both heading for centres close to Sultanahmet.
Around the city you will see various touts for private companies offering Bosporus cruises for €30 or more, often disappointingly short in duration and on rickety boats. A safer, cheaper and more reliable option is to take the official Bosporus cruise from the state-run company Sehir Hatlari which offers a three hour cruise for TRY25 (90 minutes each way with a break of several hours at Anadoli Kavagi) or a shorter non-stop 2 hour cruise for TRY10.
From the Eminönü terminal immediately east of the Galata Bridge starts the large ferry cruising to Anadolu Kavagi at the northern entrance of Bosporus to the Black Sea via various stops. The fare is TRY25. The departure time is early (there are three daily departures during the high season) and is very popular, so arrive early and queue. The open decks are hugely popular, 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. Firstly take the (very steep) walk to the Yoros Kalesi, a strategic castle overlooking and controlling the entry to the Black Sea. 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. There are restaurants actually in the castle surrounds and naturally have spectacular views. 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. A cheaper and faster Bosphorus cruise alternative is a TRY10 trip on a shorter cruise.
Football (soccer) is the most popular sport in Turkey, and Turkish football fans are known for their passion. Many teams from other parts of Europe consider the atmosphere to be very intimidating when they have to play away matches in Turkey. The most intense rivalries in Turkish football are between Beşiktaş , Fenerbahçe , and Galatasaray , and matches between these sides are always played in front of 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.
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:
Both Boğaziçi University and Bilgi University  have well established Study Abroad programs in English for foreigners.
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:
There is always demand for qualified ESOL/EFL teachers in Istanbul. Most teachers work with private instructional companies or private schools. Private schools are notorious for the spoiled, nouveau riche families that send their children there and remember: you, the teacher, are always wrong and the student always right at such establishments. The days when a would-be English teacher teacher without a certificate could get a job, however, are long gone, even for under the table jobs. While Istanbul may seem charming to a first-time visitor, actually living in a city that has far more people than it was designed to support is simply excruciating after a while, and the turnover rate is exceptionally high. Also keep in mind that the market is quite saturated. You will probably find a job, but not a very good one at first. Making contacts is key. Some English teachers work under the table and pay is generally enough to live on. Some university English preparatory schools at institutions such as Sehir, Koc, Sabanci and a few other private schools, provide decent salaries, and about 10 to 50 percent -- if you are frugal -- can be saved. State universities have higher quality, more motivated students, but pay as little as half their private counterparts, albeit with more holiday time.
Late payment is not uncommon, and there are plenty of horror stories of bosses cheating their employees.
If you want to live and teach in Turkey, a calmer alternative is to live in a smaller city where you will be in higher demand and the cost of living is lower. However, cultural and entertainment opportunities can be limited, especially for women.
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.
The currency used in Istanbul is the Turkish Lira (TL or TRY) though the euro and US dollar are also accepted at places frequented by tourists (although certain tourist attractions such as the Hagia Sophia only accept liras). Currency exchanges (döviz bürosu) and banks are plentiful in Istanbul and offer extremely competitive exchange rates with no commission charged. If you are planning to visit Istanbul, bring hard foreign currency and exchange them after you arrive, preferably at a bank or a currency exchange. Exchange only what you need as you will find difficulty exchanging your leftover TL back to foreign currency after you leave the country. Alternatively, withdraw money from ATMs whenever you need cash.
Shops may be closed on Sundays. Most major shopping malls have security checkpoints you usually see in airports and museums prior to entry.
Istanbul's historical bazaars with an oriental ambience, once sitting firmly on the western terminii of the Silk Road and spice routes, all dating back to Ottoman era, are all located in the the peninsula of Old City. However, expect extreme price rises in the Grand Bazaar as it's become a mere tourist attraction. Just moving by few meters outside of it you can see prices drop quickly. If you plan on shopping a lot, a flight to Gaziantep (which can be quite cheap) may be worth it.
On the other hand, modern shopping malls (alışveriş merkezi, usually shortened to AVM), popping all around the city in the last three decades, are mostly to be found in New Istanbul and western suburbs, though they are by no means exclusively located in these districts.
Here are some of what are popular to buy while in the city:
DO NOT BUY the 10 TL Turkish delight boxes (the ones that come sealed sold in any tourist shop or all along Istiklal Avenue). Once you get home and open them, it is a major disappointment. It is much less quantity than the what look like as the size of the box and it tastes horrible. Only buy the ones that you can taste before hand and you see what they are putting inside the box. It will be probably twice the price, but it shall be worthwhile.
There are two kinds of lokums. The first kind is the ones that are made with sugar and sold in small pieces. As of April 2016, these are about 40 TRY per kg. The second kind is the ones that are made with honey. They usually look like a long stick then cut in to pieces when you buy them. The prices are vary depending on where you buy them. Some people mention that spice market is the best place to buy, but it is also most expensive place to buy, about 95 TRY per kg. Even the oldest lokum shop in Istanbul, Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir (founded 1777 in Ottoman period), sells for 85 TRY per kg. But no one really goes there any more. Hafiz Mustafa is one of the most popular lokum shops that both locals and tourists go. It has many locations. The price, as of April 2016, is around 85 TRY per kg. I recommend Baklavaci Muhammed Said. It is not as old as others but it is a family run business, has the best quality, and yet still keeps the cheapest price too. (As of April 2016, 65 TRY per kg)
For individual restaurant listings, check district articles.
When having a look for a restaurant, there will be a lot of restaurants, where the staff will try to make one come inside. There is really a kind of competition between the restaurants to make one come inside. However, the best restaurants are not always the expensive tourist restaurants, but those small Lokantas where even the turkish people go for having dinner.
In general, it's possible to find some kind of accommodation in any district of Istanbul. Here's a quick list of the districts where there are the greatest concentrations of lodgings:
Istanbul is the only city/province in Turkey which 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.
Prepaid SIM cards can be bought (for around 30 TL with 5TL usable balance) at Vodafone, Avea or Turkcell kiosks at the airport or in shops around town. At the Airport, the Avea, Vodafone and Turkcell shops are respectively to the left, right and across from the exit. For about 90TLY Avea offers a 250 minute in Turkey, 100 minute to Europe, 1GB of data plan, the other two have similar plans. Ask the salesperson to set it up for you and check by calling his phone and opening up a webpage. For iPhone, it may be necessary to download Turkish script before the phone can be used. They ask to make a copy of your passport.
However, to be able to use your phone you need to get it unlocked for use in Turkey. With a bit of luck the guy in the shop can do it for you, though that may violate the rules of your contract, depending on the country you are from. Having your phone unlocked officially can happen through your operator in your home country.
Cafés with free wireless internet (wi-fi):
In the recent years, the number of cafes and shopping centers with wi fi Internet access has increased dramatically, most of them still being free. Most internet cafes have high speed ADSL connections, and they are very inexpensive compared to Europe (about 0.50-1.50 Euros per hour).
Hotel— Every hotel has their own Wi-Fi. Some hotels do have trouble with their network setup or the connection due to the historical location however at the least you will have free wi-fi at your hotel. All you have to do is to learn the wifi password to access the internet.
Cafes— Every café, bistro, restaurant share their internet with their guests. Even the small restaurants now have internet access. Stability and speed depend on where you are and what kind of café, bistro or restaurant you are in. Starbucks, Nero etc. typically have stable wi-fi unless very crowded. If you are in a Starbucks all you have to do is connect your device (SSID should be TTNET or DorukNet, AND if you are in Nero DorukNet) and fill out some basic information for verification that you have to fill. After that, you are ready to go. And if you are in the other restaurant or cafés you can just ask to your waiter to get SSID and Password and after that you are ready to go.
Public Center and Squares— Municipality of Istanbul recently announced that free public wi-fi will be available in most common city centers and squares. All you have to do is (when you near of one of these centers of course) register your id via your cell phone and you will get an access password.
Wi-Fi on the Go— You can rent a mobile wifi hotspot during your stay in Turkey. It works based on 3G connection in the whole country, and you can connect up to 10 devices at the same time. These pocket-sized devices can be easily booked online.
While there are plenty of international companies that rent a mobile hotspot, mainly three local companies are operating:
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 policemen. Taksim Square, Sultanahmet Square, Istiklal Avenue, Kadikoy Square etc. are observed by security cameras monitored by police 24/7 non-stop.
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.
Slums which host number of scammers are located between Suleymaniye and Ataturk avenue. Appearance in these areas even during daylight could result in aggressive behavior of locals who could try to throw away strangers from their territory. Avoiding these dangerous urban blocks is highly recommended.
Istanbul is home to three of the biggest clubs in Turkey and arguably European football: Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe, and Galatasaray. It is advisable not to wear colours associating yourself with any of the clubs--black and white, blue and yellow, and red and yellow, respectively--particularly on the days of matches between the sides due to the fearsome rivalry they share.
Be respectful of the Turkish flag. Don't put it on places where people sit or stand, don't drag it, don't wrinkle it, don't contaminate it, don't use it as a dress or uniform. Not only will Turks be very offended, furthermore the desecration of the Turkish flag is a punishable offence. The flag is extremely important and well respected in Turkey.
Below are scams that have been reported. They may be discouraging; however, of all these scams, the most common is the overpriced taxis, which also happens to be the most common scam in the world. In other words, use traveler's common sense and caution and you'll be safe. And do not be afraid of the police; if you think you are being scammed or robbed, the police will take the utmost care of you.
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 surroundings; while they are informative on just about anything relating to the mosque--etiquette, history, Islamic practices--they eventually demand a price for their "services", a quotation that can be as high as 50TL (about EUR 25 or GBP 20). One would be better off booking a private tour online; or not at all, since the mosque is free to all anyway.
For Hagia Sophia it is, however, reasonable, especially if you travel within a group, to use guide's services. Since the audio-guides cost 20 TL p.p. it could be even cheaper with a guide. He will also put you straight to the ticket office so you don't have to wait on a line. Just be careful, when negotiating the price, that he will require 50 TL as a whole, and not per person.
There are also many 'helpful guys' in the area who will let you know that the Blue Mosque is closed, either for prayers or some other reason. While the prayer hall may be closed briefly at such times, the mosque courtyard remains open all day and well into the evening, and you can happily sit there and enjoy the surroundings while you wait for prayers to finish, if indeed they are happening. These guys are really just agents for carpet and art dealers who will happily lead you away from the sights to their shop. Always ignore them. Honest Turkish people will not approach strangers unless they are in evident need of assistance.
Be aware of high-drink price scams in "night-clubs" (located mostly in Aksaray, Beyazit and Taksim areas). These clubs can charge overpriced bills (hundreds or thousands of lira) based on a replica of the original menu or even simply a menu lying upside down on the table.
Be especially aware of "friendly" young men/groups of young men/male-female couples inviting you to a "good nightclub they know"---this is frequently a prelude to a scam. Scammers often work to earn your trust, striking up a conversation or even taking you to a legitimate restaurant and covering the bill. In another variation, the scammer will talk to you in Turkish, and when you reply in your own language, they will be "surprised" you're not Turkish and offer to repay you for their accident with a beer. Note that some scammers are very, very patient, working for hours to gain your trust before finally taking you to a bar.
The conversations may start very naturally that you may lose your scene of awareness. Scammers may dress very smart and look high educated. They also pretend to be a tourist like you, not the local with the same interest to discover Istanbul and inviting you too. Believe me, you will be surprised with various ways of stating a conversation with you: “Do you have a lighter? Could you help me to take a photo?... In the middle of a walking conversation, they may stop in an exchange office to change some Euros to Lira just to make you believe that they are also tourists like you. Normally, the key question to get ‘access’ to you is “Where are you from?”.
In any of these scams, if you refuse to pay the high prices or try to call the police (dial #155), the club managers may resort to physical intimidation. In general, use caution: scams in Taksim are becoming more serious, and organized crime may be involved.
The following tips will not guarantee protection from bar/club scams, but may help you avoid the most common traps:
If you are caught by scammers and faced with an impossible bill, keep the following in mind:
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 (ironically) this can be a sign of a good hotel.
Another scam is, as you walk across the streets, a guy with his wife and a cute kid would come and abruptly hit on you giving handshakes and exchanging greetings. They will identify your nationality/region somehow and will talk about your region's famous actors/singers and make you feel comfortable. Then they will talk about your currency and ask how much of your currency is worth one dollar or one lira. They will very politely request you to show them your currency notes. The moment you open your wallet, the guy would very gently put his hands on the wallet pretending to just see all the possible denominations. Meanwhile his wife or himself would talk something else to divert your attention and your largest 2 denominations would disappear. This is purely con-art and is very common in Eminonu square, Taksim square and is reported by Asian looking people. Just refrain from talking to anybody who pretends any form of friendship.
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 two-Euro coins he is showing. He is holding the coins stack-wise in his hands. For the trouble, he says he will offer you '30 two-Euro coins, making €60 in total'. Do not agree with this exchange of money, as the first coin is indeed a two-Euro 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 its authenticity is to check its size against another bill. 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 if these two security features are missing, try to have the bill changed or speak to the police.
Some currency exchanges might give you fake turkish lira notes. Try to see whether the numbers of the notes are different, although if only one out of many is fake, it will be hard to recognise. Usually newer notes should be looked at with a suspicious eye, especially if the silver part of the note is very reflective and colorful.
One currency exchange in Taksim area on the road to the left of Istiklal street (the one with Ottoman palace hotel and Hafiz Mustafa) has placed 2 fake notes in the middle of real ones. It would be wise to avoid him, (First currency exchange on the road leading southwards, left of istiklal street).
Also happens at Metro stations, with a helpful person offering to help with the ticket machines (they are slightly complicated!) and then asks for smaller change for his large "fake" note.
Some people 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.
Another type of scam is used especially by children-shoebrushers. On rainy days they act like they dropped and broke their shoeshine kit and literally paint the floor, then they start to cry and sob. Then, they wait for some emotional people (especially tourists)to help them and/or pay them.
If you actively decide that you would like your shoes shined, then expect to pay not more than 5 lira 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 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.
Unfortunately, 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. Try to avoid putting your luggage in the boot. 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. Be very careful when the driver touches the meter or when you can't see the meter. Challenge the driver right away to see if there's any unusual jumps in the price. Note that for women it is better to sit in the back seat (where you can see the meter from the middle), as there are occassionally 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. Since 2009, the rate they are applying is same during night and day. Also you can use this useful and up-to-date cab fare estimation tool for Istanbul: 
3. Know the route. If you have a chance, find a map and demand that the driver take your chosen route to the destination. Often times 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.
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 $50 for your nargile!
You should be carefull also when ordering food in some restaurants. For example, in a restaurant called "Konak Kebap", located in Istiklal street, the waiter will take your order in English and then ask about the size of the portions in a confusing mixture of Turkish, Arabic and/or English. In that way, you will very probably ask for larger portions or non-wanted extras that will raise the price of the bill more than 300%. For example, a "medium" kebap has the same price as 4 normal kebaps (the menu only shows the price of the normal portions). Avoiding "Konak kebap" in Istiklal; and Kebap Saray in Takseem Square is wise. You should also be careful in other restaurants near touristic areas, to avoid any surprises.
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:
Or to really ruin him:
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.
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 2TL).
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.
Keep in mind that Istanbul's less-than-scrupulous hotel and restaurant owners are as market savvy as they come—they actually 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 actually have a better time if you avoid places listed in your guide. Trust your nose.
Istanbul's mosques are beautiful and safe to visit provided you're dressed appropriately and cover what you're supposed to cover, and the locals welcome outsiders.
You can buy bus tickets to other cities at the Varan / Ulusoy offices, one of which is near Taksim square - see this map
Possible hitchhiking spots
Istanbul is geographically huge, spanning two continents, so it is hard to hit the road with your thumb up immediately, although not entirely impossible. Here are a few ideas for spots (accessible by public transport) where to raise your thumb up when leaving the city.