Istanbul (Turkish: İstanbul, formerly Constantinople) is the largest (and arguably the most important) city in Turkey. Located on the Bosphorus, the narrow strait between the Black and the Marmara Seas, Istanbul truly bridges Asia and Europe both literally and figuratively. Istanbul's population is variously estimated between 11 and 15 million people, making it also one of the largest cities in Europe.
Founded by Constantine the Great in 324 CE on the site of ancient Byzantium (going back to 650 BC), Istanbul was the capital, successively, of the Eastern Roman Empire (324-476), the Byzantine Empire (476-1453) and the Ottoman Empire (1453-1922) - this almost unrivalled heritage, as well as its dynamic modern existence, makes Istanbul a fantastic destination for many travellers.
Expanding the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium by the order of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, the imperial city of Constantinople was for nearly a thousand years the last remaining outpost of the Roman (later termed Eastern Roman or Byzantine) Empire before finally falling to the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror in 1453, an event often taken to mark the end of the Middle Age.
Istanbul (once Constantinople) was the capital of Ottoman Empire until the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923, when the capital was transferred to Ankara. The name "Istanbul" was adopted officially in 1930.
Istanbul is divided in three by the north-south Bosphorus Strait (Istanbul Boğazi), 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 Üsküdar is the major district on the comparatively less-visited Asian side of the city. The Black Sea forms the northern boundary of Istanbul.
Planes arrive at the modern Ataturk Airport  (IST), about 20 km west of the city centre. From the airport, there are various options for getting into Istanbul: you can take a taxi (about $20 which equals approx. 30 Turkish Lira), the express bus service (run by the local airport service called "HAVAS", half-hourly, about $5 to Taksim), or by metro to Aksaray and a tram on to Sultanahmet, for 1.3-2.6 YTL (0.88-1.74$).
Note that food and drinks at the airport may cost up to five times more than in the city proper. If you are travelling on a budget and plan to spend some time at the airport, it may be wise to take your own meals from town instead of buying them there.
A smaller airport is the Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW) , located in the Anatolian side of the city. Mostly charter flights as well as European low cost carriers operate from here. A "HAVAS" bus connects this airport with Taksim in the city center for about 7$ (6 € ~ 9.5 Lıra).
International trains from across Europe arrive at the station in Sirkeci, close to Sultanahmet. Asian trains arrive at Haydarpasa station. To get between the two, catch a ferry across the Bosphorus (see Get around).
International Trains: There are daily overnight trains to Sofia (Bulgaria) - continuing to Belgrade (Serbia) and Budapest (Hungary) - as well as Bucarest (Romania). There are also weekly trains to Aleppo (Syria) and Teheran (Iran) from Haydarpasa station.
Buses and coaches terminate at the colossal Esenler Otogar, about 10 km east of the city center. Courtesy minibuses or taxis will easily get you into the center. The metro also stops at the Otogar. Harem is the major hub for the buses on the Asian side. You can get there by ferry from the European side.
Traffic in Istanbul can be manic, expect a stressful drive. The city curently holds more than 1,500,000 automobiles and there is a strong demand for building of new or alternate highways.
If you've arrived Istanbul by car, and you're not keen on the routes, better park your car in a safe place and take the public transportation to get around.
The city, lying on two different continents and seperated by the Bosphorus, connects with 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 bridges have tolls, since you have to pay a certain fee to cross to the Anatolian side.
After the regulation in 2006, the Bosphorus Bridge does not carry cash tolls, and the payment is made via electronic cards either manually (KGS) or automatically (OGS) by a card holder located in front of the cars. Drivers who do nor hold any of these two cards must take the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge.
During the week days, drivers should be aware of the traffic jam on the highways towards both of the bridges, since the majority of public live on the Anatolian side but work on the European side.
There is a great lack of autoparks in Istanbul, and the current ones are quite expensive.
Taxis are an easy and cheap way to get around. Start off rate is YTL 1,5 (€ 0,75) and then YTL 0,1 (€ 0,05) for each 1/10 km afterwards. A one-way travel from Taksim to Sultanahmet costs approximately 7-10 YTL. Tipping is generally unnecessary.
Beware riding a taxi other than "yellow-coloured" since the other coloured taxis are of different cities and have a different rating system.
Taxis have a fixed tariff; the night tariff is 50 % more expensive than the daytime. The Night tariff starts at midnight and lasts until 6AM.
Dolmus 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.
The main and most important routes for Dolmuses are :
If you want the driver to make a stop, you can say İnecek var.(inijek var!) (Someone's getting out.) or Müsait bir yerde.(müsayt bi yerde!) (At a convenient spot.).
Note, the dolmuses do not start unless all seats are full.
There are two types of public transportation bus systems in Istanbul, one which is ran by the municipality and the other by private sector. However, these two type of buses share the same route and accept the same tickets. Private type of buses, accept money as well.
You can take a bus to almost everywhere in Istanbul. One ticket costs approximately €0.80 (1.30 YTL in January 2006). If you stay longer, you may wish to buy an Akbil, which will save time and money on public transport.
As a relatively quick tourist, you will end up using the T4 bus the most. It connects Sultanahmet to Taksim Square (and so to Beyoglu and Istiklal Caddesi, the nightspots). The last bus from Taksim runs at about 11.30pm, though that's not fixed.
Ferries travel between the European and Asian sides of the city. The crossing takes about 20 minutes and costs 1,30 Yeni Türk Lirasi (New Turkish Lira), and gives great views of the Bosphorous. Be aware that sometimes the ferry when arriving at a dock can bounce off the pier accidently, even on calm days. This can cause people to fall over quite dramatically if they are standing up, so it is advisable to remain seated until the ferry has come to an absolute stop.
Three main ferry routes for travelling between Asia and Europe sides are :
Very useful are the fast ferryboats (travelling at 55 kilometres) 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.
Istanbul's first underground system lies back to 19th century, when the funicular subway "Tunel" was constructed to operate from Karakoy to Istıklal Street in 1875. The distance travelled was 573 metres.
In 1990's, a modern tram line was constructed in the European side of the city, and now it's being extended to the inner parts of the city, as well as to the Anatolian side with a sea-tunnel named "Marmaray" crossing below the Bosphorus.
Istanbul's metro consists of two lines, the northern line is currently just a short stub connecting Taksim to 4.Levent. There is also a funicular system connecting Taksim to Kabatas where you can get on ferries and cross to the Anatolian side. The southern line is most useful for visitors, connecting Aksaray (with its connections to the tram line) to Ataturk Airport, via the Otogar.
A tram service serves Sultanahmet, the suburbs south of the Golden Horn, as well as a new section connecting accross the Galata Bridge and running along the Bosphorus for some distance, currently ending at Findikli (Kabatas). Tokens (jeton) can be bought at a booth near the platform, currently (July 2006) 1.30 YTL. Jetons are good for one trip only of unlimited stops (until you leave a "platform"), and do not allow transfers.
This line is connected to the northern metro line via a funicular connecting Taksim metro station with Findikli tram station. It is also connected the 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.
Buying an AKBIL is a good idea if you are in Istanbul for more than a day or two, and intend to use any public transport. Its like a little key, but think of it as a pass that gives you access to buses, trams, metro and even local ferries. The great part for travellers is that you can buy one and buzz it as many times as there are passengers. Ticket fares across buses trams and metros are standard (i.e not dependent on how far you go), so you just buzz the Akbil when you get on to the bus or enter the tram/metro platform. You can buy this at booths marked Akbil at Eminonu (just at the start of the Galata Bridge), amongst other places. An Akbil allows free transfer as well as loading it with daily/weekly/two weekly and monthly tickets.
A visit to a hamam (Turkish bath) is an essential part of any trip to Istanbul.
Walk! Some suggestions for a couple of "walks". But there are many to be made on your own, so do.
Museums and such: Haghia Sophia, then on to the Topkapı museum (these two should take care of 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 in the back of it, 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). Than, if you have the stamina, it might be nice to walk back to .. well, 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 with a fine mosque in front, another one four hundred meters off to the right, slightly inland behind a traffic roundabout, a third, very small, at the sea front,. See the market stretching inland, walk about and don't forget to walk along the shore, maybe eating a fish meal in one of the bobbing boats along it. This is a good visit for late afternoon, early evening, fleeing the city. You will be joined by thousands of people going home from "town" but the way back will be on a near-empty ferry. The frequency of ferries will go down in the evening, so make sure there is a connection back
Go to the railroad station and find a Sirkeci-Halkali suburban train, and get out at (from memory, Yenikapi station). You will be quite close to Yedikule, a nice fortress, and will have fine views of the city walls from that. 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, its fun. The ride is twenty minutes, half an hour. You may back from Yedikule into the city, just drifting. 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, its 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. And then 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.
Learn useful Turkish words and phrases with the Turkish phrasebook.
There is always a high demand for qualified ESOL/EFL teachers in Istanbul. Many teachers work with private instructional companies. Others contract out on a freelance basis.
The Four Seasons Hotel does a spectacular, if pricy, Sunday Brunch featuring a range of Turkish and international foods. (January 2005 price - 70 YTL, 11.30am - 3pm). , T: 90 (212) 638 82 00, Tevkifhane Sokak No. 1, Sultanahmet-Eminönü.
The best area for nightlife is in Beyoglu, north of the Golden Horn.
Hostel Orient - Yeni Akbiyik Cad 13. Tel: +90 212 517 9493 (fax: +90 212 518 3894; [email protected]) . Okay hostel in a good location in Sultanahmet. Staff pretty unfriendly, but Istanbul will make you forget all that. Cafe/bar upstairs, rooftop lounge area overlooking the Golden Horn, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and the oldest mosque in Istanbul (it's small and has one minaret--just go down the street towards Topkapi). Pretty cheap rooms, but the travel agency downstairs is overpriced, as is the beer in the bar. Bellydancers two or three nights per week in the basement bar, but expect competition for her affections from older local businessmen. Also expect terrible euro-techno in many of Istanbul's bars and nightclub.
Bahaus Guesthouse in Sultanahmet. Bayram Fırın Sokağı not far from the Orient hostel. Staff friendly. Dorm room around U$ 10. Breakfast extra. Rooftop bar beer YTL 3,5. Free Internet on old computers (Wındows 98) Connection Ok.
Mavi Guesthouse in Sultanahmet. staff friendly, breakfast included, dorms very cheap. close to the four seasons hotel and many other backpackers and within 2 mins slow walk of the blue mosque and Aya Sofia. the staff also organised me a hired mini-bus trip back to the aiport which was roughly 1/3 the price of a taxi (12 lira) and picked me up outside the guesthouse. internet (free wıth wıreless LAN Laptop), small (cosy) tv room etc
Hostel World House not in Sultanahmet, but 2 mınutes walk from Istiklal-Street in Beyoğlu.Galipdede Cad. no 117. Tel: +90 212 293 55 20, . Nice and friendly new hostel, popular with long-term stayers. Dorm rooms 10€/11€, free Internet...
Mid-range Hotels / Flats For Rent
Apartments In Istanbul For short/long stays as fully-furnished in an inclusive package covering utilities, cleaning & maintenance service to make you feel like home during your short visit to Istanbul.
Blue House Hotel (Mavi Ev) , tel +90 (212) 638 90 10/11/12/13/14/15/16 - opened July 1997 and located at the heart of old city center, steps away from world famous Blue Mosque
Empress Zoe , Akbiyik Caddesi, Adliye Sok No 10, Sultanahmet, tel 518-2504 - a wonderful little hotel in a quiet street just off Sultanahmet, with spartan but elegant rooms decorated in Turkish style and beautiful views over the Hagia Sophia from the rooftop terrace. All mod cons including bathroom, air-con, safe. Rooms from €50 and suites from €100, including breakfast.
Ibrahim Pasha , Terzihane Sok. No. 5, Adliye Yani, Sultanahmet, is lovely boutique hotel just steps away from the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The room rates, starting at 125 Euros for a standard, include a full Turkish breakfast in the dining area off the main lobby. The hotel has a rooftop sitting area with direct views of most of the major sites in Sultanahmet - an incomparable vista as the moon rises on a clear evening. The comfortable rooms have all mod-cons, including WiFi. The staff is attentive, courteous and helpful. Highly recommended.
Ciragan Palace Kempinski , the best hotel in Istanbul, on the Bosphorus coast just south of the main square of Ortakoy.
Four Seasons Istanbul , a converted prison in the historic Sultanahmet district. Offers stunning views of the Haghia Sophia, but no pool.
A'jia Hotel , located at the Asian side of the city facing the beautiful Bosphorus. A unique boutique hotel. Do not miss it!
The Marmara Istanbul Deluxe hotel in the tradition of Europe's finest hotels, The Marmara Istanbul offers outstanding accommodations for the business traveler or for the visitor coming to enjoy Istanbul's pleasures, all from its convenient location in the heart of the city in Taksim Square.
Hilton  Hilton is the first international group of hotels, settled in Turkey in the mid 1950's.
Hotel Inter Continental  Situated in the heart of the city, its fantastic location ensures all rooms have the best views of the city or of the Bosphorus.
Swiss Hotel - Bosphorus  Located on a hill behind the Dolmabahce Palace, the last residence of the Ottoman Sultans. Swissôtel The Bosphorus Istanbul commands panoramic views of the Bosphorus, the Asian coast and the old city of Istanbul.
Hyatt Regency Just 20 kilometres from Istanbul's Ataturk Airport and five minutes away from the historic landmarks of the Old City, including Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace, the hotel is in a spectacular setting overlooking the Bosphorus.
Cafés with free wireless internet (WiFi):
And cheap ones:
Taksim bar/club scams Tourists must be aware of aware of high-drink price scams encountered in so-called night-clubs mostly located in Aksaray, Beyazit and Taksim area. These clubs, usually charge overpriced bills, based on a replica of the original menu.
Also be aware of friendly behaving groups of young men striking up a conversation in the street and inviting you to a "good night-club they know". This has frequently been reported as a prelude to such a scam. The person(s) in on the scam may offer to take you to dinner first, in order to lull your suspicions.
In either of these scams, if you refuse to pay the high prices or try to call the police (dial #155) to file a complaint, the club managers may use physical intimidation to bring the impasse to a close.
On the suburban trains beware your bags and wallet. Pickpocketing may occur.
Tap water in Istanbul is safe to drink in that you are in no danger of getting cholera, however many people find that the tap-water does not agree with them due to the large amounts of neutralising chemicals. Bottled water is cheap and widely available.
Food and drinks are of international standarts. However, the Turkish cousine is known to use a variety of spices which may affect international (western) tourists who are not accustomed to such ingredients.
English is widely-spoken and understood in Istanbul as its profile as a city break destination increases. Nonetheless, it is still common to encounter people who speak only Turkish. In most cases you can get over the problem because Turkish people are friendly and helpful.
Many females I met felt uncomfortable walking around alone due to "lecherous looks" etc., but being a lad, I had no complaints and neither did my two companions (both female) although I was with them all the time.
The village has more almost a dozen private and public beaches, some of which require membership. Though there are ways of transportation to Kilyos with buses and dolmus, the best way is to use a private car, since the journey will take longer than usual when in summer.