- The largest city in Turkey, with a population of about 13.9 million people.
- The transcontinental city, one of four in the world, straddles the Bosphorous, also known as the Istanbul Strait, connecting East and West.
- It is the country’s economic, historical and cultural centre, founded in 660 BC as Byzantium and formerly known as Constantinople.
- Nickname: City of the World’s Desire
- Currency: Turkish Lira (TRY).
- Spoken languages: Turkish, French and English.
- Best time to visit: from April to May or September to October for the best weather. Summer is generally oppressively hot and crowded, while winter sees fleet and snowfall.
- Arriving via airport: Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST) is serviced by the metro system line M1 for 1.95 Lira or shuttle bus for 17 Lira. Taxis charge 40-45 Lira for the inner city destinations.
WHERE TO STAY
Sultanahmet is the Old City and Istanbul’s prime location for sightseeing, complemented by a wide array of accommodation, cafés and restaurants. Across the inlet of Golden Horn there’s Beyoğlu, the cosmopolitan district known as the heart of the entertainment and leisure of the city: Tünel and Galata are gentle neighborhoods off the main tourist trail, still imbued with local flavor.
- IETT runs the local public transportation network of metro, bus, tram and seabus lines. Fares can be paid with smart cards called akbil which also provide a 10% discount or by tokens purchased at dedicated machines throughout the city.
- The Istanbul Kart allows bearers to conveniently pay for transportation fares with a contactless card that is pre-paid and rechargeable.
- Taxis run on meters with starting fare at 2.95 Lira with 1.83 Lira charged for each subsequent kilometer. Call 553 773 21 42 or 216 361 1807 to pre-book.
- Drinking age is 18, and last call 3 AM.
- Taksim Square throbs with the partying crowd thanks to its multitude of bars and nightclubs.
- Istiklal Street is busy day and night, a constant whirlwind of people flocking to its numerous cafés, restaurants, lounge bars and dance floors.
- Kadife Street is popular for its hip, alternative music scene and mega nightclubs.
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- Basilica Cistern used to bring drinking water into the city from Thrace; forgotten for centuries, it has been refitted with lights and music.
- Aya Sophia served as the most magnificent church in Christendom for nearly a thousand years until the Conquest. It was then converted into a mosque and today serves as a museum.
- Topkapi is a must-visit monument, former residence to generations of sultans and their harems. The intriguing stories passed on about its inhabitants are as colorful as its tapestries: the tale of Selim the Sot who died from drinking too much champagne is just one of the many.
- Blue Mosque facing Aya Sophia mirrors much of its lineaments and was supposedly designed to rival it in beauty. It is one of only a few mosques in the world that can boast six minarets.
- Walk along the Theodosian Walls, the mostly intact fortified complex that marks the western boundaries of the peninsula.
- Visit the sacred district of Eyüp along the embankments of the Golden Horn to discover the city’s first and holiest mosque.
- Walk up Çamlıca Hill, one of the highest peaks above Istanbul. A restaurant and a smattering of cafés work for the crowds who make the trek.
- Find the Egyptian spice bazaar and the authentic food stalls in Eminönü.
- Sultanahmet is home to a few historical hamam or Turkish baths, ideal for relaxing and winding down after a week of sightseeing.
- The nargile or Turkish water pipe has been used to smoke different flavors of tobacco for over 500 years. Originating from India, it is an established feature of the Turkish lifestyle and culture.
- Where to find good cheap eats: Ortaköy and Karakoy are excellent haunts for simple yet effective meals.
- Dangerous areas: scam artists and pickpockets have been known to target tourists in the Taksim area, although police patrol the main districts religiously.
The Best Istanbul Guide Books:
Recommended trip duration: 4-5 days