Istanbul holidays

Experience Istanbul

Experience [destination]

Best Places to Visit

Istanbul is a city on the water - several different waters, in fact, beginning with the Black Sea to the north of the city. To the south you will find the Marmara Sea, while the very heart of the city is split in two by the Istanbul Strait. Each body of water brings its own climate, and these combine in a unique way to make the weather an experience in its own right.

Head out at dawn or dusk to enjoy the evocative lighting that only occurs when the sun is low in the sky. In the morning, a visit to Eminonu is a tranquil start to the day as the moored boats rock gently on the surface of the water. The first golden rays of the sun may be reflected as metallic flashes from the scales of fish in the waters. Meanwhile, as the sun sets, the skyline dotted with mosques can give Istanbul the sense of being a city untouched by the passing years.

From dawn till dusk, there are plenty of ways to fill your day, and a traditional Turkish breakfast is a great way to start. City tours can give you a guided view of the city, starting from its peninsula and taking in the various monuments and historic sites that chart the rise and fall of successive civilisations who have made the city their home. For a slightly different view of the city, take a trip to Istanbul's islands and experience an alternative environment and culture.

After dark, Bebek and Arnavutköy are great places to visit in order to enjoy the beauty of the city at night. Try some Turkish cuisine in one of the restaurants or just soak up the atmosphere with a cup of Turkish tea. As your visit draws to a close, there are plenty of places to get souvenirs or gifts for loved ones back home, although if you want to spend longer looking around larger shops, you should schedule a trip to one of the neighbouring districts and their large-scale shopping centres.

Top Landmarks

The city of Istanbul itself is a landmark, as much of its historic centre has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and this really means you should be able to set out from almost anywhere in Istanbul and find some architectural wonders on your doorstep. If you want to put yourself at the very cultural heart of Istanbul, head for the natural harbour, the Golden Horn. From here, explore the Beyoglu district for a wealth of opportunities to sightsee and to take in some entertainment too.

Past civilisations have left their mark on Istanbul - although they may have known it as Constantinople or Byzantium at the time. The Grand Bazaar is one of the city's great landmarks, along with the Basilica Cistern and the Blue Mosque. Back at the harbour, the Golden Horn Bridge is one of the most modern landmarks in this ever-changing city, and a way to travel between the districts on opposite sides of the harbour.

For a curated look back in time through Istanbul's previous civilisations, the Archaeological Museum is a landmark in its own right too, and an excellent venue in which to spend several hours looking around at the exhibits. Finally, take in the city's splendour all at once by travelling by Tunel to the Galata Tower, from which you can enjoy views out across the skyline.

Entertainment

Istanbul's nightlife can be found on both the European and Asian sides of the city. The Asian districts of Fenerbahce, Caddebostan, Kalamis and Moda all offer evening entertainment to help make your days last well into the night. Alternatively, visit Suada, Tarabya, Bebek, Ortakoy or Kurucesme on the European side and your nights can last longer still, with many venues open all through the hours of darkness until the last of the guests leave as the morning sun begins to rise.

The city has a long association with cinema too. The earliest cinemas were found in Beyoglu. Head to Istiklal Avenue and you will be walking in the footsteps of those early cinemagoers, as this was where the city's theatres could be found in the greatest numbers. Today, Istanbul is used as a filming location for everything from Turkish dramas to comedies, so if you see a Turkish film, there is a good chance of the city being used as its backdrop. Several locally produced movies have achieved international success, including 2002's Uzak and 2005's My Father and My Son, and a visit to a local movie theatre could make for an interesting cultural addition to your trip. Finally, James Bond fans may want to pay particularly close attention to some of the city's landmarks, as you may recognise them from scenes used in the 1999 Bond film The World Is Not Enough.

Dining Out

A trip to Istanbul is the ideal chance to try traditional Turkish cuisine, and for many people that means a kebab. Skewered and marinated meats served with a range of sauces and salads offer a flavoursome meal or a light snack in the middle of the day, but there are plenty of other delicacies to try too. Seafood is understandably important in this city surrounded by water, and the neighbourhoods along the Bosphorus are home to some of the busier restaurants serving up freshly prepared fish. On the Sea of Marmara, Kumkapi has countless seafood restaurants all within a relatively small pedestrianised area, which you may find ideal if you want to stroll around and see what's on offer before you settle on where to eat.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the city's location at the crossroads of different cultures, there is an especially strong presence of foreign cuisines in some districts, including Kadikoy, Besiktas and Beyoglu. In many cases, venues serve up not only food, but live entertainment too, and you could find that dining out turns into a complete evening out, with music, dancing and drinks both during and after your meal.

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Need to know

Need to know [destination]

Language

Turkish is the main language, but you'll find English widely spoken and used in things like signage and restaurant menus, too. For travellers who don't speak Turkish or English, there are also 'tourism police' in the main holiday hotspots, and they are able to help with any incidents affecting visitors from all over the world.

Currency

Turkish lira is the local currency, with banknotes from 5 to 100 TL and coins from 10 kurus to 1 TL. Scottish notes are not accepted, but English sterling can be exchanged easily at banks and hotels, and also without commission at doviz, the local bureaux de change. Travellers' cheques can be exchanged too, and there are plenty of ATMs. If you plan to use your card, tell your bank in advance, as it can be difficult to resolve the situation if they reject your transaction due to concerns about fraud.

Visas

You will need a visa to enter Turkey. However, this is typically obtained on arrival, by queueing at the visa booth at the airport. You get your visa before going through passport control, at a cost of about £10, and it will cover you for trips of up to three months. For longer stays, you can apply to extend your visa - but this should be done within a month of arrival, so don't expect to be able to extend your stay on a whim beyond three months.

Climate

Holidays to Istanbul are defined by hot summers and cold winters, so pack appropriate clothing for the time of year. During the summer months, high temperatures are accompanied by high humidity, and this may feel uncomfortable to many people who are not acclimatised to travelling in hot countries, so make sure clothing is not only light and cool, but is made of breathable fabrics. In winter, weather is largely cold and often snowy, so pack plenty of layers and thicker clothing, along with sensible cold-weather footwear.

Main Airports

There are two airports in the city of Istanbul: one on the European side, called Ataturk International Airport, and one on the Asian side, called Sabiha Gokcen International Airport. Both of these serve international routes for tourists arriving directly into the city, and also to serve as a connection point for transfers to onward flights.

Flight Options

From Istanbul you can, if you want, travel onwards by air to any major city in Turkey that has an airport of its own. Transfers into Istanbul itself include shuttles from the airport's exit gates, along with public transport routes to Kadikoy and Taksim.

Travel Advice

If you need to get to a specific part of the city, and you know your way around or feel confident about making your own way there, then the subway departs from the airport and you can switch from this to a tram once you reach Istanbul to get you the rest of the way to your destination. If you feel less confident, and if the budget allows, then there are the usual taxi ranks to be found outside the airport, and drivers will be happy to take you where you need to go.

Other Transport Options

Alongside flights, Istanbul can also be reached by cruise ship and train. The latter is a much less straightforward journey, but one that adventurous holidaymakers will relish. Departing from London, the train will take four days to arrive in Istanbul, incorporating several different changes.

Getting Around

Istanbul sits on the very border between Europe and Asia, and is often referred to as the 'crossroads' of the two continents. This important location helps to explain why its transport network is so well developed, both on the ground and in terms of its air connections with other parts of the world.

Bus

Istanbul’s İETT city bus system is a great way to reach major sights and embark on longer journeys. Buses can be slow and crowded at peak times, but with affordable ticket prices, they can prove a worthwhile gamble. Just remember to buy your ticket in advance, or you won’t be allowed to board.

Train

Istanbul’s tram system is called the T1 tram, and operates between 6am and midnight. As well as linking the old town of Sultanahmet with Beyoğlu and the ferry port of Kabataş, the T1 also links up with the M1 Metro system, which is particularly useful for those heading to Atatürk Airport. Alongside the tram and metro systems, visitors to Istanbul can also take in a slice of history on the underground funicular between Karaköy and Beyoğlu.

Air

A range of airlines offer domestic flights around Turkey. If you fancy a change of scenery or want to take in even more of this historic country, simply hop on a plane.

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FACTS

  1. Istanbul dates back to at least 660 BCE, when it was first founded under the name Byzantium; in 330 CE it was renamed Constantinople, but gradually came to be known as Istanbul, meaning 'to the city', by the local Greeks.
  2. Around 195 CE, Byzantium stood against Roman Emperor Septimius Severus, instead siding with the usurper Pescennius Niger, and two years of siege by the Romans devastated the city; however, as Istanbul always does, it bounced back within as little as five years and soon even surpassed its previous prosperity according to some reports of the time.

FACTS

  1. Istanbul dates back to at least 660 BCE, when it was first founded under the name Byzantium; in 330 CE it was renamed Constantinople, but gradually came to be known as Istanbul, meaning 'to the city', by the local Greeks.
  2. Around 195 CE, Byzantium stood against Roman Emperor Septimius Severus, instead siding with the usurper Pescennius Niger, and two years of siege by the Romans devastated the city; however, as Istanbul always does, it bounced back within as little as five years and soon even surpassed its previous prosperity according to some reports of the time.

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