Istanbul

Istanbul

Welcome to Istanbul

The capital of Turkey is one of the tourism centers of both Europe and Asia. That is why we have gathered all the information about this magical capital for you in one place, a place where different cultures, religions, and traditions come together. Embark with us on a journey through the former Constantinople and discover why millions of people choose the capital of Turkey as the destination for a perfect vacation. Find out how to get to know all the most essential attractions in the best way and explore the city's peculiarities. Enjoy the magic on the Bosphorus.

The most important information about Istanbul

Istanbul is one of the few cities in the world that lies on two continents. Read the general information about this incredible city.
  • History of Istanbul - The first inhabitants of Istanbul were settled on the Asian side of the city in the 6th millennium BC. Still, the history of the actual city begins with Greek settlers from Megara colonizing the area and establishing Byzantium around 660 BC. It was ruled by Romans also, it was renamed Constantinople and it became the capital of the Roman Empire. Later it became the capital of the Ottoman Turks. When the Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923, Ankara became the capital, and in 1930 the city’s official name became Istanbul. Today it is Turkey’s most populous city and it represents the country’s cultural and financial hub.
  • Geography and time zone - Istanbul is located in both Europe and Asia, in north-western Turkey. Its western part is in Europe, while its eastern part is in Asia, and it is divided by the strait Bosphorus which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. Islands Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada, Kınalıada, and five smaller ones are part of the city. Seven hills make up the city, and the tallest one is Aydos at 537 meters. Time zone of Istanbul: GMT +3.
  • Climate - The weather of Istanbul is influenced by the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, so it has a Mediterranean climate, humid subtropical climate, and oceanic climate. Winters are cool with frequent precipitation, and summers are warm to hot, while spring and autumn are usually mild.
  • Demography - Istanbul has always been one of the largest cities throughout most of its history, and today it has over 15 million inhabitants. With that in mind, Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey and the fifth largest globally. It is home to most ethnic and religious minorities in Turkey, while the Kurdish community is the most significant ethnic minority in the city.
  • Tradition and culture - What is this city unique for? - Istanbul is one of the very few cities in the world that straddles two continents. It has dynamic and modern city life and it is home to many cultures. It has over 2500 years of history, culture, and traditions. Istanbul is known for Hagia Sophia, one of the most visited museums.

City Travel Tips for Istanbul

Here you'll find the basic information that you need to know before going to Istanbul, along with some recommendation and advice.
  • Official Language and other languages spoken - The official language is Turkish, but many people speak English since it has a strong tourism sector. Some of the less common languages spoken in Istanbul are German, French, Russian, Spanish, Italian, Azerbaijani, and other Turkic languages.
  • Entering the city: Procedures and requirements - Citizens of 78 countries can enter Turkey without a visa for tourism purposes. It is required to have a valid passport or ID card for some countries. Citizens from some other countries may obtain e-Visa online for free before arrival. You can find information about visas on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
Emergency Numbers
  • Country Dialing Code Prefix - The dialing code for the whole country is +90.
  • Police: 155
  • Fire: 110
  • Ambulance: 112.
Money Tips
  • Currency - The currency that is used in the whole country is the Turkish lira.
  • You can save money in Istanbul by buying an Istanbul Card (Istanbulkart) for public transportation and taking the public transport, eating at cheap but good restaurants, finding free events, taking the dolmuş instead of a cab.
  • There are also free walking tours and free wifi “bb wifi”, a hotspot in about all the squares of the major tourist districts and neighborhoods, some parks, Intercity Bus Terminals, and on the Public Buses and Metrobuses.
  • When it comes to tipping, it’s a custom to tip in Istanbul. You are expected to tip 5-10% in restaurants, cafes, and bars.
Useful apps, free travel map - While traveling to Istanbul, you should download the following apps:
  • Moovit - an app designed to help you know which public transport you should use for a particular journey, and it gives you step-by-step directions.
  • Yemeksepeti - an app that allows you to order desired food from any restaurant.
  • Sesli Sözlük - Talking Dictionary, a dictionary app that translates 20 million words in 17 different languages with accents.
  • iTaxi - official taxi app of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality.

When to visit Istanbul?

The best time to visit Istanbul is April-May or mid-September to October-end because the days are not too hot and not rainy. To avoid the crowd, you should consider going outside of the tourist season and its peak, from June to August

How to get to Istanbul?

If you have decided to travel to the most visited tourist center in Turkey, we have singled out for you the ways in which you can do so. You can get to Istanbul by:
  • Plane - Istanbul has three airports - Istanbul Airport, Istanbul Ataturk Airport and Sabiha Gokcen International Airport.
  • Train - Istanbul has two intercity and commuter railway terminals: Sirkeci Terminal on the European side and Haydarpaşa Terminal on the Asian side. It is owned by Turkish State Railways and it has two lines that go to Europe: Bosphorus Express that goes toward Bucharest, and Balkans Express that goes toward Belgrade.
  • Bus - the main bus terminal in Istanbul is Istanbul Otogar which takes passengers both inside and outside Turkey. It has 324 platforms.
  • Car - you can get to Turkey by car via Bulgaria or Greece. Two main highways that go through Istanbul are E80 and E 84. You are allowed to have your car in Turkey for up to 36 months.

Activities for tourists in Istanbul

Istanbul is an incredible city with a lot of things to see, do and enjoy. Here you'll find some of the best tours, shopping places, and events and festivals you shouldn't miss.
Best tours - here are some of the tours that will combine sightseeing with history, culture and food.
  • Best of Istanbul: 1, 2, or 3-day private guided Istanbul tour - private tour for groups in German, Portuguese, English, Italian, French or Spanish. You will visit Istanbul’s most famous sights with a local professional guide. The price starts at 130 euros and you can see all of the information on their website.
  • Bosphorus Sunset Cruise on Luxury Yacht: admire panoramic views of Istanbul from the water and enjoy the sunset. The price is 52 euros, but there are also tours on different boats that are cheaper and you can reserve the spot on their website.
  • Taste of Two Continents Food Tour: one of the Istanbul on food tours where you explore different cuisines in the city. Prices start at 100 euros and you can book it and see other food tours on their website.
Events and festivals - Istanbul hosts various events throughout the whole year. Some of them are:
  • Istanbul’s International Film Festival - it is held in April for 12 days. It is organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts. You can see both local and international films in competition.
  • Istanbul Tulip Festival is also held in April and it’s 3 weeks long. It is in the celebration of tulips that have been very important for the Ottoman Empire and Turkish culture. You can enjoy billions of tulips in 120 different types. The best part is that it’s all free.
  • Bosphorus Cross-Continental Swim Race is an annual international swimming race held in July that crosses the Bosphorus from the Asian side to the European side.
  • Coffee Festival is held in September for four days and it is a place where you can taste coffee from all around the world. It is held in the KüçükÇiftlik Park venue in Macka. There are also workshops, seminars, playground events, and competitions.
  • Istanbul International Gastronomy Festival is a 3-day long festival held in December and is organized by the Cooks and Chefs Federation of Turkey at the Eyup Culture & Art Center.
Best Shopping - Istanbul is great for shopping lovers because it has a wide range of products - from traditional to modern. 
  • Istanbul is famous for its Grand Bazaar, a series of covered streets with over 4 thousand merchants that sell spices, dried fruits, basketry, drapery, gold and silver jewelry, and much more.  
  • When it comes to street markets, there is the Thursday Market in Ortakoy, Saturday Markets in Besiktas, Bakirkoy, and Ferikoy, Sunday Market in Kasimpasa, and the Tuesday Market in Kadikoy. There you can find anything from clothes to food. Istanbul is also home to various shopping malls like Kanyon and Metrocity in the Levent district.

Tourist attractions in Istanbul

Istanbul has a lot of places with rich history and amazing architecture:
  • Hagia Sophia - Holy Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque was formerly the Church of Hagia Sophia. It is a Late Antique place of worship, built in 537, and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Historic Areas of Istanbul. Since it’s a mosque, the entrance is free, but it is required for visitors to remove their shoes before stepping onto the mosque’s carpets, and women should wear a head covering. You can get a headscarf at the entrance without a fee. You can see additional information on the website of the mosque.
  • The Blue Mosque - Sultan Ahmed Mosque is an Ottoman-era historical imperial mosque that was constructed between 1609 and 1616. While visiting the mosque, you can have a guided tour, and there are various rules and regulations that you should read on the website of the mosque before visiting. The entrance is free.
  • Topkapi Palace Museum -  a museum that was previously home to all the Ottoman sultans until the reign of Abdulmecid I. The Museum is open from 9 am to 6 pm except on Tuesday when it’s closed. The entry fee is 200 TL.
  • Grand Bazaar - it is one of the largest and oldest covered markets globally that has over 4 thousand shops. It is located inside the Walled city of Istanbul, in the district of Fatih.
  • Basilica Cistern - largest of several hundred ancient cisterns beneath the city. It was built in the 6th century. It is open from 9 am to 5:30 pm and the ticket price is 30 TL.
  • Galata Tower - a medieval stone tower, a historical landmark. It is open every day from 8:30 am to 24 pm. The entrance fee is 100 TL.
  • Dolmabahçe Palace - the largest palace in Turkey, located in the Besiktas district that served as the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1856 to 1887 and from 1909 to 1922. The palace is open from 9 am to 4 pm every day except on Mondays when it’s closed. The entrance fee is 120 TL.
  • Suleymaniye Mosque - an Ottoman imperial mosque on the Third Hill, built from 1550 to 1557. Since it’s a mosque, it is always open and the entrance is free, but you should probably visit it between 9 am and 6 pm.
  • Bosphorus - a narrow, natural strait that separates Europe and Asia. It connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara.
  • Sultanahmet Square - the Hippodrome of Constantinople that was previously a circus that was the sporting and social centre of Constantinople. On it you can see the Serpent Column, Obelisk of Thutmose III, Walled Obelisk, and Statues of Porphyrius.

Accommodation in Istanbul

Istanbul offers a wide range of accommodations that you’ll undoubtedly enjoy. It has places where you can stay all over the city and close to the sights.
  • Hotels - There are over 2 thousand hotels in Istanbul with prices ranging from 10 to 551 euros per person per night. Some of them have breakfast included and some are all-inclusive. Romance Istanbul Hotel is an excellent affordable choice, as well as Sura Hagia Sophia Hotel.
  • Rooms and Apartments - You can also rent out an apartment for as low as 15 euros per night for a studio apartment. There are also more expensive ones, like Penthouse Istanbul Panoramic View that costs over 5 thousand euros per night.
  • Hostels and budget accommodation - There are also hostels where you can rent a bed for a price of 6 to 120 euros. You can have a bed in either male, female or mixed dormitory with 1 to 8 beds.

Best restaurants in Istanbul

There are a lot of traditional dishes that you need to try while you're in Istanbul. From street food to restaurants, you can find the Turkish cuisine all around the city. You should try simit, a ring of soft bread covered with sesame seeds, sis kebab, meat on a stick, Turkish coffee, an integral part of Turkish lifestyle and culture, lahmacun, a flat crispy bread made in a wood-fired oven, baklava, a pastry with syrup and pistachios, and Turkish delight, the world famous dessert.
Where to eat - There are a lot of quality restaurants in Istanbul where you can enjoy the local food. Some of them are:
  • Rainbow Fish & Meat Restaurant serves seafood, Turkish cuisine, Mediterranean cuisine, Barbecue, Healthy cuisine, Tuscan and Central-Italian cuisines.
  • Three Partners Cafe & Restaurant serves coffee, seafood, Mediterranean cuisine, Barbecue, Turkish cuisine, Healthy cuisine, Middle Eastern and Central Asian cuisines.
  • Istanbul Anatolian Cuisine serves local cuisine, seafood, Mediterranean cuisine, Barbecue, Turkish, and Middle Eastern cuisines.
  • Old Ottoman Cafe & Restaurant serves traditional Turkish cuisine where you can try the famous baklavas, kebabs, beef clay pot dish, halwa and hummus.
Where to go out - Since it is a tourist city, there are plenty of places where you can go out. The districts with best nightlife:
  • Karaköy - with bars like Nest, Unter and Mitte.
  • Arnavutköy - with bars like Alexandra, Any and Hudson.
  • Nişantaşı - with bars like Kozmonot, Efendi and Spago.
  • Cihangir - with bars like Geyik, Smyrna and Otto.
  • Beyoğlu - with bars like 5 cocktails and more, Nu Teras and Ravouna 1906.
  • Kadikoy - with bars like Arka Oda, Monks and 360 East.
  • Bomonti Ada - with bars like Popülist, Kilimandjaro and Kiva.
  • On the Bosphorus you can find bars like Lucca, Chilai and Taps.

Public transport in Istanbul

There are no day tickets or fare zones in Istanbul. A single ticket for any means of public transport is 6 TL per person. In some of them, like buses, only the Istanbulkart is valid. The price for a ride with Istanbulkart is 4.03 TL. Below are all forms of public transport you can use to get around the city:
  • Buses - Istanbul has a bus and metro bus system that routes all over the city.
  • Tram and local trains - Tram only operates on the European side of Istanbul.
  • Ferryboats - There are Bosphorus cruises from continent to continent, Golden Horn, Princes’ Islands, car ferry, speedboat and catamaran.
  • Metro - It has nine lines in operation. You can check out the network map on the website Metro Istanbul.
  • Funicular - Istanbul has an underground funicular that connects Kabatas Station with Taksim Square.
  • Taxi - The best option is the shared taxi Dolmuş, blue minibuses in which you can stand while driving or yellow shared taxis that only have seats. They only accept cash payments.

Frequently asked questions about Istanbul

What country is Istanbul in?

When should I visit Istanbul?

What is Istanbul famous for?

Is Istanbul safe?

What time zone is Istanbul?

Is Istanbul expensive?

What do you need to enter Istanbul?

What is the best way to get around Istanbul?

The most important information before going to Istanbul?