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The First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Istanbul,Turkey

Istanbul is incredible.It’s one of the most awe-inspiring cities we’ve been to thus far. Home tobreathtaking architecture, delicious food, and some of the warmest, mostgenuinely hospitable people we’ve ever met on our travels, it’s a city we wouldlove to visit again and again.

If you’re looking tovisit Istanbul for the first time, then I hope this comprehensive travel guidecan help you plan your trip. It will tell you everything you need to know from whereto stay, which sights to see, and of course, what food to eat.

We enjoyed Istanbul somuch that we could honestly see ourselves living there. Spend just one day inthis captivating city and I won’t be surprised if you feel the same way too.


Istanbul is the economic, financial, and cultural center of Turkey. It’s also the country’s biggest city with a population of just over 15 million people, making it one of the largest cities in Europe and the world. For those reasons, it’s natural to assume that Istanbul is Turkey’s capital but it isn’t. That distinction goes to Ankara.

Located on both sides of the Bosphorus, what makes Istanbul geographically interesting is that it’s one of a handful of cities that straddles two continents. The western half of the city is situated in Europe while the eastern half is located in Asia. The Asian side is largely residential so you’ll find most of the city’s major attractions clustered within two districts on the European side – Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu. First-time visitors to the city will be spending much of their time in those two districts.

Istanbul is a city steeped in history and culture so there is much to see and do there. From its Byzantine churches adorned with mosaics and frescoes to its magnificent mosques decorated by sky-high minarets, Istanbul is a city that will mesmerize you at every turn.


Spring (March-May) is the best time to visit Istanbul, followed by Autumn.


(September-November). Crowds are thinner and the weather is moderate during both seasons, though Autumn sees more rain than Spring. We went in early November and the weather was near perfect. I was comfortable walking around in a light jacket with just a t-shirt inside. It was overcast on a couple of days but it never rained.


Fans of tulips — which are originally from Turkey, not Holland — will be pleased to know that the International Tulip Festival is held in April with millions of tulips in bloom throughout the city.

MAR-MAY: This is the best time to visit Istanbul. The weather is relatively mild and dry and the city will be awash with color. The next time we visit Istanbul, it will definitely be in April to take part in the tulip festival.


JUNE-AUG: Apart from being the busiest time of the year, June till August can get pretty hot and humid — up to 28°C/82°F. Lines are at their longest and prices at their peak during this time.


SEPT-NOV: Like Spring, Autumn is a great time to visit Istanbul. The weather is similar although it does get rainier in the Fall as described. While Spring has the Tulip Festival, Autumn has its share of festivals as well like the Akbank Jazz Festival and the Istanbul Theatre Festival both of which are in November.


DEC-FEB: December till February is low season in Istanbul. It’s the wettest and coldest time of the year so be sure to dress appropriately. It can get rainy and snowy with temperatures dropping down to a frigid 3°C/37°F.


International flights will be arriving at either Istanbul or Sabiha Gökçen Airport. Between the two, Atatürk is closer to the city center. Assuming you’ll be staying in either Sultanahmet or Taksim (Beyoğlu), here’s how you get to both areas from either airport.


From Istanbul Airport


To Sultanahmet: A taxi to Sultanahmet will run you around 54TL. A private transfer will cost around 27 Euros. If you don’t mind taking the metro with your luggage in tow, then that would be the cheapest option. To go by metro, take the M1A train going towards Yenikapı. Get off at Zeytinburnu which is the 6th stop. Transfer to the T1 tram going towards Eminönü or Kabataş, then get off at Sultanahmet station. Each ride and transfer on the Istanbul metro system costs 5TL, so a ride to Sultanahmet from Atatürk will cost you 10TL.


To Taksim: A taxi to Taksim will cost you around 67TL. A private transfer will cost around 32 Euros. The cheapest way would be to go by Havabus airport shuttle bus. Exit the airport and take the Havabus bound for Taksim. They depart every 30 minutes between 4AM and 1AM and will drop you off close to Taksim Square. The fare from Atatürk is 14TL and the ride takes around forty minutes.

From Sabiha Gökçen

To Sultanahmet: A taxi to Sultanahmet will cost you around 123TL. A private transfer will cost around 55 Euros. Going by Havabus airport shuttle bus is much cheaper. Take the Havabus bound for Taksim. The fare from Sabiha Gökçen is 18TL and the ride takes around an hour and a half. From Taksim, you can either take a taxi to Sultanahmet (around 17TL) or walk to the Taksim metro station and take the F1 funicular to Kabataş. Transfer to the T1 tram bound for Bağcılar and get off at Sultanahmet station. These are two rides so it’ll cost you 10TL.


Alternatively, you can take the Havabus from the airport to Kadıköy. The fare is 14TL and the ride takes around an hour. Once in Kadıköy, walk to the dolmuş dock and take a 15-minute ferry ride to Eminönü. From there, you can either take a taxi to your hotel in Sultanahmet (5 minutes or so) or walk to the Eminönü station and take the T1 tram bound for Bağcılar and get off at Sultanahmet station. Ferry rides cost the same as the metro so the trip from Kadıköy to Sultanahmet will run you 10TL.


Things to Remember

1.    You’ll need Turkish Liras (TL) in smaller denominations (5, 10, 20) to pay for the transportation services mentioned above. You can withdraw TL from an ATM or exchange a small amount of foreign currency at either airport.


2.    If you’ll be taking the metro and/or ferry, then you can save on the fare by purchasing an Istanbulkart.


3.    There are countless hotels in Istanbul. If you’ll be taking a taxi, then it’s best that you have a printout or screenshot of your hotel’s complete address and telephone number to show the driver. We stayed one night at an airport near Atatürk and the taxi driver didn’t know where our hotel was even with a printed location map. Luckily, he was able to find it with GPS.