Your Istanbul holiday
Istanbul’s history as a city began with its colonization by the Greeks in 7th century BCE. Desired for its strategic location, Greek King Byzas named the city Byzantium and settlers who populated it mostly worked as fisherman. In 196 ACE, Roman Emperor Septimus Severus took over the war-torn city and restored and beautified it.
However, after a civil war in 314 ACE between Roman emperors Constantine and Licinius ended in the latter’s death, the city was renamed Constantinople and declared the capital of the Roman Empire.
Constantine commissioned the construction of numerous churches, fortified city walls, and other structures to put the city on par with Rome. Many wealthy Romans moved to Constantinople and it began to grow and prosper.
After the breakup of the Roman Empire, despite the various invasions and attacks from Middle Eastern forces, Constantinople remained prominent. In 1204, however, crusaders of the Fourth Crusade laid waste to the city and ruled it until 1261 ACE under a Catholic Latin Empire.
The Ottomans, led by Sultan Mehmed II, eventually conquered the city in 1453 and changed its name to Istanbul. The Sultan embarked on a makeover of the city, building public facilities and encouraging people from various religious faiths to make it their home, though Istanbul ultimately became a centre for Islamic culture.
Istanbul joined the Republic of Turkey in 1923 after the allies’ occupation of the city during WWI and the Turkish War of Independence. From the 1940s to the 1970s, Istanbul expanded in size and population, and has recently become known a bastion of cutting-edge art and culture.
Spend a holiday in Istanbul and visit the ancient city that is always reinventing itself. Once the centre of the Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman empires, the city is now recognized as a hub of modern art, fashion, film, and music, playing host to numerous cultural festivals each year.
Bursting with trendy bars and clubs, Istanbul is also famed for its unmatchable nightlife. This alongside the city’s incredible historic sites and buzzing Turkish bazaars makes it a city that straddles the past and present with grace and style.
Book a flight to Istanbul today to experience it all!
Best time to take a vacation to Istanbul
The rainy season in Istanbul runs from November through March, when about half of the days each month see rainfall. Temperatures during late spring and early autumn are nice and warm, but July and August in Istanbul see average temperatures running higher than 28Â°C. High humidity during these hot months can make outdoor excursions uncomfortable. If you are visiting during the spring, check out the annual tulip festival held at Emirgan Park.
Insider tips for Istanbul travel
Find great quality and low prices on hand-loomed textiles at this out-of-the-way shop that sits down the road from Topkapi Palace.
Instead of visiting businesses that cater to tourists, try this authentic Turkish bath house for a massage and sauna.
This little garden cafÃ© is adored by the upper class in Istanbul for its weekend brunches by the water.
Erzincanli Ali Baba Fasulyeci
Join the swarm of locals and try the signature kuru fasulye in this institution that has been feeding the masses since 1924.
Stop by this ice cream stand for a cold treat after shopping at the weekend flea market.
Stroll along Galata Bridge
This massive structure crosses the Golden Horn waterway and connects historic Istanbul with the traditionally non-Muslim areas. The current incarnation of the bridge was built in 1992, though the first was constructed in 1845. Underneath the rush of cars, trams, pedestrians, and fisherman attending to their lines, a host of restaurants, cafes, and taverns offer tourists all kinds of fish, Turkish tea, and other treats.
Walk the walls of Constantinople
Spend an afternoon walking the thick stonewalls that protected the ancient city of Constantinople from attack. Complete with military gates, towers, and a moat, the walls were originally built in the 5th century by Theodosius and then fortified and expanded upon by Constantine the Great. The 6.5 kilometres can be walked in about three hours, though some parts are under restoration.
Cruise the Bosphorus
For breathtaking views and an escape from the city, catch a ferry or a TurYol to boat around the Bosphorus. Separating Europe from Asia, the Bosphorus is a 32-kilometre waterway linking the Black Sea and the Sea of Mamarra.
Along the ride you will spot sites that include the Topkapi Palace, the Maiden’s Tower, the Mecidiye Mosque, and the picturesque towns of Bebek and Tarabya. The entire tour takes about two hours. While the ferry is less expensive, it does require a long wait to board.
Shop at the Grand Bazaar
Brush up on your bargaining skills in preparation for the delightful and overwhelming Grand Bazaar. With more than 60 streets and 5,000 stalls, the bazaar is known for its beautiful carpets and embroideries, antiques, lanterns, ceramics, jewellery, as well as leather handbags and jackets.
The bazaar also features numerous restaurants and cafes to take a break from the bustle. Closed on Sundays, pickpockets are common here, so watch your personal belongings. Come in your most comfortable walking shoes, carry plenty of water, and bring a calculator for quick conversions.
Top Istanbul attractions
This former mosque is one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture and is famous for its large dome.
This palace was home to Ottoman sultans for nearly 400 years and displays a large collection of Ottoman artefacts and treasures.
Bosporus Night Cruise
Take a romantic ferry ride from Karakoy to Kadikoy to see the twinkling city lights and fishing boats floating on the water.
Museum of the Ancient Orient
This museum displays fine works of art from the Hittite and Ottoman empires, including large panels that lined the streets of ancient Babylon.
Istanbul Archaeology Museum
See sarcophagi from the Royal Necropolis of Sidon, Roman statues, and Byzantine artefacts at the main building in Istanbul's archaeology museum complex.
Tiled Pavilion of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror
Istanbul's oldest nonreligious building displays tiles and ceramics dating back to the end of the 12th century.
The Grand Bazaar
Enjoy good-natured haggling, and look into every corner of the most famous souk in the world to find the best treasures.
Hippodrome of Constantinople
See the surviving Spiral Column and obelisks that were once part of the great arena that was the centre of the social scene in Constantinople.
This beautiful bathhouse has separate areas for men and women and has a number of bath services.
Shop for great deals on clothing at the huge market that appears in Kadikoy every Tuesday.
This impressive mosque towers over the Istanbul skyline, its beauty begging for a visit. Built in the 17th century by the 19-year-old Sultan Ahmet I to compete with the Hagia Sophia, the mosque boasts seven minarets, a series of ascending domes, a marble courtyard, and gets its name from the blue tiles that line its walls.
Full of stained glass windows, ceramics, and enormous chandeliers, this top visitors’ destination is a must see. Arrive at dusk during the summer months to hear the call to evening prayer and watch the sunset.
For a peek into the life of an Ottoman sultan, check out the lavish Topkapi Palace. Sultan Mehmed II constructed this palace in the 15th century, creating a home for thousands of people – including the royal family, harem, servants, and artisans – and a centre for both politics and parties.
The grand complex includes four courtyards and numerous gardens and pavilions, and also holds the Prophet Muhammad’s cloak and sword, perhaps the most sacred of Muslim relics. Arrive early to avoid crowds and heat, and opt for a guided tour to fully appreciate the palace’s history and many functions.
Istanbul Archeology Museum
Devote a day to exploring this expansive museum full of artefacts and artwork that span centuries of the city’s history and regions all over the eastern Europe, the near and Middle East, and Africa.
Broken down into three separate museums – the Archaeology Museum, the Old Eastern Works Museum, and the Enameled Kiosk Museum – the museum’s collections include ancient Ottoman treasures, tombs, relief carvings, and scriptures like the oldest love poem ever written.
Church of St Saviour in Chora
Covered in intricate Byzantine mosaics and religious frescoes is the historic Chora Church. Originally built in the 4th century, the current structure dates back to 1000 ACE and was converted into a mosque in the 16th century. Visit from Thursday to Tuesday and stop by the garden in back for great views of the city.
Tip * Booking your Tours, Transfers & Airport Parking before you go will save your money & time and ensure a stress free start to your holiday
Where to stay in Istanbul
With places like the Grand Bazaar and the Galata Tower a short walk away, the Gulhane Park Istanbul Hotel is a smart choice for the traveller that wants to see it all. This charming hotel features neo-classical furnishings, wireless Internet access, a Turkish hammam, a fitness centre, and a restaurant that serves great Turkish cuisine. Each room has an LCD TV, air conditioning, a safe-box, and a beautiful French balcony.
In the heart of the city’s historic district is the stylish Marmara Pera Hotel. Designed as a mix of European and Turkish style, the hotel features 200 spacious rooms with modern amenities such as air-conditioning, satellite TV, and Internet. Enjoy a snack at the hotel’s Marmara Café or dine at the rooftop Mikla restaurant with breathtaking city views.
Renovated in 2008, the 4-star Prince Hotel guarantees great service and comfort in each of its 123 rooms. Located in the centre of town, guests are within moments from sites like the Topkapi Palace and the Museum of Saint Sophie. Rooms feature air-conditioning, satellite TV, safe box, and wireless Internet access.
The Best Western Saint Sophia Istanbul Hotel is situated next door to the St. Sophia Museum and just 30 metres from the Blue Mosque. This boutique hotel offers top-quality service, and each room features air-conditioning, Internet connection, a bathtub, and a balcony with an incredible cityscape view.
So book a hotel in Istanbul today!
How to move around in Istanbul
Because of the stifling summer heat, the best time to visit Istanbul is either in the spring or fall. The main languages spoken are Turkish and Kurdish.
Dialling code: 00 90 (212 and 216)
To and from Istanbul
Ataruk International and Sabiha Gokcen are Istanbul’s two primary airports. The majority of international flights arrive at Ataruk, which offers easy access into the city via the metro to Zeytinburnu. From there, hop on the tram to reach Sultanahmet Square.
Taxis to Sultanahmet cost around £15 and take between 30 minutes to an hour, while a cheaper private airport transfer service is available through Backpackers Travel.
Taxis are yellow and will have an illuminated light on top if they are available. Make sure the metre is running or settle the price to your destination before entering. A shared bus called the Dolmus is a great way to get around the outskirts of town. Stops have a blue sign with a large black D, and riders may request to get off at any point along the route.
There are two metro lines in town, one that runs from Levent to Taksim and one from Aksaray to Kocatepe that terminates at the airport. Service runs about every five minutes and ends at 1 a.m. on the weekdays and 12 a.m. on weekends.
A small tram also runs through old Istanbul, across the Galata Bridge, and ends in Dolmabache. The Istanbul Deniz Otobusleri ferry takes passengers across the Golden Horn. Main docks on the European bank are Eminonu, Sirkeci, and Karakoy.
Tickets can be purchased at kiosks or transit stops. An Akbil token allows for easy travel on any bus, tram, or ferry, while blue tokens enable day, week, or month-long travel.
To enjoy greater flexibility on your trip, opt for Istanbul car hire. Though the roads are well maintained, drivers are aggressive, so exercise caution.
Known for its delicious and original Ottoman recipes is Asitane. Set amongst the foothills of Istanbul and boasting a great view of the Golden Horn, Asitane serves delicacies such as smoked Cerkez cheese and geese from the town of Eskisehir Alpu. Dishes are prepared following the same recipes that once filled the bellies of sultans. The menu at Asitane changes seasonally, bringing diners Istanbul’s freshest and most historic food.
Near to the top attractions of old Istanbul is Amedros Café and Restaurant, a relaxed and friendly spot serving classic Turkish kebabs and steaks. Though it can get crowded, the reasonable prices and large portions make Amedros a worthwhile experience. Try house specialties like the flame marmer steak, the sultan kebab, or the Sirmasir.
Platefuls of spicy regional delights from southeastern Turkey have kept Develi Restaurant popular since its 1912 opening. Try the çig köfte meatballs or the gavurdagi salatasi salad, and don’t leave without sampling the incredible baklava. With two terraces and enough seating for 700, Develi is an ideal choice for large family gatherings or business lunches.
Situated in the fish market of the Kadiköy district, Ciya Sofrasi serves up traditional Turkish home cooking. From fresh yogurt soups to spoonfuls of salad samplers, an assortment of veggie and meat kebabs, and main courses such as lamb with green almonds, Ciay Sofrasi is a culinary treat for any discerning diner.
Health & Safety
Travel insurance in case of emergencies is recommended during your visit to Istanbul. While there are no required vaccinations for a visit to Istanbul, those recommended included tetanus, polio, diphtheria, and pertussis. A rabies vaccination is also recommended as Istanbul has had a problem with rabid street dogs.
Emergencies: dial 112.
Police rescue: 155.
Fire department: 110.
International Hospital: Istanbul Caddesi n° 82; (212) 448 44 44
Pharmacies: Rebul Pharmacy: (212) 235 31 42
General doctor: Dr Durmus Sevinc (American Hospital): (212) 311 25 06
Pediatrician: Dr Sule Yazgan (Guzel Gunler Ltd): (212) 278 33 62.
Cardiologist: Pr. Tugrul Okay (International Hospital): (212) 663 30 00.
While in Istanbul, remain on your guard. Do not walk alone at night or in poorly lit areas or walk around with jewellery or other objects that may attract attention. Make photocopies of all of your documents and keep them on your person at all times, while storing the originals in some place safe.
As most of Turkey is an earthquake zone, contact your local embassy should an earthquake occur.
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