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Istanbul

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Middle East : Turkey : Istanbul
Sultan Ahmet Mosque at duskSultan Ahmet Mosque at dusk
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Sultan Ahmet Mosque at dusk

Istanbul (Turkish: ?stanbul, formerly Constantinople) is the largest (and arguably the most important) city in Turkey. Located on the Bosporus, the narrow strait between the Black and the Aegean Seas, Istanbul truly bridges Asia and Europe both literally and figuratively. Istanbul's population is variously estimated between 11 and 15 million people, making it also one of the largest cities in Europe and the world. Founded by Constantine the Great in 324 CE on the site of ancient Byzantium, Istanbul was the capital, successively, of the Eastern Roman Empire (324-476), the Byzantine Empire (476-1453) and the Ottoman Empire (1453-1922) - this almost unrivalled heritage, as well as its dynamic modern existence, make Istanbul a fantastic destination for for many travellers.

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istanbul Travel Guide :

Istanbul

Understand

Istanbul

History

Built on the site of the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium by the order of Roman emperor Constantine, the imperial city of Constantinople was for hundreds of years the last remaining outpost of the Roman and after of the Byzantine Empire before finally falling to Mehmed the Conqueror in 1453.

Istanbul (as Constantinople) was the capital of Turkey until the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, when the capital was transferred to Ankara. The name "Istanbul" was adopted officially in 1930.

Istanbul

Orientation

Istanbul is divided in three by the north-south Bosphorus Strait(Istanbul Bogazi), the dividing line between Europe and Asia, the Golden Horn (Haliç) bisecting the western part and the Sea of Marmara (Marmara Denizi) forming a boundary to the south. Most sights are concentrated on the cape of Sultanahmet, to the west of the Bosphorus between the Horn and the Sea. Across the Horn to the north are Galata, Beyo?lu and Taksim, the heart of modern Istanbul, while Üsküdar is the major district on the comparatively less-visited Asian side of the city. The Black Sea forms the northern boundary of Istanbul.

Istanbul

Get in

Istanbul

By plane

Planes arrive at the modern Ataturk Airport (http://www.ataturkairport.com/) (IST), about 20 km west from the city centre. There are various options for getting into Istanbul, you can take a taxi (about $10-$15), the express bus service (ran by the local airport service called "Hava?", half-hourly, about $5 to Taksim), or a metro to Aksaray, and a tram on to Sultanahmet.

Istanbul

By train

International trains from across Europe arrive at the Gar in Eminonu, close to Sultanahmet. Asian trains arrive at Haydarpasha station. To get between the two, catch a ferry across the Bosphoros (see Get around).

Istanbul

By car

Istanbul

By bus

Buses and coaches terminate at the colossal Otogar, about 10km east of the centre. Courtesy minibuses or taxis will easily get you into the centre. The metro also stops at the Otogar.

Istanbul

By boat

Istanbul

Get around

Istanbul

By car

Traffic in Istanbul can be manic, expect a stressful drive. If you've arrived by car to Istanbul and don't want to get into an accident, park your car in a safe place and take the public transportation to get around. For a driver from a western country it's easy to get into an accident, because Turkish people drive in a quite different way.

If you go to the Asian side (or vice versa) you have to pay a toll to cross the Bosphorus bridges.

Istanbul

By taxi

Taxi is an easy and cheap way to get around. A taxi from Taksim to Sultahmet should cost only a few new liras. Hail any yellow taxi, all rides are metered and tipping is unnecessary. Taxies have a fix tariff; the night tariff is the double of the daytime. Night tariff starts at midnight 00:00 till 06:00

Istanbul

By shared taxi

Dolmuş is a shared taxi, which costs more than a city autobus but less than a normal taxi. It's easy to recognize, because also has the yellow painting as taxi and there's a Dolmuş sign on its top. Dolmuşes go along routes as city bus lines but they're more flexible (they may make some short extra stops to drop somebody off); the final destination is shown by a sign behind the front windscreen. I you want the driver to make a stop, you can say ?necek var. (Someone's getting out.) or Müsait bir yerde. (At a convenient spot.).

Istanbul

By bus

You can take a bus to almost everywhere in Istanbul. One ticket costs approximately ?0.80 (1.30 YTL in January 2006), you can by it from the conductor sitting at the front door. If you stay longer, you may wish to buy an Akbil, which will save time and money on public transport.

As a relatively quick tourist, you will end up using the T4 bus the most. It connects Sultanahmet to Taksim Square (and so to Beyoglu and Istiklal Caddesi, the nightspots). The last bus from Taksim runs at about 11.30pm, though that's not fixed- or assured!

  • see also on AKBIL in the tram writeup
Istanbul

By boat

Ferries travel between the European and Asian sides of the city. The crossing takes about 20 minutes and costs 1 Yeni Türk Lirasi (New Turkish Lira), and gives great views of the Bosphorous. Be aware that sometimes the ferry when arriving at a dock can bounce off the pier accidently, even on calm days. This can cause people to fall over quite dramatically if they are standing up, so it is advisable to remain seated until the ferry has come to an absolute stop.

Very useful are the fast ferryboats (travelling at 55 kilometres) running from several points, such as the Yenikapi - Yalova one, that allows you (with a connecting bus in Yalova) to be in Bursa centre in less than three hours. Prices are marginally higher and the gain in time is considerable, though the view is not as nice.

  • see also on AKBIL in the tram writeup
Istanbul

By metro

Istanbul's metro is currently just a short stub connecting Taksim to the northern suburbs, but it will become immensely more useful once the link across the Golden Horn to Yenikapi is complete. From the Levent I stop it is a 10 minute walk to Akmerkez, the most nicest and most expensive mall in Turkey.

  • see also on AKBIL in the tram writeup
Istanbul

By tram

A tram service serves Sultanahmet and the suburbs south of the Golden Horn. Tokens (jeton) can be bought at a booth near the platform. You will have to change (travelling from the centre) at Aksaray for one line, that itself will take you to the Otogar (first) and the airport (some stops later). The change will require a walk of some half mile to the connecting line.

A new line, crossing the Galata bridge and running along the Bosporus shore for some miles ends at Kabata?. Connections are to be made at Eminonü. Later on, this line will be connected to Taksim metro station via a funicular, which will enable rail based travel until Levent, Maslak and Sar?yer after a couple of years.

Buying an AKBIL is a good idea if you are in Istanbul for more than a day or two, and intend to use any public transport. Its like a little key, but think of it as a pass that gives you access to buses, trams, metro and even local ferries. The great part for travellers is that you can buy one and buzz it as many times as there are passengers. Ticket fares across buses trams and metros are standard (i.e not dpendent on how far you go), so you just buzz the Akbil when you get on to the bus or enter the tram/metro platform. You can buy this at booths marked Akbil at Eminonu (just at the start of the Galat Bridge), amongst other places.

Istanbul

See

  • Haghia Sofia (Aya Sofya), Sultanahmet Square (by tram: Sultanahmet), 0212 5221750. Tu-Su 9:00AM-7:30PM. Dating from the sixth century, originally a basilica constructed for the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. The huge 30m diameter dome was the largest in the world. Looted in 1204 during the fourth Crusade, became a mosque in the 15th century and minarets were added. It's turned into a museum in 1930's. Don't miss the excellent mosaics, including those in the gallery, reached by a stone slope to the left of the entrance. Entry approx $12 (no concessions, no cards accepted).
  • Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi), Bab-i Hümayün Caddesi (by tram: Gülhane/Sultanahmet), 0212 5120480. M,W-Su 9:00AM-5:00PM. The imperial enclave of the Ottoman emperors for three centuries. Lavishly decorated, with four courts of increasing grandeur. In the second court in the entrance to the Harem (admission extra) and the State Treasury, housing a weaponary display. The third court has the Imperial Treasury (admission extra). The views from the Fourth Court over the Bosphoros are spectacular. approx $10 (no concessions, cards accepted, Harem and Imperial Treasury extra).
  • Sultanahmet Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii, aka Blue Mosque), At Meydam Sokak 17, Sultanahmet (by tram: Sultanahmet), 0212 5181319. May-Oct 9:00AM-9:00PM, Nov-Apr:9:00AM-7:00PM. With its six minarets and sweeping architecture the Sultanahmet or 'Blue' Mosque impresses from the outside. Unlike Haghia Sophia, this is still a working mosque, entry is through the courtyard on the SW side. No shorts or bare shoulders (shawls are provided) and you will need to remove your footwear. Free.
  • Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici). Yerebatan Cad., Sultanahmet. It doesn't sound like much, but this giant underground cistern built by Justinian in 532 and later consacrated as a basilica is one of the most fascinating places to visit in Istanbul. A wooden walkway winds between the pillars, and lights and piped music add to the eerie atmosphere.
  • Galata Whirling Dervish Hall (Galata Mevlevihanesi). Galipdede Caddesi (near Tünel's Galata station). A dancing hall of the mystical Mevlevi order, shut down in 1925 along with all other 'reactionary' movements in Turkey. Today the building houses the Museum of Divan Literature, but the best time to come Sundays between 3 to 5 pm when sema dervish ceremonies are staged. (Buy tickets in advance, as space is limited.) Also check out the small graveyard next door, where the carved fez perched upon the gravestone indicates the occupant's rank in the dervish hierarchy.
Istanbul

Do

Istanbul

Hamams

A visit to a hamam (Turkish bath) is an essential part of any trip to Istanbul.

  • Suleymaniye Bath, +90 212 520 34 10, mailto:info@suleymaniyehamami.com. Sultan Suleyman had this Hamam built by the famous Architect Sinan in 1550. Architect Sinan build this hamam for himself. He used this hamam for washing. Suleymaniye hamam is only mixed hamam in Istanbul. There are no different section for each sex thus the families may comfortably enjoy this hamam together. Hamam also has two ways free shuttle service for the hotel guests if the booking comes through their reception. Entry 20 euro.
  • Ca?alo?lu Bath, +90 212 522 24 24, mailto:info@cagalogluhamami.com.tr. The Ca?alo?lu hamam was constructed in 1741 and is the last hamam to be built after a long period during the Ottoman Empire. It was constructed in ?stanbul Eminonü.It has separated section. Entry 20 euro.
  • Cemberlitas Bath, +90 212 511 25 35, info@cemberlitashamami.com.tr. The Cemberlitas Bath is located on Cemberlitas Square in the midst of some of Istanbul's greatest monuments. It was build by also Architect Sinan in 1584. It has 2 sections, female and male. Entry 15 euro.
Istanbul

Walking tours

Walk! Some suggestions for a couple of "walks". But there are many to be made on your own, so do.

Museums and such: Haghia Sophia, then on to the Topkap? museum (these two should take care of three to five hours), preferably along the road in the back of the Haghia Sophia, where there are some nicely restored houses. Then on to the Blue Mosque and the square with the obelisks on it (At Meydani). Along its side is the very good Museum of Islam Art. Descend slightly and find the Small Haghia Sophia with its nice garden (it was under restoration, but you probably can get in). Then uphill to the Sokollu Mehmet mosque complex: top notch tiles inside.

Take a tram or walk to Eminonü (where the boats leave for trips to Asia or up the Bosporus). Visit the New Mosque in the back of it, then the Egyptian Bazaar next to it, and going further in that direction, locate the Rüstem Pasha mosque with its excellent tiles. It's on a raised platform near an old clothes market, you may have to ask directions. Then take a cab or find a bus to Eyüp mosque complex, a mile or three up the Golden Horn. Visit this Eyüp complex at your leisure (the mosque is not particular, the court is, and the milling of believers, with many boys-to-be-circumcised amongst it; a Friday might be a good day to do this). Than, if you have the stamina, it might be nice to walk back to .. well, maybe all the way (five miles or so), but taking a route along part of the city wall to first the famous Kariye Church with its mosaics, then on to Selimiye Mosque with its great view on the Golden Horn (and a fine mosque by itself), then the Fatih Mosque (passing through some very religious and lively neighbourhoods), then on to the well-restored Sehzade mosque, and next to Süleymaniye (don't forget to enjoy the view from the Golden Horn side). If you have some energy left you might go on to the University complex, and by then you are very close to the Beyazit mosque. A book market (it?s small) is behind this good, unexceptional (nice courtyard though) mosque.

Once again go to Eminonü, but this time take the boat (those large ferries) to Üsküdar. You will arrive with a fine mosque in front, another one four hundred meters off to the right, slightly inland behind a traffic roundabout, a third, very small, at the sea front,. See the market stretching inland, walk about and don't forget to walk along the shore, maybe eating a fish meal in one of the bobbing boats along it. This is a good visit for late afternoon, early evening, fleeing the city. You will be joined by thousands of people going home from "town" but the way back will be on a near-empty ferry. The frequency of ferries will go down in the evening, so make sure there is a connection back

Go to the railroad station and find a Sirkeci-Halkali suburban train, and get out at (from memory, Yenikapi station). You will be quite close to Yedikule, a nice fortress, and will have fine views of the city walls from that. The trains leave every 15 minutes or so, the ride is peculiar (the material is bad, but if you are in luck every second stop another salesman will enter and try selling his wares, its fun. The ride is twenty minutes, half an hour. You may back from Yedikule into the city, just drifting. This is not a "must", but it can be great fun.

You will have missed the covered bazaar in all this. That is because you will get there anyhow. If you go to Beyazit and the book market you are almost at two of its many entrances. Try and find the Nuruosmaniye Mosque and its complex at the other side, its worth it. And after having explored the covered part, take a relaxing walk downhill, into the general direction of Eminonü, where it is "uncovered bazaar" all the way. And then cross the Galata bridge to see some things on the Northern side (for instance take the "tünel" teleferik ride up much of the hill (entrance close to the opposite side of Galata bridge, ask around), then continue to Taksim. Shops are of the international variety.

Istanbul

Learn

Merhaba means Hello! You'll probably hear this whenever you meet somebody.

'Nasilsin?' means 'how are you?', but it's much more common to hear the polite version 'nasilsiniz?'. 'Naber?' is the slang for 'how are you?', although a better translation would be 'what's up?'. This is much more common amongst teenagers and young people.

'Tessekur ederim' means thank you.

'Gunaydin' means good morning, and 'iyi gunler' means good day, which you will frequently hear in place of 'merhaba'.

Istanbul

Work

There is always a high demand for qualified ESOL/EFL teachers in Istanbul. Many teachers work with private instructional companies. Others contract out on a freelance basis.

Istanbul

Buy

  • Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi). Istanbul's grand old bazaar with an estimated 4400 shops, parts of it now rather touristy but still certainly worth a visit.
Istanbul

Eat

Istanbul

Budget

  • Meshur Kofteci (Selim Usta): near the Sultanahmet tram stop (150 meters downhill) is the three floor restaurant. Meshur means famous, and they rightly claim that title. Their specialty is meatballs (in a slightly different form, called kofte). Take it with a piyaz (beans salad) and ayran. Service is very swift and attentive, prices ordinary.
  • Simit Sarayi: a kind of quick-restaurant chain. You can buy tasty filled pastry here.
  • Neyle Meyle: Located on the tiny street of Nevizade Socak behind Istiklal Cadessi, this place is one of many on the street that is absolutely buzzing and alive with locals and travellers downing lots of raki or beer and eating tasty mezes. Tables and chairs are literaaly falling onto the street, and if you're not in one place you could just as well be in the next.
Istanbul

Mid-range

Istanbul

Splurge

The Four Seasons Hotel does a spectacular, if pricy, Sunday Brunch featuring a range of Turkish and international foods. (January 2005 price - 70 YTL, 11.30am - 3pm). 1 (http://www.fourseasons.com/istanbul/vacations/dining.html), T: 90 (212) 638 82 00, Tevkifhane Sokak No. 1, Sultanahmet-Eminonü.

Istanbul

Drink

The best area for nightlife is in Beyoglu, north of the Golden Horn.

Istanbul

Cafes

  • Sark Kahvesi'. Yaglikcilar Caddesi 134 (in the Grand Bazaar). 2 (http://www.sarkkahvesi.com/). The most famous cafe in the market and a time warp into days gone by, full of traders playing backgammon. Turkish coffee NTL 1,5.
  • Starbucks Coffee Located pretty much everywhere. Nice and much better decorated than the ones from USA:). Capuccino 5 YTL.
Istanbul

Sleep

The Sultanahmet (old city) part of Istanbul has a high number of stray cats, so no matter where you wind up sleeping you are likely to be rocked to sleep by a lively feline chorus. if you're from a non-Muslim country, your sleep will also get interupted by morning prayers (5:00 AM) emanating loudly from the Blue Mosque.

Istanbul

Budget

  • Hostel Orient in Sultanahmet. Okay hostel in a good location. Staff pretty unfriendly, but Istanbul will make you forget all that. Cafe/bar upstairs, rooftop lounge area overlooking the Golden Horn, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Koptapi Palace, and the oldest mosque in Istanbul (it's small and has one minaret--just go down the street towards Koptapi). Pretty cheap rooms, but the travel agency downstairs is overpriced, as is the beer in the bar. Bellydancers two or three nights per week in the basement bar, but expect competition for her affections from older local businessmen. Also expect terrible euro-techno in many of Istanbul's bars and nightclub.
  • Bahaus Guesthouse in Sultanahmet. Bayram F?r?n Soka?? not far from the Orient hostel. Staff friendly. Dorm room around U$ 10. Breakfast extra. Rooftop bar beer YTL 3,5. Free Internet on old computers (W?ndows 98) Connection Ok.
Istanbul

Mid-range

  • the Blue House Hotel (Mavi Ev) 3 (http://www.bluehouse.com.tr/), tel +90 (212) 638 90 10/11/12/13/14/15/16 - opened July 1997 and located at the heart of old city center, steps away from world famous Blue Mosque
  • Empress Zoe 4 (http://www.emzoe.com/), Akbiyik Caddesi, Adliye Sok No 10, Sultanahmet, tel 518-2504 - a wonderful little hotel in a quiet street just off Sultanahmet, with spartan but elegant rooms decorated in Turkish style and beautiful views over the Hagia Sophia from the rooftop terrace. All mod cons including bathroom, air-con, safe. Rooms from ?50 and suites from ?100, including breakfast.
Istanbul

Splurge

  • Ciragan Palace Kempinski 5 (http://www.ciragan-palace.com/), the best hotel in Istanbul, on the Bosphorus coast just south of the main square of Ortakoy.
  • Four Seasons Istanbul 6 (http://www.fourseasons.com/istanbul/index.html), a converted prison (!) in the historic Sultanahmet district. Offers stunning views of the Haghia Sophia, but no pool.
  • A'jia Hotel 7 (http://www.ajiahotel.com), located at the Asian side of the city facing the beautiful Bosphorus. A unique boutique hotel. Do not miss it!
Istanbul

Contact

Istanbul

Stay safe

Taksim bar/club scams Be aware of high-drink price scams encountered in many clubs in the Taksim area of Istanbul. In this scam, you enter a club and are shown a menu with certain drink prices on it. When you ask for the bill, the prices have been considerably raised. When you ask to see the menu, another modified menu is produced with the higher prices listed.

A variation of this scam is for young ladies to come to your table and introduce themselves. After a word or two, they leave. When the bill comes, they have charged 10-12 outrageously-priced drinks to the bill, which the customer has allegedly offered to pay for. Also be aware of apparently friendly groups of young Turks striking up a conversation in the street and inviting you to a "good club they know". This has frequently been reported as a prelude to such a scam. The person(s) in on the scam may offer to take you to dinner first, in order to lull your suspicions.

In either of these scams, if you refuse to pay the high prices or try to call the police to file a complaint, the club managers may use physical intimidation to bring the impasse to a close.

Istanbul

Stay healthy

Tap water in Istanbul is drinkable though most foreigners prefer the cheap and high quality bottled water.

Istanbul

Cope

English is increasingly widely-spoken and understood in Istanbul as its profile as a city break destination increases. Nonetheless, it is still far more common to encounter people who speak only Turkish. In most cases you can get over the problem because Turkish people are friendly and helpful.

Istanbul

Get out


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