One city, two continents, millions of souls – Istanbul
My COMPLETE TRAVEL GUIDE for Istanbul is here! ❤
Even though Istanbul is pretty close to my home country, I realized when I first got there that I have waited way too long to visit! That is why I decided to come back sooner than I imagined. Now, after my third experience, I am ready to write for you a COMPLETE TRAVEL GUIDE so that you can book your tickets as soon as possible and have the best city break ever.
You will never understand the magic of this city just by reading books or travel blogs. You will have to experience it on your own.
I have received many messages from you, guys, wandering if the city is safe to visit due to the unfortunate events from the past couple of years. I have to start by saying I have only visited Istanbul after the beginning of the terrorist attacks and that did not stop me to come back again and again. I did not feel unsafe while visiting the city and if I have the chance to visit it again tomorrow, I will not hesitate.
Since the first attacks, you can find police and military everywhere on the streets, as a precautionary measure. As a plus, they added more security in airports and near tourist attractions.
What truly saddens me the most is that fewer people are visiting this incredible city because they are afraid of terrorist attacks. Last time I visited, the streets were almost empty which is not the way Istanbul used to be.
The good news is that you can find some incredibly good deals on accommodation and airplane tickets. Also you do not have to stay in long queues in order to visit tourist attractions and I promise that you will feel as safe as you feel in any other European city.
That being said, let’s continue with our COMPLETE TRAVEL GUIDE.
- HOW TO ARRIVE
Istanbul, also known as the city that embraces two continents, is located both in Europe and Asia, being the only city in the world of this kind. It is also the biggest city in Turkey, bigger than the capital city Ankara, and the most populous, being the country’s economic, cultural, and historic center.
The easiest and comfortable way to reach Istanbul is by plane, but since Romania is located pretty close to Turkey, I have also visited it once by car. The distance between Bucharest and Istanbul is around 630 km, but I would definitely recommend you to book some airplane tickets and just enjoy the short flight.
Istanbul has two main airports: Istanbul Atatürk Airport and Sabiha Gökçen International Airport. The first one is the biggest airport in Turkey and it is located in the European side of the city, just 24 kilometers from the city center. It serves as the main hub for Turkish Airlines and it is used by major lines, offering connections with the majority of big cities in the world. As of February 2017, 273 destinations are served from Istanbul-Atatürk, making it the airport with the second-most destinations worldwide after Frankfurt Airport.
The second one is on the Asian side of the bi-continental city and serves as the hub for Pegasus Airlines as well as a base for Turkish Airlines. It is located 35 kilometers from the city center.
!Tip 1: If you choose Atatürk Airport it will be very easy to get to city center (Sultanahmet Area) by metro and you only have to change one line at Zeytinburnu.PS: You will have to buy 2 tokens/person. If I recall correctly one token costs 4 TL.
!Tip 2: From both airports, you can get to Taksim Square by using a Havataş Airport Shuttle Service. You can find them outside the airport terminal and will cost you 12 TL from Ataturk (around 40 minutes) and 15 TL from Sabiha Gokcen (around 80-90 minutes).
More info on: http://www.havabus.com/default.aspx
- WHERE TO STAY
This depends on the kind of traveler you are and what are your plans in this magical city. If you want to wander the city and see all the important attractions, I recommend staying in the old part of the city, the Fatih Area. You can even find very cheap hotels within walking distance from the Blue Mosque or Hagia Sophia. In fact, last time I was there, I stayed at Tan Hotel which had great breakfast views with the Blue Mosque for the fabulous price of 35 Eur/night.
If you are visiting in the cold season, it would be a good idea to stay at a hotel with spa and interior pool. For NYE 2015, I chose Grand Hotel Gulsoy which offered a great spa area, but also the perfect view of a beautiful mosque. The price was around 50 Eur/night.
Another great place to stay would be near Galata Bridge because this is the perfect spot to start exploring both the old and the new part of the city. You have Istiklal Street and Galata Tower in walking distance, many restaurants and places to go out nearby, but you can also easily get to the Sultanahmet Area. I chose a boutique hotel called Galata La Bella.
Of course, if you are searching for the most luxurious places in town, you should definitely choose the Beyoglu Area, especially around Taksim Square. You have a long list to choose from when it comes to luxury and excellent service in Istanbul.
- HOW LONG SHOULD YOU STAY
As I always say, there is never enough time to travel the world. But a city break is perfect to discover the city. First time I visited I stayed 4 days and it was great. I got to see the most important attractions, but also enjoyed some spa and shopping time. Last time, I only visited for two days since I was on my way to Cappadocia, the fairytale land. (If you have not read it already, you should click HERE and check out the travel blog I made for this amazing Turkish area. Also, if you want to experience a hot air balloon flight, click HERE and find out more).
If you have more time at your disposal, do not worry, there is plenty to do. Blend with the locals at the Grand Bazaar and exercise your bargaining skills, enjoy Turkish tea in a rooftop lounge to get great views of the city. Click HERE and check out 10 Mandatory things to do in Istanbul for more inspiration! ❤
- WHERE AND WHAT TO EAT
Turkish cuisine is AMAZING. I cannot start this chapter without saying that. Of course, it would be best for you to be a meat lover because here you can taste the best donner kebab in the world. I have said it in my Cappadocia Complete Travel Guide and you probably know this already, Muslim people, including Turkish, do not eat pork so you will not find dishes based on this kind of meat, but chicken, lamb, veal, fish are there for you. And I swear I have never tasted such flavorful lamb.
That being said, if you are searching for the perfect donner or shish kebab, you do not need to wander too much. At every corner, you will find what you want. From cheap fast foods to traditional restaurants and even fancy ones.
For fish lovers, going to Galata Bridge is a must! You have a long list of restaurants to choose from based on your preferences. The majority have a fresh fish display, so you can take the best decision. As a plus, great view is included in the package.
If you are searching for a traditional Turkish restaurant, I recommend choosing The Han in Sultanahmet area, close to Topkapi Palace.
When I think about a luxurious restaurant with great views of the Bosphorus Bridge, Tugra Restaurant Istanbul comes to my mind. It is located on the first floor of the historical Ciragan Palace and it offers the ultimate Ottoman dining experience.
Desert lovers, be aware! You won’t be able to stop yourself from eating all these incredible sweets. If you are a baklava lover, your first stop should be at Hafiz Mustafa, which is Turkish deserts heaven from 1864. There are a few branches in Istanbul, both in the old and the new part of the city. But if you do not find Hafiz, do not worry, you have plenty of desert shops to choose from at every corner of Istanbul!
PS: Do not forget to try the tasty appetizers!
Public transportation is Istanbul is the best way to explore the city. Of course, if your hotel is located near to the city center, you can easily visit all the attractions by foot which also gives you the best view if the city. Personally, I have only used public transportation to get from the airport to the hotel and once to Dolmabahce Palace.
The good news is that public transportation has developed lately and you have metro, tram, funicular and trains at your disposal. The prices are affordable so it could be a good option if you want to visit more. The fare to take public transportation is about 2,60 TL per person per ride with an Istanbul Kart. If you do not have an Istanbul Kart, you should buy tokens which are around 4-5 TL one.
From Sultanahmet to Taksim by public transportation requires you to first take the tramway, followed by a funicular. The trip for one person costs about 5 TL if you use the Istanbul Kart.
Of course, you also have the taxi option which is good especially if you are not travelling alone. Splitting the taxi with your friends can become even cheaper than public transportation.
- WHEN TO GO
I tend to say this a lot since I am a travel lover. I do not think there is a bad time to visit Istanbul. I have seen it in summer, spring and winter and loved it every time.
If you are visiting in summer, you will have the chance to explore more the city due to the pleasant weather in the evenings. Rooftop restaurant are waiting for you to enjoy the atmosphere. Also, walking by the Bosphorus Strait in the summer evenings can be such a delightful experience and a great way to admire the city lights. Mosques are so beautifully enlightened and create an idyllic panorama.
But winter also has its charm. For NYE 2015, I received a fairytale panorama with snow in the first day of the year. It was snowing so beautiful and peaceful and I had the chance to admire this from a panoramic restaurant with views of the Bosphorus Bridge. Hot Turkish tea sure helps keeping you warm. Not to mention the Turkish baths and interior pools.
- MONEY AND ATMs
The Turkish Lira is the currency of Turkey so it would be best to have it on you. Of course, you can also pay in Eur or Dollars, but you will have to do so in their terms and exchange rate, so I would not recommend it. Turkish people are famous around the world for their hospitability and kindness, but also for their business skills, so they won’t hesitate to establish a less profitable exchange rate for you if they notice you do not have another possibility to pay.
You can find ATMs everywhere, including ATMs where you can exchange Eur or dollars to TL. These are very useful if the exchange offices are close to the prayers or public celebrations.
You can pay by credit cards in almost every restaurant, but do not expect to be able to do this is the bazaar, for example. I recommend also having some cash on you.
- HOW MUCH MONEY DO I NEED
As I always say, this depends on the kind of traveler you are, what you want to do and how much do you intend to stay. Regarding flights, you can now find reasonable options from everywhere in Europe and Middle East. I will take Bucharest as an example since this is where my journeys start. You can find low cost tickets with Pegasus Airlines as low as 50-60 EUR/way. We also have Tarom and Turkish Airlines as a good alternative. Tarom often has promotions and the fares are around 90-100 Eur/person, snack and baggage included. Turkish Airlines is a bit more expensive, but if offers better services so it is up to you. If you catch a good promotion, one return ticket could be around 110 Eur.
Regarding accommodation, as I’ve already said, you can find some pretty good deals since there is a long list to choose from and they are concerned with the number of tourists which is decreasing due to the unfortunate terrorist events. You can find a reasonable 3 stars hotel located in a good area starting from 30 Eur per night, breakfast included.
Regarding food, you do not need to worry, you can find cheap and delicious options everywhere, from restaurants to fast foods.
- WHAT TO SEE & DO
You should start your research with my previous post: 10 Mandatory things to do in Istanbul, where I talked about the most important tourist attractions.
I do hope you will find time to visit Istanbul as soon as possible because every traveler should make a least one stop here.
See you soon!
Blonde around the World ❤
*** All pictures without the Blonde around the World watermark from this travel blog are from Google. All the credit goes to the rightful owners.