Istanbul, or the ancient city of Constantinople spells splendour, magnificence and grandeur and is viewed at present as Turkey’s cultural heart. Discover its history, its cultures, its civilisation and its treasures and take home a world of memories to cherish.
How to Get There
There are daily flights in and out of Istanbul via many carriers. It is important to know that the city has two major international airports. On the Asian side is Ataturk and from the European side there is Sabiha Gokcen. As for domestic flights, there are direct and daily flights from Izmir, Adana and Ankara. From Dalaman airport, flights depart to Istanbul four times per day. The journey duration is approximately 55 minutes and flights can be purchased for as little as 35 lira.
Travelling There by Land
If you are coming in from Europe, there are a number of bus companies that run from Greece, France, Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Bulgaria. There are buses also from Romania, Jordan, Russia and Georgia. It is possible to drive your own car on the major highways from Europe to Turkey as well, just make sure you have all the important paperwork.
You can also access Istanbul via rail. The Turkish Railways Authority (TCDD) have regular schedules from many parts of the country and Europe. There are trains from Budapest, Bucarest, Kishinev, Bulgaria, Tehran and Syria, Greece and Sofia, Moldova and more. The international lines will arrive at the station of Sirkeci on the European side or Haydarpasa on the Asian side. It will depend where you are coming from.
**Double check before you book any train ticket as in the last few years the railways have been undergoing some reconstruction and not all of them can get you all the way into Istanbul.
You can get to Istanbul via a ferry or other maritime company out of Italy and the Greek Islands. These will mostly take you into Izmir at Cesme. There is a ferry from Odessa in the Ukraine that can get you directly to Istanbul. If you are travelling to other destinations in Turkey, you can grab a ferry to Bursa in Mudanya, Bandirma and Marmara Island. If you have a car that needs to be ferried, make sure you go with a company that accommodates this service.
If you want to get around to see the popular sites of Istanbul, you can do so and affordably in taxis, but your fare is likely to be more than you planned for, especially during the peak times of the day. A lot of the traffic is ongoing and congested starting around 7 in the morning until ten and it starts again around 4pm. The most efficient ways for getting about the city are via the following highlighted options. They are affordable and many of them run directly to or close to the many points of interest for visitors.
Paying Fares for Public Transport
Before we get into the means of travel, it is important to inform you of how you can pay for getting on and off public transportation systems in Istanbul. The forms of payment are by obtaining a token, called a ‘jeton’ from many vending machines or sales booths, or you can get an Istanbul Kart. The latter option is the most convenient, especially if you will be staying in Istanbul for a week or more. It is an electronic boarding pass that makes travel almost half the cost than paying with tokens and you can get discounts for any transfer.
The card works on a prepay system and is rechargeable. The initial cost is only 10TL (less than 2 gbp) and is non-refundable, but if you are using the public systems regularly and often, it will more than pay for itself. It works on the buses, funiculars, tramways, metros and even ferries. None of the public transportation in Istanbul accepts cash, so you will need to purchase some means of payment in anycase. All you do is board and place your card near the reader and you are ready to go. Just keep it in an easy-to-reach spot in your bag or pocket. If you are traveling with someone else or more people, all you need is one card as it can be ‘swiped’ multiple times for each of those traveling with you.
So where can you get one? You can get it easiest at the airport or at the stops of Sultanahmet and Eminonu. To put more credit on the card you can just go to a small shop with a sign reading ‘Akbil Dolum Noktasi’ or most newsstands. There are some machines for self-service as well that accept bills to add to your card. The instructions on these machines are in many languages, so you should understand what you have to do to refill the card.
The T1 Tramway Line
This is one of the most important lines on the tramway. It connect from Sultanahmet to Beyoglu and Taksim and has many stops of interest for visitors: the Suleymaniye Mosque, Grand Bazzar, Spice Bazaar, the ferry docks, Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, Haghia Sofia, Basilica Cistern and much more.
T or the Karakoy-Tunel Funicular
This is an attraction all in itself as it the the 3rd oldest passenger railway underground in all the world and the trains have maintained their antique heritage. It can get you uphill to Galata and get it to Taksim Square at its terminal.
F1 or the Taksim-Kabatas Funicular
Starting at Taksim, you can get to Kabatas where you can see the Dolmahbace Palace and even get to the ferry boats to the Princes’ Islands and Kadikoy. It connects with the T1 to the Grand Bazaar and other locations.
M2 or the Sishane-Haciosman Metro Line
There are 12 stops on this line and it is the most traveled by locals every day. It is safe and clean and you can get off at Taksim, Levent, Osmanbey and ITU Ayazaga, some of the more popular tourist stops.
If you really want to see the city and you are able to do so in this manner, walking is the best way to get around. Just bring your comfortable shoes and you can see a lot just on foot. You will beat the traffic congestion and you can often get from point A to point B faster.
It might be no surprise that there are a lot of things to see and do in Istanbul being that is was at one time the capital of two of the world’s greatest empires; the Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire. The Roman Empire came to rise in Istanbul in 324 and at the time Istanbul was referred to as ‘Byzantium’. The Roman capital was moved here from Rome by Emperor Constantin.
In 361, Istanbul, then Constantinople was the most populated city in the world with 300,000 inhabitants and was the largest and most wealthy city of all in Europe throughout the Middle Ages.
During the Ottoman Empire in 1600, there were around 400,000 and 700,000 inhabitants making it the world’s second most populated city following Beijing.
Throughout Istanbul you can visit remnants of Phoenician, Greek colonies from around 700 BC until it was overtaken by the Turks in 1453. The remains of each Empire and culture who have settled here can be seen all over the city along with some even more ancient remains dating back to the beginning of man.
What to see…
● The Blue Mosque – This is one of the world’s mosques to boast six minarets. It dates back the 17th century and is known for the walls that are covered by Iznik tiles. It is home to the tomb of Sultan Ahmed I.
● Suleymaniye Mosque – It was designed by a famous Ottoman architect, Sinan dedicated to Suleiman the Magnificent. You can easily spot it from the Galata bridge along Istanbul’s skyline.
● Basilica Cistern – This might be the city’s most romantic attraction. It is known for the system in which it was able to bring drinking water from Thrace to Istanbul. The cistern that once held water is now fitted with music and lights. It dates back to the 6th century.
● Topkapi Palace – If you do not get a chance to see much else, you should make a point to see the Topkapi Palace. The green courtyards and collection of kiosks is home to crown jewels from the generations of sultans who lived here with their wives. You can view the beautifully tiled rooms of the Turkish bath and catch amazing views of the Sea of Marmara.
● Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum – It was once the palace of Ibrahim Pasha, a top official of Suleiman the Magnificent. It was were the lovers of chariot racing came to watch their favorite sport during the Byzantine Empire. Have a traditional Turkish coffee in the cafe on the site.
● Chora Church – Located in the old city, you can step back in the time of the Byzantine Empire and later with wooden houses in the local neighborhood of the Ottoman Empire and walls around the old city that are reminiscent of Constantinople.
● Galata Tower – Get the best views of Istanbul from the top balcony of the Galata Tower in old Istanbul. It was constructed in 1348 and part of a city that belonged to the Genoese. As a little fun fact, it was from the tower that Hezarfen Ahmed Celebi made the first intercontinental flights across the Bosphorus from Europe to Asia in the year 1638.
● Aya Sofya, aka the Hagia Sophia – The Byzantine Emperor Justinian finished this church in 536 AD and it was a manner to demonstrate what wealth was possible of doing during the time. The tradition is that the area around the Emperor’s throne within the church be the official ‘center of the world’. It was converted into a mosque following the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman army. Today it is a museum, but remains one of the most celebrated landmarks in history.
● Hippodrome – The construction began in 203 AD and was not finished until over 100 years later It was the center for the Byzantine public and the center for chariot races and other games during the time. There is not much left, however you can see the ‘gallery walls’ on the south end which is not a site for various monuments.
● Grand Bazaar – Shopping is a big deal in Istanbul and even if you do not wish to spend any money, you still must make it to its famous markets and bazaars. This is the main market where everyone goes. It lies between the Beyazit Mosque and Nure Osmanlye Mosque and with thick walls that wrap around it. It is still one of the main trading centers and there are plenty of interesting stalls and shops to visit.
● Spice Bazaar – Get your Turkish food fix here with everything and anything you could dream of and more. It was built by the Ottoman Empire with taxes it made from Egyptian-made goods. It is a big attraction so arrive early if you can and avoid it when cruise ships dock off.
● Dolmabahce Palace – It was constructed by Sultan Abdul Mecid I in 1854 and was the replacement home of the Topkapi Palace as a home for the sultans. The gardens are worth a look along with a walk through to see the European influence on decor with a mix of the Ottoman aspects as well.
● Rustem Pasha Mosque – This is the home to the most preserved and amazing Iznik tiles in all of Istanbul.
● Yedikule Fortress – The fort dates back to the fifth century by Emperor Theodosius II as one of Constantinople’s defensive walls. The ‘Porta Aurea’ has gold-plated doors. This is where the Ottomans took control of the city and in turn used it for defense. Years later it was used as a place for execution and a prison. Catch breathtaking views of the Sea of Marmara here.
Once you’re finished in Istanbul, why not jump on a plane and head to Cappdocia for a few days? Treat yourself to some more incredible history and culture and fly high in the skies with one of the regions famous hot air balloon sightseeing tours.