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City Escapes: Istanbul, Turkey

by Arbiter Writing 4 months ago in list
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Nowhere on the planet is quite like Istanbul. A city that never stops moving and is spread across two different continents.

Photo by Fatih | Source: Unsplas

With historical sights like the Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia brushed up against lively cafes and buzzing bars complete with mosques from the Ottoman-era just a short trip away from contemporary art galleries and museums, Istanbul meshes the old with the new like nowhere else.

Istanbul represents Turkey’s cultural capital, boasting a plethora of inventive dining, a diverse transit hub (flights from this region depart essentially anywhere), and an independent artist melting pot. Every neighborhood possesses its own distinct vibe and identity, and it’s not too difficult to spend weeks roaming around without taking in everything.

What makes this all the more fascinating, however, is the fact that there will always be another diversion calling travelers back for more. Order yourself a cup of Turkish-brewed coffee and some pistachio baklava and prepare to delve straight into this wondrous metropolis.

General Info

The primary spoken language is Turkish, and despite a rather large presence of international travelers roaming, do not expect to hear much Farsi, Arabic, or English while exploring. Despite this, locals are quite helpful and willing to provide assistance to foreigners — including and especially that of shop owners who often invite others to sit down and share strong black tea.

Personal space is hard to come by in such a crowded city. It is entirely normal to feel a stranger standing too close when waiting in a line or on a bus.

The Bosphorous Strait. Source: Geneva Business News

Unlike common perception, the water bisecting the city is NOT a river. Instead, it serves as a global shipping route. Known as the Bosphorous Strait, it connects the greater Mediterranean sea and the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea. Consequently, it is of no surprise to witness container ships passing by the ferry you’re using to commute around.

Although Istanbul represents the largest city in the country, Turkey’s capital is in fact Ankara, located in the center of Anatolia. Yet, the palaces surrounding the Bosphorus from the remains of the Ottoman Empire may make you think differently. While politicians may conduct business in the city of Ankara, travelers will feel like Istanbul is the center of the world.

Local Currency: Turkish Lira (TL)

To view current exchange rates, visit this website.

Spoken Language: Turkish

Call Code: +90

Capital: Ankara

Time Zone

Do not expect daylight savings, as the Turkish do not follow this trend. Year-round, Istanbul follows the GMT+3 time zone of Turkey, also known as TRT, or Turkey Time.

How to Navigate

Intricate transportation centers, both informal and official, all interlock together and make it very seamless to navigate in Istanbul. Multiple metro lines with modern cars and clear signs connect to two funiculars and a tram line above-ground.

There is a metro line extending across two continents known as the Marmaray that connects on both the Asian and European sides of the city and travels directly underneath the Bosphorus Strait. Furthermore, in recent times, it has been expanded to reach all the way into suburban areas.

If not taking the metro, the best way to make a roundtrip from Europe to Asia is via the ferry, with multiple lines on schedules spanning an entire given day.

Gaps are filled via city buses that are paid for by IstanbulKart, the same service that allows travelers onto the ferries, metro, and Maramaray. In the event there is no bus able to run to a specifically intended destination, there may be, in substitution, a yellow van known as a dolmuş.

Despite running on fixed routes, it stops like a taxi upon request and leaves only when the van is full. Furthermore, there are teal-colored minibusses that travel on numerous routes. Both are paid in cash and the price varies depending on the distance from the current location.

Still, especially in the most touristy areas, taxis are quite plentiful. Mobile apps such as BiTaksi hail directly, and hotels are typically happy to order one for customers that cannot do it themselves.

Best Hotels

Source: Ciragan Palace Kempinski

Ciragan Palace Kempinski: Ornately housed in what was once a former Ottoman Palace off the coastline of the Bosphorus Strait, Ciragan is the premier hotel of Istanbul. Complete with an infinity outdoor pool, high-end restaurants, and an exquisite spa, the Ciragan allows tourists to experience the territory like royalty.

Source: Trivago

Sirkeci Mansion: Found deep within Sultanahmet’s core, this mansion is within convenient walking distance from Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, and Gulhane Park. A hotel containing over 30 spacious rooms, an on-site restaurant, and a spa. Relax at the Hamam or take in the sweeping city views at the rooftop of the hotel.

Historical Sites

Photo by Danny Hu, Getty Images

The Hagia Sophia has been the face of many identities. Originally a Byzantine church, it then became an Ottoman mosque, a secular museum, and now once against a mosque.

Visitors should respect the rules of the Turkish mosques and dress appropriately. However, there is no longer a monetary requirement to experience a building’s palimpsest. Though several of the famous frescoes and mosaics are covered, there are many still visible.

Source: Bob Krist, Getty Images

The Topkapi Palace is a construction site originating in 1453 during the conquest of Constantinople and served as the center of imperial power for the following 400 years. There is an added fee to access the Harem, yet its majestic blue-tiled chambers and walls are worth it.

Photo by Hasan Akbas, Unsplash.com

Galata Tower was designed in the 14th century by the Genoese and stands as an iconic Turkish skyline. Wait until sunset, climb to the top, and enjoy some of the best 360 perspectives of the city.

Source: Kevser Salih, Getty Images

Suleymainye Mosque. Of the various architectural works of the famous Mimar Sinan, Suleymaniye is considered the most splendid in Istanbul, with Sinan himself buried in an on-site tomb. With its sweeping courtyard city view, massive dome, and intricate tiles, Suleymaniye is truly a sight to behold.

Source: Kilicalipasahamimi.com

Kilic Ali Pasa Hamam, commonly referred to as the Turkish bath, presents an exceptional and luxurious experience in which those who partake perspire on a marble slab and can scrub themselves from top to bottom.

Source: Edwin Remsberg, Getty Images

The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul represents one of the oldest and largest covered markets of Europe, encompassing a hive of merchants and artisans that are spread across nearly 4000 stores and 60 streets. Arrive for traditional leather goods, Turkish carpets, silver and gold jewelry, and more. For the more conservative folk, make sure to share a tea, sit, and haggle.

Source: Irina Timokhina, Getty Images

The Egyptian Spice Bazaar was constructed in the 17th century and contains a fragrant covered outlet brimming with all manners of spices from Turkish saffron to tangy sumac to smokey urfa pepper. Be sure to also visit the vendors selling other non-spice materials such as ceramics and Turkish delight.

Source: Tim Graham

The market street containing the Arasta Bazaar lies within the middle of the Sultanahmet neighborhood; boasting shops in historical houses with rent that helped compensate for the maintenance of the Blue Mosque nearby. Today, vendors sell goods like carpets, ceramics, and Turkish towels made out of hand-woven pestamel.

Source: Pinterest

What started as a bazaar for artisans in the trendy neighborhood of Karakoy before its recent relocation to Kanyon, Levent includes Souq Dukkan. Featuring the work of local artists, designers, and creators, this bazaar is the most ideal for discovering unique items from many of the city’s most creative individuals.

Neighborhoods of Note

Source: Getty Images

Sultanahmet: Nearly every block includes historical timepieces. Featuring a central square whose space is largely taken up by the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, the streets contain many remains of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires with hippodrome remains, cisterns, and mosques.

Source: Time Out

Kadiköy: On the Asian shore of Istanbul, Kadiköy serves as a creative nexus for artists. Colorful, bright murals decorate the building walls with streets brimming with vibrant bars, trendy boutiques, sleek coffee shops, and al fresco dining.

Source: Pinterest

Cihangir: A popular touristy neighborhood only several blocks away from Taksim Square is the perfect place to be seen. With colorful slinging cocktail bars, cutting-edge boutiques, and moody bistros, the city has remained the scene where foreigners and hip Turks go to mingle.

Photo by Mesuttoker, Pixabay

Beşiktaş: Just a short distance from the Dolmabahce Palace, this rowdy neighborhood is vested on the European Bosphorus shore and has a reputable fanbase for its local football team as well as its large gamut of pubs. Explore many side streets that spill over with nightlife goers.

Source: Daily Sabah

Karaköy: Once known as a forlorn strip containing camping shops and shipping warehouses, the neighborhood has blossomed in the past decade into a colorful strip of art galleries, restaurants, and boutiques. A single building in particular houses up to 5 of the most premier private collections and has the luxurious Kilic Ali Pasa Hammam just steps away.

Source: Maximos Real Estate

Nişantaşi: For the most high-end and quality experiences, the elite of Istanbul arrives at this destination. In this place, travelers will find haute couture boutiques, powerful brands like Louis Vuitton and Prada, and a handful of elegant restaurants. Close to this is Maçka Park, an ideal area to take a stroll with a significant other.

Source: Get Your Guide

The Princes Islands: Referred to in Turkish as Adalar, there are 9 encompassing the sea of Marmara, though only 4 are actually open to the public. Unfortunately, cars are not allowed, so it’s better to bring a bike, a horse-drawn carriage, or just a plain walk.

Source: Scroll the Globe

Balat: Historically home to large populations of Jews and Greek, the twinned neighborhoods of Balat and Fener offer a taste of the most picturesque experiences in Istanbul, with hilly streets of cobblestone facing colorful wooden houses. In recent years, the area has erupted and can be easily claimed as one of the most interesting new neighborhoods. Many antique shops dot the area and tourists can visit a gorgeous display of restaurants and cafes.

Seasonal Weather Conditions

Winter: During this time, Istanbul features constant rain and gray skies with temperatures anywhere between 45°–50°F. Though not ideal, the city is still cozy and evocative, with vendors delivering steaming cups of tea and roasted chestnuts at every restaurant.

Spring: Over the course of the spring, the weather begins warming up and the sun appears to collectively bring the temperature to a delightful 65°-70°F. Watch flowers begin blooming everywhere around the city from Judas trees to fragrant jasmine to hot pink petals. The early end is still somewhat chilly, but that won’t stop the locals from sitting outside.

Summer: The long, crowded, and sticky days encompassing the summer typically have temperatures of up to 85°F. However, the stickiness from the 70% humidity is what will drain travelers during this time. Yet, the saving grace comes from the city’s surrounding water, the breeze off of the Strait on a ferry ride, and a dip in the Sea of Marmara.

Fall: Luckily, autumn is noted for being comfortably warm with substantially reduced humidity and a slight decrease in temperature down to 60°F in the second half of the season. Come during this time.

Recommended Mobile Apps

BiTaksi: Turkey’s local taxi-hailing service

App Store | Google Play

Uber: The all-around taxi-hailing service

App Store | Google Play

Trafi: Live updates for traffic

App Store | Google Play

Moovit: Aggregator for transportation scheduling

App Store | Google Play


About the author

Arbiter Writing

A freelance content agency with over 6 years of experience in the field of professional writing and editing services. We perform research based on topics of clients' choosing and provide SEO-optimized blog posts, articles, and copywriting.

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