The enticing blend of local customs and the melding of Muslim, Greek, Jewish, Armenian and Turkish cultures make Istanbul worth visiting. Tourists may travel here for the history generally visit Hagia Sofia, the Suleymaniye (Blue) Mosque, and the Basilica Cistern. Those looking for breathtaking views can easily find atop Galata Tower or while sipping tea at the Pierre Loti Cafe.
While there are many Turkish myths, the real story of Istanbul starts around 667 B.C., as a Greek colony, under the name Byzantion. It received the name Constantinople in 330, and since 1930 it officially became Istanbul. It is the only city in the world that extends over two continents. For over 1600 years, this was the capital of four of the world’s greatest empires: Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman. It was an essential political center of the old world.
The modernization of Istanbul happened thanks to Ataturk’s reformation process at the beginning of the 20th century. The city extended immensely, especially towards both the European side and the Asian one. Istanbul is a mixture of history and modernization, industry and traditions, business and leisure.
To enter Turkey, you must know the visa requirements for your country, which entry visa type you need to fill out an application for. While this may sound a bit complex, it’s not. They let pretty much everyone in, but there is a sliding scale for visa fees which differ based on your country of citizenship.
As long as you know how to apply, and are willing to pay the fee online, you can easily register for an e-visa that gives you pre-approved access for your trip. You can also purchase a visa at the border, but this means lineups and possible delays while e-visas are quick and painless.
When to Visit
It is generally advisable to visit Istanbul during April, May, September, and October. These are the best months for moderate weather and day length with mild temperatures ranging between 12-25 °C (54-77°F). This is when the city and its numerous attractions are less crowded. It is a perfect time to walk around the city, visit the tourist sites, or feel the city’s pulse. May is also a great month to watch dolphins while cruising the Bosphorus.
You’ll encounter peak-season in June, July, and August when the weather is the hottest. However, this is also the period when the prices are the highest. If you want to take a boat cruise, you can do so in any month, but on days when the weather gets harsh, they get canceled.
With the festive season in full bloom, December in Istanbul is a decent time to visit. There are a surprising number of Christmas decorations throughout the city and the fireworks on New Year’s Eve are some of the best in the world.
What to Love
There are many things to love about Istanbul, with the city’s eccentric history being at the forefront. The fact that it’s very cheap and has a bargaining culture makes it a favorite of budget travelers. The numerous cafes and bars also make it a wonderful place to spend time indoors too.
The monuments and traditions gathered in Constantinople throughout the centuries, though completely opposite, are wonderfully harmonized. If you come to Istanbul, you will visit no less than two continents, and be able to see a unique history that includes Byzantine, Roman, Ottoman and Christian, and Jewish influences.
For a city with such a tourist abundance, you will find Istanbul’s prices quite friendly. Services are cheap. Transportation, accommodation and food prices allow you to get in as much as possible, even with a moderate budget.
Istanbul will test your negotiation skills. Shopping means bargaining, playing a communication game with each merchant, from the tiniest souvenirs to the most valuable merchandise. Everything is negotiated in Istanbul.
Cafes and Bars
The streets of Istanbul invite you on every corner to take a seat at one of the numerous cafes and bars and try on the specific Turkish beverages and treats.
Places to Visit
In the neighborhood of Sultanahmet alone you can find more places than you can visit in a single day, while Karakoy is a jewel along the Bosphorus.
It is the very core of the Muslim world, and the Ottoman Empire, the home of the great Sultans and their mysterious Harem.
While the official name is Sultan Ahmet Mosque. tourists know it as the Blue Mosque due to its colorful ceiling tiles.
A beloved Christian Church and one of the greatest examples in the world of cultural and religious interference.
The ancient Galata is currently one of the major commercial spots in Istanbul. Here you have the Galata Tower, Taksim Square, and Istiklal Caddesi where you can shop and party to your heart’s content.
Things to Do
Depending on how much time you have to spend in the city, you’ll most likely have to choose from a big list of things to do in Istanbul.
Walk around Sultanahmet
Cruise the Bosphorus
You can view the Bosphorus on a ferry or a private yacht while enjoying breathtaking panoramas of the city alongside gorgeous sunsets. You will see some of the major buildings along the banks like Dolmbalche Palace, Cirigan Palace, Rumeli Harisi, Anadolu Hisari, and the Maiden’s Tower.
Take a Turkish Bath
Also known as a hammam, there are several bathhouses in Istanbul that are scattered throughout the city. Some of them are also historical landmarks that have been in use for centuries. In you’ve been to one before, read our hammam advice so you know what to expect.
With over 10,000,000 visitors coming to Istanbul every year, you can bet on having a full week’s supply of theme parks to visit.
For those who like roller-coasters and adrenalin rides, the amusement parks in Istanbul do not disappoint. Isfanbul, formerly Vialand is a huge park with 24 major rides including a roller coast that reaches a speed of 110 km in just 3 seconds. Korsan Adasi at Viaport and Moipark at the Mall of Istanbul are also quite popular.
Visiting one of the water parks in Istanbul is a great way to beat the heat. Aqua Club Dolphin is the best of the bunch while Aqua Marine and Marina Aquapark Waterland come a close second. While much smaller, the Eser Diamond Hotel Water Park is very budget- friendly with free entrance for hotel guests.
If you’re into canopy ziplining, there a few adventure parks to the north called Xtreme Aventures and Forest Kemerburgaz. If you want an adventure behind the wheel, you’ll find numerous go-karting tracks in almost every district, which offer both indoor and outdoor racing.
Animal lovers will rejoice in knowing how many options they have to visit Zoos in Istanbul. Whether you’re in mammals and big cats there’s Faruk Yalcin, Asian Park, and Jungle Istanbul. If you like reptiles there’s Timsah Park in Tuzla.
If you’re looking for a smaller, but more intimate experience there are many animal parks and petting zoos to explore like Ormanya Wildlife Park, Park of Istanbul, Adyos Forest Park, and Polonezkoy Zoo.
Have no fear, as the aquariums of Istanbul are near and chock-full of aquatic life. The Istanbul Aquarium, as well as Sea Life, are the most popular. The Emaar Aquarium tunnel tank is a sight to behold, while the Korsan Adasi Aquarium is a nice addition to the theme park collection.
At the Istanbul Dolphinarium, you can see live shows with dolphins, sea lions, and more.
Istanbul’s nightlife is vibrant. There are so many different party districts that it’s simply a matter of where you want to spend your time. The nightlife in Karakoy and Ortakoy offers up big clubs and wonderful views of the Bosphorus, whereas French Street and Nevizade Sokak have a more intimate, sit-down vibe.
No matter where you choose to party in Istanbul, one thing is certain. Expect to stay out late, perhaps until dawn.
If you’re hoping to buy a few things while on vacation, you’ll be happy to know shopping malls in Istanbul are big are numerous. Whatever brand you’re looking for, you’ll find it here.
The Mall of Istanbul is the largest commercial center in Istanbul and the entire country. Kanyon Mall brings together a fine selection of Turkey’s most famous brands alongside the best international ones, while Istanbul Cevahir has over six floors, which offers a versatile shopping experience. On top of that, there’s Istinye Park, Akmerkez, City’s, Forum, Galleria, Metrocity, and Zorlu Center to name just a few.
The markets in Istanbul invite you to take a walk, take amazing photos, sample some good sand bargain to your heart’s content.
Kapali Carsi, the Grand Bazaar is the biggest covered bazaar in the world. It includes 60 streets and over 5000 shops, where you can find any merchandise. Misir Carsisi is the famous Spice Bazaar with stalls full of piles of colorful ingredients, and their strong aroma.
It’s not just the malls and markets that are full of stores, as the shopping streets are just as numerous. The shops along Isikital Avenue go on for miles, as does those along Bagdat Avenue. Shopping in Nisantasi is also a wonderful experience.
What to Buy
From carpets to lanterns, to spices and Turkish delights, there’s so much to choose from at the city markets, while malls have every brand name you can desire. Turkey uses European sizes so be sure to download a handy size chart before shopping for shoes, jeans, dresses, and other clothing.
Why not treat yourself to some Turkish delights while shopping too, as these sweet delicacies come in all shapes in sizes with choices of pistachio, rosewater, orange, cinnamon, and more.
Probably the most famous pocket-size souvenir is the Blue Evil Eye Amulet. Made in the shape of a peacock feather or an eye, the amulet is meant to ward off evil spirits, and bring forth good luck.
Iznik ceramics are also quite popular. These are modern versions of beautiful, unique ceramic figures painted in shades of blue and red. You will encounter this specific style as decorations in all the historical places.