Istanbul is Turkey’s largest city and a powerful economic, cultural and social centre. Istanbul is half on the European side of Turkey, while a third of the population lives on the Asian side of the country. Beyond the historical events, Istanbul is a modern city that seamlessly combines Eastern tradition with a modern Western mindset. If you wish to take a romantic stroll along the Bosphorus, visit the Hagia Sophia and buy spices from the various flea markets, then Istanbul will steal your thunder!
The history of Istanbul begins in 667 BC where it was the location of the Greek city of Byzantium. At the founding of the Byzantine Empire, Emperor Constantine moved the center of the Empire there, and named it Constantinople in his honor. This particular city was chosen for geostrategic reasons, as it is a crossroads between Europe and Asia.
During the years of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople experienced incredible growth and glory, as it was the centre of the world at that time. Moreover, it was the centre of the Greek element and the base of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In 1453, the city passed into the hands of the Ottoman Empire, and today its official name is Istanbul, as it was officially named by the Turkish Republic in 1930. Today, the city is one of the most populous cities in the world with 15.52 million inhabitants, and more than 40 million tourists visit Turkey annually.
Istanbul is full of historical sites, which date back to the Byzantine Empire. The Church of St. Sophia is one of the greatest symbols of Orthodoxy and dominates the city centre.
Turkish cuisine features flavours of the East and has much in common with Greek cuisine. All dishes of the Polish cuisine have strong spices with a special emphasis on spicy ones. Don’t miss the opportunity to try the well-known specialties Hunkar Begendi, Tavuk Gogsu, Kebap and lahmacun. In the dessert section, don’t miss to try Turkish baklava and kaimaki ice cream. To accompany your meal, go for Turkish tea or coffee, which is similar to Greek tea but with a stronger taste. Finally, in every corner of Istanbul you will find shops offering hookahs.
Istanbul has many options for nightlife, from traditional shops with live music to modern clubs with western sounds. The Kadikoy area has several bars and clubs, while many options can also be found in Taksim Square. If you want to experience an authentic Turkish night with oriental rhythms choose places with live music and often belly dancers. In addition, one of the most special things to do during your stay in Istanbul is to watch the dance of the spinning dervishes, which is a mystical dance performed by followers of Sufism to get closer to God.
The currency of Turkey is the Turkish lira and 1 euro is equivalent to 6.64 pounds.
Istanbul is one hour ahead of Greek time and the country’s telephone code is 0090.
The city has two airports: the Sabiha Gokcen International Airport (ISG), which is 44.8 kilometres from the city centre, and Istanbul International Airport (IST), which is 40.7 kilometres away.
Istanbul Getting around Istanbul
Istanbul has a modern metro system complemented by state and private buses (tel: (0212) 245 0720; www.iett.gov.tr/en). Trams run from the city centre to the surrounding suburbs.
Rail lines reach to Atatürk Airport, the main bus station and Aksaray, Haydarpasa Terminal and the suburb of Gebze. Information on rail, metro and tram services can be obtained from Istanbul Ulasim (tel: (0212) 568 9970; www.istanbululasim.com.tr).
A different and nostalgic mode of transport are the cable cars that connect Kabatas to Taksim, the Nostaljik Tramvay line which runs on Istiklal Caddesi, the Tünel underground line, built in 1877, which travels up the steep hill between Karaköy and Istiklal Caddesi, and the small circular tram between Kadiköy and Moda
Istanbul Getting around the city Passenger ferries travel the Keratian Bay and the Bosphorus. Tickets are obtained from the kiosks at the platforms. The Deniz Otobusu (sea buses) (tel: (0212) 444 4436; www.ido.com.tr/en) offers faster but more expensive transport.
Dolmus minibuses have specific routes through Istanbul and the suburbs. You can stop them wherever you want and pay the driver when you board.
Taxis can stop almost anywhere and at any time in Istanbul. The Turks usually don’t tip, but the drivers hope to receive from tourists. Ask for the meter (taximeter) to be turned on, as required by law.
Reliable taxi companies are
- Canlicar Turizm Telsiz Taksi (tel: (0216) 318 1859),
- Istanbul Transfer (tel: (0212) 516 7701)
- Zincirlikuyu Taksi (tel: (0212) 272 3625)
Transfer costs from Istanbul airport
There is no predetermined fare for a taxi from Istanbul Airport to the city centre. Instead, the cost of your transfer will be determined based on the istanbul airport taxi meter reading, depending on the distance you travel.
The total price will therefore be around 30€ during the day and 35€ at night. However, the fare may increase significantly due to the heavy and daily traffic on the streets of Istanbul and extra charges may be imposed for waiting time and luggage. Therefore, the only way to be sure to secure a fixed price for your transfer and to avoid any stress and anxiety is to book your Istanbul airport taxi in advance.
Istanbul suffers from traffic congestion. Navigating the streets is difficult, driving standards are poor, and it is generally neither advisable nor necessary for tourists to drive in the city. Drivers must be over 21 years of age and have held a licence for at least one year.
The newest, New Istanbul Airport, is located on the European side, 35 kilometres from the centre, by Taksim. It has a metro and buses, but expect it to take quite a while (keep this in mind, especially when leaving. We’re not about missing flights… ).
Most major airlines land there.
Sabiha, the second airport, is located on the Asian side of Istanbul, 50 kilometers from the center. From there you take a bus, which will drop you off in Taksim (about 1 hour ride).
Pegasus lands at Sabiha, which many people choose for the trip.