Istanbul has got to be one of my favourite cities to visit. It is one of those places that has so much to offer and one you can visit over and over. There is so much to say about Istanbul that I will be writing this blog post in 2 parts. Check back soon to check out the second part.
“If the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.” – Napoleon
Getting There: Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey and sits right between Europe and Asia. I personally love reading about the history of any place I visit and Istanbul has a long and varied history due to it’s unique location. It is is the only city in the world that sits in two continents and has been part of numerous empires.
Istanbul has an Asian side and a European side. The European side is more popular with tourists as it is the commercial and historical centre with more well known attractions. The Asian side is more residential and is also worth a visit in order to get a true picture of the entire city. The two sides are separated by Bosphorus River, which offers the most beautiful waterside views.
Istanbul has 2 international airports and they are currently building a new airport that is set to be the busiest airport in the world. Istanbul is very easy to fly to from London. Numerous flights leave daily from Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. You can also easily get flights from Luton, Manchester and Birmingham. Obviously flight prices depend on when you are travelling. If you are able to travel off peak or during a weekday you can find flights for around £100. Otherwise during peak times you are looking at paying above £200 per person. The flight from London takes around 3 and a half hours.
The Istanbul Ataturk Airport is on the European side of the city and as such is more popular to fly into for visitors. From the airport there are a range of options for transfers to your accommodation including taxi, busses and the metro. We were picked up by the staff of our hotel, although it was an additional fee it made our transfer easier and is worth asking about when booking your accommodation.
Visa: British travellers need a visa to enter Istanbul. The visa needs to be applied for before travelling and can very easily be applied for online. The visa costs around £20 per person. For more information and to apply for the visa go to to official website – https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/
Accommodation: Like with any popular city Istanbul has an array of accommodation options depending on your preference and price. There are numerous different hotels, hostels and Airbnb throughout the city. You also want to look at what side and area of Istanbul you want to stay in depending on what you want to be close to. We stayed in a hotel in Sultanahmet, which is known as the Old City and is close to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace. Other popular areas include Galata and Bosphorus.
Weather: The summer months in Istanbul are warm and humid with very little rain. Winter months can be cold and wet with some snow. Spring and autumn are mild and this the most popular time for tourists to visit. I have visited Istanbul in the Spring with pleasant temperatures of around 15 degrees Celsius. I have also visited in Winter when it was cold and snowed, with temperatures around 2 degrees. Although it was cold we wrapped up and still headed out to see all the amazing places the city has to offer.
Language: Turkish is the official language in Istanbul, but many people speak English and are able to assist you if you require. Many street signs and notices are also in English.
Currency and Price: The currency used in Istanbul is the Turkish Lira. At the time of writing this post the exchange rate is about 7 Lira to £1. Although in recent years Istanbul has gotten more expensive, I personally found Istanbul to be quite reasonably priced. There is a huge variety in Istanbul and depending on what your budget is you can really shop around to find cheaper flights, hotel and food. There are also a few free attractions to visit if you are on a budget like the stunning Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar.
Safety: I personally found Istanbul to be safe to explore both during the day and at night. Obviously like with all busy cities you have to be careful with your belongings from pickpockets. Also with other popular cities some people will try and scam tourists into paying more for things like taxis.
Transport: Istanbul is the kind of place that is best explored on foot. As you walk through the streets you can find all kinds of beautiful buildings and quirky cafes. You can arrange to join different walking or cycling tours across the city if you prefer to have a guide. I personally was more than happy to use a map to navigate around the city myself and found it very easy.
If you need to move from one area to another then the easiest way would be to use public transport. The metro and tram system connects the city very well and means its easy for visitors to move around the city easily. You can purchase the Istanbulkart, which works on the metro, buses, and trams and offers lower fares on all forms of public transport. Public transport stops during the night so you can instead use taxis.
You can also hire a car but I wouldn’t say you really need to unless you are driving to other parts of Turkey.
We also paid for the Istanbul Sightseeing Bus Tour. Although it was a little pricey (£30.00) it was very useful and easy for us to move and travel to the main attractions. We got on the bus early in the morning and spent the whole day moving around the city, jumping off when we wanted to go and see certain attractions and then jumping back on the bus once we were done.
Food: Alhamdullilah with Turkey being a Muslim country the food is all Halaal. Some places do serve alcohol so you may want to ask before eating there if you prefer.
There is so much to eat in Istanbul with a variety of different restaurants, cafe’s, bakeries and vendors. Walking around the streets of Istanbul you will find so many different places to eat. The staff stand outside often trying entice you in. Once again where you want to eat depends on your budget and preference. You have a range of popular meals including doner, kebab, lahmacun, kofte, mezze and borek. I would also recommend trying a traditional Turkish breakfast. Of course all the well known fast food places like McDonald’s and Pizza Hut are also available and Halaal.
There are also lots of great bakeries and coffee houses that offer the perfect way to rest when your exploring the city. They sell all kinds of delicious cakes and pastries and of course Turkish teas and coffees. When in Istanbul we were staying close to a well known chain called ‘Mado’ and visited there frequently during our trip. It offers a range of different delicious meals and sweet dishes including kanafeh, baklava and Turkish ice cream.
Another place that we visited often was the very popular Hafiz Mustafa. Again they had the most delicious sweet treats and hot drinks, although it is a bit more expensive then other places the quality and standard is worth paying for in my opinion.
Masjid: Alhamdullilah another great thing with Turkey being a Muslim country there are lots of Masjid’s around Istanbul. It is very easy to find somewhere for both men and women to pray whilst you travel around the city. In my second blog post I will be sharing some of my favourite masjid’s in the city, which not only offer a place to pray but also some incredible architecture and designs.
Be sure to check out part two of my Istanbul blog post which will be all about the incredible places to visit and things to do in Istanbul 😀