Istanbul Travel Guide

Explore Istanbul

Strategically located at the magical meeting point of East and West, Istanbul is truly a city of contrast and diversity. With a population of almost 15 million people, it’s one of the biggest and most vibrant cities in the world yet it isn’t quite as overwhelming or chaotic as other megapolis.

When you’re wandering amidst its centuries-old monuments, shopping in the aromatic souks or relaxing at one of its çay bahçesis (tea gardens), the big-city buzz disappears and you’ll find yourself surrounded by friendly locals and serene greenery.


Top Things to Do

Hagia Sofia

Originally used as a Greek Orthodox basilica (from 537 AD to 1453), this magnificent building was later converted into an Ottoman mosque. Since 1935, it has been secularized and used as a museum. Today, it’s the number one attraction in Istanbul and the focal point of the historic area.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque

Popularly known as the Blue Mosque, this strikingly beautiful mosque was constructed between 1609 and 1616, but it continues to function as a mosque today. Magnificent hand-painted blue tiles adorn the mosque’s interior walls, and at night the mosque is bathed in blue as its domes and minarets are lit up.

Topkapi Palace

For almost 400 years (from 1465 to 1856), this enormous palace was the major residence of the Ottoman sultans. At its peak, it was home to almost 4,000 people. Today, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage and popular museum containing important relics of the Muslim world, including Muhammed’s cloak and sword.

Grand Bazaar

One of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, the Grand Bazaar is packed to the brim with dizzying rows of souvenir stands, sweets stalls and antique shops. With 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops, it’s more of a tourist attraction than shopping spot.

Galata Tower

Another major landmark of the city, the Galata is a 9-story medieval stone tower with a cone-capped cylinder that dominates the skyline and offers a panoramic vista of Istanbul’s historic peninsula and Bosphorous. There is a restaurant and night club on its upper floors which command a magnificent view of Istanbul and the Bosphorus.

Where to Eat and Drink

Turks take their food seriously good food is a must, and bad food a disgrace. Restaurants in Istanbul are not only the best in the country but also have the widest range of mezes (small platters of food), kebabs and rakı (grape spirit infused with anise). With a large Muslim population, Istanbul has no shortage of fully-certified halal restaurants.


RECOMMENDED PLACES TO EAT

Koço Meyhane

A local’s favorite perched on the Bosphorous waterfront, this Muslim-owned restaurant has been voted as the best halal restaurant in Istanbul with fresh from-the-sea food and Mediterranean style appetizers.

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Mezze by Lemon Tree

Intimate yet down-to-earth, this small restaurant has been voted one of the best restaurants in town for good reasons: its mezes are rich in flavor and history, and never fail to surprise diners.

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Giritli Restoran

This romantic seafood restaurant on a quiet corner in the Sultanahmet district is full most nights with both locals and tourists, thanks to the fixed-price menu that includes bottomless glasses of local wine, raki or beer.

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Kantin

A modern and cheap bistro that focuses on fresh, organic ingredients, Kantin is the place to go for low-cost comfort food. Besides the restaurant, they also have a spanking new food store where fresh salads, pastries, meatballs, and schnitzels are on sale.

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Ciya

This household name traces its humble beginnings back to 1987 when it started as a small kebab stall. Now the brand has three restaurants in the fish market district of Kadiköy, serving up traditional Turkish fare as well as Azerbaiijani, Georgian Arabic and Ottoman dishes.

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Recommended Places to Stay

Four Seasons at Sultanahmet

Poised in the heart of the Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet district, this upscale heritage hotel was a former prison, but now one of the best hotels in Istanbul.

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Hotel Sultania

Get transported back to the Ottoman Empire and live in a modern-day harem at the Hotel Sultania. Each of the 43 luxury rooms here are named after famous Sultan’s wives and lavishly designed with traditional Ottoman touches.

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The House Hotel Bosphorus

This affordable luxury hotel consists of 26 rooms and suites in a 19th-century Ottoman mansion at the foot of the Bosphorus Bridge.

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Hanedan Hotel

Located on the Old Town’s main tourist drag, Akbiyik Caddesi, this is the best budget choice with a cozy, family feel. Decked out in polished wood floors and chiffon-draped four-poster beds, the rooms are simple but comfortable.

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Best Time to Go

Blessed with four distinct seasons, Istanbul is best visited in spring (April to May) and fall (September to October) when tourist crowds have diminished, rates have dropped and weather is pleasant. Temperatures are around 12 to 20ºC during this time of the year, and there can be a big difference between daytime and nighttime temperature.

Be sure to bring a jacket for the chilly evenings. Winter months tend to be the cheapest time to visit, thought temperature can drop to as low as 2 to 4ºC. Istanbul never gets too hot in summer, with the highest temperature usually at 28 or 30ºC.


Getting There

Many airlines fly from Saudi Arabia to Istanbul, including Qatar, fly Dubai, and Turkish Airlines. You can easily find direct flights, which take 4-5 hours to get to Istanbul.

Getting from Airport to City
  • By Train

    The city’s Metro connects Istanbul Ataturk Airport with the city center every 15-20 minutes from about 6:00 till 23:00. You’ll need to change to the local tram to get to the Old Town. A single fare costs 2.50 TRY.

  • By Bus

    Havatas run air-conditioned buses from the airport to Taxsim Square, from where you can transfer to a tram to get to the Old Town. The bus runs every 30 minutes, it takes 40 minutes and a single fare costs 11 TRY.

  • By Taxi

    Taxis are the most expensive way to get to the city center and might not be the fastest due to traffic. A one-way trip from the Ataturk Airport to Istanbul’s historic center should cost between 40 and 45 TRY.



Extra tips
  • In Istanbul, Turkish is the official language. English is mainly spoken by the younger generation in Istanbul.

  • The currency in Turkey is the Lira (TRY). The current exchange rate is 1 SAR to 0.79 TRY.

  • The outlets in Turkey supply 220 volts at 50 hertz.

  • The outlets in Turkey use round-prong European plugs.