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Istanbul Tourism And Travel Guide
5.9° C / 42.6° F
April to September
5 to 7 Days
Ataturk International Airport
Haydarpasa Railway Station
The land of Turks, the erstwhile empire of the Ottoman, the hub of spices and textiles, Istanbul is a unique mix of culture, history and progress. What is peculiar about this city, is that despite being a majorly Islam-dominated land, it does not force its way of life on others. Tourists here are, contrary to other middle-eastern Islamic cities, free to dress as they like. The locals too have embraced western customs and food and dresses with open arms, confining to their own traditions in their hearts. That is why Istanbul is what ‘East meets West’ means. Tourism in Istanbul is meant to be a whirlwind romance with all of the above and more. Read this travel guide to explore Istanbul through our lens and plan your next holiday with its help.
How to Reach
Istanbul is not the contemporary capital of Turkey, and yet it holds all the might of one. When you wish to fly to the country, you are welcomed at the International airport of Istanbul more often that not. There are other ways to get here as well.
Direct flights ply from Delhi and Mumbai to Ataturk International Airport (Istanbul). Connecting flights from Bangalore and Chennai are also available. Airlines that operate on these routes are Turkish Airlines, Air India, Etihad and Oman Air.
You can drive into Istanbul from Asia. You can take the road from India to Pakistan and then onwards to Tehran. Or you are welcome to cross the borders into Turkey from Greece, Romania or Bulgaria. India to Turkey is a 12-day long road journey and not recommended for everyone as it is full of hassle.
You can take a train to Istanbul from any of the big cities of Istanbul like Ankara, Antalya or Izmir. Trains from European countries also come to Istanbul. The city also boasts of subway trains for internal commute. There is a high speed train from Istanbul to Ankara as well.
Most Mediterranean cruise ships have Istanbul as a grand stop. They dock in the Karakoy Port and tourists get a day or two for exploration of the city. You can also reach Istanbul by ferrying across the Bosphorus from the Asian side of Istanbul.
Getting Around in Istanbul:
In the big city of Istanbul, you can get around by hailing yellow-coloured cabs, dialling up for taxis or booking a car for all your transportation. Local public transport include subways, buses and trams (in some areas like Taksim square).
Weather and Best Time to Visit
Turkey sees a freezing winter and a sultry summer. Yet, the best time to visit it falls in summer, spring and autumn.
Spring (March to May):
The Tulips bloom all around Istanbul and chill dissipates to tingly warmth. With temperature range of 18-27°C, Istanbul sees longer days through March, April and May. The dry weather, coupled with pleasantness and blooming season makes Istanbul a tourists’ paradise in Spring. Since this is the shoulder season, some discounts can be expected.
Summer (June to September):
Summer marks the peak of the tourist season in Istanbul. The months from June to September are also some of the most bright long sunny days that bring the locals out and about in all their glory. There is shopping, there are feasts, there are hamams and strolls by the sea to soak in as much sun as possible. Sometimes the temperatures do touch the 40 mark but are bearable.
Autumn (October to November):
Autumn brings chill back to Istanbul, making a quiet transition to winter. In the months of October and November, the temperatures again drop to almost 15°C lows at night, leaves and trees dry, and tourists thin away. This is a great time for discounts and deals as you get to explore Turkey at your leisure and at lower prices.
Winter (December to February):
Turkey sees freezing winters and Istanbul is no exception. With an average range of 8-12°C, Istanbul life slows down and creeps languidly with feeble sunlight and short, cold days. Though the highlight of this time is the Christmas decorations and celebrations that grip the markets, just as brightly as the New Year or Mutlu Yillar celebrations do. For first time visitors, winter might not be the best time to visit.
Things to Do
Take a Turkish Bath:
The hamam or Turkish bath is a communal bath area dedicated to a long, languid ablution. Starting with heated air to make you sweat out all the dirt and grime, the process further entails either a dip in a small pool or pouring cold water over the body to cleanse. Istanbul has some of the best hamams in the country - Aga Hamami, Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamam, Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam and the Four Seasons on the Bosphorus.
Tour the Mosques and Palaces:
Istanbul is home to many a stunning palaces and breath-taking mosques. Start with the famous ones like Aya Sofiya, the Topkapi Palace and the Blue mosque each of which represent Istanbul in some way or the other. Then take a tour of the Dolmabahce Palace, Sulemaniye Mosque, Yildiz palace, Mihrimah Sultan Mosque and Yeni Valide Mosque.
Stroll by the Sea:
You can picnic by the Black Sea, relax with your beloved as sun sets or buy some finger foods from vendors and feed the seagulls while snacking yourself. Istanbul City Port and Bosphorus promenade make for good strolling areas where families, friends, lovers come down for some quiet time. Do make sure to enjoy Simit bread and coffee/tea while at the seaside, along with ekmek (sandwiches) if you are looking for a heavier snack.
Hunt down cafes in Galata:
The Galata neighbourhood can be called an offbeat tourist place because of the haunt that it is for the locals. So you can experience all the local cafes, shopping warehouses and boutiques that the people of Istanbul enjoy. You can climb up Galata Tower and enjoy a meal at the rooftop hotel there, stroll along the neighbourhood, drop in at cafes like Old Java Coffee Roasters, Galata Konak Cafe, Velvet Cafe etc or head to the Eminonu waterfront for a quick glance through the flea markets.
Explore the Asian side of Istanbul:
The Asian part of Istanbul is a majorly residential district. Üsküdar, one of the oldest neighbourhoods here hosts some very good cafes, joints, bars and clubs. Go sightseeing to Kiz Kunesi or Maiden’s Tower, check out the graffiti-painted walls and buildings, and enjoy a whole new energy emanated from the dynamic districts of Kadıköy. Shopping is good in Bağdat Street, while Fenerbahçe is a good place to have a long, leisurely breakfast by the marina.
The food in Istanbul is delicious, to say the least. Eating in Turkey is said to be a communal affair, one that convenes friends and family, even for the most simplest everyday dinner. Eat their favourites when in Istanbul, from menemen (omelettes) to ekmek (crusty bread that is soft on the inside). Try the shorba stews and koftes as well as simit pretzels and sunflower seeds to snack on. Some of the best places to eat in Istanbul are Karakoy Gulluoglu for Baklava, Ciya Sofrasi and Hayvore for traditional Turkish delicacies and Antiochia for kebabs. Also do try dondurma ice-creams, boreks, teas, Turkish coffees and ayran.
Two of Istanbul’s biggest markets are the Spice Bazaar (also known as Egyptian Bazaar) and the Grand Bazaar. The former is famous for spices of all kinds, exotic spice mixes, nuts, dried fruits, freshly ground Turkish coffee and more, while the latter houses everything from carpets, hand-woven Turkish rugs, textiles to glass ware and lanterns to blue ming pottery items. Textiles and linens are also vastly traded in Grand Bazaar, which is a closed market with maze-like lanes and hundreds of shops. Bargaining is a must in most Turkish shops; in fact, the shopkeepers enjoy the haggling.