Istanbul travel guide

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Istanbul, bridging the East and West

One of the key elements that make this city such a magic place is its attractive geographic location between two continents, Europe and Asia. Here visitors will be captivated by a mixture of colours and scents that give a special touch to the city. Everything in Istanbul makes it seem as though it were a scene out of One Thousand and One Nights: colours, carpets, bazaars

Still today, the magnitude of two of the most significant empires in history is appraised in this ancient capital: the Ottoman Empire and the Byzantine Empire. For this reason, in 1985 the historical quarters of Istanbul were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

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Do not miss!

Hagia Sofia

This great architectural masterpiece is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the year 1985 and must be seen. As a symbol of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, both its structure and its decorative elements show the majesty of such empires and the civilisations that have marked the history of Istanbul. It was reconstructed by Emperor Justinian in the year 537, and became the core of Orthodox Christianity until the city was overtaken by the Ottomans in 1453, when the church was converted into a mosque. Later on in 1934, the founder of the Republic of Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ordered the building to be refurbished as a museum which can be visited nowadays.
Where: Sultanahmet Meydani, Eminönü
Tel: (+90) 212 522 0989
Opening hours: 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (except Monday)
Price: 20 TL

Topkapi Palace

It has become one of the most outstanding monuments in Istanbul, and turns the Sultanahmet suburb into one of the major historic city centres. It is located just behind Hagia Sofia dominating one of the main entrances to the Bosphorus, constituting a real citadel that for many years was inhabited by successive sultans and their harems.

Like Hagia Sofia, the palace was converted into a museum and is open to the public thanks to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. At the museum, a collection of jewellery and surprising treasures can be admired, which show the sumptuous life of the sultans of the time. In order to visit the Harem, which is a private area, a separate entrance ticket must be purchased.

Where: Cankurtaran Mh., 34122 Istanbul
Tel: (+90) 212 512 0480
Opening hours: 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (except Tuesday)

Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque is one of the most representative icons of the Istanbul landscape. It is one of the most well-known religious buildings all over the world and has become one of the most important tourist attractions in the city.

The building was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I to Ottoman architect Sedefkâr Mehmet. Its name is due to all of the “blue” tiles that embellish part of its interior. It is one of the only two mosques in Turkey that count with six minarets. Access is free although, like in all mosques, taking off your shoes before entering is mandatory and women must wear a veil.

Where: Sultanahmet Square

A night cruise in the Bosphorus

Without a doubt, one of the main enchantments of Istanbul is its location between two continents: Europe and Asia. One of the most attractive ways to have a glance at both sides is by taking a night cruise in the Bosphorus on a public ferry. It’s worth taking advantage of the opportunity to contemplate the lights of the night of the two continents at once, it’s really spectacular!

The Cisterns

This impressive underground water tank has pride in being one of the most visited tourist attractions in Istanbul. The ‘cisterns’ were built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the year 532. The structure is supported by 336 columns that are distributed in 12 rows over 143 metres. The most popular column is one that shows an effigy of Medusa.

Where: Yerebatan Caddesi, 13

Eyüp quarter

This suburb in the European area hosts the magnificent Sultan Eyüp mosque, which is located by the sea making a visit more appealing. Another place that deserves attention is the Pierre Loti cemetery located on top of a hill; to get up there, you can take the funicular that departs very close to the mosque.

Suleymaniye Hamam Turkish bath

These baths were constructed between 1550 and 1557 and are one of the two mixed baths that are found in the city. It is important to book in advance (they even have a transfer service to and from hotels). This is the ideal place to relax after walking around the city all day. In case you forget to bring your bathing suit, you’ll be offered one to be included in the ticket (€35). You can choose between different treatments and massages, and you’ll be invited to end the session with a tea in a wonderful atmosphere. Completing the circuit lasts approximately one and a half hours.

Where: Mimar Sinan Caddesi No:20 Süleymaniye
Tel: (+90) 212 519 5569 / (+90) 212 520 3410

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Eating out

Istanbul offers a rich and varied cuisine for its visitors, marked by the character of its surroundings, the legacy of imperial gastronomy and a deep-rooted traditional lifestyle. It should be taken into account that most establishments do not serve alcoholic beverages.

Galata Bridge

On both sides of the Galata Bridge a wide variety of small restaurants are found, where you’ll have the chance to enjoy exquisite grilled fish recently caught in the Bosphorus. Besides this, you’ll find plenty of snack bars where you can try the traditional fish sandwich: fish fillets on bread with raw onion, tomato and salt.

Taksim area

This area is the hub of the city, where the famous Istiklal Caddesi commercial avenue is found. It is permanently crowed with people. There are a large number of restaurants that offer all kinds of food.

Koftesi restaurant

This is likely to be one of the most popular restaurants in the Taksim quarter. It was inaugurated in 1920, and still remains to be one of the busiest establishments, frequented as much by visitors as by locals. Don’t miss out on trying the classic kofte izgara (Turkish meatballs), accompanied by piyaz (bean salad dressed with diced onion, shredded carrot, parsley and olive oil).

Where: Divanyolu Cadessi, 12, 34122 Istanbul
Tel: (+90) 212 520 0566

Dine by the Bosphorus

If you’re looking for a more intimate dinner, a good option is to go to a restaurant on the shores of the Bosphorus, whether on the European or Asian side. Most of the establishments scattered over this area specialise in fish and seafood, and many of them offer amazing water views.

Hocapasa area

The Hocapasa neighbourhood is filled with small restaurants where you can try different Turkish specialties at very reasonable prices. Many of these restaurants have tranquil outdoor terraces to enjoy a meal in a very pleasant atmosphere.

Eating in a Lokanta

A lokanta is a type of traditional tavern that can be found all over the city. Meals are quite reasonably priced and typical Turkish dishes can be tasted daily, such as iskender kebab (beef with tomato and butter) or lahmacun (a type of Turkish pizza).

Eating in the Sultanahmet area

Being a very touristic area, restaurants are mostly oriented towards its visitors. If you aren’t keen on trying the Turkish specialties, here you will find classic European cuisine. On the other hand, if you drop into the side streets you’ll be able to try the authentic Turkish gastronomy.
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Out shopping

There is no need to mention that bazaars are one of greatest attractions in Istanbul. The city wouldn’t be the same without an extension of narrow streets interlacing one another, in a jumble of stalls where almost everything is to be found, and filled with people coming from every corner of the world. To this mixture you have to add the colours and fragrances characterising these sites. At any rate, don’t think about buying anything without haggling over it… something that can become a nightmare!

Egyptian Bazaar of Istanbul

The Egyptian Bazaar, better known as the Spice Bazaar, is the ideal place to slow down, go for a stroll and be charmed by the fragrances and colours of these typical and indispensable condiments in the Turkish gastronomy. Its name is given by the fact that it was the place where formerly spices and articles coming from Egypt were sold. Nowadays, you can find all types of stores here.

Grand Bazaar, Kapali Çarsi

You can’t leave Istanbul without having visited the Great Bazaar, with its maze of intriguing narrow streets filled with a wide variety of stores. It is one of the biggest covered markets in the world, with more than fifty eight streets and more than four thousand stores. Each one of the streets is specialised in a certain product such as jewellery, carpets, spices and leather articles, among others.

Where: Çemberlita? Grand Bazaar
Opening hours: Monday – Saturday: 8:30 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

Kadikoy Bazaar

This bazaar in Kadikoy is held in one of the most traditional and cosmopolitan districts of Istanbul. It presents a multitude of stalls selling fruits, clothes, spices, leather articles and anything you can imagine.

Nisantasi district

This district is considered the centre point of fashion in the city, and is one of the most attractive zones to go out shopping. You’ll be able to find the most exclusive brands on some of the main avenues: Tesvikiye, Valikonagi, Abdi Ipekçi and Rumeli.

Purchasing a rug

There is a wide range of stores in Istanbul where rugs can be bought, but before starting, you have to know what you’re looking for and the quality you want: whether it is hand-made, the kinds of materials used, and so on. The price will depend on this. In almost all stores you will be offered a tea whilst you make your choice. The most important thing to do is to shop around to compare prices and qualities before making your purchase. One of the most popular stores is called Rincón de Fehmi, where you can find a great variety of kilims and rugs; in addition, you don’t have to bargain thanks to their fixed prices.

Sultanahmet district

This has become a tourist zone par excellence in the city. There are plenty of antiquities and craft shops.
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Kadikoy districtLocated in the Asian side of the city, this is the area where alternative people go out at night. There is a variety of bars that play rock music and smoking the traditional hookah is often allowed.

Turkish taverns

If you want to mix with the locals, the best thing to do is to drop into an authentic Turkish tavern, the so-called meyhane. These establishments serve raki, beer and wine, also they usually serve typical dishes such as succulent appetizers, kebabs and seasonal fruits. The most renowned Istanbul taverns are found in the Beyoglu district.

Terraces on the shores of the Bosphorus

The terraces along the shores of the Bosphorus are some of the most frequented places on summer nights. In many of them they only serve tea or coffee since they don’t have a license to sell alcohol.

Nevizade Sokak district

This zone is full of typically Turkish outdoor bars where you can have a drink whilst having a chat in a calm environment listening to all types of music. Also, the streets fill with people, who meet and chat in a friendly manner.

Taksim district

This is one of the most popular areas to go out at night. Whether you want to have dinner or have a drink with friends, this area is perfect to enjoy Istanbul’s nightlife.
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Uni-Rock Festival

This is a heavy metal outdoor festival that attracts more than forty thousand people every year, who congregate in the Kucukciftlik park. Fans of heavy metal music will be able to enjoy performances over three days made by the most famous international bands on the scene.

When: September 9 – September 11, 2011
Where: Kucukciftlik park

Akbank Jazz Festival

This festival is held every year and brings to Istanbul world-wide figures of jazz. Besides well-known names, this festival makes room for the up and coming talents of jazz, who see an opportunity to introduce themselves into the professional circuit. In 2011, a young talents contest by the name JAmZZ will take place for the first time.

When: September 13 – October 23, 2011

Istanbul International Biennial

As its name reveals, this event is celebrated every two years and compiles diverse categories such as music, theatre and fine arts. It is the most important artistic event of Istanbul, and takes place in different historic buildings spread all over the city, which honours its motto: “Contemporary Art in traditional sites”.

When: September 17 – November 13, 2011


This festival is focused on the diverse expressions of contemporary art where dance, theatre, music and other artistic events take place. The program includes several performances made in public spaces, as well as debates, workshops and lots more for contemporary art lovers.

When: September 30 – October 21, 2011

Contemporary Istanbul

This festival is Turkey’s main event dedicated to contemporary art. Its main objective is promoting as well as presenting the country’s culture and artistic life to contribute to its development.

Over a few days, Istanbul becomes a meeting point for national and international art gallerists, worldwide artists, collectors, art critics, and so on.

When: November 24 – November 27, 2011
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Tourist Information Offices

Get further information from the tourist offices in Istanbul.

Özkutan Turizm
Where: Kocatepe Mah., Taksim Cad. No: 55 Sakarya Apt., K:2 -taksim, Taksim, Istanbul
Tel: (+90) 212 235 5950

Universal Turizm
Where : Tesvikiye Mh., Ferah Sokak 19, Istanbul
Tel: (+90) 212 246 7401

T.o.u.r.a.g. Turizm
Where : Merkez Mh., Sagdiç Sokak 32, Istanbul

Turkish Facts

Language: Turkish | Money: Turkish Lira | Electricity: 230 volts at 50Hz | Time: GMT +2 (Summer:  GMT +3) | Country code: +90 Documentation: Passports must be valid for at least six months from date of arrival in Turkey, except nationals of Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands and Spain, who can enter with a national ID card (which must have a validity of minimum 3 months) people from others countries need a visa.

Tuesday 20 September 2011 15:57 | Published by Hotelopiauk | Categoriy: Travel News

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