Truly, there is no other city like Istanbul. Spanning two continents (Asia and Europe), this bustling and busy city also offers the traveler a beguiling mix of traditional and modern, the historical and the fanciful, the laid-back, and the adventurous. Western and Oriental, the ordinary and the magical, the mysterious and exotic, all mix with the everyday ordinariness of things. These, and, oh, so much more, are what you can expect from Istanbul. Oh, yes, the city has numerous faces to show to the visitor, and all of them are equally interesting!
Istanbul can be no less than this. After all, it was once the heart of not just one but numerous majestic empires (Christian Byzantine, the Roman Empire, and Islamic Ottoman). During its heyday, it wielded extraordinary power as the historical, economic and cultural capital of Turkey. The illustrious city figured in many a historical moment. In its modern setting today, you can still see the legacy that its status as a capital of great empires has afforded it. Add to this the fact that it stands on two continents, and you will realize that Istanbul is a melting pot in the truest sense of the world.
Thus, you have your ruins, churches and mosques, breathtaking palaces and bath-houses (hamams) interspersed with the most modern shopping malls, chic boutiques, up and coming nightclubs and bars and skyscrapers. We tell you, the city’s many attractions will keep you busy for a long while.
What’s more, it was, in its heyday – and even until now, an important military post and shipping port. It wielded its power and influence as a center of world trade. Istanbul, and the rest of Turkey, still bears some of the scars from the wars that were fought just to gain this coveted site. Today, Istanbul stands as one of the largest cities in Europe and even the world. It is also Turkey’s largest city, with a population of around 12 to 19 million. So, come on, delve into the magic and splendor that is Istanbul. We guarantee, once you get to know this city, you’ll fall under its spell. Simply Istanbul aims to give you all the information you need to know to make your vacation to Istanbul an unforgettable one. Let this be your travel guide as you explore this wonderful city. In here, you will see many useful facts that will ensure that you experience Istanbul in the best way possible. Get to know the city, its illustrious history, the beauty it offers and the multi-faceted, yet ever colorful views. In this travel guide, you can get practical information for a host of topics, such as the background of the city, its major sights, and itineraries, its fascinating architecture.
Let’s get you organized! There are some things you should also know to help ensure that you have a good time, with nary a care in the world. As you have your fill of the different sights, sounds, tastes, and experiences that Istanbul has to offer, here are important tourist information you should keep in mind. Feel free to visit other pages in our Istanbul travel guide for more information about Istanbul.
Shops usually are open on Mondays through Saturdays, starting from 9:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Some shops also close at around 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. for siesta time. Palaces and other sights such as museums have various opening and closing times and there are also days when they are closed. It will be helpful to check whether the museum or palace you plan to visit is open. Also, there may be mosques are closed for prayer and services. As for banks, they are usually open on weekdays (Mondays through Fridays) from 8:30 up until 5:00 p.m. Shops and other establishments may also be closed during religious holidays.
If you are to bring an electric appliance, be sure that it runs on 220 volts, using two-prong plugs (round European). Otherwise, you may need a transformer or an adapter.
Consider yourself warned. As much as possible, try not to drink the tap water. It’s best to bring a bottle of mineral water everywhere you go. When eating fruits and salads, be sure that these are thoroughly washed.
Turkey uses EET or Eastern European Time (GMT + 2), for summer, the rule is EEST or Eastern European Summer Time, which is one hour ahead.
Check that your phone is tri-band or quad-band GSM, as these will work everywhere in Istanbul and the rest of the country. The code for Turkey is 90. As for Istanbul, you should note that it is probably the only city in the country that uses two codes. For the Asian side and the Princes’ Islands, the codes is 216 while for the European side, the code is 212. To make a call within the city, use 0 + the area code (216 or 212) + 7 + the phone number you want to call.
The key is to bring a lot of coins. When you need to use the loo (valet in Turkish), you may need to pay the “toll”. Also, try not to flush toilet paper down the toilet, as this may wreak havoc on their plumbing.
The language predominantly used is Turkish, but most areas speak and understood English, and sometimes, French and German.
Tips are expected virtually everywhere. Bellhops, waiters, bath attendants, and tour guides expect tokens of appreciation. The key is to bring lots of coins and small bills.
There are some establishments that offer free wireless internets – such as fast-food places (Burger King or McDonald’s), some restaurants and cafes, especially those along Istiklal and Cihangir. You can also get access to the internet at Internet cafes.
As a visitor to the country, you are expected to respect the customs and mores of the country. Important religious customs are to be observed with the proper decorum. Remember to dress modestly, particularly if you plan to visit mosques and religious places. Also, during Ramadan, try to be inconspicuous about your eating, drinking and smoking, especially during the daytime.
The currency in use is the New Turkish Lira. You can have your money exchanged into local money at banks, airports, money changers, and post offices. Of course, the banks would have lower exchange rates. US dollars and the Euro, as well as most credit cards (especially the major ones), are accepted at most shops. If you are using Traveler’s Checks, these can be exchanged at money changer booths and banks.
Here is a list of some banks.
ABN AMRO Bank (www.wholesale.abnamro.com)
Alternatif Bank (www.abank.com.tr)
Arap Turk Bank (www.arabturkbank.com)
Banca di Roma (www.bancaroma.it)
Bank Mellat (www.mellatbank.com)
BankPozitif Kalkinma Bank (www.bankpozitif.com.tr)
Calik Yatirim Bank (www.calikbank.com.tr)
Calyon Bank Turk (www.calyon.com.tr)
Deutsche Bank (www.deutschebank.com.tr)
Diler Yatirim Bank (www.dilerbank.com.tr)
Finans Bank (www.finansbank.com.tr)
Fortis Bank (www.fortis.com.tr)
Garanti Bank (www.garanti.com.tr)
GSD Yatirim Bank (www.gsdbank.com.tr)
Habib Bank Limited (www.habibbank.com.tr)
HSBC Bank (www.hsbc.com.tr)
Is Bank (www.isbank.com.tr)
JPMorgan Chase Bank (www.jpmorgan.com)
Millennium Bank (www.millenniumbank.com.tr)
MNG Bank (www.mngbank.com.tr)
Nurol Yatirim Bank (www.nurolbank.com.tr)
Oyak Bank (www.oyakbank.com.tr)
Societe Generale www.sgcib.com
Taib Yatirim Bank (www.yatirimbank.com.tr)
Tat Yatirim Bank (www.tatbank.com.tr)
Tekstil Bank (www.tekstilbank.com.tr)
Turk Ekonomi Bank (www.teb.com.tr)
Turkish Bank (www.turkishbank.com)
WestLB AG (www.westlb.com)
Yapi Kredi Bank (www.ykb.com.tr)
Districts And Landmarks
Istanbul has a number of districts, each with their own distinct personalities. It would also help to remember that the city straddles both Asia and Europe, and thus each side is imbibed with its own set of characteristics. Add to this the fact that there is a major waterway (the Bosphorus Strait) that divides the city into two. The European side is then further separated from the rest by the Halic or better known in English as the Golden Horn.
The city itself is divided into three major areas – the historic peninsula (including Fatih and Eminonu), the Kadikoy and Uskudar quarter and the Beyoglu and Besiktas neighborhoods. These are then divided into smaller districts. There are actually 27 districts in the Istanbul city proper.
To the south of the Golden Horn are some of the remains of the Byzantine walls and makeup what is known as Old Istanbul or the Historic Peninsula. This is where you will find Fatih and Eminonu. The more schizophrenic counterparts of Besiktas and Beyoglu are to the Golden Horn’s north. It’s schizophrenic because it holds a mixture of the old and the new.
Old Istanbul is where you can find most of the vestiges of the empires that were – the Roman, the Classical, the Ottoman, and the Byzantine. This is where you can find the seven hills that figure prominently in the establishment of the city of Constantinople. Emperor Constantine wanted this city to also be founded on seven hills, just like Rome.
At Eminonu, you will find the smaller districts of Kumkapi, Sultanahmet, Sarayburnu (or Seraglio Point) and Cankurtaran. Sultanahmet is by far the most popular district, as this is where most of the historic sites are located. Here you will find the Hippodrome, the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Sarayburnu, on the other hand, is where you’ll find the Topkapi Palace. This is also where the Golden Horn, the Marmara Sea, and the Bosphorus meet. Still, in Eminonu, you will find the districts of Cemberlitas, Laleli, Suleimaniye, and Divanyolu.
The Fatih area, on the other hand, is where you will find the Fatih Mosque. Fatih is also home to the following neighborhoods: Eyup, Ayvansaray, Yenikapi, Fener, Balat, Edirnekapi, Yedikule and Sahil Yolu.
Opposite the Old City, across the Bosphorus, are the districts of Beyoglu, Galata, Karakoy, Tophane, Pera and Tunel. The Beyoglu Quarter is linked to the Old City via the Galata Bridge and the Ataturk Bridge. It is where you can find structures built in the Belle Époque era. Galata, meanwhile, is a neighborhood half-enclosed by the Byzantine walls. Pera is where you will find the famed hub for Istanbul nightlife, Istiklal Caddesi. Going further are the quarters of Cukurcuma and Cihangir. Going northwards from Taksim, you will find more tony neighborhoods, such as Nisantasi, Harbiye, and Macka (which is Istanbul’s answer to Wall Street). The districts facing the waterfront are now relaxing residential areas when once these were fishing coves. These residential neighborhoods include Istinye, Emirgan, Rumeli Hisari, Aravutkoy, Sariyer, Rumeli Kavadi, and Bebek.
Whew! There are so many, and that is just on the European Side!
As for the Asian side, you will see that these are more about residential neighborhoods, dotted with some mosque and historical monuments. Here, you can visit the districts of Uskudar, Kadikoy, Bagdat Caddesi, Kanlica and Beylerbeyi Sarayi.