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Maximize Your Stay In Istanbul By Going Around The City Without Getting Lost

During the height of this city’s glory, truly all roads led to it.  After all, it served as the capital for several great empires.  Even up to now, you still can have easy access to Istanbul and to Turkey.

Your options would be to get into Istanbul by plane, by bus or train, and by ship or ferry.  The local carrier (Turkish Airlines), as well as most major international airlines, offer non-stop flights to Turkey.  The city has two international airports, one on each side.  On the European side is the Sabiha Gokcen Airport and on the Asian side is the Ataturk Airport.

If you are already in Europe and are thinking of going by land, there are highways that provide a link to most European cities – Germany, France, Bulgaria, Greece, Syria, Russia, Romania, and even Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria are but a land trip away from Istanbul.  As for bus trips to Istanbul, you will find that when you are in Turkey, there are a great number of luxury buses that ply the roads to Istanbul.  You don’t need to make your reservations.  However, you should take note that during major holidays, all the transport systems can get a bit crowded.

Now, if you prefer the privacy of driving your own car and traveling at your own pace, you can rent a car and drive to the city.  There are two borders you can cross to get into Turkey.  You can either get into the country via Ipsala in Greece and Kapikule in Edirne. However, if you are considering driving to Turkey, it would be best that you are an experienced driver, as driving along the streets of Turkey and Istanbul will require all of your skills.  Prepare yourself for heavy and crazy traffic.

You can also make your visits to Istanbul by way of the trains.  Although the Orient Express is no longer available, there still are not-so-modern trains that you can ride en route to Istanbul.  These are somewhat slower when compared to traveling by bus, but for those who have all the time in the world and who are traveling on a budget, train travel is an excellent option.  You get to see more of the countryside while enjoying more comfort and seating room.

And because Istanbul is virtually bordered by water – the Bosphorus, the Marmara Sea, and the Black Sea, you can choose to ride the ferry or come in style by riding on a cruise ship.  The city has a number of ports by which the ferries can dock.  There are ferries plying the route along Greece’s Aegean Sea and can bring you from Italy to Turkey.  The most common train terminals are the Sirkeci station or the Haydarpasa station.

Transportation

There are so many things to see and do in Istanbul that you’d want to have the most efficient way of going from point A to point B in the city.  Since Istanbul is a big city, traveling efficiently would, more often than not, be an important requirement to make the most of your vacation. You have plenty of options when it comes to gallivanting around the city.  Istanbul has around 5,200 square kilometers, with the Bosphorus Strait dividing it into two – the European side and the Asian side.

For one, you can take the bus.  Buses that ply the different routes of the city are either state-owned or private buses.  The sheer number of vehicles on Istanbul’s streets, however, means that oftentimes, especially during rush hour, traffic would grow thick and fast.  Thus, buses can not just be painstakingly slow (especially if you’re in a hurry to make it to that tourist attraction before it closes), they can also be cramped and uncomfortable affairs.

The next option would be the trams. On the Asian side, a tram connects Moda to Kadikoy.  There are three trams on the European side.  The Nostaljik Tramway goes along Istiklal Caddesi and you can use this to link through to Karakoy, by way of the Tunel underground.  However, this turn of the century tram is basically for nostalgia, as it can seem to be so slow for some.  Another tramway, a more modern one, this time, goes from Zetinburnu on to Beyazit, Sultanahmet, Eminonu and to Kabatas.  Another line transports riders to outlying suburbs beyond Edirne Gate.  The tram is a great way to experience the city, as the tram slowly clatters along the streets; you get to see more of Istanbul – glimpses of everyday life, snippets of conversations between friends, a peek at how locals go about their business.

To get from one side to the other, you can cross the Bosphorus strait via passenger ferries.  This is a fast way of getting from the European side to the Asian Side and vice versa – and it’s free of traffic, too!  The exciting this is that there are a lot of ferry docks along the Bosphorus’ shores so that you can easily get connected to the district of your choice.  You can also reach the Princes’ Islands via the ferries.  Plus, you can enjoy amazing views of the palaces and structures alongside the Bosphorus by taking a cruise along this busy waterway.

The great think about transportation in turkey is that they are generally cheap and convenient to buy.  You can buy tickets at most of the stops or from the terminals from which these originate.  A great way to save up on transport cost is to get a smart ticket, which you can use when riding the ferries, metro or buses.  Called the akbil, you get to use it for a number of trips and will save you a tenth of the actual cost of the fares, you also enjoy a free transfer from one vehicle to another, as long as you make the change before 45 minutes have passed.  One other advantage is that you don’t have to hunt for a stall if you need to buy a token for your ride.  The akbil is available at the terminals in Sirkeci or Taksim Square and can also be recharged at the metro stations.

Other options include taking a taxi, renting a car so that you can do the driving or taking the dolmus (which is Istanbul’s other version of the taxi).

When you’re in doubt as to what is the best way to go about the city, you can log into www.iett.gov.tr/en.  This will help you, as, more often than not, if you use public transport, you will have to transfer from one vehicle to another.  It will also help if you are able to say the name of your planned destination and say it in proper Turkish.  If you have difficulty doing that, ask someone at your hotel to write the name for you, so that you can show it to the driver.

Rent A Car

Driving around Istanbul would definitely require most of your skills as a driver.  This option is the least recommended.  You will have to contend with unfamiliar streets, the other drivers (some who drive manically and who honk every chance they get), as well as the fact that it’s so hard to find any decent parking space.  You will also have to be on the watch for theft, as there is a high incidence of petty theft (including what’s in your glove compartment and backseat) in the city.

Nonetheless, if you’re one brave soul, you are free to drive at your own risk. Remember that you must have an international driver’s license for at least a year and be at least 21 years old.  When renting a car, you also have to leave a credit card as a deposit to the rental company.

Some Tips when driving around Istanbul:
–    Things to check before driving out of the car rental parking lot – check the brakes, your insurance coverage, and all the necessary things to ensure that you have a good and safe time driving the car.
–    When parking on the side streets, you can ask a guard to watch the car for you.
–    Be careful not to get towed – there are a number of towing services in the city and you may have a hard time finding your car.  The fee to get your car back would be around $50.
–    Be sure to follow the speed limits in the city (for urban areas, you should not exceed 50 kilometers per hour).

Most car rental companies can be found at the airport.

Alamo    www.alamo.com
Avis    www.avis.com.tr
Budget    www.budget.com
Decar    www.decar.com.tr
Europcar    www.europcar.com.tr
Hertz    www.hertz.com
National Car    www.nationalcar.com

Airport

Istanbul has two international airports to address the growing number of tourists.

Istanbul Ataturk International Airport

It used to be a dingy terminal, but this airport was recently rebuilt and refurbished, so what you see now is a state-of-the-art facility located in Yesilkoy, to the west of Istanbul.

The airport has all the necessary facilities to ensure that you travel safely and comfortably.  The Ataturk airport is equipped with a hotel (hourly rates apply to accommodations), restaurants and cafes, a post office, banks and money changing kiosks, conference rooms, 2 health clinics (open at all times), ATMs, baggage service, 24 help-desks for left luggage, duty-free shops (with 24-hour shopping!) and travel agencies.  Most of the major car rental companies are also represented here – you will find Budget, Hertz, Aviz, and Europcar, as well as Ulger, National-Alma, and Sixt.  The airport also has rooms for babies and breastfeeding moms, as well as rooms where children can play.

To get to the city, you can take the bus, rent a car, take the train or take a taxi.  Buses going to the city leave the airport every half hour.  For taxis, to make sure that you are not overcharged, tell the taxi driver to use the meter.  If he does not, you should insist, so that you will have to contend and argue with the driver when he presents you with an enormous bill by the time he drops you off.  As for the train, the city’s Metro services the route between the airport, the bus station at Esenler Otogar and Aksaray.

Address:    Bas Mudur, Ataturk Dhmi, Istanbul Yesilkoy 34830, Turkey
Website:     www.ataturkairport.com
Telephone:     (0)212 663 6400

Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW)

This airport can be found at the city’s Asian side, at Kurtkoy, Pendik district.  It’s just a few minutes away from the famous Istanbul Park (where they hold Formula 1 races).  It was named after Turkey’s first woman pilot – Sabiha Gokcen.  She is also the world’s first woman combat pilot.  The Sabiha Gokcen airport was built to help ease the traffic at the Ataturk airport.  Aside from international and domestic flights, it also services flights by military planes, as well as cargo and charter flights, especially those from central Asia.

The airport has the following facilities – banks, ATMs, gift and duty-free shops, cafes and restaurants.  There is also a medical service for emergencies, a post office, VIP lounges, as well as car rental companies.  If you need more information, there are help and information desks situated on both the Domestic Terminal and International Terminal.

To get to the city from Istanbul, you can take the Havas service bus.  This bus stops at Harem, Kadikoy, Bostanci, and Pendik.  Other buses include the IETT public bus, which plies the route along Kozyatagi, Kadikoy, and Levent.  Going by bus, it would take around 30 to 45 minutes to travel to the city center.  Taxis are also easily available at the terminal 24 hours a day.  If you want to take the train, the nearest train station is around 4 miles from the airport and this provides you with connections to districts in Istanbul and also to nearby cities and towns.  The IDO Sea Bus Port is also nearby and this can provide you with connections to the different districts of Istanbul.

Address: Sabiha Gökçen International Airport, 34912 Pendik, Istanbul, Turkey
Website: www.sgairport.com
Tel: (0216) 585 5000.

Sandy

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