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Istanbul, Turkey Istanbul

Middle East » Turkey
Author: Koen

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Arriving at the airport 

There is a tourist office where you can get a free map of the city, as well as info on how to get to the center.  

Arriving at the international airport, you first have to take a free bus to the nearby airport for local flights. these buses used to leave every 10 minutes, but recent reports say they are running very infrequently nowadays, giving local taxidrivers the chance to earn 4 US$ in transferring you. Otherwise you might walk the 5 minutes if you don't have too much luggage.  

From there, there are regular HAVAS buses going to the center of Istanbul (4 US$). Ask to get off at Aksaray (15 minutes, second stop) if you want to go to Sultanahmet. From there you can 
- Either walk for about 20 minutes passing the university and the bazaar on your left  
- Or you could take the tram at the Laleli tram station and stop at Sultanahmet (4th stop). 

Travel guides

Lonely Planet 

They have a guidebook on Istanbul, edition 4/99.  

Order the Lonely Planet Istanbul now for only 11.96 US$


At Sultanahmet you can find cheap places with dormitories if that's what you're looking for, but they can be crowded.  

A middle class hotel recommended to me at Sultanahmet was the Hotel Aya Sofia, Yerebaytan Caddesi, 33. It's a small hotel with 10 rooms, clean, quiet at 100 metres of Aya Sofia. Rooms have their own mandi with hot water. Breakfast can be had next-door. Price is 15 US$ for a double.  

A but higher on the scale is the Hotel Ararat, Torun Sokak, 3. It's right next to the Blue mosque. It's also a small hotel clean rooms with mandi (hot water), and it has its own roofterrace with views of the Blue Mosque on one side and the Bosporus on the other side. Recommended. Price is 25-30 US$ including breakfast.  

There's a new pension which was recommended, the Cordial House Pension at 40 metres south of the Cemberlitas tram stop. It's a modern AC place with pool, bar, café etc... They have dormitories for 10 US$ per head and upper class rooms for 60 US$ per double (with TV). They also have internet access. You can e-mail them at cordial@dominet.in.com.tr  

We stayed at the Buyuk Londra Oteli near to the Pera Palace Hotel. It's OK for 50 US$, but nothing to recommend.  

Jan Sura recommends Hotel Anadolu, just off the Yerebatan Cadessi. Very peaceful and quite location, sleeping on roof with shower and amazing view on Aya Sofia for just five dollars. No carpet sellers (11/98).  

Vitamin restaurant: at Divanyolu Caddesi, good food, large portions, vegetarian available  

Konak restaurant: at Divanyolu Caddesi, very good food, more refined than Vitamin, salad available, thee or coffee included.   Pudding shop: used to be the favorit, but lost a bit of his quality.  

Doy-Doy: Sifa Hamami Sokak, 13, behind the blue mosque. Good, cheap and quiet.  

Buhara: same street, also good.  

Price of these restaurants is between 5 and 8 US$.  

Stay clear of the Hanedan restaurant mentioned in the LP guidebook. I got a report saying they overcharge. 

What to do

Sultanahmet Topkapi palace 

Open between 9.30 am and 5 pm, closed on Tuesdays, entrance 3 US$ for the palace and 1,50 US$ for the Harem.  

This is of course a sight which is not to miss. Try to go there first thing in the morning. Once inside you also need separate tickets for the harem. Buy this ticket as soon as you get inside, because entrance is limited there (only 60 people every half hour are allowed).  

Have a look at the garden and don't miss the fourth courtyard from where you have a marvellous view over the Bosporus 

Aya Sophia 

Open between 9.30 am and 4.30 pm, closed on Mondays, entrance 3 US$, 1 US$ with student card.  

The cupola is nice, also go to the balcony to have a view from above and for some work of art there. Be aware that this is closed between 11.30 am and 1 pm.  

Behind the Aya Sophia is a small street with wooden houses beautifully restored now. 
Blue Mosque  
en between 8 am and 5 pm, no closing days, but it's sometimes closed for prayer. there's no entrance fee.  
Try to go to the Sound and light show which is almost every night. 

There's a museum of Turkish art which is OK, the Abraham Pass Sari. 


Open between 9 am and 7 pm, closed on Sundays and holidays.              

Quite nice to stroll around there. A bit further is the Egyptian bazaar where they mostly sell spices. There a small courtyard just outside the bazaar, nice to have a drink. 

West of Golden Horn

I visited most of the mosques in Istanbul. They all have some special feature like the biggest (Suleyman the Great mosque), the first one (Fateh Mehmet Camii), baroque style (Laleli Camii) etc...    

There is however 1 mosque, now a museum, which must not be missed, that's the Karye Camii, a bit out of the center. You will see some marvellous mosaics and frescoes. They close on wednesday now (used to be tuesday). 

City walls 
From Carye Camii you could follow the city wall by foot till you get to the Golden Horn. You will pass the Konstantin Saray on your left side, the only Byzantine palace left. But all you can see are some walls, nothing special.  

From the Golden Horn, you can take a dolmus to Eyüp, or you could take a boat to Eyüp. 

Eyüp and Pierre Loti Café 
Eyüp is off the main tourist track in Istanbul. I did like it. You were allowed to see the tomb when I was there, but it's nice to see all the pilgrims visiting the place  

To go to Pierre Loti Café, take a small but steep road on the north side of the mosque. Keep left all the time, turn right at the first house. The walk is 20 to 30 minutes, but is rewarded with a nice view on the Golden Horn.  

From Eyüp you can go back by boat to the center of Istanbul. You could also make a stop at Balat where they have a Bulgarian iron church, nothing special though. 

East of Golden Horn 

Definitely recommended is a boattrip on the Bosporus.
- You can either take a long trip which leaves at the Galatabridge twice a day at 10.35 am and 1.35 pm. The trip takes 6 hours, 2 hours to go, 2 hours stop and 2 hours back. During the stop, you can either walk up to the ruins of the castle, or you can just relax and have a sandwich with fish. The trip costs 3 US$ on weekdays and 6 US$ on weekends.  
- If you have less time, you can take a shorter trip from Eminonu to Besiktas. You will have a nice view over the city and the Dolmabahce Palace.  

If you pass the Galata bridge, you can take a small but steep road to the Galata tower. About halfway, turn right down again. After 50 metres you will come to the official red light district of Istanbul. It's a dead end street, the entrance is guarded by 2 policemen. Women and children are not allowed.  

The Galata Tower can be visited. There's a tramway up if you don't like the steep walk up. Entrance fee is 2 US$. 

If you want a detailed description of every sight and museum in Istanbul, then go the Istanbul section of the "Turkish traveller" site http://www.turkeytraveller.org/i_ind_ph.htm

Getting out of Istanbul 

                           Be careful if you want to get out by bus. The busstation has moved for some years now way out of town (used to be just outside of town). There are buses going there every 30 minutes from Taksim Place. However, make sure you leave early enough, because during peak hour, it took us 90 minutes to get to the station! You can buy your ticket with a travel agent in Sultanahmet, but he will charge you 10 to 20% commission.  

You can also take the boat to Izmir. Tickets can be bought at the ferry office and cost 40 US$ including good dinner and breakfast and a cabin. It's best to book well in advance. The trip takes 20 to 21 hours.  

There's also a regular hydrofoil taking cars from Istanbul to Yalova (near Bursa). The trip takes 45 minutes and costs a bit less then 3 US$.  

Go to Central Turkey page

Article Comments:
Subash (5)
I was in Turkey in 94 for two months and then came back in 95 for another three. I worked at the Orient Youth Hostel there for a couple of months. I love Turkey ... my heart is still there. Get on the plane ... go there ... you will love it! Subash from Toronto, Canada
Saqib latif (1)
iam in istanbul in august iwant a pretty kind lady to company me thanks
bushra (4)
hi next week im going to turkey i just want some information about istanbul is it a nice play are there any theme parks if any1 can answer these questions plz email me thank u
yaser (1)
hey hi i'm planning to be in istanbul in the 17th of may so i need a pretty girl who can speak english very well to show me around i'm gonna stay for 4 days or maybe 6 days if i like it and i wish to spend a good times i'm planning to stay in a 5 stars hotel i'm checking on to book in these tow days so if u have any pretty girl can show me around and stay with me these 4 or 6 days hurry and send me a phone number or e-mail to contact u pls thnx for the help
Karen (1)
I am looking to go backpacking in Turkey in the first two weeks in May and am looking for a travel buddy. Is anyone interested? Karen
Nathalie (1)
Hi I'm going to Istanbul April 11th and I'm looking for a safe and cheap hostel. Any recommendations? Hope to hear from you all soon. Thank you.
Kinga (1)
Hey all! I'm going to Istanbul with a group of 53 students and we need a really cheap place to stay on 21th of april. If you have any tip, please let me know. Or if you know a cheap hostel in Cappadichia, i'm interested too. Thanks
Jocelyn (1)
I am leaving for Turkey in a week and have booked the Side Hotel and Pension in Sultanahmet for 35 euros per night including breakfast. According to Lonely Planet it is the best deal in Sultanahmet. Staying in Istanbul 4 nights but only booked one night to check it out.
Leyla (5)
Hey... Yeah, I mean Sultanahmet is fine, and it's definitely the most touristic place in Istanbul, Turkey. To take a cab from Sultanahmet to Beyoglu will probably cost you between 8-10 dollars (one way). That's taking into consideration that the cab driver will know you are a foreigner, and probably take you for a little ride. Like I said Beyoglu is the most exciting place to stay, but Sultanahmet is definitely better if you are a foreigner travelling alone. It's less hectic, and there will be more English speaking people around to help you out. And honestly, most of the hostels around Sultanahmet are pretty much the same, so just go for the cheapest one. While there isn't a crazy amount of nightlife there, the hostels tend to have bars that are open until 3 or 4 am, so you can get your drink on there. Don't worry- it's not a "sleepy suburb". I think you would be hard pressed to find one in Istanbul, Turkey. How long are you going for? And when exactly will you be there? I am planning to make a trip there pretty soon, so we might be there at the same time!
Thomas (5)
Thanks for your input everyone, I've been looking around and am finding that the highest rated and cheapest hostels are in sutanahmet. How long does it take and how much will it cost to get a cab from sultanahmet to beyoglu? I'm not really a dance-club kind of person but I don't want to stay in a sleepy suburb either, you think I should stay in beyoglu? I will want to see alot of the historical sites around sultanahmet anyways so I was thinking that might be a better choice, but if you lived there you'll know best (leyla). I'm thinking of this one... http://www.hostelworld.com/availability.php/IstanbulHostel-Istanbul-9040 or this one http://www.hostelworld.com/availability.php/BahausGuesthouse-Istanbul-6418 . Both are only 9 euro and include breakfast. Are these in good "central" locations? Thanks.
Steve (4)
Actually about a block away from the Four Seasons is an amazing place called the Hotel Empress Zoe. It is a fantastic place that was built using tiles and fixtures from an old hamam. We stayed there in 2003. You are only a few blocks from the blue mosque, Topkapi Palace, Aghia Sophia, and other key sites and museums. In the heart of Sultanahmet. Their web site is http://www.emzoe.com/ They had a good breakfast too. Are you just going to Istanbul, Turkey? We made a side trip to Cappadocia and it was mind-blowing. HIGHLY recommended.
Jordan (4)
I was in Istanbul, Turkey in Spring 2000, and stayed in a hostel directly across the street from the Four Seasons Istanbul. It was $7.50 for a bunk in the communal room. I don't remember what it was called though. The building was a little taller than the fancy hotel though, and from the roomy roof deck, we had excellent views of the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Marmara. We had originally planned on staying at the Orient Youth Hostel, but this one was cheaper and better.
Thomas (5)
Hey all, I'm heading to Istanbul, Turkey in a few weeks and am looking to find a decently clean and safe hostel in the sultanhamet or Taks?m/beyoglu . I'd preferably like one that includes breakfast. Anyone have any advice? One with a website that I can book online would be just peachy. Thanks! -Tommy

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