Istanbul travel guide

Istanbul Tourism | Istanbul Guide

You're Going to Love Istanbul

History buffs, foodies, adventurers: Istanbul could be your dream destination. This huge city lies at the crossroads between East and West, and the influences of its geographic location can be felt everywhere.

From the spectacular Topkapi Palace of the Ottoman Sultan to the sublime domes and towers of the Hagia Sophia and the ruins of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman cites, the past is everywhere in Istanbul - and it's fascinating.

Beyond sightseeing, Istanbul offers much more to adore. From the color and energy of the Grand Bazaar to the exquisite fabrics at boutiques like Haremlique, Istanbul is a great place to shop.

The taste and aroma of a traditional Turkish kebab from restaurants like Asitane and the option of dancing the night away at the bars in Galata make clear: Istanbul has it all.

Top 5 Reasons to Visit Istanbul

1. Immerse Yourself in Turkish Culture

Stroll the sights in Turkey's largest city, pamper yourself at a Turkish bath, and haggle for carpets or jewelry at the Grand Bazaar.

2. World-Class Nightlife

Istanbul's nightlife pulsates like no other. Sip beers and cocktails in Galata bars Maxigala or clubs like Reina, or catch music performances at legendary spots like Dogstarz in Beyoğlu.

3. Witness Incredible Works of Architecture and Art

Sacred sites like the Blue Mosque or Hagia Sophia dot throughout the city as do stunning palaces like the Topkapi and the Dolmabahçe, while the views across the Golden Horn are breathtaking.

4. Divide Your Time Between the City and the Beach

In Istanbul, you're never far away from the coast. Beaches like Burc and Babylon Beach are easily accessible by public transportation and allow you to swim and see the sights on the same day.

5. Dine on Delicious Turkish Food

The aroma of food is irresistible on the streets of Istanbul. Try the most delicious kebabs you've ever tasted from restaurants like Antiochia and Çiya Kebap, simit donuts at Galata Simitçisi or gözleme (savory pancakes) at Feriköy Organik Pazarı.

What to do in Istanbul

1. Ayasofya: Pearl of Constantinople

First a church, later a mosque, now a museum, the Hagia Sophia tells of the tumultuous history of Istanbul. The interior appears celestial, with the enormous dome floating over natural light. Christian mosaics offer the highlight of the museum, alongside Islamic motifs and Viking graffiti. As you walk out, spot the six minarets of the neighboring Blue Mosque, revered for its own colorful mosaics.

2. Topkapi Sarayi: Treasured Halls

Regal home and harem of the Ottoman sultans, Topkapi formed a small city in itself, with endless apartments and gathering halls, only matched in beauty by the palace's gardens. Don't miss the Imperial Treasury collections, with jewels and metalwork like never seen before.

3. Kapaliçarşi: The Original Shopping Mall

One of the oldest markets in the world, Istanbul's Grand Bazaar is a maze of wonderment. With 4,000 stalls offering craftwork, carpets and the bargains of a lifetime, it is no wonder why hundreds of thousands flock here every day. Haggling is the norm, giving tourists the chance to engage with locals in a unique transaction. For a fix of candies and spices, the Egyptian market offers a charming alternative.

4. Yerebatan Sarayi: Underground Majesty

Istanbul sits atop hundreds of ancient cisterns once used to store water, and this sixth-century masterpiece is the most incredible. Hidden from Istanbul's hot days, the complex provides a refreshing walk along wooden walkways as water eerily drips down columns, whose Medusa-head bases stare back in the atmospheric light.

5. Taksim Square: Heart of Turkey

Taksim square is the hub of contemporary Istanbul, seemingly worlds away from the minarets and ancient monuments of old. Istiklal Avenue feeds millions of tourists and locals into this social center every day, where street performances, shopping malls, and night clubs abound. The microcosm of Istanbul comes to life here, where East truly meets West.

1. Ayasofya: Pearl of Constantinople

First a church, later a mosque, now a museum, the Hagia Sophia tells of the tumultuous history of Istanbul. The interior appears celestial, with the enormous dome floating over natural light. Christian mosaics offer the highlight of the museum, alongside Islamic motifs and Viking graffiti. As you walk out, spot the six minarets of the neighboring Blue Mosque, revered for its own colorful mosaics.

2. Topkapi Sarayi: Treasured Halls

Regal home and harem of the Ottoman sultans, Topkapi formed a small city in itself, with endless apartments and gathering halls, only matched in beauty by the palace's gardens. Don't miss the Imperial Treasury collections, with jewels and metalwork like never seen before.

3. Kapaliçarşi: The Original Shopping Mall

One of the oldest markets in the world, Istanbul's Grand Bazaar is a maze of wonderment. With 4,000 stalls offering craftwork, carpets and the bargains of a lifetime, it is no wonder why hundreds of thousands flock here every day. Haggling is the norm, giving tourists the chance to engage with locals in a unique transaction. For a fix of candies and spices, the Egyptian market offers a charming alternative.

4. Yerebatan Sarayi: Underground Majesty

Istanbul sits atop hundreds of ancient cisterns once used to store water, and this sixth-century masterpiece is the most incredible. Hidden from Istanbul's hot days, the complex provides a refreshing walk along wooden walkways as water eerily drips down columns, whose Medusa-head bases stare back in the atmospheric light.

5. Taksim Square: Heart of Turkey

Taksim square is the hub of contemporary Istanbul, seemingly worlds away from the minarets and ancient monuments of old. Istiklal Avenue feeds millions of tourists and locals into this social center every day, where street performances, shopping malls, and night clubs abound. The microcosm of Istanbul comes to life here, where East truly meets West.

Where to Eat in Istanbul

Istanbul has thousands of exceptional places to eat, and every neighborhood has its own highlights. In Galata, try the lunches at Ficcin or the gourmet food at NuTeras. In the Old City, Doy Doy provides great value meals, while Asitane serves the best traditional Turkish cuisine in town. Wherever you are, there should be superb options - just ask the locals! Expect to pay around ₺30 for a mid-range meal and anything up to ₺100 for gourmet meals.

When to visit Istanbul

Istanbul in May
Estimated hotel price
AED 120
1 night at 3-star hotel
Istanbul in May
Estimated hotel price
AED 120
1 night at 3-star hotel

If you want to avoid the crowds and high temperatures, try to visit outside peak summer months (July and August). Schedule your trip for April and May or the fall for good weather and easy access to all the attractions.

Data provided by weatherbase
Temperatures
Temperatures
Average
Celcius (°C)
Data provided by weatherbase

How to Get to Istanbul

Plane

Most visitors arrive in Istanbul via Atatürk Airport, about 13 miles west of the downtown area. The cheapest route into town is via bus route 96T (₺5), but the Havatas bus service (₺11) is much faster. Faster still is the Metro, which costs ₺3, but it's a 10 minute walk from the airport to the station. Taxis will cost around ₺60.

Train

The Bosphorus Express connects Turkey with European countries like Bulgaria and Romania however, there are currently service interruptions between Istanbul and Edirne due to track renovations. It is, at present, unclear when full service will resume.

Car

If you rent a car at the airport, be aware that getting into central Istanbul can pose problems. First of all, be careful on roads before you get used to the at-times unpredictable habits of local drivers. There's also a toll system on both bridges into the city that requires an electronic transponder or payment card. Your rental provider should be able to advise about how to pay, but don't get caught out.

Bus

Getting a bus to Istanbul from European cities like Athens, Sofia, or Bucharest is a realistic option. Most international buses arrive at the Otogar terminal, about six miles west of the center of town. Upon arrival, just catch the M1 Metro line.

Airports near Istanbul

Airlines serving Istanbul

United Airlines
Good (2,837 reviews)
Lufthansa
Good (2,150 reviews)
American Airlines
Good (4,374 reviews)
KLM
Good (348 reviews)
Air France
Good (399 reviews)
British Airways
Good (1,413 reviews)
Delta
Excellent (3,045 reviews)
Turkish Airlines
Good (1,322 reviews)
Qatar Airways
Good (1,208 reviews)
Emirates
Excellent (956 reviews)
Air Canada
Good (1,409 reviews)
Etihad Airways
Good (307 reviews)
Singapore Airlines
Excellent (320 reviews)
TAP Portugal
Good (539 reviews)
Finnair
Good (694 reviews)
LATAM Airlines
Good (774 reviews)
Scandinavian Airlines
Good (439 reviews)
Ethiopian Air
Good (147 reviews)
Air Europa
Good (146 reviews)
Avianca
Good (800 reviews)
Show more

Where to stay in Istanbul

Sultanahmet - The heart of the Old City, Sultanahmet goes back 3,000 years and it's a magical place. Here, you can see the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Topkapi Palace, the remains of the Roman hippodrome and much more, or just relax at the area's many Turkish baths like Çemberlitaş Hamami.

Popular Neighborhoods in Istanbul

Galata - Istanbul's nightlife center, Galata, hums with youth and energy. Head to Taksim Square, the focal point of the city, where bars like Indigo also offer great views of the city.

Bosphorus - This sprawling district is the bohemian heart of Istanbul and the premier shopping neighborhood. If boutiques are your thing, a walk down Akaretler Street is essential, where Haremlique sells superb modern textiles and famed jeweler Sevan Bıçakçı offers extravagant pieces.

Most popular hotel in Istanbul by neighbourhood

Where to stay in popular areas of Istanbul

Most booked hotels in Istanbul

Swissotel The Bosphorus Istanbul
Excellent (8.9, Excellent reviews)
AED 1,168+
Akgun Istanbul Hotel
Excellent (8.9, Excellent reviews)
AED 220+
Hilton Istanbul Bomonti Hotel & Conference Center
Excellent (8.5, Excellent reviews)
AED 628+
Intercontinental Istanbul, An IHG Hotel
Excellent (8.5, Excellent reviews)
AED 690+
Hotel Sapphire
Excellent (8.5, Excellent reviews)
AED 187+
Elite World Business Hotel
Excellent (8.5, Excellent reviews)
AED 246+
See all hotels

How to Get Around Istanbul

Public Transportation

The first thing to do in Istanbul is to purchase an Istanbulkart, which works on metros, buses, and trams. An Istanbulkart offers much lower fares on all forms of transport. Fare charges vary depending on distance traveled and become cheaper the more journeys you take in a 24-hour period. The Metro and buses shut down at night. If you are stuck and need a ride, try the "dolums", a minivan system that runs all night and costs between ₺2-8 per journey.

Taxi

Official taxi rates in Istanbul include a ₺3.20 meter drop, followed by a charge of ₺3 for every mile. Uber offers an alternative, charging ₺4 for the meter drop, then around ₺3.5 per mile (the charges are higher as Uber currently only offers family-sized vehicles in the city).

Car

Renting a car is a good option if you want to cruise the Turkish coast or hop over the border to Greece. Local car rental outlets include Europcar and Assist Car Rental. Be aware of toll roads (such as the Bosphorus bridges), try to avoid crossing the city during rush hour, and be prepared for the road rule book to sometimes go out the window. Always expect the unexpected and you'll be fine.

The Cost of Living in Istanbul

Istanbul's Hottest Shopping Streets

The most exciting place to shop in Istanbul is definitely the Grand Bazaar where over 4,000 stores sell everything from rugs and gold jewelry to spices and leather goods. The popular İstiklal Caddesi, a pedestrianized precinct in Beyoğlu, offers boutiques, galleries, cafes, and more. Alternatively, try Akmerkez. This large mall in Besiktas hosts a wide range of stores, including Armani Jeans, Accessorize and the cosmetics brand Sephora.

Groceries and Other Necessities

Self-catering travelers can save money by shopping at supermarkets like MM Migros and Makro, while there are smaller grocery stores on almost every street. Expect to pay around ₺10 for a gallon of milk and ₺1.7 for a pound of apples.

Cheap meal
AED 21.23
A pair of jeans
AED 166.81
Single public transport ticket
AED 2.76
Cappuccino
AED 8.71