Hugging the winding coastline and straddling the Bosporus straight, Istanbul marks the crossing between European and Asian continents. Turkey’s bustling capital has for centuries welcomed traders and visitors alike, who enter in through its Overland borders and via its thriving ports.
Being so central, tourists flock from east and west (sometimes just for the weekend), to immerse themselves in the incredible history Istanbul boasts, as well as enjoy the city’s relaxed atmosphere which hosts a growing café culture and foodie scene, plentiful decent Turkish wine and a craft beer movement.
How to get to Istanbul city centre from the airport
During the last 10 years, Istanbul has invested heavily in making the most of its prime location. The main international airport (IST) has been redeveloped, and although sprawling, is a slick efficient juggernaut. It facilitates a journey from airport arrivals hall, to the welcoming warm air at the taxi rank in well under an hour – vice versa for the return.
If you’re pressed for time, the easiest way to the city is to take one of these waiting yellow taxis. A ride to Istanbul’s historic old town on the European side of the city, Sultanahmet will take between 30-60 minutes, traffic dependent. Whatever the timeframe, the fixed rate should cost no more than £25.
Where to stay in Istanbul – Sultanahmet
If Sultanahmet is where you are staying, much of Istanbul’s impressive history can be adsorbed visually by following the architectural sky-line. It’s jam-packed full of mosques, the occasional church and residential buildings, many of which have been standing for well over 900 years. The prolific historical offerings in this area means Sultanahmet is busy with visitors wandering on foot, but it is so without being oppressive.
The city tram runs from north to south over the Golden Horn via the Galata Bridge, which enables visitors to navigate the European side of the capital with ease. Using this mode of transport takes less than 14mins to ride from the world renowned Blue Mosque to Taksim square, and costs pennies. It’s the best way to hop around the European side of the city, to avoid the unpredictable traffic and get from attraction to attraction with speed not haste.
Night Time in Istanbul
And at night-time Sultanahmet is quiet, so you will want to take a trip to the north side of the Bosporus to Karaköy where there are port side restaurants in which you can drink ice cold Effes whilst gazing over to the south, or take a more active pastime and shop for intricate lamps, linen towels, woven carpets and handmade jewellery. You may find your money goes a bit further here, and shopping for homewares maybe less stressful than navigating Sultanahmet’s famous must-see Grand Bazar.
Crossing Continents in Istanbul
A trip to Istanbul wouldn’t be complete without actually crossing continents, so be sure to hop on a ferry from Eminönü in the west, to Kadıköy in the east. Crossing the straight on a ferry to Kadıköy brings you the Asian side of the city, where you’ll find a lively food filled Mecca, a haven for tourists and locals alike.
What to eat in Istanbul
Take a smooth black tea, or strong Turkish coffee in one of the tea gardens overlooking the Bosphorus with a picture perfect view of the Hagia Sophia museum, and wonder through the residential streets and find your way to the Fish Bazaar. Here you can choose which variety of Turkish delight, dried spice or home-made Chilli sauce you’d like to take home, along with your own pressed olive oil.
Whilst wandering through these foodie alleyways, you can munch on a variety of street food; freshly baked Turkish pide, or try Çiğ Köfte spicy meat-free bulgarwheat tartar, or for the brave a white baguette stuffed full of lambs’ intestines.
Later in the evening, you’ll find stall after stall of Midye Dolma – mussels stuffed with picante rice, which are served to you one by one with as much fresh lemon juice as desired. Whatever you choose to nibble on, I have a note of caution. Save room to sit down and eat mezze and feast on the myriad of fresh fish options available in one of the of restaurants spilling onto the sidewalks.
Cats and Dogs
You’ll notice Istanbul is accommodating of many local city cats and dogs. Many of them reside in Kadıköy because they love this area for its rich pickings and welcoming human company. They are well treated by the locals, and the city authorities check the dogs for disease, and tag them accordingly. It means that the animals are largely in excellent health and crave affection. Although the dogs wont beg for food, you may find a friendly cat gazing up from your feet in anticipation of a falling fish bone.
For afters, there are bars a-plenty on this side of the city, many have a bohemian-upscale vibe akin to something you might find in Williamsburg, New York. These places serve exciting cocktails and craft beer and provide a setting for Istanbul’s young and hip crowd. You’ll find music here, but not the conversation drowning type, just enough to add more cool, to what is already.
Turkish Bath – Hamam in Istanbul
After a late night and a perambulating feed, don’t miss treating yourself the following morning to Turkish Bath – a Hamam. You have a plethora to choose from, but if you can choose a marble lined Hamam in a beautiful historic venue, all the better. Prepare yourself to be scrubbed, washed, your whole body to be masked in clay, and washed again with soft cloud-like bubbles. If you’re feeling decadent and have the time – follow with an argon oil massage, and leave Istanbul feeling like you’ve spoilt yourself with every possible sensory pleasure ticked off.
When to travel
April & September have pleasant average temperatures of 23 degrees Celsius, making these spring and autumn months the best time to travel.
What to wear
Istanbul hosts a melting-pot of creeds and culture. However, it is somewhat more conservative than some of its European counterparts, so visitors should dress with this in mind. In order to visit mosques and some palaces, you will be asked to cover your arms, legs and head. So, carrying a scarf and something with long sleeves is advisable. In the summer months it’s warm, so cotton and linen work best to keep cool. In the winter you will want to wrap up and carry a brolly.
Where to stay
Hotel Ibrahim Pasha – Rooms from £150 per night
Where to eat
Balikcisa Sabahattin – Website: https://www.balikcisabahattin.com/
How to travel
BA fly from all London terminals. Up to 6 flights a day. Flight time 4hr 20mins. Prices start from £140 return – Website: www.britishairways.com