Istanbul Captured

I’ve been so tied up with busy works (“old” train shutdown and one mega train shutdown) that I can’t write any single post lately. Bear with me. But here is Istanbul at its best. Captured through the lens of 4 medias: Canon EOS 7D, Nokia N85, Panasonic Lumix TZ7 and Sony Handycam HDR-XR500E.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul. 2 April 2010, 5.30~AM

Enjoy!

Istanbul Day 1 – Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Bus Tour

Istanbul Day 2 – Topkapi Palace, Grand Bazaar, and Spice Bazaar

Istanbul Day 3 – Aya Sofia, Dolmabahce Palace, Taksim & Galata Tower

Istanbul Day 4 – Kadikoy & Uskudar, Camlica Hill, & Sufi dance

Istanbul Day 5 – Bursa & Uludag mountain

Istanbul Day 6 – Archaelogical Museum, Kanyon Shopping Mall & Bosphorus Dinner Cruise

Istanbul Day 7 – Miniaturk & various places

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Istanbul – How to Getting Around

[Pictures will follow]

Public transportation in Istanbul is diverse, efficient, punctual, pretty cheap and diverse. Buses, dolmuş, ferries, metros, trams, trains and taxis are yours to travel within and beyond the city.  If on foot can be categorized as a means of transportation, this may be your primary means: especially in Sultanahmet area where large concentrations of attractions are within walking distance.

I brief here three modes of transportation that I’ve tried while in Istanbul. I don’t recommend you to take a bus:   it is not the quickest means of transportation (suffering from traffic jams, route is not as clear as train or ferry), and is not the most comfortable way of transportation (can be very crowded)and most buses don’t have (properly working) air-conditioning systems). However, if you want to experience riding bus in Istanbul, please browse IETT (http://www.iett.gov.tr/en/index.php).

Each time you use a tram, metro, bus, or boat on the public transport system, you will need to use a token. The price for one jeton to use in all railway systems, boat and bus is 1.5TL. Kids below 6 yrs are free. You can buy jeton from automatic machine/dispenser (Jetonmatik), from Jeton staffed booth (not at all stations), or from vendors (which display Jeton sign). One jeton is valid for one entry no matter how long you use railway system and not dependent on how far you go (flat rate).

Jeton (token) used for tram line, funicular line
Jetonmatik. Insert 1 Tl or 50 kurus coin, or 5 or 10 TL notes (max) then press "Onay" for obtaining Jeton
You can also buy Jeton at street vendor that display Jeton sign

Tram, train, funicular & metro

Istanbul has 2 metro lines, 5 tram lines and 2 funiculars. For general idea, please see this map of metro, tram, train in Istanbul. As a tourist you will most likely only need and use the M2, T1 and F1.

Istanbul Railway Network System

You will have to pass the turnstiles (by inserting Jeton) in order to reach the waiting platform to get on a metro, tram or funicular. Some platforms are loosely guarded and can be easily accessed by pedestrian without passing the turnstiles.

Metro Line: Taksim – 4.Levent

I used this metro from Taksim to go north to Kanyon shopping mall. As a tourist, you’ll probably use the metro for shopping purposes. Shopping centers along this line are among others Cevahir Mall Profilo shopping centers (Şişl Station) and  Kanyon and Metrocity (Levent)


Tram Line: Zeytinburnu-Kabataş

This is the most frequently used line among all. It connects the historical peninsula with the modern Istanbul by crossing Golden Horn (Galata Bridge). The line is 14km long, has 24 stations and serves many popular tourist sites (e.g. in Sultanahmet) and ferries (e.g. Eminönü).

Some important stops are:

–          Laleli Üniversitesi – Süleymaniye Mosque

–          Beyazıt – Istanbul University, Beyazit Camii and Suleymaniye Mosque, Grand Bazaar

–          Cemberlitaş – Grand Bazaar, Cemberlitas Hamam, Nuruosmaniye Camiee

–          Sultanahmet – Blue Mosque, Hippodrome, Aya Sofia, Basilica Cistern and Sultanahmet areas

–          Gulhane – Gulhane Park, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul Archaelogical Museums

–          Sirkeci – suburban trains, Hocapasha Center (Sufi Dance)

–          Eminönü – Yeni Camii, Spice Bazaar, Rustem Pasha, Iskelesi to Uskudar, Kadikoy, Bosphorus Cruise and other destinations, Galata Bridge

–          Karakoy – Galata Bridge, Galata Tower, Istiklal Caddesi (with connection via Tünel)

–           Tophane – Istanbul Modern

–          Kabataş – Taksim Square (with connection via Funicular), Iskelesi to Uskudar and Prince’s Island, Dolmabahce Palace (400m walk)  .

Tram Line Zeytinburnu-Kabatas is seen on Alemdar St, Sultanahmet area

Funicular: Taksim-Kabataş

This funicular, takes you up the steep hill from Kabataş to Taksim in only 150 seconds. If you alight from tram line at Kabatas, do not exit from the station. Look for Funicular sign and go to underground access to Funicular station. You can use the same token.

Kabatas - Taksim Funicular

Suburban Train Line: Sirkeci – Halkali

I myself did not get on this train but my wife did to go to Olivium shopping mall (alight at Kazlicesme station). The train is quite old, has longer interval than tram and passing suburban areas that are crowded, and filthy, she said. You need to buy different Jeton than for tram line. If you hop on from Sirkeci station, make an effort to visit Sirkeci Train Museum on the left side of station.

My real life example

I wanted to go from Sultanahmet to Kanyon shopping mall or Taksim. I hopped on tram line Zeytinburnu-Kabatas heading to Kabatas from Gulhane station (where my hotel is nearby) or Sultanahmet (after visiting Aya Sofia). I got offt at Kabatas station then transfered to Funicular Kabatas-Taksim. I exited here to go to Taksim Square or Istiklal Caddesi or transferred to Metro. I hopped on metro line Taksim – 4.Levent (by following direction or footprint sign on the floor). I get off at Levent for Kanyon shopping mall.

Taxi

During my 7-day stay in Istanbul, I used taxi only for four trips. Two were for Sirkeci – Miniaturk v.v and another two were Uskudar – Camlica Hill v.v. Three of them were with taxi meter and one with fixed rate. Taxis are plentiful in Istanbul. Unfortunately, few taxi drivers are con-artists. My one-way travel from Sultanahmet to Miniaturk costs me approximately 16 TL but 21 TL on the way back. From Uskudar to Camlica Hill is 15 TL (fixed rate bargain) and 14 TL on the way back. Tipping is generally unnecessary.

See Taxi tourist trap section on Istanbul – Preparation blog.

Official taxi is the “yellow-colored” one and has a sign on the roof with the word taksi on it.

Haggling for taxi in Taksim (example of official taxi)

Boat

Many Istanbul ferries travel between the European and Asian sides of the city. The strait crossing takes about 20 minutes and costs 1.50 TL (you need to buy different Jeton than what you use for train). The ferry itself is clean, and has a small cafeteria where you can buy cay or coffee or snacks.

To go for the destination of your choice you should take the ferry which departs from specific destination ferry dock (Iskelesi). So if  you want to head for, say, Uskudar from Eminonu, you should take the ferry which departs from ‘Üsküdar Iskelesi’.

Check Istanbul liners (http://www.ido.com.tr) for routes.

Kadikoy Iskelesi at Eminonu
Inside a ferry to Kadikoy

Dolmus

I took Dolmus for travelling from Kadikoy to Uskudar. It costed 8 of us 30 TL for use of Dolmus only for us (called it chartered). I myself did not know the appropriate rate but thought that this could have been cheaper. Dolmuş (Turkish: “full”) is a shared taxi (Bahasa Indonesia: “angkot”), travelling on a fixed route. They can carry up to 8 passengers. Painted in yellow as taxis with a Dolmus sign on its top, Dolmus is easy to recognize. Like Angkot, Dolmus will only start moving after all eight places are filled.

Dolmus terminus at Kadikoy

Istanbul – Entrance and Tour Fees

Tour Fees

Two most recommended tour agencies by Lonely Planet are Plantours(http://www.plantours.com ) and Senkron (http://www.senkrontours.com). Backpackers.net (http://www.backpackerstravel.net/index.php?pid=26&id=87 ) is recommended by Turkeytravelplanner.

A list of tour and its price is listed below. Tour price is normally tagged in Euro. You can pay by credit card but I found them charging with quite higher currency rate. It’s better to pay them with cash in Euro. Children below 2 are free, and below 7 years old is 30% discount. Istanbul tours fee include transportation (to/from in-city hotel), guide, entrance fees, meals as mentioned and VAT.

Plantours Tour Fees
Senkron Tours Tour Fees (summarized from its brochure)

Entrance Fee

Listed below is entrance fee to top major sights in Istanbul. No entrance fee to bazaars, mosques, and tombs. However, at some tomb places donation is voluntarily requested.

Topkapi Palace  20 TL, children free

Topkapi Palace Harem   15 TL

Hagia Sophia      20 TL, children free

Basilica Cistern  10 TL, children free

Archaelogical Museum  10 TL, children free

Miniaturk 10 TL

Dolmabahce Palace, 20 TL, children free

Galata Tower, 10 TL

Camlica Hill, free

Naval Museum, 4 TL

Istanbul Modern, 7 TL

Chora Church, 10 TL

Military Museum, 4 TL

Sufi Dance, 35-40 TL, children under 15 25 TL (including refreshment)

Entrance Ticket - Examples

Istanbul – Itinerary

Words from Turkey’s expert Tom Brosnahan are probably accurate in summarizing planning of itinerary for Istanbul:

“You can see Istanbul’s top sights in a rush on an overnight stay, but you’ll need at least two days to do them justice, and three or four days to really get a sense of the city. In a week, you can get a good look at most of what Istanbul has to offer, do some shopping and enjoy an excursion as well”

But Istanbul has such an abundant of things to see or do.  The drawback hence is that you’ll probably have to make choices. Chances are that your visit just won’t last long enough to fit them all in. Don’t worry; whatever the best itinerary you plan, you’ll gonna miss a thing! For sure.

Most of historical sights are located in Sultanahmet area and around (Bazaar Districts & Topkapi and around). So, make any efforts to stay in Sultanahmet area. If for reasons you’d like to visit the sights again, they are on your doorsteps. I would also recommend that you don’t take tour for visiting historical sights in Sultanahmet areas. With 35 Euro/70 TL for half-day tour you can save the money for something else by visiting them yourself. It is damn easy, and with information on the sights are abundant in the internet you’d probably not need a guide.

Once you’ve settled into your Istanbul hotel, you might want to take a sightseeing bus city tour (hopon-hopoff double decker bus tour) by Plantour (http://www.plantours.com/CS_TourDetails.aspx) for orientation. Last for 1.5 hours (depending on the traffic), this tour offers you a quick orientation of Old City and Modern Istanbul in one-go, passing all must-see point of interests (http://www.plantours.com/CS_TourMap.aspx ) . The other advantage is you will have a mental picture of what the area and point of interest look like if you decide to visit later.

If you don’t plan to have excursions out of Istanbul (i.e. Prince’s Island or Bursa) you’d probably end up best with 3-4 days

For itinerary builder you have to consider:

  • Whether you’ll take it by yourself or via tour. Tour offers simplicity, hassle-free visit but less flexible, more expensive and may direct you to areas out of your interest.
  • Proper visit duration for each sight. Basilica Cistern for example may take only half an hour, but Topkapi Palace requires 4-5 hours. Camii (mosque) will take your time half an hour. Aya Sofia takes 2 hours. Istanbul Archaelogical Museum, 2-3 hours. Dolmabahce Palace, 2 hours (depending on the queue, guided visit is 50 minutes). Miniaturk is 3-4 hours including travel time from Sultanahmet. Visit to Camlica Hills, Kadikoy and Uskudar on the Asian side take half-day of your time. Depending on your shopping, Taksim Square, Istiklal Caddesi and Galata Tower take half-day. Visit to bazaar (Spice Bazaar or Grand Bazaar), for me, is pretty straightforward of less than an hour each. Excursions outside Istanbul (Prince’s Island, Bursa) take one day of your time. Fortunately there are some activities that can be done at night such as Bosphorus Dinner Cruise (19.30 – midnight), or Sufi Dance (19.30 – 20.30 PM or 21.00 – 22.00 PM)
  • Closing days. Some sights are not open throughout the week. You need to know when a particular sight is open before building an itinerary.

Closed on:

Sunday                 Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar

Monday               Hagia Sophia, Dolmabahce Palace, Archaelogical Museum, Beylerbeyi Palace

Tuesday               Topkapi Palace

Wednesday        None

Thursday             Dolmabahce Palace, Beylerbeyi Palace

  • Opening Time. Normal opening hours  for most sights are from 9-5 PM. No entry is usually allowed after 16.00 PM. Mosques are closed for praying half an hour before and after praying time or longer for mid-day Friday Prayer (Duhur).
Archaeological Museums (Arkeoloji Müzeleri)
Open: daily from 09.00 – 17.00, no entrance after 16.00
Closed: Monday, and until 12.00 on the first day of religious holidays
Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı)
Open: daily from 09.00 – 17.30
Closed: until 13.00 on the first day of religious holidays
Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)
Open: daily from 09.00 till dusk
Closed: 30 min before until 30 min after prayer time, 2 hours during Friday noon prayer
Dolmabahçe Palace (Dolmabahçe Sarayı)
Open: daily from 09.00 – 16.00
Closed: Monday, Thursday, January 1st and the first days of religious holidays
Egyptian or Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı)
Open: daily from 08.00 – 19.00
Closed: Sunday, October 29th and the full duration of religious holidays
Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi)
Open: daily from 09.00 – 20.00
Closed: no closing days
Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı)
Open: daily from 08.30 – 19.00
Closed: Sunday, October 29th and the full duration of religious holidays
Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya Müzesi)
Open: daily from 09.00 – 17.00
Closed: Monday, and until 13.00 on the first day of religious holidays
Harem (Harem)
Open: daily from 09.30 – 17.00, lunch break from 12.00 – 12.30
Closed: Tuesday, and until 12.00 on the first day of religious holidays
Süleymaniye Mosque (Süleymaniye Camii)
Open: daily from 09.00 – 17.30
Closed: during prayer time
Note: due to restoration, till 2010 only a small part of the mosque is open
Topkapi Palace (Topkapı Sarayı)
Open: daily from 09.00 – 17.00
Closed: Tuesday, and until 12.00 on the first day of religious holidays
Tünel (Tünel)
Open: daily from 07.00 – 21.00
Closed: no closing days

Source: http://www.istanbultrails.com/2008/06/overview-of-closing-days-and-opening-hours-in-istanbul/

  • Contingency. There is always something happen unforeseen. Be it weather, unexpected delay, very long queue that force you to divert, fully booked place, longer visiting time than planned or other circumstances. Prepare for allocating enough buffer time for contingency. If you travel with family or in group you will see slower itinerary progress  than if you’re solo traveler. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be in a rush, just prepare enough buffer time as said above.

  • Your point of interests. Are your after historical sights? Adventure? Shopping? Been there done that? Those will determine choices you have to make.

Itinerary Builder

You’ll find below an overview of the main attractions, grouped by type.

Museums

  • Archaeology Museums (Arkeoloji Müzeleri)
  • Harem (Harem) of Topkapi Palace
  • Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya)
  • Istanbul Modern
  • Military Museum

Palaces

  • Dolmabahçe Palace (Dolmabahçe Sarayı)
  • Topkapi Palace (Topkapı Sarayı)
  • Beylerbeyi Palace

Mosques

  • Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)
  • Süleymaniye Mosque (Süleymaniye Camii)
  • New Mosque (Yeni Camii)
  • Rustem Pasa Mosque
  • Other mosques: Kucuk Aya Sofia, Nuruosmaniye Camii, Beyazit Camii, Yeni  Valide Camii,

Places of Interest

  • Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı)
  • Bosphorus Cruise
  • Flower Passage (Çiçek Pasajı)
  • Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi)
  • Golden Horn (Haliç)
  • Hippodrome (At Meydanı)
  • Istiklal Street (İstiklal Caddesi)
  • Taksim Square (Taksim Meydanı)
  • Pierre Lotti Café
  • Miniaturk
  • Ortakoy
  • Uskudar and Kadikoy
  • Camlica Hills

Shopping

  • Egyptian or Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı)
  • Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı)
  • Istiklal Caddesi
  • Kanyon Shopping Mall
  • Olivium
  • Bagdat Caddesi

Excursions

  • Black Sea
  • Prince’s Island
  • Bursa and Uludag

Suggested Optimistic Itineraries

Day 1     :  Start early around 8 AM at Hippodrome, then enter Blue Mosque. By 9 Am start queueing for Aya Sofia. Before lunch, complete visit to Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi). Lunch then go to Grand Bazaar and nearby Suleymaniye Camii. Back to Beyazit Station through Istanbul University perimeter road. Go to Sultanahmet Square for Sightseeing Bus Tour. Back to hotel and ready to pick up for Bosphorus Dinner Cruise or watching Sufi Dance

Day 2     : Dedicated to Topkapi Palace. Light lunch at Konyali Restaurant at Topkapi overlooking Sea of Marmara. Take a tram to Kabatas, go to Dolmabahce Palace. Back to Kabatas, transfer to Taksim through Funicular. Strolling Istiklal Caddesi down to Galata Tower. End the day with dinner at Galata Bridge or Sirkeci Area.

Day 3     : Start sharply at 9 AM by visiting Istanbul Archaelogical Museum. Spend 2 hours. Go to Gulhane train station by walking thorugh Imperail Gate and cobbled street behind Topkapi walls. Take a tram to Eminonu. Visit Yeni Camii and Spice Bazaar. Take ferry to Uskudar. Take a taxi to Camlica Hills. Lunch at Camlica Restauratan overlooking Istanbul, and Bosphorus Strait. Back to Uskudar, visit Yeni Valide Camii or Maiden Tower. IF you have time, make your way to Kadikoy and see Haydarpasa Station. Back to Eminonu from Uskudar or Kadikoy

Day 4     : Excursions out of Istanbul: Bosphorus Cruise, Prince’s Island or Bursa.

Day 5     : Go to Miniaturk. Spend 2 hours at least. Go to Kanyon Shopping Mall (train to Taksim then Metro to LEvent) or Olivium Outlet at Zeytinburnu (accessed through train from Sirkeci Train Station). End the day with sampling Baklava at Sirkeci.

Day 6     : Your free day to make up any missed point of interests. You have the options to go to Beylerbeyi Palace at Asian Side near Bosphorus Bridge, visiting Golden Horn areas (Chora Church, Pierre Loti Café) or visiting Tophane for Istanbul Modern or Ortakoy for Ortakoy Camii & Ciragan Palace.

Istanbul – Preparation

Updated with now includes Tourist Traps, Language and Shopping

Understanding Istanbul

Istanbul is Turkey’s most populous city, and its cultural and financial center. Located on both sides of the Bosphorus, the narrow strait between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea, Istanbul bridges Asia and Europe both physically and culturally. Istanbul’s population is estimated to be between 12 and 19 million people, making it also the largest in Europe and one of the largest cities in the world. (Wikipedia).

Istanbul is divided in three by the north-south Bosphorus Strait (Istanbul Bogazi), the dividing line between Europe and Asia, the estuary of the Golden Horn (Haliç) bisecting the western part and the Sea of Marmara (Marmara Denizi) forming a boundary to the south. Most sights are concentrated in the old city on the peninsula of Sultanahmet, to the west of the Bosphorus between the Horn and the Sea. Across the Horn to the north are Galata, Beyoğlu and Taksim, the heart of modern Istanbul, while Kadıköy is the major district on the comparatively less-visited Anatolian side of the city. The Black Sea forms the northern boundary of Istanbul. (Wikitravel)

The following district descriptions are taken from Wikitravel:

Istanbul District Map (Source: Wikitravel)

Sultanahmet-Old City

Essentially Constantinople of Roman, Byzantine, and much of the Ottoman period, this is where most of the famous historical sights of Istanbul are located.

Galata

Housing much of the nightlife venues of the city, this district which includes Beyoğlu, Istiklal Street, and Taksim Square has also its own share of sights and accommodation.

New City

Main business district of the city, also home to many modern shopping malls, and districts such as Elmadağ, Nişantaşı, and Etiler.

Bosphorus

European bank of Bosphorus that is dotted by numerous palaces, parks, water-front mansions, and bohemian neighborhoods.

Golden Horn

Banks of Golden Horn, the estuary that separates European Side into distinctive districts. Eyüp with an Ottoman ambience is located here.

Princes’ Islands

An excellent getaway from the city, made up of an archipelago of nine car-free islands—some of them small, some of them big—with splendid wooden mansions, verdant pine forests and nice views—both on the islands themselves, and also on the way there.

Asian Side

Eastern half of Istanbul, with lovely neighborhoods at the Marmara and Bosphorus coasts.

Western Suburbs

Western chunk of the European Side.

Useful Links

For starter, I’d suggest browsing the following websites:

Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Istanbul

Wikitravel http://wikitravel.org/en/Istanbul

Google Maps http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=istanbul&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=32.472848,55.986328&ie=UTF8&ll=41.025499,28.976097&spn=0.120698,0.218697&z=12&iwloc=addr

Interactive Maps http://sehirrehberi.ibb.gov.tr/map.aspx

Turkeytravelplanner  http://www.turkeytravelplanner.com

Turism Tourkey  http://www.tourismturkey.org

Ministry of Culture and Tourism  http://www.turizm.gov.tr

Istanbultrails http://www.istanbultrails.com

 

Visa

Indonesians in Qatar need to apply visa prior to departure.  NOTE THAT NOW INDONESIANS WILL BE ABLE TO OBTAIN VISA ON ARRIVAL TO TURKEY!

Visa can be applied to Turkish Embassy in Doha. For other nationalities, you should check Ministry of Foreign Affairs http://www.mfa.gov.tr/visa-information-for-foreigners.en.mfa

Requirements:

–          Completed  Visa application form. The form can be obtained from http://www.mfa.gov.tr/data/KONSOLOSLUK/visaform.doc . The form is also available in Turkish Embassy, Doha. It is recommended that you fill visa application form prior to go to Embassy.

–          Travel document (passport) valid for at least six months with 1 photocopy

–          Non-refundable visa processing fee

–          One passport size photograph of the applicant

–          Documents supporting the purpose and the conditions of the planned visit

  • Travel itinerary/round trip ticket showing return to Doha
  • Hotel reservation covering the duration of stay in Turkey with payment guarantee
  • Letter of invitation (not needed if Hotel reservation available)

–          Guarantees regarding means of subsistence (extract of bank account where the applicant’s salary is transferred, covering the last three months)

–          For non-Qataris, a valid residence permit

–          For non-Qataris, a sponsor’s letter mentioning salary, position and duration of employment

–          If the person applies for a business visa, an invitation letter from the counterpart company in Turkey is also required

Address:

TURKISH EMBASSY IN DOHA P.O.BOX: 1977 TEL:495 13 00 FAX: 495 13 20

http://maps.google.com/maps?ie=UTF8&hl=en&ei=uf_URqiGHZGArQLNhKWaDg&cd=1&li=lmd&t=k&q=http:%2F%2Fbbs.keyhole.com%2Fubb%2Fdownload.php%3FNumber%3D894479&ftid=FCAB99FFD8D98650&om=0&ll=25.330106,51.517575&spn=0.001828,0.003648&z=18

Practical Tips:

–          Use dummy hotel booking if you’re still undecided about where to stay. You may place booking that can be cancelled without any cost (Booking.com for example can give you booking cancellation without cost up to 2 days prior to arrival)

–          Visa section (accessed through side entrance, near Thailand embassy) open from 9 to 12 PM only. However, queue started twenty minutes-half an hour before.

–          To go to Visa section, enter gate and security check and then turn right. Follow the only way to visa section. Take queue number near the door.

–          It is suggested that you compile required documents by person. For head of family, clip visa application form along with NOC, bank account statement, flight booking, and hotel booking

–          It is not clear what photo size and background color is required. I use 4×6 size with white background and it was accepted

–          Fee QR215 per person. I am not sure if it depends on the duration of stay.

–          Visa will be ready within two working days. It is advised that you process visa application one week prior to your departure.

–          Visa can be collected by other person

Flights

The city’s main airport is Istanbul Atatürk Airport (http://www.ataturkairport.com )(IST), 20 km west of the city centre. From the airport, there are various options for getting into Istanbul: you can take a taxi, the express bus service run by the local airport service called “Havaş” [3], the public bus (line #96T) run by İETT or by metro. Hotel will normally provide free airport transfer for staying 3 or more nights. Unless you are solo traveler I’d recommend you use hotel’s airport transfer or taxi.

Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (http://www.sabihagokcen.aero ) (SAW), located in the Anatolian side of the city. Charter flights as well as European low cost carriers operate from here most of the time. A Havaş bus connects this airport with Taksim in the city center for 13 TL (as of 2010) and takes about an hour. Other than you may use taxi. Hotel may provide free airport transfer for staying more than 7 nights or with fee.

Istanbultrails.com gives directions how to reach your hotel from airport.

From Doha you have the options to use direct flights of Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines (land at Ataturk) or low cost airline Jazeera Airways that lands at Sabiha Gokcen, with 1 hour transit in Kuwait City.

Ataturk & Sabiha Gokcen Airports of Istanbul

Accommodation

Every possible type of accommodation is available in Istanbul. You just need to select one that suits your budget. Location is very important when selecting you hotel. Sultanahmet & Sirkeci and around in Old City (Historic Peninsula), Beyoglu & Galata area, and Taksim area are three major hotel areas in Istanbul. Of these, I will recommend you to stay in Sultanahmet area. For reasons: Sultanahmet is where the largest concentration of historical sights are, and it’s within walking distances (or two-three station at most) and where majority of mid-range and budget accommodations are located.

You need to be aware of tourist season because it will largely affect room price. Room price for double room in 3-star hotel during low season can be as low as 70 Euro but skyrocket to 100 to 120 during peak or high peak season.

The other side, however, you can normally get 7-10% discount of room price if you pay by cash. So ensure that your booked hotel can give you this discount. Hotel will normally offer free airport transport from Ataturk International Airport if you stay more than 3 nights. If you arrive through Sabiha Gokcen Airport you can still have free airport transfer provided that you stay more than 7 nights (it’s case by case basis therefore consult with your hotel customer relation manager for benefits). Breakfast is usually included in you room price. Check that it is included. Some hotels insist that those free benefits can be only afforded if booking is made through hotel’s website.

For starting points, check the following selections of hotel, compiled by Turkeytravelplanner:

http://www.turkeytravelplanner.com/go/Istanbul/hotels/index.html

and for 3-star hotel in Sultanahmet area:

http://www.turkeytravelplanner.com/go/Istanbul/hotels/3star/index.html

Compare prices and facilities, and place booking through Booking.com or venere.com. My advice is to go to Booking .com for price comparison and then go to specific hotel’s website to see additional benefit it offers if booking is made through their website.

When is the best time?

The best time to visit Istanbul is around spring (April-May) and autumn (September-October). Temperature is perfect from  5 – 15 C.  July-August will be hot and steamy, and winter can be snowy, windy, and freezing. If you are after snow in Uludag, consider visiting it in November to April. Avoid high peak seasons during Christmas Holiday, end of year, Easter Holiday, and Formula 1 in May. During Ramadan or Eid Ul Fitri/religious festival, business hour can be erratic.

Check My Merhaba http://www.mymerhaba.com/ for the latest happening and event in the city.

Istanbul Seasonal Weather Average (Source: Wunderground.com)
  January February March April May June July August September October November December
High Temperature ( C ) 8 8 11 15 21 25 28 28 23 19 14 9
Low Temperature ( C ) 3 3 4 7 12 17 21 21 16 13 8 5

What does it cost? What money should I take?

Here is to start, 1 Euro = 2 YTL (Turkish Lira) = 5 QAR to simplify. Istanbul has both Euro and Lira in its price tag. It’s advised that you take only the necessary amount of Euro (for hotel payment upon check-in to claim for discount, or transportation or the first few days). Afterwards, you can withdraw Turkish Lira from many available ATMs. Change office available everywhere.

For your budget estimation, here is rough breakdown based on my experiences:

–          Flight:  QAR5700 (Jazeera Airways) to QAR8000 and up (Qatar Airways or Turkish Airlines) for 2 adults and 2 children (5 & 9 years)

–          Airport Transfer: Ataturk: 50 TL (1-4 people), Sabiha: 80 TL (1-4 people), or 120 TL (5-8 people)

–          Hotel: 3-star 75-300 Euro double room per night. In my case, Family Suite Room (4 people capacity): 135 & 115 Euro per night for High Peak and Peak Season respectively

–          Meals: Lokantas (Turkish food eatery): YTL10-15 per meal, Restaurant: 15-25 TL per meal. McD Value Meal: 8.95 TL, Fish sandwich (street vendor): 4.5 TL. Water 500ml: .5-1 TL

–          Transportation: Tram: 1.5 TL per trip, Taxi: Sultanahmet – Taksim: 15 TL

–          Tour: Half-day: 35 Euro per person, Full Day: 65 per person, Full Day Excursion: 90 Euro, Dinner Cruise: 50 Euro

–          Souvenir: fridge magnet 1-3 TL, T-shirt: 8-10 TL; models souvenir 6-8 TL; mug at specific attraction gift shop (i.e Aya Sofia, Topkapi) 17 TL

–          Entrance Fee: Average from 10-20 TL per person. Children are sometimes free. See Entrance and Tour fee blog for details on entrance fee.

How long? And what to see & do?

There are always best itineraries no matter how long you plan to stay in Istanbul. However, to properly appreciate the vast varieties of Istanbul sights and attractions I recommend that you take at least 3 days effective: 2 days in Old City and 1 day at Modern Istanbul.

My top picks:

–          Blue Mosque

–          Aya Sofia

–          Topkapi Palace

–          Basilica Cistern

–          Dolmabahce Palace

–          Istanbul Archaelogical Museum

–          Istiklal Caddesi, Taksim

–          Miniaturk

–          Sulaymani Camii

–          Sightseeing Bus Tour

For the shake of Been There:

–          Spice Bazaar

–          Grand Bazaar

–          Galata Tower

–          Camlica Hill

–          Uskudar & Kadikoy

–          Yeni Camii

And Done That

–          Bosphorus Dinner Cruise

–          See Sufi Music Concert

–          Try tram and train, dolmus, and taxi

–          Try simit, kestane, kebabs, Turkish pizza, etc.

If you have time:

–          Take Hamam (Turkish bath)

–          Take Bosphorus cruise all the way up to near Black Sea and down

–          Visit Golden Horn areas (Chora Church, Pierre Loti, etc.)

–          Visit Bagdat Caddesi, Kadikoy

–          Visit Prince’s Islands

More on these places on the itinerary blog.

Tourist Traps

As in many touristic areas, there are tourist traps in Istanbul by opportunistic people who want to get your money. Most common tourist traps are:

–          Carpet. There are a lot of stories regarding carpet shops, touts, and sellers. Google it. The precaution is: If you have no intention of buying a carpet, don’t go in the shop. If you are “just looking,” stay outside. Look from the window. Sure, you could walk out of a carpet store without buying anything, but the carpet salesman will try to make it look like you are being rude to him, and you feel guilty for his kindness (from offering you tea, coffee).  If you really want to buy a carpet, do a lot of research before coming to Istanbul. Go to a store in your own city and see how much hand-made carpets cost there. They might be cheaper than in Istanbul!

–          Perfume seller. Selling fake perfume for cheap. Of course they are cheap. Sometimes the sellers use to touch your humanity by telling stories about how unfortunate they are (i.e. family is sick, no milk for babies). They have so many tricks to engage you into conversation with the hope that you may end up buying. “Do you know much this price?” they tried to engage me. “No thank you”, I said. You need to be firm. Avoid any eye contact. Just say “No Thank You,” over and over, and keep walking. Learn how to say no thank you in turkish. “Hayir. Tesekkur” It will help tremendously.

–          Taxi. Taking a longer route, don’t give you a change, or pretend to don’t have a change, or flashing money are just some taxi driver’s tricks. If you happen to have a taxi trap, you can note their number plate and inform the police. Arguing with a taxi driver may not always solve the problem, so do not intend to threaten them. Study a map prior to your departure, have a mental map of location of interests, and know average taxi fare.

–          Menu order. You may be served meals different with what your order. With their limited English, it’s sometimes quite hard to argue. Never order meals without tag price and always confirm your order.

–          Bazaar. The prices in Grand Bazaar are much more expensive than outside. Spice Bazaar is not as much of a tourist trap as the Grand Bazaar, but it’s getting there. T-shirt in souvenir shop in Sirkeci costs 8 TL but 10-15 TL in Spice Bazaar. Magnet or key chain is 1-2 TL more expensive in Spice Bazaar.

–          Friendly and politeness with motives. One of them is I know here you are from tactics. “Haji, Haji. Indonesia? Apa kabar?” then you’re amazed and replied, you’re engaged, and they started introducing his shops and tried to drag you to their shop. As one said: You may feel silly answering the question, “Where are you from” with “No thank you”, but you have to learn to do this. Otherwise you’ll spend all your time trying to extract yourself from these guys rather than seeing the sights

–          Flash wallet. As someone shared his story: We were in taxi driven by a young guy. He pulled up in back of the hotel, which in retrospect should have set off some warnings. When he told us the fare, I pulled out a wad of lira and started counting out the amount, but with all the zeros, struggled a bit. The driver whipped the money out of my hand and started loudly counting out the fare, and handed the roll back to me. I knew immediately that he had through slight of hand stolen the equivalent of about sixty dollars. We argued with him but thought the better of it and got out. A hard lesson learned. I have not since flashed money in a cab or anywhere in plain view.

–          Bosphorus cruise. It’s not really traps, but wasted cost-saving opportunity. Tour agent charging expensive price for cruise. Why don’t take public ferry? (http://www.ido.com.tr) has scheduled cruises (note that summer and winter schedule may be different).  Or try what Turkeytravelplanner suggests  http://www.turkeytravelplanner.com/go/Istanbul/Sights/Bosphorus/BosphorusCruise.html

  • This also applies to walking tour to Sultanahmet areas. Rather than spending 35 Euro per person, you may want to explore areas by yourself.

Full list of tourist traps is on the below link, however, some are outdated (for example:  there are no more photography cost in Dolmabahce Palace since photography now is not allowed inside the palace).

http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/Middle_East/Turkey/Istanbul_Ili/Istanbul-1837624/Tourist_Traps-Istanbul-BR-1.html

Language

In Istanbul’s tourist area, you will find little trouble in finding someone speaks English (though we had difficulty with a taxi driver who took us to Miniaturk) but few words in Turkish will be very nicely received and bring instant return.

Ne kadar? How much.

Tesekkur. Thank you

Evet. Yes

Hayir. No

Tuvalet nerede? Where is toilet?

Giris. Entrance

Cikis. Exit

Camii. Mosque

Carsisi. Market/Bazaar

Su. Water

Sut. Milk

Buyuk. Big

Kucuk. Small

Bir. One

Iki. Two

……are just examples you will find yourself familiar with once landed in Sultanahmet.

Basic Turkish can be found here:

http://www.turkeytravelplanner.com/details/LanguageGuide/100words_lessons/index.html

http://www.istanbultrails.com/basic-turkish-for-tourists/

http://www.istanbultrails.com/2008/12/communication-essentials-turkish-language-for-tourists/

Shopping & Indirim

For souvenirs, I’d suggest that you buy in souvenir shops. They are plenty along Hudavendigar Caddesi (tramway from Gulhane to Sirkeci). They put reasonable price tags which are less expensive than in Spice Bazaar, for example.

For indirim (sale) to fashion/garments, head to Olivium Outlet Center, at Zeytinburnu (http://www.olivium.com/gb-profile.asp) . International brands such as Adidas, Pumo, Koppa, Nine West, Tommy Hilfıger, Cacharel, Pierre Cardin, US Polo, Gottex, Reebok, Mudo Outlet, Diesel, Mango etc… can give low prices. Shoppers can save up to 40% – 60%. Take suburban train line from Sirkeci and alight at Kazlıçeşme station.

Kanyon shopping mall http://www.kanyon.com.tr (take Metro line from Taksim, alight at Levent) is the newest and the largest, if not, one of the largest, mid to high class shopping mall in Istanbul. If you have time.

Travelogues in waiting

It’s been a while since the last post.

Well, I was out of country for the last 10 days (1-10 April 2010), gone to Istanbul and stopover in Kuwait City. Please check back for my travelogues to those two countries.

Thank you.