Updated with now includes Tourist Traps, Language and Shopping
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:
Essentially Constantinople of Roman, Byzantine, and much of the Ottoman period, this is where most of the famous historical sights of Istanbul are located.
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.
Main business district of the city, also home to many modern shopping malls, and districts such as Elmadağ, Nişantaşı, and Etiler.
European bank of Bosphorus that is dotted by numerous palaces, parks, water-front mansions, and bohemian neighborhoods.
Banks of Golden Horn, the estuary that separates European Side into distinctive districts. Eyüp with an Ottoman ambience is located here.
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.
Eastern half of Istanbul, with lovely neighborhoods at the Marmara and Bosphorus coasts.
Western chunk of the European Side.
For starter, I’d suggest browsing the following websites:
Interactive Maps http://sehirrehberi.ibb.gov.tr/map.aspx
Turism Tourkey http://www.tourismturkey.org
Ministry of Culture and Tourism http://www.turizm.gov.tr
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
– 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
TURKISH EMBASSY IN DOHA P.O.BOX: 1977 TEL:495 13 00 FAX: 495 13 20
– 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
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” , 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.
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:
and for 3-star hotel in Sultanahmet area:
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.
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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
– 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.
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).
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
Tuvalet nerede? Where is toilet?
……are just examples you will find yourself familiar with once landed in Sultanahmet.
Basic Turkish can be found here:
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.