Istanbul, being located between Europe and Asia, offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy the best of both cultures. Istanbul is also historically known as Byzantium and Constantinople, and it is the largest city in Turkey. The city covers 39 districts.
Before you get there
Turkish is the official language. English is widely understood in the main tourist areas.
Parts of Istanbul are fairly traditional, so shorts should cover knees and T-shirts cover shoulders, otherwise you would look out of place. When visiting mosques, women should bring a scarf to cover head and shoulders. These are also provided at mosques.
Entry requirements for Americans: US passport holders must have a valid passport. A visa is required, which can be obtained from the point of entry, valid for three months and single entry only.
Entry requirements for UK nationals: UK passport holders must have a valid passport. British Citizens and British National (Overseas) residing in Hong Kong can obtain a multiple-entry visa on arrival for three months, but other passport holders must obtain a visa from an overseas Turkish mission prior to arrival.
Entry requirements for Canadians: Canadian passport holders must have a valid passport. A visa is required, which is valid for up to three months (multiple entry), and can be obtained from the point of entry.
Entry requirements for Australians: Australian passport holders must have a valid passport. A visa is required, which is valid for up to three months (multiple entry), and can be obtained from the point of entry.
Entry requirements for South Africans: South Africans must hold a valid passport. A visa is required which can be obtained on arrival for a period of one month (multiple entry). South Africans may be required to show they hold US$50 funds per day for the duration of their intended stay.
Entry requirements for New Zealand nationals: New Zealand nationals require a valid passport, but no visa is necessary for a stay of up to three months.
New Year's Day (1 Jan), Kurban Bayram - Feast of Sacrifice (Dec/Jan; 10 days earlier each year), National Sovereignty & Children's Day (23 Apr), Ataturk Commemorations & Youth Sports Day (19 May), Victory Day (30 Aug), Seker Bayram - Festival of the Breaking of the Fast (Sep/Oct; 10 days earlier each year), Republic Day (28-29 Oct).
The climate in Istanbul is Mediterranean, although rain does occasionally occur in Summer. The weather in Summer is generally hot, sunny and humid. Winters are cold and wet, and snowfalls are common between November and April.
220V AC, 50 Hz, two-pin round plugs are standard.
+90 (national), (0) 212 (European side) or 216 (Asian side) + eight-digit number (Istanbul).
The international country dialling code for Turkey is +90. The outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). City/area codes are in use, e.g. Istanbul Asya (Asia side) is (0)216 and Istanbul Avrupa (Europe side) is (0)212. GSM 900 and 1800 networks cover most of the country.
New Turkish Lira (YTL) is the currency (introduced on 1 January 2005).
Banks open mainly Monday to Friday, but some are open daily in tourist areas. ATMs are widely available in major cities and tourist areas, but Turkish ATM keypads usually do not have letters of the alphabet on their keys.
GMT +2 (+3 from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October).
Getting Around – Transport
Istanbul Ataturk International Airport (IST) - The airport is situated 15 miles (23km) west of Istanbul.
Car rental companies include Avis, Budget, Hertz, Alamo, National and Sixt.
Istanbul's yellow taxis are cheap and comfortable. If you are thinking of using taxis, it might be better if you avoid rush-hour clogged streets.
Getting the ferry between the European and Asian side of Istanbul is cheap and has the best views. This is a pleasurable way of getting around, especially on sunny days.
Bus and minibus
Most of the single-decker buses are now air-conditioned but can get packed and very hot in summer. The dolmuş (minibus) is faster, and even though it is slightly more expensive, it always guarantees a seat and is better for long journeys. One can take them from designated stops around the city.
The underground metro line runs from Aksaray to the main city bus station at Esenler and the Ataturk Airport, and another runs north from Taksim Square, passing the Levent districts. The Metro is efficient and the quickest way to get from Taksim Square to the business and shopping districts of Levent.
The tramway starts in Eminönü harbour (Spice Market) with stops including Sultanahmet for the Blue Mosque and Aksaray for the Grand Bazaar.
The rechargeable Akbil electronic transit pass, available from special kiosks, is a discounted way of using public transport including buses, metro, local ferry and tram. This is a cheap way of using public transport, since it saves time and money, as otherwise tickets would have to be bought before each journey.
Bosphorus Boat Tour
5th century Land Walls
Covered Bazaar (Kapali Çarsi)
Turkish and Islamic Art Museum
Sisli Science Centre
Discovery Sphere Planetarium
Beaches at Kilyos or Sile
Emir Sultan Mosque
ski slopes at Uludag in winter
Spa town of Termal
Abdi Ipekçi Caddesi in Nişantaşi
Çukurcuma in Beyoglu
Galipdede Sokak in Tünel
Markets in Istanbul:
Spice Bazaar (also called Egyptian Bazaar)
Galatasaray's Fish Market
Standard shopping hours are Monday-Saturday 9.30am-7pm, although shops are open much later on Istiklal Caddesi. Markets are usually closed on Sundays, apart from Ortakoy's weekend market.
Food and Drink
Eating out in Istanbul restaurants gives diners a taste of combined traditional cuisine of Europe and Asia. The Sultanahmet area has the most restaurants. Traditional Turkish food, such as turbot with saffron and raspberry, or cinnamon flavoured chicken kebabs, can be enjoyed at restaurants in the Edirnekapi and Ortaköy areas, while seafood restaurants can be found in Kanlýca. For late-night dining during warmer months, head for the outdoor restaurants in Nevizade Sokak, Cicek Pasaji and Kumkapi. Istanbul restaurants serving Turkish, Mediterranean and Asian cuisine are found in Beyoglu and Sisli, whilst excellent cafés can be found in Taksim and Ortaköy.
Beyoðlu has plenty of wine bars and rooftop bars. One should consider visiting Meyhanes, which are Turkish taverns famous for raki and mezze platters. Some of the best nightclubs are in Ortaköy, overlooking the Bosphorous. Clubs and bars stay open very late.
United States Consulate General, Istanbul: +90 (0)212 335 9000.
British Embassy, Ankara: +90 (0)252 3130021.
Canadian Embassy, Ankara: +90 (0)312 409 2700.
Australian Embassy, Ankara: +90 (0)312 459 9500.
South African Embassy, Ankara: +90 (0)312 446 4056.
Irish Embassy, Ankara: +90 (0)312 446 6172.
New Zealand Embassy, Ankara: +90 (0)312 467 9054/6/8.
Istanbul Emergency Numbers
Emergencies: 100 (Police); 101/112 (Ambulance); 102 (Fire)