Istanbul is Turkey’s most populous city as well as its cultural and financial hub. Located on both sides of the Bosphorus, the narrow strait between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea, Istanbul connects Asia and Europe both physically and culturally. One of the world’s greatest cities, Istanbul has been coveted by empires throughout centuries. After serving as the Byzantine Empire’s great capital of Constantinople and after the Ottoman conquest of the city, it was officially renamed Istanbul after the founding of the Turkish Republic.
Istanbul is a charming city full of historical sites complete with warm, friendly locals. It is so rich in history, its former names —Byzantium and Constantinople— may take you back to history class. Tourism in Istanbul can likely owe its steady flow to the architectural masterpieces, including remnants of both these empires, that still stand tall in the heart of the city.
With its long history at the center of empires, Istanbul offers a wealth of historic and religious places to take in. The bulk of these ancient monuments, dating back to Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods, including the Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), and Basilica Cistern are located around Sultanahmet Square, while some others are dispersed throughout the peninsula of old city, such as Church of St Savior in Chora (Kariye Müzesi), entire inside of which is covered by mindblowing frescoes and mosaics. An impressive section of mostly intact Theodosian walls, which mark the full length of western boundary of the peninsula, is right next to this particular church.
North of the peninsula of old city, across the Golden Horn, is Galata, crowned by the Galata Tower. Istanbul Modern, with its exhibitions of contemporary Turkish art, is on the nearby waterfront of Karaköy. Another sight of religious significance close by is the Galata Whirling Dervish Hall of Sufi Mevlevi order, just north of the Tower. Further north is the Istiklal Avenue, Istanbul’s prominent pedestrian street running from near Galata Tower to Taksim Square, the central square of whole city.
Across the Bosphorus to east is Asian Side, centred around the historical districts of Kadıköy and Üsküdar, and perhaps best symbolized by Maiden’s Tower, located at about the halfway between these districts, on an islet just off the shore. Bosphorus and Marmara coasts of this half of the city is characterized by quite picturesque neighbourhoods, overlooked by Çamlıca Hill, one of the highest hills of the city which has a view of much of the rest of the city as well, with a cafe and a pleasant park on its summit.
If you need a visa to enter Turkey, it can usually be obtained online. Check if this applies to you, and apply in advance, at www.evisa.gov.tr. Do not rely upon any other website as the rules may change suddenly.. Also some websites charge extra for no additional service. In general EU Schengen and UK passport holders don’t need a visa to enter (as of February 2022), for up to 90 days in a 180 day period. North American need a visa costing US$35-50 valid for 90 days, residents of China pay US$ 60 for 30 days, and visa duration and price varies for other nations. Some travelers are not eligible for an evisa and must apply for a conventional visa via their local Turkish Embassy. However these same travelers who are otherwise ineligible with solely their citizenship may be eligible for an eVisa if they hold a valid visa or residence permit for Schengen, USA, UK or Ireland.
Istanbul has a good public transport system with lots of new metro, rail and tram lines opening since the Millenium. There are many out-of station transfers that require you to pay another fare, to get where you are going. However, if you put some effort into it, you can avoid taxis and not walk too much. An easy way to cope with the system is to download city-smart applications such as “trafi”. Google maps also show updated transport options between two points of travel.
There is an extensive bus system, including city-run and private buses, as well as one high-speed Metrobüs line; an extensive light rail system including six Metro (underground) lines, four Tramvays (aboveground), three Fünikülers (ascending/descending), two mini-lines called Teleferik, and the Marmaray (underwater) lines; and the ferries which travel the Bosphorus.
Buying an ‘’Istanbulkart’’ is a good idea if you are in Istanbul for more than a day or two, and intend to use public transport. Basically it pays itself if you take more than 4 times of bus, metro, ferry etc. This is a plastic card that looks like a credit card. It can be used as a ticket on buses, trams, suburban trains, metro, some cross-Bosphorus ferries, and even some public toilets. You touch the Istanbulkart to a reader when you get on the bus or enter the tram/metro platform. You can buy or refill them at designated booths located at any major bus, tram, to metro station, as well as some other places such as newspaper stands close to bus stops.
Weather in Istanbul
Istanbul has a temperate oceanic climate which is influenced by a continental climate, with hot and humid summers and cold, wet and occasionally snowy winters.
Winter is cold and wet, averaging 2ºC at night and 7ºC during the day. Although rarely below freezing during the day, high relative humidity levels and the wind chill makes it feel bitterly cold and very unpleasant.
Snowfall, which occurs almost annually, is common between the months of December and March, with an annual total snow cover of almost three weeks, but average winter snowfall varies considerably from year to year, and snow cover usually remains only for a few days after each snowfall, even under intense snow conditions.
Istanbul has a high annual average rainfall of 844mm (which is more than that of London, Dublin or Brussels, whose negative reputation Istanbul does not suffer), with late autumn and winter being the wettest, and late spring and summer being the driest. Although late spring and summer are relatively dry when compared to the other seasons, rainfall is significant during these seasons, and there is no dry season as a result.
For visitors an umbrella is recommended during spring, autumn and winter, and during the summer to avoid the sun and occasionally the rain. However, it’s not such a big problem, since streets of Istanbul are suddenly filled by umbrella sellers as soon as it starts raining.