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Just before dawn, there’s an eerie silence in Istanbul before the city abruptly comes to life, as the call to morning prayer reverberates through the ancient markets and winding alleyways. Jump on the Bosporus ferry to experience a startling contrast between East and West.
In the deepest, darkest recesses beneath Sultanahmet Square lies an amazing relic rescued from the sands of time. Around 7,000 slaves gave their blood, sweat and tears building these subterranean caverns, which look like a buried church. Inside, it’s awe-inspiring – 2.4 acres of marble columns, some topped with Roman mythological figures…and mood lighting for the gods!Accommodations near Basilica Cistern
Sky, cerulean, azure…it’s a festival of blue! Light reflects every shade of the coolest color as it strikes the famous tiles of this mosque, one of the most celebrated in Islam. The mosque itself is part of a larger complex that includes a covered bazaar, Turkish baths, public kitchens, a hospital, schools, a caravansary, and the mausoleum of Sultan Ahmet.Accommodations near Sultanahmet Mosque ('Blue Mosque')
This 1500-year-old monument has seen it all. Built as a church then transformed into a mosque, it’s now one of the world’s great museums. Inside, you’ll find an amazing synthesis of Christian and Islamic design, reflected in the time-worn mosaics on the walls of this enormous space. It’s a good idea to purchase tickets online to avoid the long lines.Accommodations near Hagia Sophia
If there’s money to be made, you’ll find one of the bazaar's vendors selling it. For flashy decorations, Turkish fashion or any number of tourist trinkets, the Grand Bazaar has 3,000+ shops to browse, spread throughout dozens of covered alleys. One of the world’s oldest and largest markets is also a prime spot to practice your haggling skills – never accept the first offer!Accommodations near Grand Bazaar
Once upon a time, the Sultanate moved across town, and left behind 173 acres of prime real estate. Built in 1478, Topkapi Palace was the heart and mind of the Ottoman Empire for centuries. What lay abandoned in 1853 was restored 50 years later, when the palace became one of Istanbul’s premier museums, with elaborate courtyards, gates and a harem that remain largely intact.Accommodations near Topkapi Palace
Faster than you can say "sugar and spice," the spices at this market will have you soaking up one fragrant scent after another. Pick up jasmine, juniper, and everything in between, from the vendors at one of the world’s oldest and largest markets. Search for Egyptian scented oils, Iranian saffron and Russian caviar – the world is at your fingertips here.Accommodations near Spice Bazaar
Süleyman the Magnificent’s (1520–66) taste was pretty…well, magnificent. Despite having wealth beyond imagination, his refined taste inspired this mosque’s minimal design. This allows simple touches, like beams of light through the stained-glass windows, to shine through. The complex also houses public service buildings and the charming Darüzziyafe Restaurant.Accommodations near Suleymaniye Mosque
Inmates imprisoned here during the Ottoman era would imagine flying across the Bosporous to freedom. Centuries later, Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi did just that, an early aviator who flew on artificial wings straight to the Anatolian side. These days, Galata Tower’s famous 360° panoramic views of the city and its popular restaurant offer plenty of fun for all visitors.Accommodations near Galata Tower
Taksim Square might be associated with recent political unrest, but a trip here paints a vastly different picture. The square is the heart of modern Istanbul and functions mainly as a transportation hub. It’s also a popular entertainment area, surrounded by shops, restaurants and local cafes. Cross town on the historic tram for a nostalgic touch of old Istanbul.Accommodations near Taksim Square
Apartments with 285 rooms are hard to come by, but that’s exactly what Sultan Abdülmecid I was after. In 1856, he, his wife, children and pet hamster moved in with 6 other sultans. Blending Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical influences, Dolmabahce’s amenities include 68 toilets, 6 steam rooms, dozens of opulent chandeliers, its own clock tower – and now even Wi-Fi.Accommodations near Dolmabahce Palace
Several districts make up this area. The salty sea air blows through the medieval ruins of Rumelihisari fortress, which makes for an unforgettable coastal stroll. Sisli has peculiar monuments like Ihlamur Palace (an Ottoman Summer Palace) and the Atatürk Museum (devoted to the life of Turkey's first president) that are worth a visit.Accommodations in European Side
This historically conservative area has given way to the "new" Istanbul. Fatih’s historic Wednesday market is a mixture of sights and sounds that can’t be missed. Any other day, start at Sultanahmet Square and branch out to the historic Topkapi Palace and Complex, Hagia Sophia and the gorgeous coastal walkways along Kennedy Avenue.Accommodations in Fatih
Begin your adventure in Sultanahmet Square: the gateway to the historic center. In Topkapi Palace, Byzantine artifacts shine proudly in the display cases. Hagia Sophia’s mosaics are time-worn, reflecting the history of a space that has been both mosque and church across 1.5 millennia. Funky bars and cozy cafes summon you to come enjoy a drink.Accommodations in Old City Sultanahmet
Street culture, energetic cafes and antique stores with unique treasures await in this cosmopolitan district. Fashionistas will have a field day at the boutiques on Istiklal Avenue. Concerts, movie theaters and exhibition centers provide family-friendly entertainment, and the trendy clubs and bars bring out the glamourous after dark.Accommodations in Taksim
Istiklal Avenue’s historic buildings loom over the eateries and brand-name stores below. You can head to Cicek Passage and Nevizade Street to dine in an old-world ambiance. From here, take the tram to Galata Tower for picture-perfect city views. Stick around in Karakoy for the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, or the trendy retaurants.Accommodations in Beyoglu
Sisli is a large district on the European side of Istanbul, near the Bosporus Bridge. A mix of mosques, churches and synagogues make the area eclectic. The Trump Towers and Cevahir Shopping Mall are reminders of the growing tide of commercialism sweeping through the area. The narrow streets of Nisantasi are loaded with boutiques and galleries.Accommodations in Sisli
The Asian side of Istanbul lives on the edge of the past and present. Kadıköy is a mix of scents and sounds; in Moda, buy tapas-style food from a quirky street vendor, then wander past tattoo parlors and street art for a live exhibition of urban Istanbul flow. Buy branded clothing on Bagdat Avenue, then dine out in style.Accommodations in Asian Side
Start your adventure at the Laleli Complex, which contains a historic mosque in the raised courtyard at its heart. The mosque is considered one of Istanbul's finest examples of 18th-century Ottoman architecture. From here, stop by one of the many textile merchants (the area's economic lifeblood) or sip a coffee in one of the cozy cafes.Accommodations in Laleli
There’s a sort of haze around the palaces, towers and gardens around Beyazit Mosque, giving the feeling of being lost in time. The mosque has stood proudly since 1506 and weathered many storms over its cut-stone exterior. The Grand Bazaar is filled with the sights, smells and sounds of an authentic Turkish market.Accommodations in Beyazit
Sirkeci is a coastal district that has gone from shabby to chic. Search for some delicious street food or visit the delightful eateries around Hoca Pasa Street. Boutique shopping is fairly personalized here. It's also the perfect launchpad for adventures in the Old City, with many major attractions less than a 10-minute walk away.Accommodations in Sirkeci
Fragments of the Ottoman Empire remain in this district on the coast. Picnic or play in the flower-filled groves of Yildiz Park, followed by a walk to Ortakoy – inviting cafes by day and plush clubs by night. Salute the sea at the Turkish Naval Museum, see and be seen in trendy Bebek and Kurucesme, or crown your day at Dolmabahce Palace.Accommodations in Besiktas
To stay in Kadıköy means immersing yourself in traditional Turkish culture, and it’s a fast ferry ride from this residential district to the city’s prime attractions. Elaborate wooden houses that creak with the passing of time, and remnants of the Roman Empire await as you wander the streets. Indulge in mouth-watering Turkish Delights from Akustik Market.Accommodations in Kadikoy
Aksaray is primarily known as a transportation hub, with easy connections to Taksim and the Old City, though there are still some charms in the area. The area is filled with budget hotels, but one sight worth seeing is Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Camii, a 19th-century imperial mosque built in a fusion of styles, known for its unique stone masonry.Accommodations in Aksaray
Take a decent pair of walking shoes to navigate the 3.4-mile stretch atop the 8th-century City Walls of Constantinople. Make sure to spend some time at Kara Ahmet Pasha Mosque, a medieval learning center that houses painstakingly detailed mosaics. The area maintains its scholarly nature, with many cafes and student haunts.Accommodations in Topkapi
Ortakoy’s residents are youthful and cosmopolitan. Among the swathes of modern art galleries, you'll find eateries tempting you with delicious local delicacies. One of the area's oldest buildings is the Turkish Bath, followed by the neo-Baroque Ortakoy Mosque. Take a cruise across the Bosporus, or shop for trinkets at the emporiums.Accommodations in Ortakoy
You could spend your entire trip immersed in Turkish culture in Üsküdar. Head inland for antique shops and boutiques and bring a healthy appetite to the local eateries. Find a fragment of the lost Ottoman Empire in the lavish Beylerbeyi Sarayi (Palace). It’s a short ferry ride from Kiz Kulesi (The Maiden’s Tower) from the famous Greek myth.Accommodations in Uskudar
Eyup has a long Muslim history. The Tomb of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari—dedicated to a slain friend of the Prophet—is an important pilgrimage site in Islam. The elaborate tiles of Eyup Sultan Mosque and Ottoman-era cemeteries with elaborate marble tombstones are definitely worth seeing. From here, take the Eyup Gondola to Pierre Loti, overlooking the Golden Horn.Accommodations in Eyup
Melike loves to be immersed in nature with family and friends, away from city life.
I really love a weekend away in Mihrabat Korusu, which is one of Istanbul’s biggest groves. Brunch with family and friends, followed by a long walk along the trails immerses you in pure and unspoiled nature. I’d recommend coming to the area with a private car or a taxi.Accommodations nearby
Duygu is a shopaholic – when she finds unusual clothes and accessories, out comes the cash!
Bagdat Street is heaven for a woman who has been shopping her whole life and still has nothing to wear! There are stores ranging from well-known international brands to local boutiques. It also includes a lot of cafes and restaurants where you can sip coffee after a tiring shopping adventure.Accommodations nearby
Spontaneous Baytan loves grabbing a couple of drinks on a fun night out with friends.
Kadıköy Bar Street, also known as Kadife Sokak, is known for its good prices and relaxed atmosphere. Most of the places are cozy and casual and you don’t have to make a reservation. Sometimes I want higher quality meals, so I head to the wine houses for exquisite dishes and drinks.Accommodations nearby
Goksu has lived in Istanbul for 26 years and loves seeing the city by boat.
A 1-hour-long Bosporus cruise may be the most unforgettable experience you have in Istanbul. I’d recommend setting aside a few hours, then setting out on the ferry from Ortakoy. It’s especially wonderful to take the ferry during the spring and summer months.Accommodations nearby
On Saturday mornings, Oylun loves going to an exhibition and reading in a local park.
SALT Galata – the former Headquarters of the Ottoman Bank – is filled with history and excitement. I like to sip a coffee or have lunch at the restaurant overlooking the uneven roofs of Karakoy and the Golden Horn. The on-site gallery also has cutting-edge exhibitions to enjoy afterwards.Accommodations nearby
Istanbul never ceases to surprise and amaze Aslı, even after 26 years of living here.
Çiçek Pasajı is the best place to spoil yourself in Istanbul! I recommend trying some "raki" (or any number of delectable Turkish dishes) at the eateries underneath the covered passages of Çiçek Pasajı. Some of the eateries even have live music right next to your table!Accommodations nearby
Onur loves a bit of soccer therapy now and again – especially at the legendary stadiums!
I love the atmosphere in Turk Telecom Arena during soccer season. Galatasaray fans are some of the loudest in the world – they even made the Guinness Book of Records in 2011 with a 131.76-decibel roar from the crowd! You can also buy merchandise at the large store in front of the stadium.Accommodations nearby
Not too luxurious, not too cheap – high-quality clothing at decent prices keeps Eklimya happy!
If you are looking for reasonably priced fashion, shop at Terkos Passage at the end of the Istiklal Street. Terkos has the atmosphere of a bazaar; you’ll find branded products and everything in between under one roof. Here’s a tip: negotiate with the sellers if you’re paying with cash!Accommodations nearby
Booking.com asked travelers...How can you enjoy the sights in Istanbul while avoiding the crowds?
Get up early. Most museums open at 9 AM. Crowds are already gathering before opening. If you go later than 10 AM to Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia, Basilica Cistern - you're gonna have a bad time. Queues are hundreds of meters long, going slow. The rest of the monuments have reasonable queues, and can be visited later in the day. Don't go to Taksim Square, or on the road that leads from Taksim to Galata Tower if you don't like large crowds. There are millions of people on that main street. Might help getting a museum pass. At the time of our visit, it would've made up for its cost, and we wouldn't have to wait in long queues because we'd get an express pass.See all 133 answers
Booking.com asked travelers...Describe what other people like you would like about shopping in Istanbul.
Grand Bazaar! Amazing experience that no one should miss. It's not really about the products there but the atmosphere. There are 64 streets in the bazaar but I think only 10 types of stores, many of each of them. The sellers will try to reach to you by trying to guess where you are from and as you start communicating with them you'll experience their enthusiasm about their products and their love for the customers. Their goal is to sell you everything and they do it really well, I enjoyed it a lot! If the Grand Bazaar is too big for you then try the Spice Bazaar at the New Mosque, much smaller but similar atmosphere.See all 104 answers
Booking.com asked travelers...Why do you recommend Istanbul for food?
You can get Turkish food almost anywhere in the world but trying the local variants is just unforgettable. I never liked hummus or falafel too much before this but in Istanbul I tried the local ones and they were so delicious I'll never forget. Very creamy and you can actually taste the chickpeas. Also the Turkish breakfast was a delight (no pun intended) after my trip in France where they just have croissants in the morning. The Turkish breakfast is healthy and filling with eggs, cheese, olives, vegetables and butter and jams for bread.See all 135 answers
Booking.com asked travelers...What makes the people from Istanbul so friendly? Tell us your story.
The atmosphere. You can find most of these things in other places but not in market places with such heady atmosphere as in Istanbul. It is an experience to spend time in Grand Bazaar even if you buy nothing. Shopping areas in India, my country, are equally interesting but they tend to be dirty and full of traps like potholes and overflowing drains. Istanbul has the atmosphere without these problems. The place we liked most was Arasta Bazaar near the Blue Mosque.See all 55 answers
Booking.com asked travelers...What did you discover about the museums in Istanbul that wasn't in the guidebooks?
Get an Istanbul card which you can then load at machines at all transport stations. This allows you to travel very cheaply on trams, ferries, metro bus etc regardless of the distance. We kept ours from a previous trip and just loaded it at the airport. Easy and very cheap way to travel in from Ataturk airport.See all 34 answers
Booking.com asked travelers...What is it in Istanbul that makes history come to life?
Istanbul is a bustling city with a dramatic backdrop of mosques and muslim culture. Turkish people are very proud to be part of such a great nation, but they are also very humble and welcoming to guests. I loved my time there.See all 139 answers
Booking.com asked travelers...Describe the best ancient landmarks to visit in Istanbul.
Agia Sofia is a must, Basilica Cistern and The Topkapi Palace. The Bosphorus tour is also interesting and the scenery is absolutely fantastic. The mix between ancient Christiasn, Romans, Otomans is an Invaluable experience.See all 64 answers
Booking.com asked travelers...Is there more to shopping in Istanbul than just brand-name stores?
Amazing cheap high quality Turkish brands. My favourite: Desa, Derimod - for leather goods, Gizia - for fashion, Magic form - lingerie, Koton, Mudo, Collins - cheap clothesSee all 79 answers
Booking.com asked travelers...How can you get the most authentic cultural experience in Istanbul?
To get the best experience is to walk a lot ,use the public transportation ,such as the metro lines and Ferries .There are also many guided tours.See all 68 answers
Istanbul’s main airport is 12.5 miles from the city center. Taxis are readily available and are the most convenient way to reach the center – they cost around TRY 45 and take 30 minutes in mild traffic. The Havatas Bus to Taksim Square is a better value. It departs every 30 minutes on the hour between 4 am – 1 am, costs around TRY 10, and takes around 30 minutes. From Taksim Square, catch either a taxi or the metro to your end destination.
The "Hafif Metro" is very efficient. There are two main lines: Yenikapı to Ataturk Airport (M1A) and Yenakapi to Haciosman (M2). The M1 runs every 5 minutes from 6 am – 12:30 am from Monday to Saturday, and every 8 minutes on Sunday. The M2 line runs from 6:15 am – 12:30 am Monday to Saturday (from 6:30 am on Sunday). To use the Metro, purchase a token from a machine or swipe an "Istanbulkart" (available at some Biletmatik machines) to pass through the turnstiles.
Taxis are easy to find – just stop at a taxi stand or hail one from the street. They’re reasonably priced compared to prices in Western Europe and the U.S., making them an affordable way to travel. Official taxis are bright yellow with the words "taksi" on top, and always have digital meters. Language is often an issue, so always have your destination written on a piece of paper. If you go through tolls, these will be added to the final charge.
City center bus service hubs include Taksim Square, Aksaray and Beşiktaş on the European side, and Üsküdar and Kadıköy on the Asian side. Bus shelter stops are easily available on the main routes. Services run from 6:30 am – 11:30 pm and destinations are displayed on the front of the bus. Ticket prices vary by destination and must be purchased from the white booths near major stops before boarding. Purchase an Akbil or "Istanbul Kart" to save on fares.
Traffic in Istanbul is often heavy and it can take longer to cross the city by car than by public transportation. Drivers are also known to be quite aggressive. There are few multi-story car parks in the city and on-street parking can be difficult to find. However, road conditions in Istanbul are moderate, less so outside the main centers. If you do decide to drive, renting a GPS device with the latest updated maps is recommended.
Ferries and "sea buses" are a fun and fast way to move between the European and Asian sides. There are four ferry companies in operation; the fastest and most popular is IDO. The major docks on the European side can be found in Eminönü, Sirkeci and Karaköy. Tickets cost around TRY 3 for a single economy class ticket (around TRY 1.95 with an Istanbulkart), which can be purchased at the ferry terminal. Note that timetables change seasonally.
If you need a tasty break while exploring the Historic Peninsula of the city, you can stop by Paksüt, offering savoury desserts at a small charge.
Located at a backstreett, this quiet restaurant welcomes you with a warm hospitality and delicious dishes from traditonal Turkish and international cuisine.
Another hotspot popular for its menu full of well-prepared Turkish food. You can enjoy it with a soft drink and salad.
Delicious dishes from Mediterranean and international cuisines await you at this place. Sit back and enjoy the panoramic Bosphorus views, inside or in the terrace upon your request.
Historic Sultanahmet Köftecisi is an ideal place for a quick and tasteful lunch. The restaurant is famous for its delicious meatballs.
Located at the heart of Old Istanbul, Vuslat is a grill restaurant with an open fire pit in the middle. Taste its delicious meat dishes.
Having an elegantly decorated interior and a cosy garden, Nar's menu focuses on traditional Ottoman cuisine prepared with natural ingredients from Anatolia.
Meals at Konyalı Restaurant in Topkapi Palace are treated to a stunningly situated break on a short walk through history. Most popular specialties are the slow-cooked tandir lamb and orange baklava. Reservation needed.
Le Safran invites you to enjoy nice tastes at the heart of Old Istanbul. You can finish your meal with a traditional dessert like baklava.
Ziya Şark Sofrası will have a spell on you with its delicious traditional tastes from Eastern Anatolia Region. You'll be glad to meet çiğ köfte (steak tartar a la turca).
Matbah welcomes exclusive guests to the stylish 'Ottoman Palace Cuisine' maintaining its unique heritage accompanied by Historic Peninsula view. Reservation needed.
This restaurant presents the most popular flavours of Turkish cuisine in a buffet. Choose the most appetizing ones and enjoy your meal.
An affordable spot for meatball in Old İstanbul. The restaurant offers digestive clove after the meals.
Şerbethane Cafe&Restaurant is the ideal address for enjoying traditional brakfast, soups as well as a variety of kebabs. Don't forget to taste testi kebab.
Offering both Historic Peninsula and the Bosphorus views, Olive Restaurant presents a comprehensive menu including traditional Turkish cuisine besides various flavours from international cuisine.
Sarnıç's menu synthesizes the most popular tastes of international cuisine. Traditional French entrees like beef bourguignon with standard Turkish grills are absolute must-eats. Reservation needed.
Ziya Baba is a cozy place, which offers an affordable taste of Turkish cuisine.
Placed on the lower deck of Galata Bridge, this restaurant will provide you with stunning views and elaborate tastes, including fish dishes and appetizers, at once. Turkish tea and fruit plate will follow your meal.
Şar features elaborate homemade foods besides good flavours from traditional Turkish cuisine in an affordable price.
With stunning Bosphorus and Historic Peninsula views, İmbat Terrace showcases traditional and modern flavours from both Turkish and Aegean cuisines.
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