One of the most populated cities in the world, Istanbul is an amazing blend of modern glitzy cosmopolitan buildings and the ancient Ottoman & Byzantine architectures. A week in this beautiful city isn’t barely enough to experience this super amazing city.
Here’s a complete guide to Istanbul that I have managed to collate and write down for all you . This is basically everything you need to know 🙂
Arrival in Istanbul
Istanbul has two main airports , SAW(Asian side) and IST( European side). Do check where your flight is arriving (be it a domestic transfer or you are arriving in Turkey for the first time).
If you are arriving out of SAW, it’s recommended to catch a domestic flight transfer to another city from the same airport for a quicker connect or vice versa. Else the distance between the two airports are is 60KMS with a 1.5 hour ride, with a min taxi fare of 5000 INR and that’s something you want to avoid
Top ways to go from Airport to Hotel
Here are the two best options to reach from either of the airports to your hotel :
1. HAVA Bus (Convenient, Easy and Cheap)
No, dont dismiss it right away thinking you can’t take a bus from the airport to the hotel, as you have a lot of luggage or travelling in a group or with older people. Just read on to find out why the bus will still work for you .
HAVABUSES in Istanbul are shuttle services that takes you from the airport to the city centre at fraction of the cost in a super convenient way. They provide semi sleeper buses for these shuttle rides. Right outside the arrival hall, you have the HAVA bus that takes you to Kadikoy and Taksim. The recommended bus to take is the one that goes to Taksim square. The buses are super comfortable, have separate luggage containers (like intercity buses) and fast, cheap as well. They cost only 15TL/person (180INR) and takes just around an hour or so to reach.
You can spot the white coloured HAVABUS as soon as you step outside and just beyond the taxi lines. So literally you dont need to walk even a few steps from the airport..
From Taksim, if you have less luggage, you can opt for a direct Tram to your hotel or simply take a direct taxi (2.5TL / KM roughly). So roughly 25TL will be your taxi Fare (if you are 2 ppl assume calculate as 12.5/person).
Total Cost : 15 + 12.5 = 27.5 TL (300 INR) / Person only.
2. Direct Taxi to Hotel from SAW/IST Airport (Expensive)
If you’re still not convinced and insist on taxi , here are the details: The average distance between SAW airport to hotel will be roughly 80-90 kms and the taxi fare may come anywhere between 300-500 Turkish Liras (4000-5000 INR) and you save roughly only 15-20 mins compared to the bus. The same fare applies for the IST Airport to your hotel as well
IstanbulKart is a common transportation card that helps you to travel in Istanbul across all public transport options including Metro, Tram, Bus and Ferry. The same card can be used for all the people in your group (just swipe once each for every person).
Cost : 6 Turkish Liras / Card and gives you a 40% discount on each ride. Get the card at every station/stop and top up as per your needs.
Vegetarian Food in Istanbul
Where to Stay in Istanbul?
If you’re heading to Turkey for tourism purposes, the best area to stay in Istanbul is the Faith or Sultanahmet Area.
After nearly two weeks of research, I stayed in Hotel Kupeli.. The reasons for choosing the hotel were as follows:
- Fitted my budget of 3-4k/Night for 2 ppl.
- Walking distance from Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Grand Bazaar etc.
- 100 metres from the nearest Tram Station
- Had a lift ( many hotels in Istanbul did not have a lift)
- Good Reviews for Breakfast spread
- 9+ Rating in Booking.com/Tripadvisor etc
The hotel proved to be fantastic , better than I could imagine. A recently opened hotel, they were super friendly, helped with directions to nearby places, plan my day and offered hot milk/coffee even at night as a complimentary gesture. I honestly couldn’t have stayed in a better hotel.
On a personal note, I was super impressed with their massive vegetarian breakfast spread with more than 20 items.
Here’s the link to the Hotel where I stayed..
Shopping in Istanbul
The four main places to Shop in Istanbul are :
1.Istiklal Street (till 11PM) – Near Taksim Square and Galata Tower
2.Grand Bazaar (till 6.30 PM) – Near Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia Museume
3. Spice Bazaar (till 6.30PM) – Near Eminonu Pier
4. Sultanahmet Area (till 9PM)
Istanbul 3 days itinerary
Day 1 in Istanbul
5PM : Assuming you are arrive in the afternoon, check in to your hotel. Head to the Eminonu Pier from your hotel via a tram (purchase the Istanbul Kart card for 6Turkish Liras first). From there take a ferry that goes to Karakoy (Costs only 2.5 Liras). The ship takes you on a 15 min journey across the Bosphorous river (You can skip the expensive fancy Bosphorous river cruises which does the same thing for an hour + dinner)
In Karakoy, visit the famous Karaköy Güllüoğlu store to have the Walnut and Pista Baklava(and buy atleast half kg for home :P) . Walk up 500 metres to the Galatta tower (A bit of a steep climb) . Buy a ticket to go up to the top in a lift . Queue time for lift : Roughly 20-30 minutes
8PM : Once you are back down, walk behind the tower all the way to the Tunnel train. Either opt for a Heritage Tram ride till Taksim square or walk down Istiklal Street all the way till Taksim square (1.5KMS). Istiklal street is incidentally one of the most favour shopping streets, so you dont want to miss out on some huge shopping. Take a metro/Tram back to your hotel from Taksim metro station
Day 2 in Istanbul
A good way to explore Istanbul’s main sights is to take a walking tour . Opt for a walking tour from your hotel and cover the top 3-4 attractions in the Sultanahmet Area (near Faith).
Hagia Sophia ( Pronounced as Aya Sophia)
Little Hagia Sophia
Remember Grand Bazaar closes Sharp at 7PM. So head there by at least 4PM if you want to spend couple of hours to explore this huge shopping area. Else reserve it for your last day morning at Istanbul
Day 3 in Istanbul
On the third day , you can cover
- Dolmabahce Palace,
- Kadikoy (Asian side’s food street)
- Maiden’s Tower
- Basillica Cistern (Near Hagia Sophia)
- Spice Bazaar
- Sulemaniya Mosque
Bosphorous River Cruise in Istanbul
Here’s the easiest tip to experience a Bosphorous river cruise at the lowest possible cost.
If you run a google search for “Bosphorous River cruise, you’ll be presented with options that starts from 1500 INR to 3500 INR for half and full day cruises. However do you know that the actual “Govt run” Bosphorous cruise is only 150 INR and pretty much offers the same boat & comfort that the private tours charge but at just 1% of the cost?
So here’s a quick easy way to take a memorable Bosphorous cruise , the easiest way:
- Head to Eminonu pier on the European side, show your Istanbul Kart and get a ticket to Kadikoy or Karakoy, for just 2.5 Turkish Liras , hop on to the next available ferry,climb to the top and experience a 20 minute beautiful thrilling ride on the Bosphorous Strait . Finish your lunch or dinner at the Asian side and come back on the same boat (which leaves every 30 minutes).
|Tour||Price (TL)||Price (INR)|
|FULL BOSPHORUS CRUISE (Double Way)||25||325|
|FULL BOSPHORUS CRUISE (One Way)||15||195|
|FULL BOSPHORUS CRUISE (Double Way) (children under 12 y)||12.5||162.5|
|FULL BOSPHORUS CRUISE (One Way) (children under 12 y)||6||78|
|SHORT CIRCLE CRUISE||12||156|
|SHORT CIRCLE CRUISE (children under 12 y)||6||78|
|FULL/SHORT BOSPHORUS TOUR, MOONLIGHT TOUR (children under 6 y)||Free||Free|
- Opt for a Short Circle cruise (1.5 hours) in the Bosphorous from the official Govt company (Sehir Hatlari) and not from anyone else . Here’s the official link.. Tickets can be bought at the venue itself and no need for advance booking. Ticket costs only 12 Liras ( 150 INR only) http://en.sehirhatlari.istanbul/en/timetable/bosphorus-tours-347.html
Where to buy Lokum(Turkish Delight) & Baklavas in Istanbul?
Istanbul and many other cities have thousands of shops selling Baklavas and Turkish delights in different flavours. Esp in the tourist areas like Sultanahmet, every alternate store sells it with varying quality and prices. Generally many tourists can be confused as to where to get the “authentic” version than being scammed for a duplicate one.So here are the best places to buy Turkish Delhights & Baklavas in Istanbul.
Baklava : Karakoy Gulluoglu
The only place, you need to eat Baklavas at Istanbul is at Karakoy Gulluoglu. Just walking distance from the Karakoy pier (in the Asian side), walk over to the store and have their famous Pistachio and Walnut versions of the Baklavas, fresh from the oven. If you’re looking to buy for home, ask for the “Kuru”(dry) version, so that it lasts longer.
How to go to Karakoy Gulluoglu : Take a tram to Eminonu Pier and then hop on a ferry that goes to Karakoy and walk it up from there.
If you are unable to go to the above store, keep the last backup option for Mado (Dessert Store), present in all localities..
Turkish Delights :
- Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir
- Haci Bekir (check for the nearest store in Google Maps)
- Hafiz Mustafa
It really helps if you have one more day at Istanbul to visit a Hamam Bath , stroll around the old city and explore 100’s of other museums and architectural attractions the city has to offer.
Will be updating this section on the other upcoming posts on “Costs of Turkey trip” and Overall Planning for Turkey Tour.
If you still want to go and book a “travel package” tour from a travel agent and would want to miss out on the amazing journey of discovering the city by yourself, carry on 🙂