Cheap flights to Istanbul
The splendid city of Istanbul has many unique and fascinating features. It is the only city in the world reaching across two continents, with its old city in Europe and modern Istanbul situated in Asia, separated by the Bosphorus Strait. It is also unique in having had capital status during two successive empires, Christian Byzantine and Islamic Ottoman, and the legacy from both is visible in the modern city today.
Istanbul's location on the water made it a much coveted site as a commercial shipping port and military lookout, and as capital of the Roman Empire, Constantinople, as it was known, became extremely desirable as a centre of world trade, until Mehmet the Conqueror claimed it for the Ottoman Empire in 1453 and it became the imperial seat of the sultans. After the War of Independence the capital was moved to Ankara, but Istanbul still remains the commercial, historical and cultural heart of Turkey today.
The charm and character of Istanbul lies in its endless variety and jumble of contradictions. Its fascinating history has bequeathed the city a vivid inheritance of Byzantine ruins, splendid palaces, ancient mosques and churches, hamams (bath-houses) and exotic bazaars. Modern Istanbul exudes trendy bars and nightclubs, western boutiques, office blocks, and elegant suburbs. The call to prayer heralds the start of each day and the city comes to life with over 11 million residents forming a chaotic social and cultural mix of unscrupulous carpet merchants, wealthy shoppers, religiously veiled women and destitute beggars. Joining the noisy throng are over-awed tourists and those capitalising on the tourist trade.
The best and easiest way to explore the old city is on foot, but to get to other areas, there is a cheap public transport network consisting of buses, taxis or dolmuses (shared minibus taxis), tramways and a new metro system that has relieved some of the pressure of Istanbul's endless traffic. The rechargeable Akbil electronic transit pass, available from special kiosks, is a discounted way of using local buses, trams, metro and ferries. A useful 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.
Those in the know reckon Istanbul only comes to life once the sun sets. There is certainly an astounding range of nightlife in the city, from cutting edge techno to belly-dancing. The nadir of all this activity is Beyoðlu with plenty of wine bars, jazz joints and hip rooftop bars. In contrast, the tourist area of Sultanahmet has few venues worth mentioning. Start your evening off at one of the many meyhanes- a type of Turkish tavern famous for raki and mezze platters. Some of the best nightclubs are in Ortaköy, overlooking the Bosphorous. The two most popular are Reina and Sortie, both famous for supermodels, millionaires and the effortlessly hip. For jazz music, head to enduring classics Nardis Jazz Club and Istanbul Jazz Centre. Clubs and bars stay open very late and drinks prices are good compared to European cities.
Shopping in Istanbul is a mixture of old, new, antique, exotic and unadulterated kitsch. Souvenirs, spices, leather goods, carpets, kilims and earthenware are all popular buys with tourists, but the experience is more about wandering through the winding streets and markets, taking everything in and hunting for bargains. The most notable market is the Grand Bazaar, which boasts over 4,000 shops and, just in case that's not enough, the entire market is surrounded by a maze of streets lined with even more shops! Just about everything and anything can be found at the Grand Bazaar and haggling is an essential skill. The Egyptian market and the flea market in Beyazit Square are also worth a visit. Outside the Grand Bazaar, to the east, Nuruosmaniye Caddesi is the place to buy jewellery, and fine art boutiques can be found nestled down the side streets. A shopping trip in Istanbul is not complete without buying a box of Turkish delight, which can be found all over the city and in souks and specialist shops. Most shops in Istanbul are open from 8am until roughly 9pm, and religious shopkeepers will close for an hour on Friday at lunchtime for prayers at the Mosque.
Istanbul's most prominent attractions are of the architectural variety, a selection of formidable and historical structures that make sightseeing in Istanbul educational as well as visually rewarding. Sightseeing in Istanbul offers attractions such as the Hagia Sophia, a huge museum and former cathedral, that is adorned with stunning mosaics. Another iconic Istanbul attraction is the Blue Mosque, with its graceful minarets and tiered domes. The 1st century Sunken Palace is supported by hundreds of underground columns, an essential Istanbul landmark. While sightseeing in Istanbul, Galata Tower offers visitors a 360º panoramic view of the old town. Nearby, the 5th century Land Walls stand testament to the city's resistance of its 1453 conquest by the Ottoman Empire. The Covered Bazaar, or Kapali Çarsi, is the oldest and biggest enclosed bazaar in the world, a must-see while in Istanbul.
Istanbul is not a typical family holiday destination but there are plenty of quality attractions for the kids if you are spending a few days in this great city while en route to the beach resorts or islands. Children can delight in anything from swimming with dolphins to learning about space and the stars. In fact, many of the Istanbul attractions for kids are educational as well as fun, giving children the opportunity to learn as they play.
Istanbul not only bridges the cultural and geographical gap between Europe and Asia, but also blends its culinary offerings. Eating out in Istanbul restaurants gives diners a taste of the splendid fusion that can be created by combining the traditional cuisine of these two vast continents. Dining options abound in Istanbul and if in doubt, head for the Sultanahmet area which has the most restaurants. Traditional Turkish fare such as turbot with saffron and raspberry, or cinnamon flavoured chicken kebabs, can be enjoyed at restaurants in the Edirnekapi and Ortaköy areas, while the best seafood is in Kanlýca. Istanbul restaurants serving a fusion of Turkish, Mediterranean and Asian cuisine are found in Beyoglu and Sisli, while Taksim and Ortaköy are home to some excellent cafés. With so many restaurants in and around the city, diners will find somewhere to eat any time of any day. Menu prices are generally quite fair and essentially you get what you pay for! A tip of at least 10% is customary. At most Istanbul restaurants, reservations are either required or strongly recommended.
In summer the weather in Istanbul is hot and humid, the temperature between June and September averaging 82°F (28°C). Summers are relatively dry, but rain does occur all year round. During winter it is cold, wet and often snowy. Snowfalls tend to be heavy, but temperatures rarely drop as low as freezing point. Istanbul also tends to be a windy city.