Istanbul Tour

Istanbul, Ferry on The Bosphorus

Istanbul, Ferry on The Bosphorus

This commentary on İstanbul is by NO means complete, it lists just a few of the things a visitor might do with a limited time to see the city.

We are especially indebted to Turkey Travel Planner, the ThornTree Forum on Lonely Planet, the other web sites and bloggers from whom we learned a lot about this city, and our own personal experiences.

A very special thanks to the expert ThornTree advisor sarıkanarya for a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of all around Turkey.

All links are for informational purposes and most suggestions are from personal experience. We are sure you will enjoy İstanbul, the only city in the world spanning two continents! Depending upon how a city is classified, it is arguably the largest city in Europe.

NOTE: Taksim Square is closed to traffic until July 2013 at the earliest!

(NOTE: All outside links open in a new window! – Scroll down for inline topic links!)
It should not take the average tourist more than 4 days to see the main sites in Sultanahmet and Taksim, the two most famous tourist areas of İstanbul. However, due to its size, its complex mix of ancient and modern structures, its cosmopolitan nature, and because it is full of incredible things to see and experience, you could spend weeks exploring its wonders.

Turkish tea "tulip" glass

Turkish tea “tulip” glass

First, you might want to “visit” İstanbul from the comfort of your home. This gem of a photo gallery captures the color and variety of many people and places in İstanbul. It is called i-m-p-e-r-i-l-i-s-t-n-b-u-l

When you arrive in Turkey be aware of the social signifigance of drinking Turkish tea. Drinking tea is more than just a refreshing way to quench your thirst or pass the time as noted in “Yes, I Would Love Another Glass of Tea.”

Raki (lion's milk)

Rakı (lion’s milk)

There is also a deep and abiding culture of social significance around the national drink called rakı (rakuh not rakee). Stephen Kinzer is an American writer who was the NY Times bureau chief in Istanbul for many years. Kinzer’s article; Thoughts On Drinking Of Rakı, is a chapter from his book Crescent and Star which you should note as a must read before you come to Turkey.

After exploring İstanbul, if you have time, you owe it to yourself to experience the rest of Turkey, the Asian heartland called Anatolia in English, Anadolu in Turkish, and Asia Minor in western history books. Kaş on the Mediterranean Coast of Turkey is the center between Fethiye and Antalya is a year-round delight. Come see for yourself if you want warm sun and sea nearly year round. There are international and domestic flights to Dalaman or Antalya from İstanbul or you can take a direct bus from İstanbul and many other major cities.

If you are an “arm chair” traveller, you can travel through Western Turkey by following these really great photos by Raki_Man > Turkey- West

(The links immediately below take you to places on this page.)
(Press the back arrow on your browser to return to this list of links.)

The Weather in Turkey…

Safety on İstanbul Streets (and Turkey)…

Places to go in İstanbul…

Day Trips to the Asian Continent…

Back in Time to the Princes Islands…

Travel To, In, and Around Istanbul…

Deciding on Accommodation…

Buying a Carpet in Istanbul…

Meeting Local People…

Articles & Websites about İstanbul & Turkey…

The Weather in Turkey…

İstanbul weather changes considerably with the seasons and is not always predictable. One winter can be mild with rain and cool temperatures and another can have several large accumulations of deep snow. Make sure you check this World Weather web site before you travel. It shows the average temperatures of many cities in Turkey throughout the year and when you select a city from the list you can observe a local forecast to that city or anywhere else you wish to travel.

Safety on İstanbul Streets (and Turkey)…

İstanbul has a population of over 12 million but is noted for its low crime rate!. Pickpockets and purse snatchers are around but street violence and other such crime is quite unusual. DO watch the traffic however, because pedestrians do NOT have the right of way, nearly everywhere in Turkey.
Many women travel solo to Turkey, watch what you do and listen to the “uh-oh” inside of you and you should be just fine. Take a look through some of the following tips from travellers:
sarıkanarya, is a destination expert on Lonely Planet who lays out some tips in her article called “Travel safety for solo ladies.” She is an expat from the UK of long residence in Turkey.

Tom Brosnahan of Turkey Travel Planner tells us “What’s it like to be a woman travelling in Turkey?”

In her article Turkish Men – Why Your Holiday Romance Is Doomed, Natalie Sayin says sends “a strong message to all women travelers or tourists. Do not get involved in a holiday romance with a Turkish man simply because you can not handle it.”

Also see her companion pieces:
Is it safe to travel to Turkey? and Travel Myths about Turkey Busted.

And if by now you need more encouragement read Seven Solo Female Travel Myths Debunked! by bootsnall.

Places to go in İstanbul…

Before you start you would be wise to check this Lonely Planet Thorntree forum posting telling about the open and closed days of various Istanbul attractions. It will make it much easier to plan your visits and not be disappointed.

Istanbulkart

Istanbulkart

If you are going to spend much time getting around the city you should first purchase a Istanbulkart. The city used to sell something called an akbil but that has been phased out. Turkey Travel Planner says that Istanbul’s Akbil electronic transit pass “is being phased out in favor of the Istanbulkart RFID Transit Pass, but some Akbils are still in use.” A traveller who posted on the ThornTree Forum on Lonely Planet said when they recently went to recharge their Akbil, the booth attendant made him take the Istanbulkart. In either case, they are a great way to get around. They can be used in city buses, the Bosphorus ferries, the modern funicular, tram or light rail and the underground. They are also used for the 19th century Tünel and the nostalgic Tram; almost everywhere but on a dolmuş or taxi. You need to pay a deposit of 6 liras and then purchase credits to use it. If you pay cash for a jeton, you have to pay full price every time you get onto a different bus, tram or other vehicle. With electronic passes, the 2nd and 3rd journey only cost you a third of that.

Turkish cuisine is world famous and yet can be found locally at amazingly low prices if you know where to look. Of course there are very expensive, world class restaurants if your budget is unlimited! There are so many places to eat that you may feel a bit overwhelmed unless you can find a local guide or friend to help you. If you are a vegetarian you may wish to look at the Happy Cow The Healthy Eating Guide.

The Old City of İstanbul called Sultanahmet is usually where most tourists stay and certainly the first place they attempt to see.

Byzantine Constantinople 1453

Constantinople 1453 (click for larger image)

Turkey Travel Planner is a GREAT “one stop shop” and suggests an İstanbul Itinerary. The standard, “must see” places in the old city district of Sultanahmet are Topkapı Palace (Saray), Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofia), Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque) and the Yerebatan Sarnıçı. All are within a short walk of each other. Some sites are closed on Sunday others on Monday, so check that out before you plan. Note that in mild weather, almost anytime in İstanbul will be a very crowded experience with locals AND tourists queuing for admission to sites. Smaller crowds may be found at the start or middle of the week. Getting up early and being early at entrance gates will mean fewer crowd hassles.

There are many major and minor Istanbul Palaces in and around the city. A visit to these Istanbul Palaces may give you a greater appreciation of the magnificence of the Ottoman Empire and also its decay and eventual demise.

Topkapı Palace

Topkapı Palace

The Official Turkish website for Topkapı Palace (Saray) is full of good information and Turkey Travel Planner (TTP) also has some good suggestions about Topkapi Palace (Saray).

Topkapi Palace has three different sections to it, the main palace, the treasury and the harem. The Harem has a separate admission price. Plan to spend the better part of a day to see all of it properly. During high season in the summer months, it is best to arrive before the gate opens at 09:00 and sometimes you can beat the worst of the crowd. There is a restaurant and a cafe inside the palace so you can eat or take a break when you want. Topkapi is best seen if you can go with a guide, however be careful if you do not use one as there are many “guides” who will attempt to offer you their services, some are good, some are no better than a print out from a web site. You might “piggy back” onto a guided tour but the tour guides get ruffled if you are too obvious.

Dolmabahce Palace, İstanbul, Turkey

Dolmabahce Palace

Many visitors overlook seeing the other splendid palaces of the Ottomans in Istanbul. Try to put some of them on your itinerary, Dolmabahçe Palace is especiallly a grand place both for the palace and its gardens.

AllAboutTurkey.com also has a more comprehensive list of minor palaces of the Ottoman royalty.

Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofia):
Aya Sofia is over 1500 years old and was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofia) can be seen in a couple of hours unless you get caught up in the “magic” of the place.

Yerebatan Sarnıçı or Basilica Cistern (Sarnıç is Turkish for cistern), is an ancient Byzantine structure and very close to Hagia Sophia. It is an amazing respite from the clamour and noise of the city above it, a remarkable place to visit. Look closely for it, across the street, it is easy to miss.

The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque) is located just across from Aya Sofia and it is free. A walk through is easy and not overly time consuming. When visiting a mosque in İstanbul, keep in mind there is a very strong Mosque (Camii) Etiquette:
Shoes: are not permitted in a mosque. If your feet are bare in summer then wash them or take some socks to put on and if you have socks on make sure they are clean not smelly!
Women are required to wear a headscarf to visit mosques, most mosques will provide them, others do not. Upon arrival you might consider buying a nice large colorful scarf which can cover your hair when you need it, because you occasionally will.
Men and Women must not wear shorts nor show your bare shoulders, if you wear shorts, some (not all) will give BOTH men and women a long skirt to wear.

Blue Mosque Istanbul, Turkey

Blue Mosque Istanbul, Turkey

You can easily see Aya Sofia, Blue Mosque and Yerebatan Sarnici in a day and still have time to stroll around.

A really nice cap to a sunny day in Sultanahmet is a leisurely stroll through Gulhane Park which is full of flowers and stately trees. There are small tea gardens at the opposite end up to the right from the Sultanahmet entrance which give spectacular views of the ships entering the Bosphorus from the Marmara Sea and of course the ferries crossing over.

Gülhane Park tea garden view, İstanbul, Turkey

Gülhane Park tea garden view

It is a 15 or 20 minute walk from the large plaza between Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque to the Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı/Covered Market) and is a must see for shoppers and/or people watchers. The Egyptian or Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı) is located not far from there. Warning, you can easily spend an entire day in these two places. If you go to the Spice Bazaar be sure to arrange to have lunch at Pandeli Restaurant. It is located immediately above the lower entrance to the Spice Bazaar.

Not far beyond Spice Bazaar is Süleymaniye Mosque, the largest mosque in İstanbul. You can easily see it from the lower entrance of the Spice Bazaar.

While in Sultanahmet, you may wish to try a Turkish Bath or Hamam in Turkish. For some tips on visiting a hamam, take a look at this article by sarıkanarya of the ThornTree Lonely Planet Forum called Hamam Visit Etiquette.

If time permits, you will be very close to the Bağcılar to Kabataş Tramway stop. Take it from the Sultanahmet stop to Kabataş and from there, cross under the street and take the Kabataş modern funicular  (Scroll down the web page to see the tramway map). You can then either stroll along the Bosphorus or go up to Taksim square, all using your Akbil or Istanbulkart!

Taksim Square and Beyoğlu

European buildings along İstiklal Caddesi, Istanbul, Turkey

European buildings along İstiklal Caddesi

Go up to street level and then head toward the large monument in Taksim Square and the start of your walk down Istiklal Caddesi (Independence street) and the heart of what İstanbul residents call Beyoğlu (bay-oh-lu). This Google Map of the Area may be useful.

A walk around historic Galata and Beyoğlu by famous travel writer Terry Richardson tells you about some of his favorite Istanbul places.

In the square you will see Burger King, doner (meat turning on a vertical spit) büfes and restaurants, hotels, cafes and Aya Triada Domed Orthodox Church. It is the largest Eastern Orthodox church in İstanbul, was completed in 1882 and is still in use. Many people think it is a mosque because it has a dome.

Here is one writer’s perceptions of this famous street: “A Life in the day of Istiklal Caddesi”.

You may also find these Walking Tours in İstanbul useful, informative and fun.

Start to wander down Istiklal Cadessi for a fascinating (and crowded) experience; shopping of the modern variety and people watching. Most of the buildings are Western European in design because before the end of the Ottoman Empire, this was the area where the embassies and their staff were located, lived and did business.

Galatasary Lisesi (High School) Gates, Beyoğlu, İstanbul, Turkey

Galatasary Lisesi (High School) Gates, Beyoğlu, İstanbul

A great people watching location or place to meet friends are at the gates of the Galatasary Lisesi (French high school) which are almost impossible to miss as they are HUGE! After you meet your date or tire of people watching you can turn left and you will cross over a small traffic intersection where you will find Ara Guler’s cafefor a cup of coffee, a sweet and a break. (There is a Starbucks farther down but why when Ara’s place beckons?)

Continue on down Istiklal and on your left, if you look carefully you should see St Antoine Catholic Church (St Anthony of Padua Catholic Cathedral). Well worth a peek if the doors are open. Turkish Muslims crowd the place for its Christmas ceremonies and some sing in its choir.

Turkey Travel Planner has an article on Religions in Turkey which says “Turkey has been home to all three great revealed religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—for centuries.

DervishesContinue on and you will eventually come to where the Galata Mevlevihanesi or Dervish Lodge is located. It was closed for over a year for renovation but it has reopened. Another famous Mevlevihanesi is Yenikapı Mevlevihanesi, which “is the second dervish lodge the Mevlevi Tariqat brought into existence to follow the Galata Mevlevîhanesi in Istanbul.” For others see these suggested alternatives to see the Dervishes.

Then move on until you come to the old tram station called Tünel (it means tunnel in Turkish). Here you can take the tram back all the way up to where you started and reverse your trip back to Sultanahmet or you can ride down the hill to the Golden Horn (Haliç in Turkish) on the 19th century Tünel, one of the oldest funiculars in existence.

Nostalgic trams on İstiklal Caddesi, Beyoğlu, Istanbul, Turkey

Nostalgic trams on İstiklal Caddesi, Beyoğlu

K. V. Café-Restaurantis a delightful and quiet (but moderately expensive) place to have a cup of coffee, a snack or lunch. If you turn your back to the Tünel station, you will see a gated passageway. Inside you will find a very different atmosphere from the crowded Istiklal.

Other Sites Not To Be Missed If Time Allows:

An interesting article called “Rahmi Koç Museum and other sites” tells us “The vast majority of visitors, see little beyond the historic wonders of Sultanahmet and the Grand Bazaar quarter.

**Ortaköy (literally Middle Village in Turkish)is a neighbourhood, formerly a small village, within the Beşiktaş district of Istanbul, Turkey, located in the middle of the European bank of the Bosphorus.

Ortaköy Mosque İstanbul, Turkey

Ortaköy Mosque İstanbu

**“A Day On The Bosphorus”, if you find yourself enjoying a sunny day, do NOT miss out on a ferry ride up and down the Bosphorus.

**Byzantine City Walls of old Constantinople are overlooked far too often.

**Rumeli Castle (Hisar) and other Castles of İstanbul) Rumeli Castle, on the Bosphorus in Bebek, was built by Fatih Sultan Mehmet in 4 months!! He then seiged and conquered Constantinople in 1453.

Day Trips to the Asian Continent

Classic large ferry (vapur) crossing the Bosphorus, İstanbul, Turkey

Classic large ferry (vapur) crossing the Bosphorus

A lot of people overlook the Asian side of İstanbul but there are many things to see and do there. Many of the water’s edge tea gardens and restaurants are truly on the edge of the water unlike most of the cafes on the European side where you usually have only a view of the vehicle traffic between your chair and the Bosphorus.

Take a ferry to the Asian side, Üsküdar, Beylerbeyi, Cengelkoy, Kandilli, Kanlica, and Anadolu Kavagi, are all ferry stops. The stations where they stop are called isekles. After you cross, there are buses running a few minutes apart all day long both north and south. (Again using your akbil for both the ferry and the buses.)

If you prefer to drive, you can rent a car, get up early, and on weekdays, leave early, usually not later than 07:00. Cross the lower bridge and take the first exit on the right after the toll booth. Ask the rental car company about paying the toll, it may require a special card, if so they should provide you with one and directions.

To go north, you want to head in the direction of Beykoz. The road will curve around and under the bridge and you will come to Beylerbeyi Palace which worth stopping for an hour’s visit. After the tour of the palace, you can walk in the gardens and step out onto the water’s edge and watch the boat traffic.

Beylerbeyi Palace on the Bosphorus, İstanbul, Turkey

Beylerbeyi Palace on the Bosphorus

On the coastal road (sahil yolu) you can continue slowly north and spend a leisurly day, occasionally stopping to watch the boats travel up and down the Bosphorus, whenever you want to experience something new.

Perhaps you will want to linger at the sidewalk cafes in Çengelköy and watch the great ships glide by. Later you can hop on a bus and continue on to Kanlıcı and taste some of its famous Yogurt. At Kanlıcı can continue on bus or you may decide to take a ferry to its next destination as it zig-zags from Europe to Asia via the Bosphorus. The last ferry stop (iskele) north is the village of Anadolu Kavağı (Anatolian poplar) with Yoros Castle high above it. You will then be at the entrance to the Black Sea.

Another day, you may wish to consider a side trip to the delightful Polish village called Polonezköy. Here is how to find it on Google Maps. Note there is no public transport to Polonezköy, which is located about 20 km away from the central parts of Istanbul. You will need to drive or take a taxi.

This Asian-Bosphorus Map and Guide may help you navigate easier.

Another day if you have time, go south after crossing the bridge and head toward Üsküdar, you will go through Kuzguncuk which is worth a stop and take a stroll up and down the streets away from the water and then have tea on the water. You can then continue on to Kadiköy and have lunch at the Setur Kalamis Marina. It is a bit expensive but has an incredible view. If you continue to follow the coastal road (sahil yolu) in the direction of Pendik, you will be surprised to see a huge pedestrian and bicycle walkway and parks and tea gardens lining the water’s edge.

Back in Time to the Princes Islands

Buyukada of the Princes Islands, Istanbul Turkey

Carriage on Buyukada of the Princes Islands

There are nine small islands which make up the archipelago called the Princes Islands, an hour’s ferry ride from Istanbul city. Cars are not allowed on the islands. Of the nine, the largest four are Heybeliada, Burgazada, Kınalıada, and Büyükada.
“The islands — known as the Princes, or, in Turkish, Adalar — are actually a far-flung district of Istanbul, but unlike the city on the mainland, with its roaring traffic, Wi-Fi-ready cafes, skyscrapers, and galleries and concerts that court a global audience, they haven’t seemed to have gotten the text message that the 21st century has arrived. There are no skyscrapers here, no cars; only bicycles, horse-drawn buggies (called faytons), filigreed mansions and tile-roofed villas set amid flowery lanes, and emerald hillsides that drop down to rugged beaches.”
From “A Turkish Idyll Lost in Time” By Liesl Schillinger – Published: July 8, 2011

Princes Islands Map, Istanbul, Turkey

Princes Islands Map

More about the Islands and how to get there:
Tom Brosnahan of Turkey Travel Planner says “In summer, six to 10 IDO ferries a day make the 90-minute voyage from the Kabataş ferry dock to Kınalıada, Burgazada, Heybeliada and Büyükada…The voyage is half the fun as your ferry enters steams down the Bosphorus and into the Sea of Marmara, showing you Topkapı Palace, Ayasofya, the Blue Mosque, Seraglio Point, and indeed all of Istanbul, from a different angle.”

A trip to Adalar (The Islands) should not be missed if your time allows.

Travel To, In, and Around Istanbul

Overland Large Bus

Large bus companies run cross-country buses throughout Turkey, and of course, to and from Istanbul. They are modern and very comfortable and run once a day directly into Kaş. Unfortunately, most bus companies will not allow you to book online outside of Turkey and only a maximum of 30 days in advance if you are within Turkey. If you want to book from home then you should contact a travel agency for booking assistance.
Turkey Travel Planner tells you about the Top Bus Firms in Turkey
Public Transport in Istanbul, a nice overview from Wikipedia.
Flights:
Turkish Airlines, Pegasus Air, SunExpress, and AtlasJet (which also operates free private airport shuttles in Antalya), all have both domestic and international flights in to, out of and around Turkey. “After arrivals and before departures at Adana, İzmir, Bodrum and Antalya, air conditioned private Atlasjet shuttles are available for transportation from and to the airport.”

Airport to City Transfers:

Modern tram, part of the extensive İstanbul transit system

Atatürk Airport (IST) has a very convenient Hafif Metro (“Light Rail System”) to Sultanahmet or on to Taksim. This metro is clean, comfortable and very inexpensive. A normal trip to Kabataş should take no more than one hour.

Havataş Buses take you by road to and from both airports, both routes end up in Taksim. From there you can take a taxi, city bus, the Metro, or the Nostalgic Tramway.

Sabiha Gökçen Airport (SAW) Istanbul, Turkey

Sabiha Gökçen Airport

Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW) is located on the Asian side of İstanbul, approximately 50 kilometres from Taksim Square. There is a Sabiha Gökçen/Atatürk Airport Shuttle available, but it is ground transport. Make sure you allow many hours between flights in order to use ground transport.

Going from Atatürk Airport to Sabiha Gökçen (SAW) airport is a distance of over 90 kilometres. Istanbul traffic is usually very crowded and slow with the exception of the ferries and the metro. If you want to travel in comfort and speed along the Asian side of İstanbul, take the Metro M4 from Kadiköy to Kartal. You can then take a cab from the Kartal metro to the SAW airport. The M4 Metro is the first metro line on the Asian side of Istanbul, departing from the ferry terminal at Kadiköy and running fully underground south to Kartal. UrbanRail.net made a nice web site with photos of this new metro line as well as others.

This Kadiköy to Kartal Metro Schedule is in Turkish. (English translations below:)
Embark: KADIKÖY – Descent: Kartal (Biniş: KADIKÖY- İniş: KARTAL)
Embarkation Hours Weekdays (Hafta İçi Biniş Saatleri)
Saturday Embarkation Hours (Cumartesi Biniş Saatleri)
Sunday Boarding Hours (Pazar Biniş Saatleri)

The official Web site of the Kadiköy-Kartal Metro Hatti (Metro Line), although it is in Turkish, might be useful if you use Google Translate.

For those travelling to the airport this Google Map (45 km) of the trip from the Kadiköy ferry station (iskelesi) to the Kartal Metro station and on to Sabiha Gökçen (SAW) in Pendik might be informative.

For the leisure traveller, this Kadiköy İskelesi to Kartal Google Map (24 km) will give you some idea of the immensity of the city and the many places along the water you may wish to visit on the Asian Side of Istanbul.

Ferries

Taking a ferry is a great way to cross the Bosphorus. For the “normal” ferries the winter 2012 Ferry Timetables – 17 Sep 2012 – 02 June 2013 allow for many European-Asian side trips and out to the Princes Islands. This map shows the ferry stops (iskele) along the Bosphorus.

Istanbul ferry approaching SultanahmetFor a Bosphorus cruise from the Golden Horn to the Black Sea you can take any ferry from Eminönü heading in the direction of Anadolu Kavağı. If you use the Istanbulkart, you can get on and off at any ferry stop (iskele) along the way to enjoy or experience the place and wait for the next boat to take you farther up or back down. You do not have to do all or nothing.

All the ferry stations have schedules showing departure times and where each boat goes. You can combine them both; short Bosphorus “tours” and visits to Asian side places. The ferries are the best commuting experience for visiting or living in Istanbul.
Here is a schedule of a Bosphorus (Boğaz) Ferry.
Some Turkish words if you are at the Ferry Stop (İskele).
Geliş = Arrival — Gidiş = Departure
Hafta içi = Weekdays — Cumartesi = Saturday
Pazar ve Tatil Günleri = Sunday/Holidays

Getting Around:

Taxi Information and how to avoid getting ripped off. For such a huge city, taxi scams are not frequent, but they can happen.

İstanbul Tour Guides:
Arzu Tutuk is a tour guide, reliable and competent. She has a website called Walks In İstanbul. Women Travel the World seemed to enjoy a tour with Arzu. Guided walking tour: the best way to see the city!

Tarik Saylan is a very reputable travel agent if you decide you want to book a tour in advance at Simply-Turkey.com.

Deciding on Accommodation

Four Seasons Hotel, İstanbul, TurkeyMany Turkish hotels and pensions do not require a credit card for a reservation, they trust you will show up or cancel! So where to start? You might get an account on both TripAdvisor and the ThornTree Forum on Lonely Planet for recommendations and pricing of accommodation.

For those who are looking for something a bit different you might also take a look at Where to Stay from The Other Istanbul.

Many hotels in Taksim and Sultanahmet are noisy and in Sultanahmet the call to prayer is five times a day with the first at dawn. It can be quite startling, it is amplified and usually seems very loud for a first time visitor. Most people get used to it quickly…

ALWAYS print a map of the hotel location and directions if possible. Google maps seem to do a pretty good job of that. Taxi drivers may need a mobile phone number of the hotel in case they have problems finding the place. Keep printed copies of any correspondence regarding price and reservations with you in case there are problems. Reputable hotels should not need to keep your passport, they will make a photocopy and keep that on file. Do not leave your passport in your room for any reason, always carry your passport wherever you go but safely out of the way of a potential pickpocket.

In Taksim look around for adjacent bars, some play loud music late into the night. Also ask at the hotel if they play live music in the hotel bar if they have one. Get far away from them if you want a quiet stay as they are usually quite loud.

Authentic Turkish cuisine can be found almost anywhere in the country if you ask and look, but for a truly different experience you should consider going to a meyhane. Kozano, an experienced Istanbul resident and destination expert for travel web sites, has posted a very informative and interesting guide to Meyhane Etiquette. She includes recommendations for specific places that you may greatly appreciate.

On a Tiny Budget?
You might want to try Couch Surfing. Here is what one Lonely Planet Thorntree writer had to say about Couchsurfing in Istanbul and Turkey. The Internation CouchSurfing Web site is couchsurfing.org where you might connect with İstanbul and other Turkish residents.

You might also check out HostelBookers and/or HostelWorld for alternative accommodation. Ask the Lonely Planet Thorntree forum for specific recommendations.

Buying a Carpet in Istanbul

First you might want to look at Rick Steve’s Buying a Carpet in Istanbul and his explanation of the techniques that go into making them.

Turkish carpets, İstanbul, TurkeyMost carpet shops say they will ship carpets for free but normally they build in the freight cost to the cost of the carpet. Perhaps for larger priced purchases they will genuinely send them free. NOTE: if you purchase an expensive carpet, you should find some place or person you can trust to ensure that the carpet you purchase is actually sent to your home! You have been warned!!

If you don’t want to go through the haggling process and shipping risk, but still want to get an authentic carpet, then consider the Traditional Hand Crafts Stores Directorate (GES) which is a government sponsored project for all traditional hand crafts, not just carpets. These prices are fixed and authenticity is allegedly guaranteed.

Meeting Local People in İstanbul

Istanbul is the largest city in Europe, it is huge and full of all sorts of people. When you want to “chat with locals” you might think about what that means to you.

Many if not most of the “locals” you will encounter in the main areas of Taksim and SultanAhmet will either be English or French speaking middle class Turks indistinguishable from nearly any other European you will meet on the continent. They may or may not be amenable to a chat, they could be at lunch or busy shopping. There will be workers, waiters and hotel staff, they come closer to a “local” description but they may not speak English, if so not comfortably and even if they do, they may not have the time to sit and chat. The others are probably tourists like yourself or scam artists looking for their next mark.

If you are really into meeting local people you might try visiting areas around some of the Universities. On the European side of the city many of them are located near places tourists want to see anyway. There you can frequently find students or an occasional faculty member who might want to visit with you. Nearly all educated Turkish people speak two or more languages besides Turkish, English is usually one of them. That might be a form of tourism usually not thought of, but putting you in an environment with a safer chance of meeting a real Turkish person who can take time to chat with you or who might even become a friend.

Do a Google search for “Istanbul universities” it will even show a map of their locations.

Santral Campus Bilgi University, İstanbul, TurkeySantral Campus of Istanbul Bilgi University could be a good venue to hang out and meet people and is also up and along the Golden Horn enabling you to visit different types of neighborhoods on the way with less risk of a scam. Even though fall classes do not start until mid to late September, many schools have summer programs so students and faculty should be there year round. The SantralIstanbul campus is “located in the Silahtarağa neighborhood at the upper end of Golden Horn, is the new campus, which hosts some art and science departments of the university, a contemporary arts museum, and a state-of-the-art library open to the public.”

Kadir Has University is also on the Golden Horn before Santral and is in an old Ottoman wooden building with a garden meeting place that you can get coffee or tea and hang out.

Sahaflar Çarşışı Istanbul, TurkeyŞahaflar Çarşısı (Old Book Market) is near Istanbul University. “Şahaf, an Arabic word, is the shop or person buying and selling old books, documents, etc., and ‘şahaflar çarşısı’ means old book market.” There is a nice outdoor tea garden nearby and where, if you are careful, you may find someone to chat with.

Hope this helps those of you who are really into meeting locals. I am sure others will have different or possibly better suggestions. Enjoy your visit, listen to your inner voice when someone approaches you who wants to “be your friend”. If that voice says “uh-oh what is this all about?” listen to it…

Articles or Websites about İstanbul or Turkey:

Istanbul Articles or Websites
For a digital Reconstruction of old Constantinople see this site called Byzantium 1200 “a non-funded and non-profit project aimed at creating computer reconstructions of the Byzantine Monuments located in İstanbul, TURKEY as of year 1200 AD.”

Travel in Turkey
in Zaman newspaper and Hurriyet Travel News.

A humorous account of an American in İstanbul: All aboard İstanbul transit.”

Here you can read some Lonely Planet Things to Do In İstanbul.

We hope this will add to your enjoyment of Istanbul and its many hidden treasures. Good luck on your travels!