Cheap flights to Istanbul are a snip since low-cost giant easyJet has injected some competition into the London-Istanbul route. The city’s location is dramatic. Perched on the Bosphorus Strait, half is in Europe, half in Asia. Istanbul’s glorious imperial history includes stints as the capital city of four empires – Roman, Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman.
Istanbul’s rich cultural heritage is apparent in the cobbled stones of the vast Grand Bazaar that hubbubs with the sounds of traders and tourists, in the Aya Sofya (Church of the Holy Wisdom, also known by Haghia Sophia, its Greek name), and in the Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi), the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans for more than 400 years.
Turkish food is magnificent, faves are testi kebab, mercimek corbasi (red lentil soup), kofte (meatballs), imam bayildi (an eggplant and tomato dish, the name of which translates as “the priest wept” to represent its sheer deliciousness), borek (a pastry of which there are hundreds of varieties) and baklava.
Of course, no trip to Istanbul could be complete without a visit to a traditional hamam (bathhouse) or a ferry trip from Eminönü (Europe) to Anadolu Kavagi (Asia).
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Hot in summer, Istanbul’s daytime temperatures are often in the high-20s (Celsius). July and August are the hottest months with the least amount of humidity and rainfall. December and January temperatures are typically in the very low single digits, but seem colder because this is also the most humid time of year. Heavy snowfalls are not unusual during the winter. Spring and autumn are the nicest times to visit with temperatures in the teens and 20s.The yearly rainfall is about 66cm (26in), and most of it falls between November and February.
Istanbul’s tourist season runs from April to the end of October. July and August are the busiest months. If you plan on visiting during these months, it’s recommended to search for Turkey flights far in advance.
The chill and wetness of winter fends off most visitors, but you will find fewer crowds and lower hotel rates.
The shoulder seasons of April through June and September through October have mild weather, fewer tourists, and slightly lower hotel prices.
There are a lot of ways of getting around Istanbul, but the best way to explore is on foot. If walking isn’t your thing, you can always get a rechargeable Akbil transit pass, which you can buy at special kiosks and offers discounted fares on the local buses, trams, metro lines and ferries.
Ferries and catamarans will provide great views as you float along the Golden Horn or cruise up the Bosphorus.
Buses go all over the city, but are usually slow and crowded. Take note that you need to buy bus tickets from ticket stands before boarding.
The metro is a good way to avoid traffic jams, and trams provide some great views of the city.
Like many cities, public transport is crowded during rush hours. Ride in comfort by hailing a dolmus (shared minibus taxi) along its route, or picking it up at a dolmus stand. These shared minibuses cost less than regular taxis. When you board you should always give the driver your destination and ask what the cost will be.
If you have your hotel call for a private yellow taxi, make sure the meter is running before you leave.