10 Key Things about Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul. The city of two continents.

İstanbul has stood through most of history. The Ottomans, Persians, Romans, Greeks. The city is a confluence of cultures and religions. Famed for its hospitality, İstanbul is the most populous city of Turkey and the largest in Europe. Today, the city thrives, its skyline ever changing but still so ever true to its roots.

1. History of İstanbul   

The Greek king Byzas established a colony on the Bosphorous, following the advice of the Oracle of Delphi. This colony was called Byzantium. Literally, the city on the Bosphorous. The city passed on from the Greeks to the Persians and then over to the Romans. The Roman emperor, Constantine, named the city Constantinople and made it the capital of the Roman empire. Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, renamed it Islambol and made it capital. Ottoman rule ended shortly after the First World War, when the allies took over the city. The Republic of Turkey was born in 1923. The capital was moved to Ankara, but İstanbul still remains the cultural, historical, and economic centre of the country.

10-Key-Things-Istanbul-Blue-mosque-2-1024x657 10 Key Things about Istanbul, Turkey2. Nightlife in İstanbul   

İstanbul’s nightlife is glorious. In recent years, the bars have begun adopting a more ‘European’ look. You will find hookah cafes, bars, night-clubs, discos, restaurants and live music venues. On the European side, you will find the city’s buzzing nightlife in Ortaköy, Taksim-Beyoğlu, Levent, Nişantaşı, Etiler. Kadıköy and Bagdat Street are the Asian side’s hubs.

İstiklal Caddesi has a number of small, hip clubs. Abdi İpekçi Caddesi has a number of restaurants that morph into bars as the night goes on. Çiçek Pasajı in Taksim is packed with bars. Galatasaray and Ortaköy are filled with upscale, rooftop bars. A dinner cruise over the Bosphorous is also a great option.

For some local Turkish music, head to some tavern. Hayal Kahvesi, in Taksim, is also a nice place to listen to live music. Event listings for any cultural performances or live gigs can be found in the local papers, magazines, and on the internet. Biletix is the standard site for getting tickets in İstanbul.

Ask your hotel staff if you ever need any help. They will point you in the right direction.

3. Safety in İstanbul   

İstanbul is safe, more or less. Tourists’ money is targeted through pickpocketing, bag-snatching and some fairly common scams (especially for single-male travellers).

The taxi problem is widespread. Your taxi driver won’t speak English and the rate for the taxis would be astounding. There is no getting around this, unless you speak the local language.

10-Key-Things-Istanbul-City-1024x768 10 Key Things about Istanbul, TurkeySometimes you would meet a few overly friendly people, who would take you to a “place they know” for drinks. There you would be presented with a huge bill amounting to several hundred dollars. These scams are confined to the Taksim and Laleli areas, in the male-only bars.

Take necessary precautions. Keep your valuables in the hotel safe. If you have a bag, wear it across your shoulder to avoid bag snatching. Walk in places where there are women, to be extra safe. Women need to be cautious while travelling. The old city is a bit conservative, even though most of İstanbul isn’t.

4. Living Expenses in İstanbul   

İstanbul has a higher cost of living than the rest of Turkey. The city is not expensive, but it is also not cheap.

Renting a studio apartment in the trendy areas of the city can cost as much as 3,000 TL per month. A similar studio apartment in a non-posh neighbourhood can cost 1,500TL. The prices average at 1,700TL and 800TL respectively.

İstinye, Kemerburgaz, Levent and Bebek have villas and large apartments. The prices range from 1,500USD to 6,000USD. Apartments in the Taksim and Cihangir areas range from 800USD to 1,500 USD.

Budget hotels have tariffs around 80 TL per night. Luxury hotels can have tariffs as high as 1,100 TL per night.

5. Cuisine of İstanbul   

The food in İstanbul is a delicious fusion of the foods from the Ottomans, the Mediterranean, Asia and Middle East. The cuisine is a reflection of the country’s history and its encounter with so many civilisations over the ages.

Food in the city is not very expensive. You can have entire meals for under 30 TL. Food from roadside stalls hardly cost more than 10 TL. If you want to start with a Turkish breakfast, head down to Cihangir for Cafe Firuz. The best mezzes (with raki) are had at Karaköy Lokantası (on Kemankeş Caddesı). İstanbul’s best baklava is served at Güllüoğlu, right next to Karaköy Lokantası. If you go to Kadikoy, Çiya Kebab has delicious kebabs (be sure to try the iskender kebab).  Lahmacun from Halil Lahmacun (Kadikoy) and wraps from Dürümzade (Beyoğlu) are delicious. Köfte, Manti, Kuzu Tandır, Gozleme and Menemen are a must have. Fırın Sütlaç (baked rice pudding) and künefe are well known desserts.

Tea in the Grand Bazaar while chatting with vendors. One of the best coffee experiences in İstanbul can be had at Mandabatmaz (İstiklal Caddesi).

6. Statistics of İstanbul   

İstanbul is Europe’s largest city and one of the world’s most populous cities. Spread out over both Europe and Asia, the city has an area of 5,343 sq. km and a population of 14 million within the city limits. The population density averages at 9,846 per sq. km.

Islam is the most widespread religion, followed by Christianity and Judaism. Greek Orthodox Christians, Armenian Christians, Catholic Levantines and Sephardic Jews are religious minorities.

7. Public Transport in İstanbul   

İstanbul’s public transport system is extensive. More people use public transport to get around everyday than in any other European city. The main modes of transports are the Metro (for getting around the new city), the Tram (for the Old City), the buses, Dolmus and taxis (for everywhere), ferries (to travel between the two continents).

10-Key-Things-Istanbul-Transport-1024x577 10 Key Things about Istanbul, TurkeyIf you are in İstanbul for only a few days, tokens and electronic tickets would be enough for you to get around. If you are staying for more, get an İstanbulkart (can be purchased from any iETT counter near major transportation hubs  or from newspaper stands near major transit stops). It costs only 6 TL and can be used to pay for almost all public transport. All metro maps, route maps and additional information can be found on the iETT website.

Pollution in İstanbul – Along with the burning of fossil fuels, Sulfur dioxide pollution is a problem in İstanbul. Being windy, İstanbul’s air pollution is not a very big threat as compared to the water pollution. The PM 2.5 levels in the city average at 50, as compared to Delhi’s 180.

8. Weather of İstanbul   

İstanbul experiences several sub-climates owing to the enormity of the city. The climate is classified as borderline Mediterranean, humid subtropical (in the northern part of the city) and oceanic. Parts of the city are affected by the continental influences as well.

The northern parts experiences fogs, owing to the high levels of humidity. The fog dissipates by midday during the summer months, but can linger during winters.

Summer: June to September. Average low:  18 degrees C. Average high: 28 degrees C.

Autumn: October to November.Average low: 11 degrees C, Average high: 20 degrees C.

Winter: December to March. Average low: 5 degrees C. Average high: 8 degrees C.

Spring: April to May. Average low: 11 degrees C. Average high: 17 degrees C.

The average rainfall is 800 mm, with over 130 days that see precipitation.

9. Culture of İstanbul   

Even though the city of İstanbul has an immensely rich history, the cultural scene of the city lay stagnant for a long time because the Turkish Republic shifted its attention towards Ankara. It was not until the last decade that İstanbul emerged as a city with a cultural significance not derived from its past glory.

The city has been the artistic centre of the country for a long time. Beyoglu is home to artists both old and young. Turkish banks own a lot of galleries and collections.

İstanbul boasts museums in buildings which are as historic as the collection of artefacts they hold (Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace and Chora Church).

10-Key-Things-Istanbul 10 Key Things about Istanbul, TurkeyThe İstanbul Foundation of Culture and Arts introduced various festivals (which are now world famous) to promote the culture and arts of the city. The International İstanbul Film Festival, İstanbul International Jazz Festival, the Tulip Festival and the İstanbul Biennial attract audience from around the world.

10. Places to Visit in İstanbul   

Things to do in İstanbul: Visit Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace, the iconic Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Galata Tower, Süleymaniye Mosque, Dolmabahçe Palace, Beylerbeyi Palace, Obelisk of Theodosius, Beyazıt Square and Hagia Irene; Take a rejuvenating bath in a Hamam; Shop at Nişantaşı, Laleli and the İstiklal Avenue; Walk over the Galata bridge; Take in the flavours of the Grand Bazaar; Experience the nightlife and food at Taksim Square; Have a typical Turkish Tea; Eat a Turkish breakfast; Take the final Bosphorous ferry and see two continents in one go.

10-Key-Things-Istanbul-shopping-1024x767 10 Key Things about Istanbul, Turkey

Things to do for Kids in İstanbul: Attraction for kids include the Miniatürk, Rahmi M Koç Museum and the İstanbul Aquarium. There is also the TurkuaZoo; The educational-amusement park KidZania and the ferry across Bosphorous.

Museums and Galleries: The city’s history and culture are wonderfully showcased in many museums like Hagia Sophia, Yildiz Palace, Archaeology Museum, Kariye Museum, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts and the İstanbul Modern Art Museum and the İstanbul Military Museum.

Places Nearby: The wonderful Princes’ Islands and Büyükada are a 2 hour ferry ride from İstanbul. The cities of Izmir, Bodrum, Ephesus and Izmir are not far off.

Offbeat Places: İznik is a beautiful city rich in history; Varna, if you want to relax on the coasts of the Black Sea; Melnik, near the Greek border has wines and some stunning architecture; Canakkale is a quiet and peaceful getaway from the city.

Author’s Conclusion: İstanbul is stunning. Its magnificent sites leave you in awe. The cuisine leaves you asking for more. The people are amazing. The influences that all the civilisations have left on the city are unmistakable and yet, city still retains its own distinct flavour. That is what makes İstanbul so beautiful.

Country Turkey
City İstanbul
Area Urban – 1,830sq. km.
Metropolitan – 5,343 sq. km.
Population 14,025,646 Million (as of December, 2015)
Demonym İstanbulites
Languages Turkish
Currency Turkish Lira (TL/TRY)  (1 TL = 0.34 USD as of 10th February, 2016)
Time Zone Eastern European Time (UTC +2)
Eastern European Summer Time (UTC +3)
Driving Left Hand Drive, Right Hand Traffic
Helpline Emergency (Medical)-112, Police – 155, Coastguard-158, Fire-115

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