Istanbul, Turkey, offers travelers exquisite Ottoman mosques and sultans’ palaces alongside modish restaurants, bars, galleries and clubs. The city’s strategic location on major land and sea trade routes has made Istanbul a commercial link between east and west for centuries.
Getting there from the airport:
Istanbul’s Atatürk International Airport is about 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) east of the city. Traveling from the airport to the city center via the Hafif metro or tram light-rail system will take about an hour and cost about four Turkish lira (TL4). As of May 1, a turkish lira was exchanging at a rate of 0.44 Euros and US$0.65.
Exiting the customs area, turn right and walk to the end of the terminal. Look for signs to direct you. Stop along the way to exchange money, as you will need local currency to pay for tokens. You'll need two tokens to travel from Atatürk Airport to Sultanahmet, Eminönü or Kabatas, three to reach Taksim Square. The metro and tram system runs from 6 a.m. to midnight daily.
While there are plenty of yellow taxis outside the airport, they are not recommended because of the risk of inflated fares. If you do opt for a taxi, the rates are the same day and night, and the 35- to 75-minute ride from the airport to Taksim Square should cost about TL40.
Airport shuttles called Havas buses operate between the airport and city center. The main Havas city terminals are at Taksim Square and the Kozyatagi Business Center. It takes approximately 40 minutes to get to Taksim Square and costs about TL10. To get to the Kozyatagi area it takes about an hour and costs TL17.
Areas to be familiar with include the Kozyatagi Business Center in Kadiköy, which is on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus; Beyoglu (BEY-oh-loo), home to many of the consulates and a part of the city now enjoying a cultural and architectural revival; nearby Taksim Square, the heart of modern Istanbul; and the docks at Kabatas on the European shore. You will want to sightsee in Eminönü, home of the Byzantine capital, and Sultanahmet, which features the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii), the Byzantine Hippodrome and much more.
The areas of Sultanahmet and Beyoglu are easily explored on foot. The rest of the city is best accessed via metro and tram. Buses are useful for getting to the Bosphorus coast, and ferries are best for getting to Üsküdar and Kadiköy on the Asian Shore. The best way to get to the shopping and business areas in Nisantasi, Tesvikye, Etiler and Levent is via the new metro line that runs north from Taksim.
Where to stay:
In Sultanahmet you’ll find luxury hotels, as well as an array of charming Ottoman inns. Other four- and five-star hotels are located near Taksim Square or on the Bosphorus. Near Taksim Square, the Ceylan InterContinental (Asker Ocagi Caddesi, No. 1 Taksim, 34435, Phone: 212/368-4444) offers high-rise views. Another choice for upscale comfort is Swissôtel, The Bosphorus (Bayildim Caddesi, No. 2 Maçka, Besiktas 34357, Phone: 212/326-1100).
Hotels geared toward business travelers include the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Istanbul - Old Town (Ordu Caddesi No. 31, Beyazit, 34130, Phone: 212/453-5800) and Renaissance Polat Istanbul Hotel (Sahilyolu Caddesi, No. 2, Yesilyurt, 34149, Phone: 212/414-1800).
Things to do:
While in Istanbul, you must see the exquisite Ottoman mosques and other historic sites, but also make time to sip a Turkish tea or coffee at one of the many sidewalk cafés, try a traditional fish sandwich by the Golden Horn or take in one of the popular cruises along the Bosphorus, the strait that separates the continents of Europe and Asia.
Just west of Sultanahmet, along the old Roman road called Divan Yolu, is the Grand Bazaar, which is not to be missed. The nearby Spice Bazaar is filled with intriguing and delightful aromas. In the same area you’ll find the Basilica Cistern, which once provided a water-filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople.
Istanbul is affordable compared to many other European travel destinations. Travelers can expect reasonable prices at bars and eateries all over the city. A few restaurants to try:
Ciya Sofrasi: This humble eatery on the Asian side of the Bosphorus is rated one of the city’s best restaurants by the New York Times and Zagat Survey. The chef serves an array of delectable and rare regional dishes. Ask for a sampler tray and don’t leave out the meatballs in quinces. Located at Guneslibahce Sokak 43-44, Kadiköy, Istanbul. Phone: 216/330-3190.
Abracadabra: In a four-story building overlooking the Bosphorus, you’ll find this traditional restaurant decorated with an eclectic mix of antiques and Turkish-style furnishings. The chef cooks up delicious fare, like bulgur-stuffed zucchini blossoms with thick yogurt and duck confit with purslane and samosas. Located at Arnavutkoy Caddesi 50/1, Istanbul. Phone: 212/358-6087.
Konuk Evi: Located in Sultanahmet, this moderately priced restaurant features a lovely patio shaded by leafy trees. You’ll find mezes, grilled meats and fresh salads on the menu. It’s a great place to stop and take a break while visiting the sights. Located at Sogukçesme Sokak, Sultanahmet, Istanbul. Phone: 212/513-3660.
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