[All content and prices updated August 2013]

Why you should add Istanbul to your RTW travel list

Istanbul is Turkey’s largest city, and with an estimated population of over 10 million people, it’s also one of the largest cities in the world. This ancient metropolis had been a capital of one empire after another for 16 centuries and has more history packed into it than most countries. The Eastern influences stand out in this city that straddles two continents, but Istanbul is also a modern European capital, and there isn’t much you can’t find here if you look hard enough.
  • Learn history when visiting Hagia Sofia. The former Byzantine church was turned into a mosque by the Ottomans and now it’s a museum.
  • Topkapı Palace: it was the seat of the Ottoman power for 400 years. Today it’s an impressive sight to visit.
  • Mosque of Sultan Ahmet , or the famous Blue Mosque, is a symbol of Istanbul everyone recognizes. It is a working mosque so you’ll have to plan the visit around the worship hours.
  • Haggling is an art, and you can take it perfection in the Grand Baazar. You can buy pretty much anything you want, but watch out for knock-offs.
  • Eat to your heart’s desire. Or drink Turkish tea (cay).  Tea is a huge part of the culinary culture.  Does doner kebab ring a bell? Feel free to sample plenty more types of kebab. And dolma. And finish the meal with baklava.
  • Relax at a Turkish Bath, or hamam as they call them in Turkey. After several days of sightseeing you will need to relax. Do it in style but check the opening times (the hamams are open at different times for ladies and guys).
  • Try the narghile (hookah) and call it an invitation to get to know the local culture.
  • The city is very popular with tourists, which means it’s hard to get away from them. July and August are popular vacation months in Europe , so that’s when the prices are at their highest and you’ll bump into tourists everywhere. Try to plan your visit in spring or autumn.
  • Istanbul used to be a cheap destination, but things have changed recently. You can still find good bargains if you book in advance and if you travel during the shoulder season, but the costs add up.
  • Istanbul is a little bit Europe and a little bit Middle East. It's got this weird duality that is really unique and feels really amazing when you are there. Comforts and style of Europe with Middle Eastern culture and history.

Indie Travel Tips

Getting off the beaten path may be difficult in a large city such as Istanbul, but it’s still possible to get an indie experience in Istanbul:
  • Kariye Mosque is usually ignored by the tourists so it makes for a perfect off the beaten path visit. It’s second only to Hagia Sofia and was built in the 11th century.
  • Take a ferry and cruise the Bosporus. The ferry leaves from a terminal near Galata Bridge and offers lovely views of the buildings and the strait. Don’t forget your camera.
  • Walk the city walls. They span about 4 miles (6.5 km) and represent the largest Byzantine structure still standing in Istanbul.
  • Get wonderfully lost. Just put on your walking shoes and walk the streets. Some are well known promenades of tourists, others just offer incredible views of the city. Just for your peace of mind, bring a map with you.
  • Visit the Roman aqueduct. It is found southeast of the Faith Camii and stretches for about 500 m.

Transportation

Being a huge city Istanbul is also a major transit hub. You can book a flight into Istanbul Atatürk Airport (code: IST) from all the major airports in Europe and Asia. Prices tend to be competitive most of the year so it shouldn’t be hard to find a good deal. There is also the smaller Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (code: SAW), which handles much of the charter traffic as well as some of the new low-cost carriers.

Accommodation

Prices for accommodation are quite reasonable in Istanbul, and there are plenty of hostels in town. This is a large and spread out city, so take note of the location of a potential place, as it’s not worth saving a bit of money if you are far from the places you intend to visit.

Photo credits:  Darwinek