Istanbul… The city where the continents meet… Historical, magical, impressive but also crowded, noisy and stressful for its residents… With its more than 15 million population Istanbul is the 4th largest city in the whole world and biggest one in Turkey of course. You will find detailed information in this Istanbul city guide.
Short History of Istanbul
Istanbul has its own unique long-standing history. So any of the Istanbul city guides must have some fragments about its own great history. The first inhabitant of Istanbul is dating back to almost 2nd millennium BC. They have settled the Asian side of the city at that time. Back in time, Istanbul got its first name around the 7th century which is Byzantium, a Greek name for a city on Bosphorus. Around the 6th century, BC Alexander the Great took the city and peace period started for almost 200 years for this unique place.
In year 193 a Roman emperor Septimus Severus conquered the city remained under Roman rule until the 4th century AD. The historical name of Istanbul which is Constantinople was given by Constantine the Great around 5th century AD after the separation of the Roman Empire to Western and Eastern Roman (Byzantium) and the city is called to the capital of Byzantine Empire. At that time the city was built over the 7 hills but it’s another story. Constantinople’s population rise up to almost half a million between the 4th and 6th centuries. Also during that time, the great wonder has risen in Constantinople, Hagia Sophia! Constantinople have the number of sieges, riot and plunder during history…
Constantinople, as it appeared in the 13th century, here accurately depicted by Antoine Helbert. (Source: https://tr.pinterest.com/pin/114841859222847086/)
Constantinople conquered by the Sultan Mehmet II in 1453 with 53 days of siege and city named Islambol, became the capital of the Ottoman Empire. During the next 200 years many mosques, baths, madrasahs and public houses built by the sultans. The investments to the city and peace period give a change to the city to regain its population up to half a million once more. Throughout the centuries the name of the evolve to Istanbul.
During World War I the Great War city was occupied by the allied troops until the national struggle led by the father of Turks the Mustafa Kemal Atatürk repel them. After the birth of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 capital moved to Ankara. But during time Istanbul has continued to grow and expand drastically, today its population over 15 million one of the biggest cities in the whole world and unfortunately, it continues to grow…
How to Get to Istanbul
Istanbul geographically has various advantages. You can take a flight from more than 300 cities to Istanbul by Turkish Airline which globally recognized. If you want a more nostalgic route to reach Istanbul you can take international trains from the Balkan to reach the city. There are two airports in Istanbul which are Istanbul Airport on the European side (opened in 2019 instead of the old one: Istanbul Ataturk Airport) and Sabiha Gokcen Airport on the Asian side.
Unfortunately, both of the airports don’t have a metro line at that time and you have to take a bus or taxis. You can find information about how to get from airport to city in both ways. These airports almost 80 km away from each other. So we can say that both of them location two sides of Istanbul. Just be careful before taking a taxi! Try to use Uber-like apps to not deal with scams and overcharges.
Public Transport in Istanbul
Istanbul has really advanced public transport system. Metros, trains, trams, buses, ferries and taxis… In Istanbul, you have to buy an Istanbul card to use public transport. You can buy it from the terminals in the airport or various selling points around the city. You can find the main website for Istanbul’s public transport.
- İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality
- İETT (Buses)
- Metro Istanbul
- Şehir Hatları (Ferry Lines)
- Marmaray (Suburb train line)
In Istanbul its quite easy to reach your target destination by using metros, trams, train ve ferries but not buses! There is huge traffic both during morning and evening rush times. So try to use rail systems most of the time to get around the city. Most populated and touristic areas have metro or trams so it won’t be a problem for you to get these places.
In Istanbul, rail and sea transport mostly serves between 06.00 and 00.00 but also night lines for the buses. You can use night buses to go to most of the places in Istanbul, just don’t forget to check the timetables.
Top 10 Places to Visit in Istanbul
There are countless places to see in Istanbul and you will discover a new one every time you came back to this great city but we just wrote down 10 of them.
1. Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya)
This legendary landmark always gets the first place in Istanbul city guide. There is a phrase about Byzantine Emperor Justinian when he entered the Hagia Sophia in 536 AD, he cried and said that I have outdone you, Solomon! At that time Hagia Sophia is one of the greatest wonders all over the world and still is. When the Sultan Mehmet II conquered the city he converted Hagia Sophia to the mosque and construct four minarets. Hagia Sophia served as a mosque until the 24 October 1934. After this date, Hagia Sophia became of one of the most famous museums in Turkey. The ticket price for visiting the Hagia Sophia is around 100 TL for the full fare.
2. Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque)
Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmed Mosque is a historical wonder just in front of the Hagia Sophia. This mosque called as “blue” because of the surrounding walls of the interior. Blue Mosque was built between years 1609-1616 by the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I. Blue Mosque is an open and active for the Muslim prayers during the days. Because of this if you go there during praying times you may need to wait 15-20 minutes to enter the inside. You will get a free scarf before entering the mosque from the staff and don’t believe anyone who offers you to get in the mosque without waiting for the queue. By the way visiting the mosque is totally free.
3. Topkapı Palace
Palace was both homes of the Ottoman Sultans and administrative/educational centre of the empire. After the conquest of Istanbul palace was built by the Sultan Mehmed II between 1460 and 1478. Palace actively served until the 1850s for the state affairs until it became inadequate for the protocols and other things until the sultans moved to Dolmabahçe Palace. New sections added to the palace through years by the sultans. The landmark has a total area around 700.000 square meters and its major area located in the Royal Gardens which is in Turkish, Hasbahçe.
4. Basilica Cistern
Basilica Cistern is one the Istanbul’s splendid historical places. This large underground cistern was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian between the 527 and 565 as a water reservoir. The cistern is 140 meters long and 70 meters wide like a rectangle structure and it has 336 marble columns. It has the capacity to hold around 100.000 tons of water. There are also Medusa heads from the Roman time which is a great example of the great artwork. You can take a look at the Basilica Cistern post to discover the hidden beneath Istanbul.
5. Galata Tower
Tower has a panoramic view of Istanbul’s historical peninsula as well as the surroundings. 63 meters high tower was built by the Genoese colony around the 14th century for the defense of the Galata district and its located directly opposite of the ancient Constantinople. Also during the Ottoman reign, Hazerfan Ahmet Çelebi was the first Turk who overflew the Bosphorus to Üsküdar for more than 6000 meters in distance. Don’t forget to take look to Spend a Day in Galata post to get more about this historic district.
6. Grand Bazaar
Here is one of the most-to-see places in Istanbul city guide. Grand Bazaar is the largest covered market in the world! It has various of goods buyers which make it more and more famous. Grand Bazaar’s covered area is around 30.700 square meters with more than 60 streets and 4000 shops. Enormous! The bazaar was constructed by Sultan Mehmed II after the conquest and during the years it also expands by the following sultans. Shop like an expert at Grand Bazaar post will help you to plan your day in this massive place.
7. Prince Islands
Prince Island is a combination of nine islands on the Asian side of Istanbul. You can take ferries to the islands from Kadıköy, Bostancı, and few other places. There no motorized vehicle on the island except for the police, fire and health departments. Four of the islands are the biggest ones; Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada, and Kınalıada. “Prince” name comes from the Byzantine period when the royal family members exiled to these islands. There were also largely Jewish, Greek and Armenian on islands.
8. İstiklal Street and Taksim Square
Taksim Square and İstiklal Street are two of the most famous and known places in İstanbul. Many hotels and restaurants located in these areas and liked by tourists. There is an Independence Monument in Taksim Square which is located the entrance of İstiklal Street. Also, I new mosque is being constructed a couple of years which is also located in the square and its quite nice one. There is a historical tramline serves between Taksim Square to Şişhane. You can find there the world 2nd oldest metro line serves from Şişhane to Karaköy which name is “Tünel” in Turkish. Metro, funicular and bus lines go through the Taksim and Şişhane which makes them very easy to reach and get around.
Most of the Istanbul city guide ignores or neglects the Asian side but it has its own beauties. Üsküdar is located on the Asian side of the İstanbul and it is located the entrance to the Bosphorus. The district has a long history back in days to the Ottoman Sultan Orhan Gazi years around 1352 before the conquest of İstanbul. During the Ottoman period, Üsküdar was one the judgeship of İstanbul. People who come from the Anatolia resided in Üsküdar after it was taken by Organ Gazi. During the 17th century, there were around 70 Muslim, 11 Greek, and Armenian neighborhoods. There is also Kızkulesi (Maiden’s Tower) just the shore of Üsküdar which has a history long-standing history from the Byzantine. Maidens Tower (Kız Kulesi) should be on your must to see places list for Uskudar.
10. Istanbul Archaeology Museum
This is one of the best museums in Istanbul. It is located at the Topkapı Palace. The museum complex has three main sections which are Museum of the Ancient Orient, the Archaeology Museum and the Tiled Pavilion. The museum gets the collections from the beginning of the 19th century by the museum director, archaeologist Osman Hamdi Bey.
How long the Istanbul city guide will it be never enough for a city like this… Just let yourself discover its unique beauty… Turkey is visa-free for most of the countries. You should think to visit Istanbul and probably you won’t regret this decision.
Don’t hesitate to leave your comment for the people who’re planning to go there or already there! We will improve this Istanbul city guide together.