Find a City Guide
- How big is Istanbul?
- The area of the city of Istanbul is roughly 1,830 square kilometres and it is the largest city in Turkey.
- How many people inhabit it?
- Roughly 12,572,000 people live in the city of Istanbul.
- What are the language and the currency?
- They mainly speak Turkish in Istanbul with some people speaking English. Note that i and ı are not the same; ı is pronounced like "uh". And they spend the New Turkish Lira (TRY).
- Inside the Aya Sofia
Things to see in Istanbul
- What is Istanbul's number one attraction?
- Istanbul is steeped in a history of empires so it has a varied offering of historic and religious monuments, architecture and places. One of the most popular attractions in Istanbul is the Blue Mosque. In Turkish it's known as the Sultanahmet Mosque, after Sultan Ahmet, who commissioned the building of the mosque in the early 1600s. The Blue Mosque is built in the Ottoman style and is covered in beautiful tiles and glass. When visiting the Blue Mosque, make sure to remember it is a place of worship and you need to dress appropriately in order to be allowed entry.
- Anything else which shouldn't be missed in Istanbul?
- Plenty! Stay in the area of the Blue Mosque around Sultanahmet Square to see Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace and Basilica Cistern. Topkapi Palace was the official residence of the Sultans for almost three hundred years. Today you can view some amazing items and treasures from this bygone era in the palace. The Hippodrome is another must-see that allows you to step back in time and remember the events that used to take place in this arena. There are great monuments on show in here, too. And don’t miss out on a visit to the Grand Bazaar; with over 4,000 shops it's the biggest bazaar in the world. Want more shopping? Head for the Egyptian Bazaar. For a more modern shopping mall check out Galleria Atakoy and Akmerkez.
- What about art and culture?
- As previously mentioned, Istanbul is packed full of history and it does a great job at showcasing the artefacts and buildings of its past. The Istanbul Modern holds exhibitions of contemporary Turkish art. Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofia) or the Church of Saint Sophia today serves as a museum and is definitely worth a visit for those interested in art and history as it was initially built as an Orthodox basilica before being converted to a mosque and then a museum.
Going out in Istanbul
- Is it expensive to go out in Istanbul?
- Depends on what your nightlife tastes are, but you can certainly keep the costs down on a night out in Istanbul.
- Where are most of the bars found?
- There is a great variety of bars, clubs and pubs all over Istanbul. As the weather gets better for the summer you will see these establishments move out into open spaces. One of the most popular areas for nightlife is Beyoğlu, home to lots of cafés, bars, live music and all walks of life. Other great areas include Istiklal Avenue, Nişantaşı, Bebek and Kadıköy.
- Is there anything to do that doesn't include alcohol?
- There certainly is. You'll often see groups of friends drinking Turkish tea and eating pastries at any time of day or night at cafes, including the countless Simit Sarayı locations. There's also many places to smoke nargile, also known as shisha or hookah, (with tea, of course!); some of the best are in Tophane, next to the Istanbul Modern. And of course, a trip to Istanbul would not be complete without visiting the Turkish baths. This ancient tradition is still alive and thriving in Istanbul. Almost all of them are seperated into male and female sections but if you're in a mixed group or a couple, we recommend heading for the 16th-century mixed Süleymaniye Hamam.
- Anything else I need to know?
- Turkey loves their soccer and the two local teams are Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray, with a great rivalry between the two sides. Soccer games played in Turkey sell out pretty fast so you need to get in early if you want to get a seat. If you are supporting an away team be wary of some hostility and don’t display your colours after a match in the crowd!
Eating Out in Istanbul
- Is it expensive to eat out in Istanbul?
- There are so many choices when it comes to food in Istanbul that you can make it as cheap or expensive as you can afford and still get a great taste.
- Are international cuisines well represented?
- The food on offer in Istanbul is a mix of European, Eastern and - of course - traditional Turkish cuisine.
- What can I expect from the food in Istanbul?
- Honestly? Everything! You will find streets of traditional meyhanes (wine houses), restaurants and pubs all over the city, offering some of the finest cuisine. A great tip to remember for eating out in Istanbul is to wander away from the tourist hotspots and find some local eateries. If you find an authentic Turkish restaurant your taste-buds will be rewarded! One of the most famous foods to come from Turkey is the döner – a great cheap and fast option and a local favourite. Another favourite is Balik-Ekmek, which is fish and bread served with tomatoes and onion – the taste will blow you away. Istanbul is also famous for its historic seafood restaurants, so much so that the area of Kumkapı has a pedestrian-only area that is dedicated to fish restaurants. You will find lots of many to choose from here, including some of the best in the city. Also, many of the most popular seafood restaurants are found along the shores of the Bosphorus and by the Marmara Sea shore towards the south of the city. If you’re looking for a quick bite on the go, check out the food carts around the city offering snacks like roasted chestnuts, corn on the cob or simit – a warm bread.
- What's for breakfast?
- Oh my sweet tastebuds! Possibly the most famous breakfast cafe in Istanbul is Van Kahvaltı Evi in Cihangir. This Kurdish restaurant serves up what is kind of the Turkish national breakfast - a platter of cheeses, honey, a type of clotted cream, olives, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes and delicious menemen, which is a blend of scrambled eggs, sauteed onions, tomatoes and peppers, served in a sizzling pan. Going for Sunday breakfast? Get there early, as a queue of hungry locals and visitors forms outside!
- Anything else I need to know?
- You will find some of the best ice cream in Istanbul sold from many street stands. It's called dondurma and while there may not be many flavours to choose from it’s the orchid root extract in the ice cream that makes it special as it gives it an incredibly chewy and stringy texture. And it’s amusing to watch the ice cream vendors do impressive tricks with the ice-cream!
Transport in Istanbul
- How many different modes of public transport are there in Istanbul?
- Five - Tram, metro, bus, train and boat.
- Can I buy a ticket that covers all modes of transport?
- For every trip you take on a tram, metro, bus, or boat on the public transport system, you will need to purchase a token (which works on all of them). These small metal tokens cost 3 TL and you can buy them at various ticket kiosks at bus, train, and metro stations. Ticket fares across buses, trams and metros are charged at a flat rate and can only be bought using local currency.
- Will I need to use public transport at all?
- More than likely, if you don’t want to walk everywhere. It can be daunting to navigate at first but if you take the time to figure it out it will be worthwhile.
- Anything else I need to know?
- Get yourself an AKBİL (AKıllı BİLet - Turkish acronym for "Smart Ticket") if you plan on using the public transport in Istanbul for more than one day. This is a small device that acts as a ticket on public transport; you buzz them in before you board your transport and they can be used for more than one passenger. They can be bought and refilled at various locations and kiosks and offer a discounted rate compares to regular tickets. The AKBİL is still in use but is slowly being phased out in favour of the Istanbulkart, a chip card that you buy for 10 TL and then top up.