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Need to Know About Istanbul
Istanbul is the only city in the world that straddles two continents; it is a part of both Europe and Asia, thanks to its positioning on the Bosphorus Strait. But Istanbul is more than a place where East meets West, even though its strategic location has meant that empires have long-fought for rule of the city - and the influence of this can be seen in everything from architecture and customs to cuisine.
Wander through the twisting alleyways of the Old Quarter, or retreat to the steamy serenity of a traditional hammam. Take up a perch in a local coffeehouse or tuck into a lip-smacking kebab, and take in the sights that echo the history of the Ottoman Empire. To see the modern side of Istanbul, jump across the Golden Horn into Beyoglu and explore its line-up of excellent restaurants, buzzing bars, live music venues and cool boutiques.
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When is the Best Time to Visit Istanbul?
The best time to book flights for travel to Istanbul is from March to May, or between September and November. The summer months in between these shoulder seasons see skyrocketing temperatures; so much so that many locals leave the city for their own coastal holiday. While still busy with tourists, the crowds during the shoulder seasons aren’t as overwhelming - the queues will be shorter and you might even be able to snap up cheaper accommodation. The best travel deals can be found for during Turkey’s winter, between December and February. The temperature at this time does take a dip and conditions can be rainy and even snowy, so make sure to pack warmer clothes and an umbrella.
Travelling to Istanbul Airports
Istanbul Ataturk Airport (IST)
Istanbul Ataturk Airport (IST) is the largest airport in Turkey and the main international airport that services Istanbul. It is located around 20 kilometres from the centre of the city. Taxi is the most popular, and often easiest, way of travelling from the airport to your accommodation. Official metered taxis can be hailed just outside the airport. There is also a Havabus shuttle service the departs every half hour, however it doesn’t travel to Sultanahmet. Public transport is available using the Istanbul undergound metro; some travellers will need to change to a tram.
Sabiha Gokcen International Airport (SAW)
Sabiha Gokcen International Airport (SAW) is located approximately 35 kilometres from the heart of Istanbul. Given its distance from Istanbul, a taxi to or from airport can take more than one hour; the fare may be upwards of 125 TL. The Havabus airport shuttle is a reliable option and travels to Taksim and Kadikoy.
What to do in Istanbul
The Blue Mosque
Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, also known as Sultan Ahmed Mosque, is an architectural symbol of Istanbul. Named for its blue tile-clad exterior, this still-active mosque was built by Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I and is open to the public except during prayer times. Visitors are allowed to go inside the mosque, however be sure to dress appropriately, be respectful and avoid using flash photography.
In its former life, the ancient Hippodrome was the setting of epic chariot races. The remains of this public arena are located in Sultanahmet, conveniently between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. There are several monuments scattered throughout the are, including the Egyptian obelisk, the Serpentine Column and the German fountain.
Reaching a height of 67 metres, the Galata Tower offers visitors incredible views of Istanbul’s old city and the surrounding area. Also known as the Tower of Christ, the Galata Tower was once the tallest building in Istanbul. There are elevators to take travellers up the tower, however the final stretch to the summit must be done by foot - about three floors of stairs.
Istanbul Archaeology Museums
The museum is in fact made up of three separate museums, spread across three different buildings. There is the Museum of the Ancient Orient, the Archaeology Museum, and the Tiled Pavilion. Combined, they hold a collection of more than 1 million artefacts from all around the world; the most impressive piece however could be the Alexander Sarcophagus, housed in the Archaeology Museum. Lovers of ancient history may just be swayed into booking an airfare to Istanbul to see that relic alone.
Getting Around Istanbul
Getting around this hectic city can sometimes be quite difficult for a traveller that books a ticket to Istanbul. Depending on your destination, there are many different ways in which you can travel around the city. Walking would be the perfect choice for travellers that book airfare to Istanbul who want to do some sightseeing. There are also many public transportation options, like metros, buses, ferries, and trams. To use all public transportation you can get the Istanbul Card from the automated vending machines located all throughout the city, at metro or tram stops. If you want to explore the Old City, you should opt for using trams, as they are the most simple.