History buffs, foodies, adventurers: Istanbul could be your dream destination. This huge city lies at the crossroads between East and West, and the influences of its geographic location can be felt everywhere.
From the spectacular Topkapi Palace of the Ottoman Sultan to the sublime domes and towers of the Hagia Sophia and the ruins of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman cites, the past is everywhere in Istanbul - and it's fascinating.
Beyond sightseeing, Istanbul offers much more to adore. From the color and energy of the Grand Bazaar to the exquisite fabrics at boutiques like Haremlique, Istanbul is a great place to shop.
The taste and aroma of a traditional Turkish kebab from restaurants like Asitane and the option of dancing the night away at the bars in Galata make clear: Istanbul has it all.
Stroll the sights in Turkey's largest city, pamper yourself at a Turkish bath, and haggle for carpets or jewelry at the Grand Bazaar.
Istanbul's nightlife pulsates like no other. Sip beers and cocktails in Galata bars Maxigala or clubs like Reina, or catch music performances at legendary spots like Dogstarz in Beyoğlu.
Sacred sites like the Blue Mosque or Hagia Sophia dot throughout the city as do stunning palaces like the Topkapi and the Dolmabahçe, while the views across the Golden Horn are breathtaking.
In Istanbul, you're never far away from the coast. Beaches like Burc and Babylon Beach are easily accessible by public transportation and allow you to swim and see the sights on the same day.
The aroma of food is irresistible on the streets of Istanbul. Try the most delicious kebabs you've ever tasted from restaurants like Antiochia and Çiya Kebap, simit donuts at Galata Simitçisi or gözleme (savory pancakes) at Feriköy Organik Pazarı.
If you want to avoid the crowds and high temperatures, try to visit outside peak summer months (July and August). Schedule your trip for April and May or the fall for good weather and easy access to all the attractions.
Most visitors arrive in Istanbul via Atatürk Airport, about 13 miles west of the downtown area. The cheapest route into town is via bus route 96T (₺5), but the Havatas bus service (₺11) is much faster. Faster still is the Metro, which costs ₺3, but it's a 10 minute walk from the airport to the station. Taxis will cost around ₺60.
The Bosphorus Express connects Turkey with European countries like Bulgaria and Romania however, there are currently service interruptions between Istanbul and Edirne due to track renovations. It is, at present, unclear when full service will resume.
If you rent a car at the airport, be aware that getting into central Istanbul can pose problems. First of all, be careful on roads before you get used to the at-times unpredictable habits of local drivers. There's also a toll system on both bridges into the city that requires an electronic transponder or payment card. Your rental provider should be able to advise about how to pay, but don't get caught out.
Getting a bus to Istanbul from European cities like Athens, Sofia, or Bucharest is a realistic option. Most international buses arrive at the Otogar terminal, about six miles west of the center of town. Upon arrival, just catch the M1 Metro line.
Many of the best hotels are to be found in the Sultanahmet (Old City) neighborhood, where popular options include the Ottoman Hotel Imperial and the more intimate Hotel Empress Zoe. If you want to be near the city's nightlife, try Galata hotels like Pera Palace or the Grand Hyatt. Some of the most comfortable hotels can also be found in Bosphorus, where the Çırağan Palace Kempinski allows you to stay in the residence of the final Sultan.
Sultanahmet - The heart of the Old City, Sultanahmet goes back 3,000 years and it's a magical place. Here, you can see the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Topkapi Palace, the remains of the Roman hippodrome and much more, or just relax at the area's many Turkish baths like Çemberlitaş Hamami.
Galata - Istanbul's nightlife center, Galata, hums with youth and energy. Head to Taksim Square, the focal point of the city, where bars like Indigo also offer great views of the city.
Bosphorus - This sprawling district is the bohemian heart of Istanbul and the premier shopping neighborhood. If boutiques are your thing, a walk down Akaretler Street is essential, where Haremlique sells superb modern textiles and famed jeweler Sevan Bıçakçı offers extravagant pieces.
The first thing to do in Istanbul is to purchase an Istanbulkart, which works on metros, buses, and trams. An Istanbulkart offers much lower fares on all forms of transport. Fare charges vary depending on distance traveled and become cheaper the more journeys you take in a 24-hour period. The Metro and buses shut down at night. If you are stuck and need a ride, try the "dolums", a minivan system that runs all night and costs between ₺2-8 per journey.
Official taxi rates in Istanbul include a ₺3.20 meter drop, followed by a charge of ₺3 for every mile. Uber offers an alternative, charging ₺4 for the meter drop, then around ₺3.5 per mile (the charges are higher as Uber currently only offers family-sized vehicles in the city).
Renting a car is a good option if you want to cruise the Turkish coast or hop over the border to Greece. Local car rental outlets include Europcar and Assist Car Rental. Be aware of toll roads (such as the Bosphorus bridges), try to avoid crossing the city during rush hour, and be prepared for the road rule book to sometimes go out the window. Always expect the unexpected and you'll be fine.
The most exciting place to shop in Istanbul is definitely the Grand Bazaar where over 4,000 stores sell everything from rugs and gold jewelry to spices and leather goods. The popular İstiklal Caddesi, a pedestrianized precinct in Beyoğlu, offers boutiques, galleries, cafes, and more. Alternatively, try Akmerkez. This large mall in Besiktas hosts a wide range of stores, including Armani Jeans, Accessorize and the cosmetics brand Sephora.
Self-catering travelers can save money by shopping at supermarkets like MM Migros and Makro, while there are smaller grocery stores on almost every street. Expect to pay around ₺10 for a gallon of milk and ₺1.7 for a pound of apples.
Istanbul has thousands of exceptional places to eat, and every neighborhood has its own highlights. In Galata, try the lunches at Ficcin or the gourmet food at NuTeras. In the Old City, Doy Doy provides great value meals, while Asitane serves the best traditional Turkish cuisine in town. Wherever you are, there should be superb options - just ask the locals! Expect to pay around ₺30 for a mid-range meal and anything up to ₺100 for gourmet meals.