Cheap flights to Istanbul leave from Sydney, Melbourne and Perth and transit through either Abu Dhabi, Dubai or through Continental Europe. Australians do not need a visa to enter Turkey if the planned stay is less than three months. Istanbul’s main airport is in the suburb of Yeşilköy, on the European side of the city, 24km west of the city centre. Airport Taxis are a reliable way to get to the city, but the Metro is cheap and often the fastest option. It leaves from right beneath the airport and the trip to the city takes about an hour and costs around A$3, although travellers will need Turkish liras to pay the fare. Spruikers may approach offering a ride in a shared shuttle. They will be cheap, but be careful as it circulates through the city going to lots of hotels meaning it will take a while to get through all the stops. Travellers should also be confident their personal safety is not at risk using this option.
Istanbul’s 20,000 yellow taxis are a cheap way to get around the city, but many travellers have horror stories about cabbies who take advantage of foreigners. Other options include the Metro which has three lines. The most useful for foreign visitors is the M1 light-rail line connecting Atatürk Airport and Aksaray Square via Istanbul's mammoth Otogar (intercity bus station), where travellers can board a bus to any part of Turkey. Change from the Metro to the tram at Zeytinburnu to reach Old Istanbul and Sultanahmet Square. Seabuses zoom up and down the Bosphorus River and across the Sea of Marmara. Because of their speed, catamarans run the longer routes in Istanbul's maritime transport system, leaving the shorter routes to the comfy, traditional Şehir Hatları ferryboats and the smaller TurYol and Dentur Avrasya ferries. The city has two tram lines. Although the nostalgic 19th-century İstiklal Caddesi tram in Beyoğlu is more fun, the Kabataş-Bağcılar tram is more useful, and can help visitors move between the heart of the tourist district at Sultanahmet Square and the Otogar. Tünel is Istanbul's two-station underground train connecting Karaköy (Galata) on the Golden Horn with Tünel Square at the southwestern end of İstiklal Caddesi. The best way to get around Old Istanbul's compact medieval core is on foot. Traffic is sometimes so heavy visitors can often walk somewhere faster than riding.
Most of Istanbul’s most prominent attractions are based around its impressive architecture. Check out the Hagia Sophia, a huge museum and former cathedral, which is adorned with stunning mosaics. Other iconic Istanbul attractions are the Blue Mosque, with its graceful minarets and tiered domes, and the 1st century Sunken Palace, supported by hundreds of underground columns. A must-see is Galata Tower which offers visitors a 360º panoramic view of the old town. Nearby, the 5th century Land Walls stand testament to the city’s resistance of its 1453 conquest by the Ottoman Empire. The Covered Bazaar, or Kapali Çarsi, is the oldest and biggest enclosed bazaar in the world, consisting of a vast labyrinth of 65 twisting streets crammed with more than 4000 shops. The Topkapi Sarayi, built by Mehmet the Conqueror as a Sultan’s Palace, consists of a sprawling collection of buildings arranged around several interconnecting courtyards. It is situated on one of the seven hills of Istanbul with uninterrupted views over the Bosphorus River.
Istanbul’s history as a major centre on the ancient trade route between East and West means it is a shoppers’ paradise. Famous for its antiques, fine carpets and jewellery, there is also many chic boutiques, vintage and “concept” stores. The Grand Bazaar is the place to go for deals on carpets, fabrics and linen. For cheap jewellery head to the old European quarter. Restaurants in Sultanahmet cater mostly to foreign visitors with more European-style preparations—and prices. The Hocapasa neighbourhood just south of Sirkeci station near the Neorion Hotel has a dozen small eateries with good food, friendly service and cheap prices. For a ritzy night out head to the Bosphorus nightclubs, while the less affluent go to the small streets off Beyoğlu’s İstiklal Caddesi, which is full of rooftop bars and cheap sidewalk cafés.
24 May 2017
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David W, London