Gorgeous coastlines, breathtaking palaces, and delicious cuisine that blends influences from Asia and Eastern Europe… these are some of the delights that await you when you visit Istanbul. It is the legendary city of Constantinople the Great and the one-time heart of the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, and Ottoman Empire. Today, Istanbul, the capital of Turkey, is the only city in the world to span two continents (Europe and Asia). This has resulted in a culture and heritage that are both unique and fascinating.
Traveling to Istanbul is not for the faint of heart. It is an adventure. Communication with the locals is often difficult; everyday life in the city borders on chaotic; and the foods served throughout the city’s restaurants are anything but subtle. But for the traveler willing to venture outside his or her comfort zone, Istanbul provides a rich, memorable experience. If you are really concerned for your safety and protect yourself from unforeseeable events, purchase travel insurance and get the right amount of travel coverage for your needs, use the following guide to plan your trip. We’ll let know you about fun attractions to see, where to grab a bite to eat, and some of the top hotels at which to reserve a room.
We’ll also give you a few suggestions for getting from place to place once you arrive.
Top Attractions In Istanbul For The First-Time Visitor
Everything about Istanbul is unique from the perspective of those who live in the West. Hence, any activity, from sightseeing and shopping to visiting the spas and enjoying the nightlife, is likely to be fun. Having said that, you’ll need to choose from among the myriad things to do in the city since time will be limited. Here are a few recommendations:
#1 – Visit The Sultan Ahmed Mosque
In the early 17th century, Ahmed I, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire at the time, wanted to build an enormous mosque that would become the gem of the city. It still stands today and is one of the most popular attractions in Istanbul. People visit to marvel at the ornate architecture, viewed from inside the facility and out.
Although the Sultan Ahmed Mosque draws scores of tourists, it is still a place of worship. So, when you visit, it is recommended that you dress accordingly. Also, shoes should be removed before entering and women are encouraged to wear headscarves.
Cost of entry: free.
#2 – Shop At The Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest marketplaces in the world (construction on its foundation began in the mid-1400s). It is massive, comprising thousands of shops strewn across 60 streets. You’ll find countless items for sale, from beautiful jewelry and ceramics to lushly-colored carpets and unique pieces of art. When it’s time to take a breather, venture into one of the many nearby restaurants to enjoy the local cuisine.
If you enjoy shopping, a trip to Istanbul is not complete until you’ve visited the Grand Bazaar. Beware, however. Its sheer size can be intimidating and exhausting.
Cost of entry: free.
#3 – Tour Topkapi Palace
The Topkapi Palace is a huge structure built in the mid-15th century. It sits atop a large hill and overlooks the Sea of Marmara, the Golden Horn, and the Bosphorus strait. The palace has served many functions over the years. It was once the home of the Ottoman Sultans. It was also used to host state affairs and entertainment put on for dignitaries visiting from faraway lands.
Today, the facility is a museum and popular tourist site. Among its many artifacts, it contains key relics treasured by Muslims (for example, Muhammad’s cloak and sword).
Cost of entry: approximately $12. If you would like to visit the Imperial Harem section of the palace, plan to pay an additional $10.
A Quick Guide To Dinner In The City
The foods found in Istanbul lean heavily toward Turkish cuisine. Having said that, if you look diligently, you can find other flavors in the city. For example, Café du Levant near the Golden Horn serves French dishes. Banyan Seaside near Besiktas specializes in Asian fare. If you love seafood, visit Poseidon, Malta Köskü – both near Besiktas – or Balikçi Sabahattin in the Eminonu neighborhood.
We’ve tried to narrow things down so you can enjoy some of the best foods in the city. So read on for 3 restaurants you should definitely add to your list of places to visit.
Mikla is located near Taksim Square on the rooftop of the Marmara Pera hotel. It serves delicious Mediterranean foods while providing guests with a breathtaking view of the city below. Chef Mehmet Gürs has created a menu that offers a wide range of tasty meals and appetizers. Try the vegetable and lamb shank manti served with roasted garlic or the grilled tenderloin with potatoes, caramelized onions, and mushrooms. End with a side of hazelnut ice cream or red onion marmalade.
Plan to pay approximately $60 per person.
Rumelihisari Iskele is found on a dock overlooking the Bosphorus. It offers a waterfront view and constantly packed house. The Iskele provides a long list of seafood dishes in an atmosphere most travelers find to be fun, entertaining, and inspiring. Start with a shrimp salad or plate of stuffed mussels. For the main course, try the grill calarnary or roasted anglerfish (the sea bass is also a popular choice). For dessert, order a chocolate souffle or for a lighter touch, a bowl of mixed fruit.
Plan to pay approximately $45 per person.
Leb-i Derya is another rooftop restaurant found at the top of the Istiklâl Caddesi’s Richmond hotel. The atmosphere is cozy and romantic. Specializing in Mediterranean fare, Leb-i Derya offers a refined menu heavy with pastas, meats, and seafood. For starters, order an appetizer of beef carpaccio, almond crusted shrimp, or marinated salmon. Then, move on to the sea food linguini with salmon, calamari, and shrimp. The pistachio crusted salmon, caramelized shallots minced beef shish, and bosphorus kebab with marinated lamb-chicken also receive rave reviews. Order the pear & espresso panna cotta to finish off the meal.
Plan to pay between $40 and $50 per person.
Best Places To Stay While Visiting Istanbul
One of the best times of the year to visit Istanbul is in September. That’s when the temperature begins to wane into the high 50s (Celcius) and the tourist crowds finally start to thin. It’s also when the hotels begin to lower their rates. You’ll find some of the best deals among hotels that have a pristine reputation around the world.
The Four Seasons at Sultanahmet is a luxury hotel located near Hagia Sophia and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Guests enjoy an on-site restaurant, bar/lounge, and fitness center along with quick access to a number of popular attractions. The 65 guest rooms are furnished with a long list of amenities, including DVD player, plasma television, and even a television in the bathroom. But be prepared for the high room rate.
Rooms at the Four Seasons typically range between $650 and $800 per night.
The Ceylan InterContinental is located near the Bosphorus in Taksim. The Dolmabahce Palace is within walking distance and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is within view of the rooms. Guests are given full access to an on-site health club, full-service spa, and an outdoor pool (complete with poolside bar). A restaurant called the Brasserie serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Two other restaurants – City Lights and Safran – serve dinner only. Each guest room is equipped with air conditioning, satellite television, and a safe.
Rates at the Ceylan during September are between $450 and $500 per night.
The Eresin Crown Hotel is located in the Sultanahmet neighborhood near the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. The Hagia Sophia and Grand Bazaar are also close by. The hotel has a single restaurant that serves breakfast only, but guests can take advantage of 24-hour room service. The nearly 60 guests rooms at the Eresin Crown come with air conditioning, jetted bathtub, satellite television, and blackout drapes, among many other amenities.
Room rates during September tend to fall below $350 per night.
Getting From Place To Place
The first rule for getting around Istanbul is to carry a detailed map of the city. Whether you are exploring the city’s nooks and crannies on foot or traveling back and forth by bus, tram, or metro, you’ll find that having a good map is invaluable.
There are a lot of transportation options in the city, and the ones you use should reflect where you’re going and what you intend to do there. For example, if you’re in the Sultanahmet area, walking is a great way to see the neighborhood (wear a comfortable pair of walking shoes). If you’re traveling from your hotel to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and Topkapi Palace, the bus or tram are your best bets.
The metro system in Istanbul can be useful if you’re going to the airport or visiting select parts of the city. But for the most part, it’s less convenient than the bus and tram systems. Taxis are also an option. They’re easy to find. The downside is that some of the drivers are less than trustworthy and will try to bamboozle the unwary traveler.
From Canada To Istanbul: The Cost Of A Round Trip Ticket
The biggest cost of your trip will be the airfare. There are limited flights that leave the major hubs in Canada en route to Istanbul throughout the year. That means rates tend to stay relatively high. Moreover, airlines are less inclined to offer major deals than they normally would to the top travel destinations (e.g. Paris, New York, etc.). On top of this, rates do vary depending on the travel season so it is best to plan your trip ahead of time by a few months if you are interested in saving money on your airfare.
A round trip ticket from Toronto in September will cost between $1,800 and $2,200. That includes a single stop along the way.
If you’re planning to leave from Vancouver, plan to pay approximately $2,300. Also note that many of the flights include two stops before reaching the city.
Flying from Montreal to Istanbul (and back) will cost between $2,200 and $2,500. Here too, plan to make at least one stop during the flight.
Visiting Istanbul offers a rich travel experience for anyone who is new to the city. This area of Europe is filled with culture and customs that are unlike those in the West. If you’re willing to step outside your comfort zone and enjoy an adventure into an unfamiliar land, a trip to Istanbul may be the perfect vacation destination.