Istanbul (formerly: Constantinople) is the largest and most colorful city of Turkey, with a rich history and many interesting things from the Byzantine and Ottoman eras. Examples are the Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sofia, which originally was a Christian church and which is now a Mosque. The Ottoman Süleymaniye Mosque is also very much worth a visit. Furthermore, Istanbul is a shopping paradise, for example in the Big Bazaar and the Egyptian Bazaar and the surrounding streets.
Officially, Istanbul has 8 million inhabitants, but in reality the number is probably higher. The city has a very international population. In addition to the Turkish majority there are traditionally many Greeks, Armenians and Jews in the city.
Istanbul is the only city in the world that is located on two continents: Europe and Asia. The city is situated on the two banks of the Bosporus, the narrow connection between the Black Sea and the Sea or Marmara (which in turn is connected to the Mediterranean). The oldest part of the city is located on the west bank.
Due to its location, the city is the economic centre of Turkey. In recent years, the has emerged tremendously (it is considered one of the 'emerging markets'), and Istanbul is the engine. Of course, trade plays an important role, but there is also a great deal of industry. There is an extensive food industry (among other things olive oil), clothing and textile is produced and the city also has an electronics industry and machine factories. In addition, cars are being assembled and glass and paper are produced.
Tourism is also very important to the local economy.
Turkey wants very much to join the European Union because of the economic opportunities it will provide, but within the European Union there is much resistance to such a move.
Atatürk International Airport is Istanbul's main international airport. It is located some 20 kilometres to the south-west of the city centre, in the European part of Istanbul. Because this airport was unable to cope with the growth in air traffic, a second was built in the Asian part of the city, Sabiha Gökçen International Airport. Except by Turkish Airlines, this airport is used a lot by budget airlines (for example to Eindhoven Airport).
There are plans for a third international airport to the north of the city, near the business district.
Taxis (yellow) offer a cheap form of transport in Istanbul. They all have meters; at night (midnight to 6 am, they use a double rate. Even cheaper are the dolmu? Buses that follow fixed routes.
The city b uses are the cheapest, Istanbul has an extensive bus network. As a visitor you will use the T4 line the most, which connects the entertainment centres of Sultanahmet and Taksim Square.
The metro consists of only two lines: one to the north and one to the south (including to Atatürk Airport). The metro is connected to the tram that crosses the Galata bridge. There is a regular ferry service between the European and Asian parts of the city.
A fixed rate is used for the public transport system, independent of the distance you travel.
Traffic and Parking
Chaotic is the only word that one can possibly apply to the traffic in Istanbul. In the morning and evening rush hour, the two bridges over the Bosporus and the bridge across the Golden Horn are filled with cars. Be patient and make the best of it: enjoy the magnificent view from these bridges. If you go across one of the bridges from the European to the Asian part of the city, you have to pay a toll, the other way around is free. For the Bosporus (Bogaziçi) Bridge you need an electronic toll ticket. For the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, you can also pay cash.
In Istanbul's traffic, patience really is a virtue. The rules are roughly the same as those that apply in European countries, but preciously few people obey them. Add to that the fact that finding a place to park in the city centre is difficult, if not impossible. In addition, you may run into the car mafia: you pay to avoid having your car damaged. However, the amounts are usually quite low, and they will guard your car! Illegally parked cars are clamped.
In short: unless you have experience driving in a chaotic city, you may prefer to park your car at your hotel and use it to explore the surrounding area.
The cheapest hotels and guest houses are to be found in the old part of the city (Sultanahmet). There are also some more expensive hotels in that area, but the best hotels are located on the Bosporus, both on the European and on the Asian side. Istanbul annually attracts many visitors, and because it is the country's economic centre, there are also many business people who visit the city. We recommend booking your hotel room in advance.
For more information about Istanbul, we recommend Google, and the following sources: