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Istanbul’s strategic position, straddling Europe and Asia across the Bosporus strait, means that cultural influences from diverse groups can be found in this fascinating city. If you visit during the summer, be prepared for daily high temperatures of 78 – 84 degrees Fahrenheit, and huge crowds at the attractions. Reserve your flights and rooms in advance if you plan to come during the summer. You might consider planning your trip for either spring or fall, as these shoulder seasons offer comfortable temperatures, slightly fewer tourists and a plethora of interesting festivals and events. If you don’t mind cold temperatures and rain, a winter visit offers the best opportunity for cheap accommodation and flights to Istanbul. You can expect average daily highs of 47 – 52 degrees Fahrenheit in December – February, so bring a warm coat.
You can fly direct to Istanbul from the US on Turkish Airlines. Many other airlines offer flights with one or more stops, including United, KLM, American Airlines, Delta, Air France, Alitalia, Etihad Airways, Philippines Airlines, and more.
Istanbul Atatürk Airport is the main international airport serving Istanbul, and sits on the European side of Istanbul, west of the city center. If you land here, you have a few options for travel into the city.
The Havabus airport shuttle departs every 30 minutes and will take you to Taksim square in the city center in about 40 minutes for ₺12.00 TRY. You may also pre-book your Airport Transfer Services with Efendi Travel, and get to Taksim square in about 40 minutes for ₺25.00 TRY. This may be faster as your driver will be waiting for you at the airport.
The Metro trains offer another 40 minute ride into the city but may be crowded and difficult to navigate with your luggage. The railway station is only a few minute’s walk from the airport. Take the M1 red line to Yenikapi and then transfer to the M2 green line, which will take you to Taksim. The fare is ₺4.00 TRY or ₺2.50 TRY when purchased via Istanbulkart.
Outside the arrivals hall, you’ll find the taxi ranks. Taxis in Istanbul are metered but have a bad reputation for overcharging tourists by taking the long route to get anywhere. Your ride to Taksim square should take around 30 minutes, and cost about ₺58.00 TRY.
You may land at Sabiha Gökçen International Airport, which is located 22 miles southeast of central Istanbul, on the Asian side of the city. Here are your choices for travel to Istanbul.
Havabus shuttle also serves this airport. You can ride to the Divan Hotel, a 5-minute walk from Taksim square in about 90 minutes for a fare of ₺12 TRY.
Board IETT bus E10 from S.Gökçen Nizamiye outside the airport and ride to Uzunçayır Metrobüs, then transfer to Kadıköy – Taksim and get off at Taksim square. The trip takes around 1 hour and 53 minutes and the fare is ₺4.00 TRY.
A taxi ride from Sabiha Gökçen to Taksim square will take about 45 minutes and the cost is ₺107.00 TRY.
If you plan to rent a car while in Istanbul, it’s definitely worth checking for deals on car rentals with momondo.
There are a multitude of options for getting around Istanbul, as you might expect of a large city that spans a waterway. It’s probably a good idea to avoid driving in the city; only rent a car if you are travelling further and require one. Traffic is very busy, and drivers here can be manic. Road signs are in Turkish, so unless you have an understanding of the language, leave the driving to the locals. Fortunately, there are many other choices for transport. For several modes, including ferries, trams, the metro, funicular or buses, you can purchase an Istanbulkart and save nearly 50% on the standard ticket price. They are available at ticket offices near transport stops and cost ₺10.00 TRY. You must load sufficient credit for travel.
Each of these following transit options can be accessed with your Istanbulkart. Istanbul’s small but efficient metro system has 4 lines, including one that travels under the Bosporus. The Metrobus system offers 7 lines, a couple of which cross bridges from the European to the Asian side and back. They travel on dedicated bus lanes so are less affected by traffic jams. City buses are plentiful and cheap but can be crowded and prone to delay. Red and green buses require an Istanbulkart to ride, while the blue buses take cash. Trams and trolleys are also available, and travel between some of Istanbul’s best sights and attractions. There are also funiculars at several locations. These cabled rail lines are a unique mode of transport, often used for passage of steep inclines and sometimes travelling in tunnels. City operated ferries also travel between the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. These slow ferries along with each of the above services can be accessed with your Istanbulkart, and fares are ₺2.60 TRY, as opposed to the usual ₺5, with additional transfers within a 2-hour journey window: ₺1.85 for the first transfer, ₺1.40 for the second, and ₺0.90 for all subsequent transfers. They can also be used to pay for fares for more than 1 traveler (1 swipe per person per ride).
Taxis are readily available, and drivers are likely to approach you on the street, soliciting business. Your best bet is to have your concierge arrange for a taxi, unless you can communicate in Turkish. Taxi fares start at ₺3.35 TRY and rides up to 1.5 miles cost a fixed sum of ₺8.75 TRY. Bridge crossings of the Bosporus strait will also include tolls.
Dolmuş are mini-van buses that travel on regular routes throughout the city. They carry around 10 people and don’t leave until they are full. They offer a good option for night transport that is much cheaper than a taxi. Prices are fixed, and usually around ₺2.25 TRY.
Fast ferries and sea taxis
Several companies offer fast ferry and sea taxi services to cross the Bosporus and get to various parts of Istanbul. These are more expensive than the city-operated ferries, but are an attraction themselves, and maybe worth the outlay if you consider them a sightseeing option.
U.S. citizens need to obtain their visa prior to arrival in Turkey. Visa applications can be submitted at Turkish missions abroad, or online through the e-Visa application system. For foreign nationals, please check the Republic of Turkey Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
The sheer number of fantastic sights and attractions in Istanbul can make it difficult to plan a thorough itinerary unless you’re here for a long visit. Here are our suggestions for your trip.
Don’t stay in the Taksim area if you’re looking for peace and quiet. The old buildings offer no respite from late night noise booming out from the clubs. However, if you’re looking to party, it’s the place to be!
To avoid being cheated by a taxi driver, always carry small bills so you can give them the exact fare and count it out from OUTSIDE of the taxi. If the driver insists you owe him more, ask to see his license, take a picture of it, and write down the license number.