Visiting Istanbul

Istanbul, based on seven hills on two continents, is a unique city in the world. The Bosporus separates the city into Europe and Asia while the Golden Horn on the European side divides the old town from the new. Being the historic capital of the Byzantine and the Ottoman Empires, Istanbul has a long-lasting legacy which can be traced back in historic monuments of the city such as Hagia Sofia, Topkapı Palace, Blue Mosque, Süleymaniye Mosque, Grand Bazaar and Dolmabahçe Palace. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchy and the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchy are also based in Istanbul.

Out of Turkey’s total population of 79 million, 14 million call Istanbul home, making it a thriving, young and diverse city. As a truly cosmopolitan city and the cultural and economic heart of Turkey, Istanbul attracts many people from the country and the region. Every year, thousands of new residents from Europe, Central Asia, Africa and the Middle East come to Istanbul for employment or educational opportunities.

Istanbul has also been the intellectual capital of Turkey. More than 40 leading private and public universities are located in the city center and hinterland of Istanbul. Istanbul has a bright and fast-moving life. It is a main tourist attraction point while being a contemporary hub for international artists, students, businesses, media outlets, scholars, and researchers. The city hosts series of international festivals, concerts, exhibitions, symposia, and global political summits throughout the year.

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For further information about the city and ongoing events we suggest you visit the following websites:

  • www.kultur.gov.tr/EN,33048/istanbul.html – provides basic information about the city, prepared by the Ministry of Culture
  • www.timeoutistanbul.com/en – another popular magazine about the city
  • http://istanbuleats.com – a curated guide for culinary adventures in Istanbul
  • http://yabangee.com – primarily targeting expatriates living in Istanbul, the website provides comprehensive information about ongoing cultural activities
  • www.cornucopia.net – online companion of Cornucopia magazine providing information about culture, history, contemporary events and places
  • www.iksv.org/en – website of Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, a major organization that runs many cultural activities throughout the year
  • www.festtravel.com/en – a travel agency that is specialized in cultural tours
  • www.wittistanbul.com/magazine – a website that provides quite accurate information about practical issues such as Istanbul museums, public transport, and recommendations for restaurants, excursions, and entertainment
  • www.muzekart.com/en/museum-pass – Museum pass is a card that allows you to visit many museums without any extra cost.
  • www.becomingistanbul.org – a resource where the ongoing urban issues are mapped digitally

If you would like to do some background reading about Istanbul and Turkey, we suggest you take a look at the following publications:

History, Society & Architecture

  • Feroz Ahmad, The Making of Modern Turkey, Routledge, 2002.
  • İlhan Akşit, Zeynep Celik, Edhem Eldem (authors), Zainab Bahrani (ed.), Hagia Sophia – The History and the Architecture, Aksit, 2012.
  • Niyazi Berkes, The Development of Secularism in Turkey, Routledge, 1999.
  • Sibel Bozdoğan & Reşat Kasaba (eds.), Re-Thinking Modernity and National Identity in Turkey, University of Washington Press, 1997.
  • Suraiya Faroqhi (ed.), Cambridge History of Turkey: Later Ottoman Empire (1603 – 1839), Vol. 3., Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • Halil Inalcik, The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age 1300 – 1600, Phoenix Press, 2000.
  • Doğan Kuban, Ottoman Architecture, Antique Collectors Club Dist, 2010.
  • Erik J. Zürcher, Turkey: A Modern Turkey, Tauris, 2004.

Literature

  • Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul: Memories and the City, Vintage, 2006.
  • Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, The Time Regulation Institute, Penguin, 2014.

Contemporary Life & Guide

  • Andrew Finkel, Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know, Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • Barrie Kerper, Istanbul: The Collected Traveler: An Inspired Companion Guide, Vintage, 2009.

Here are some of the daily newspapers in Turkey published in English language:

Have a look at the websites of these museums, specialized libraries and international bookstores that you might be interested in visiting when you are in Istanbul:

Istanbul Modern (Museum): http://www.istanbulmodern.org/en
Pera Museum: http//en.peramuzesi.org.tr
Istanbul Archaeological Museum: http://www.istanbularkeoloji.gov.tr/main_page
Institut Français d'Etudes Anatoliennes: http://www.ifeaistanbul.net
Istanbul Research Institute: http://en.iae.org.tr
Koç University Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations: http://rcac.ku.edu.tr
Orient-Institut Istanbul: http://www.oiist.org
Homer Bookstore: http://www.homerbooks.com
Pandora Bookstore: http://www.pandora.com.tr
Robinson Crusoe 389 Bookstore: http://www.rob389.com

As like as any other metropolis, Istanbul also brings about certain risks for travelers such as theft, assault, con tricks. Taksim Square and İstiklal Street are sites of protests and demonstrations, bringing with it a steady police presence which can unfortunately also mean an occasional use of tear gas. Visitors should be vigilant and stay up to date about potentially risky situations.

Dial 155: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime, contact the local police (dial 155) and the U.S. Consulate General (contact information provided below).

Dial 112: In the event of a medical emergency, dial 112; this is the country-wide number for emergency medical ambulance service. Most emergency rooms in Istanbul have physicians who speak English.

There are public hospitals in Istanbul although a number of locals prefer using private hospital services. In Taksim – Beyoglu area, where the Global Center is located, there are only two private hospitals:

  • Galata German Medical Center (Galata Alman Polikliniği): Familiar with foreigners, has English-speaking staff, very close to Studio-X. Address: Tramvay Yolu (Tram Street) Meclisi Mebusan Caddesi No:19 Salıpazarı/Beyoglu. Tel: (009) 0212 249 4997
  • St. George Hospital (Sen Jorj Hastanesi): Familiar with foreigners, has English-speaking staff, a mid-size hospital. Address: Bereketzade Medresesi Sokak, Galata - Beyoglu. Tel: (009) 0212 292 6220

U.S. citizens staying in Turkey are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's travel registration website at https://travelregistration.state.gov. U.S. citizens without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, they make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in the case of an emergency.

U.S. Consulate General Istanbul
İstinye Mahallesi, Üç Şehitler Sokak No.2 İstinye 34460 - Istanbul / Turkey
Phone: (0090) 212 335 9000
Webmaster: istanbul-webmaster@state.gov

Mobile phones

Using your mobile phone in Turkey with a local GSM card can be a challenge. You need to register your phone at a GSM store (Turk Telekom, Turkcell, Vodafone) or by presenting your passport with the entry stamp to Turkey within the last 60 days, and the device IMEI number. This will cost 149,20 TL (≈43 USD) plus the service fee of the GSM store and the GSM card fees. Shall you not register your phone and use a local card, your device will be deactivated within 2 months. If you will stay less than 60 days in Turkey, you can perfectly use your device on a local card purchased from a GSM store mentioned above. Just keep in mind that you will need to go through the above steps and pay if you want to use the same device on your next trip to Turkey.

Currency

Turkish Lira (“TRY” or commonly “TL”) is the official currency of Turkey. Occasionally you can find small business owners and taxi drivers accepting foreign currency such as U.S. Dollars, Euro or British Pound, though this is not very common. Current exchange rates can be reached at http://www.oanda.com

Local transportation

Istanbul has a wide network of public transport. If you plan to stay longer than 3 days and/or use public transport frequently, a pre-paid travel card (named “Istanbulkart”) offers a discount and ease of mobility. It can be easily obtained from ticket kiosks. If you are studying in Istanbul and wish to get a discount card, please contact the International Office and/or Student Administration at your university. Istanbulkart can be used on all kinds of local buses and rail systems and ferries working across the Bosporus. After buying an Istanbulkart you will need to charge it occasionally at kiosks and automated machines. For maps and additional information please visit:
Public buses: http://www.iett.gov.tr/en
Metro: http://www.istanbul-ulasim.com.tr/en
Ferries: http://www.sehirhatlari.com.tr/en
Fast ferries: http://www.ido.com.tr/en

Airport – City access

Istanbul has two major airports. Atatürk Airport is located on the European side and is closer to the social and cultural center of the city while Sabiha Gökçen Airport is located on the Asian side and rather far away. From the Atatürk airport to Taksim – Beyoğlu area the, fare is around 60-70 TL. From Sabiha Gökçen to Taksim – Beyoğlu, the fare would be much higher, around 110-120 TL. Both airports have public transport access as well as private shuttle service (Havabus). Public transport information can be accessed through the above websites. For Havabus timetable and prices please visit: http://www.havabus.com/

Taxi Services

Taxis are an easy and inexpensive way to get around. Starting rate is 3.45 TL (≈1 USD) and then 2.10 TL (≈0.6 USD) for each additional 1 km. Taxi drivers are not normally tipped, so fare is usually rounded up. Here is a website where you can calculate approximate fares: https://taksiyle.com/en/istanbul

Weather

Istanbul has a borderline Mediterranean climate, showing features of humid subtropical climate and oceanic climate. You can learn daily forecast from State Meteorological Service: https://mgm.gov.tr/eng/forecast-cities.aspx?m=ISTANBUL

Credit cards

Use of credit cards such as Visa and Mastercard is quite common. American Express is also accepted in some stores. However, it can be difficult to pay by credit card in some rural areas around the country.

Tipping

Tips are generally modest in Turkey. You are expected to tip 5-10% in restaurants, cafés and pubs. Taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped (unless they carry your suitcase) but the cab fares are rounded up. It is OK to tip 5 TL for porters and room service in the hotels. Strolling musicians playing in some taverns and fish restaurants would not leave your table without having a 5-10 TL from you.