My Guide to European Istanbul

Istanbul presents a big dilemma for people like me.  If you’re as indecisive as I am, you will want to stay a few days on the European side and a few more on the Asian side of Istanbul, just to know what that feels like (and especially to say you did it). Although I did not get to spend much time on the Asian side, here I cover the different sights of European Istanbul.

Istanbul is one of the main entry points into Turkey. Getting into the country was easy-peasy, as even though a Visa was required for entrance for Canadian residents, it can be purchased when entering the country at the airport. For requirements for other countries, don’t forget to do your research, here is a link to the Visa section of the Turkey Ministry of Foreign Affairs website which I hope you find useful.

FROM ATATURK AIRPORT TO THE CITY

The airport is connected to the metro (subway), and you can easily get to anywhere from here. A ride to the historic center takes about an hour. Remember to take some Turkish Lira before exiting the airport, and keep just small change of your front pocket to purchase jetons for the metro. Here is a map of the Istanbul metro.

The Airport’s station is called Ataturk Havalimani on the M1A (red on the map) line. As it is at the end of the lane, you don’t need to worry whehter you’re taking it on the right way (unless you’re like me…0 sense of direction). From there you will ride until the Zeitinburnu station (6 stops) where you will change trains for the T1 Tram (blue on the map), direction to Kabataş.

The Grand Bazaar is located on the Beyazit Kapalı Çarşı station, while the Blue Mosque is on Sultanahmet station.

If you need to go to the Asian side of the city, get off at Sirkeci station and from there walk towards the water to take a ferry which will take between 10 to 20 minutes. If you get out a few stations before, no worries as everything is within walking distance. You may have to jump a fence or run through the highway…but doable (I’m talking from experience here).

EUROPEAN ISTANBUL

The European side of the city houses most of the city’s touristic sites, including Istanbul’s historic center (Sultanahmet station on the T1 Tram). It is here that the main mosques of the city are situated, mainly:

YENI CAMI (NEW MOSQUE)

HAGIA SOPHIA

SULTAN AHMED (BLUE MOSQUE)

Lineups are long to visit the Haiga Sophia and the Blue Mosque, with things getting way more crowded in the afternoon. Make sure you are early to avoid the crowds.

The streets surrounding the mosques are quite charming, with many shops and eateries to fill you up.

SPICE BAZAAR

The Spice Bazaar is just a few steps away from the New Mosque, and it is worth the visit.

Of course, being so close to the main tourist area of Istanbul also means that prices are higher, so it might be worth getting a bit further from the area before stopping for a bite.

GRAND BAZAAR

15-minutes from the historic center is Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and biggest bazaars of its kind in the whole world. Here you can find everything from jewelry, carpets and furniture to clothes and leather. Bring your Lira and your bargaining skills, as over 4000 shops filled with vendors await.

You can walk on Yeniçeriler Cd. from the Blue Mosque to get to the Grand Bazaar, or take the T1 Tram until the Beyazit Kapalı Çarşı station.

GALATA TOWER

Another place worth a visit is the Galata Tower, located in the Karaköy neighborhood. Go up the tower for a bird’s eye view of Istanbul’s historic peninsula, as well as of the Karaköy neighborhood. The area surrounding the tower is also filled with nice streets and shops.

To get to the tower, take the T1 Tram line and get off at Karaköy station. From there it is a 5-minute walk to the tower (or 30 minutes if you’re me…I got lost :s). Once outside of the Tram ask to be pointed in the right direction towards the tower, as the streets go in all directions (luckily, these are quite charming).

ISTIKLAL AVENUE

For a relaxing (but potentially expensive) day, take a walk on Istiklal Avenue. This is Istambul’s main shopping (and pedestrian) street and it is located a few steps away from Taksim Square (Taksim station on the M2 green line). Here you will find many boutique shops, restaurants, art galleries, and other high-end shops.

ASIAN ISTANBUL

A quick ferry ride is needed to go to the Asia side of the city, which has its own fair number of things to do. The Asia side is also quieter than the European side of Istanbul, with less vendors and touts surrounding the area it is a bit easier to go about our tourist business on this side 🙂 This side of the city also boasts some very good street markets and restaurants. Although not as attractive as its European counterpart, spending a day discovering the Asian side of Istanbul is worth some time.

BEWARE OF TOUTS & SCAMS

Contrary to what one may think, Istanbul is a very clean and safe city. However this is not to say that it is not without its annoyances in the form of touts. They are everywhere from the historic center to many of the quieter streets, and they will recognize a foreigner quick.

One of the most known scams in Istanbul is one where someone (let’s call him the “scammer”) approaches you and befriends you by inviting you for a drink. Once at the bar, the scammer will introduce you to some friends (girls if you’re a guy) and you will all share drinks. The scam is revealed at the time the bill arrives, as you will be presented with an exorbitant amount to pay, sometimes as high as $50.00 per drink. Unfortunately there is little you can do to get out of the situation, and things have been known to get violent for some.

This does not mean that everyone being friendly will try to con you, or that you should close yourself up from talking or spending time with locals. However be aware of this if someone is very pushy to invite you somewhere; and if you still want to go, make sure that it is you who chooses the place.

WHERE I STAYED

HUSH Hostel: The hostel is located in the Asian side of Istanbul, and is within walking distance to the ferrys to the European side of the city. It is also located close to many restaurants and street markets. The hostel has two buildings at its disposal. When I stayed there was a problem with my room having BED BUGS (I must be so unlucky, this shit keeps happening to me), however the staff was quick to change my room when I mentioned the problem.

Nr. 19 Apartment: This is actually a big complex with individual small apartments made into individual bedrooms with shared bathrooms. The rooftop has a very nice view of the historic side and of the Karaköy neighborhood. Breakfast, however, is not included in the price.

And you, which part of Istanbul did you enjoy the most? Share your experiences with us, and let us know of any of your favorite activities in the city!

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