Istanbul, Instabul or simply Polis. Names to denote a legendary city. A meeting point and melting pot of cultures, religions, races and nations.
For more than a thousand years, the city was for the entire Mediterranean world of the Middle Ages a concept identical with power, wealth and culture. A city which, from its foundation, carried the glory of its ancient mother, Rome, which it was destined to surpass, a city built on the Greek colony of Byzantium, a city built in such a place that it was washed by the waters of the Marmara, the Bosphorus and the Keratian Gulf.
The city is built on a unique point, with the Bosphorus (the much-sung-about 32km sea corridor) separating European Istanbul from Asian Turkey, while the Keratios separates the Byzantine city from the modern one.
The amphitheatricality of the hills facing the three seas, as well as the monuments, give it a unique charm. Walking around the safe and relatively clean city of 18m inhabitants, you feel like you are in a living museum, especially in the area around Hagia Sophia and the palace.
It takes many days to get to know the city, or rather many multi-day visits are required to catch up with everything and take in the energy of this city. Present and past, history and future are contradictory, yet complex.
The people, friendly, unpretentious, intimate, much better dressed than in the mainland. The city has nothing in common with the hinterland, although it too has slums like Balat and Fener, in addition to aristocratic Bebek, Ortakoy, Beyoglu and Cihangir.
Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) with its divine grace and staggering mosaics in the gallery, the jewel temple of Kariye or Country (Kariye Camii) with its sublime mosaics, the subterranean, solemnly atmospheric Royal Cistern (Yerabatan Saray) with its marble columns of ancient temples, the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate in Fanari, the former Greek neighbourhood of Peran (Pera) with its main pedestrian shopping street Istiklal Caddesi and the bustling Taksim Square with its luxury hotels and the historic Rumeli Hisari Fortress at the narrowest point of the Bosphorus, images of different cultures.
From the Ottoman civilization we highlight the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii), the even more beautiful Suleiman Mosque (Suleimaniye Camii), the old sultan’s palace, the Topkapi and the newer Dolmabahce.
Explore the charm of today’s Istanbul, which is alive everywhere, the labyrinthine, beautiful, covered bazaar Kapali Carsi, with exquisite carpets, lanterns, jewellery, , rosaries, textiles, leather, etc. In the Egyptian bazaar, get carried away by the smells of spices and the voices of the vendors. Take a boat ride on the much-sung Bosphorus (Istabul Bogazi) with its “glass” (the seaside wooden mansions of the wealthy).
Melt in the refreshing vapours of the historic and atmospheric hammams. Enjoy excellent cooked food, kebabs and fresh fish. Have fun in clubs and traditional belly dancing clubs in the Beyazit neighbourhood. Watch authentic ceremony of the Order of the Spinning Dervishes (held only on the last Sunday of every month). Pass by the Galata Koprüsü bridge with the fishermen. Enjoy and admire the beauty and reflect on the history.
Visit the Prigiponnese (Prens Adalan) with local ferryboats, an aura of another era. Take a carriage ride through country lanes, through (formerly Greek grand bourgeois country houses) wooden mansions with ornate framed windows and tired flowered gardens until you reach the famous Theological School of Hali. Here the aroma of old Greece emerges more strongly than anywhere else in Turkey.
You can even enjoy a heavy sweet Turkish coffee accompanied by syrups and sipping hookah, listening to aching songs in the alleys of Peran, around the pedestrianized Istiklal with its old magericas, kebab shops, low 19th century apartment buildings and modern cafes. Feelings wild and tender, often contradictory but always strong!!!!
HOW TO GET TO AND FROM THE AIRPORT
The new Istanbul airport is around 50 kilometres from Sultanahmet, the historic centre of Istanbul, and depending on the means of transport you use, the transfer time is between 30 – 90 minutes.
The Transit Bus connects the airport to the city and tickets are issued on the second floor of the airport. You can also get one of the rechargeable tickets such as Istanbulkart (6 TL), 5 Pass Card (BeşGeç, 17 TL) or 10 Pass Card (OnGeç, 32 TL).
Alternatively, you can take the H-2 Airport Express which runs from the airport to Şişli-Mecidiyeköy metro station. This ride takes about 35 minutes and costs just 5.20 TL using an Istanbulkart.
From Şişli-Mecidiyeköy Metro Station you can take the M2 line which will take you to Taksim and Sultanahmet.
The taxi ride from the airport to the old city center will take, depending on the traffic on the streets, about an hour. The cost of this trip is about 60-70 euros for more information visit the official page of airport taxis here: istanbul airport taxi.
WELCOME PICK UPS
This is the service that allows you to book online your transfer from the airport to any part of the city you are going to. The driver will be waiting to pick you up at the airport and without any hassle will take you to your hotel. For more information take a look here.
An airport shuttle service is also available with mini-vans that drop you off at your hotel. However, as they serve several passengers from different hotels the journey times may vary depending on where your hotel is located in relation to the other passengers.
TRAIN – METRO
At present there is no metro or train line at Istanbul New Airport that runs directly from the airport to the city centre, but there are plans to have this option after 2020.
Organized private tour of the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Egyptian Bazaar and finally a cruise on the Bosphorus. For more details and information see here.
Get to know the City through a one-day guided tour. More information can be found here.
Night cruise on the Bosphorus with dinner and oriental folklore on board. More information can be found here.
Istanbul will enchant you and if you are going for the first time you will definitely go again. Because once is not enough to experience all its beauties.
By the way, have you ever been there? Did you like it? I’d love to hear your impressions in the comments.