- Cityscape The Sublime Porte
- City life East meets West
Straddling Europe and Asia, Istanbul is the historic crossroads between East and West, a city of minarets and palaces looking resolutely to the future.
Climbing the hills around the Golden Horn and overlooking the beautiful Bosphorus, Istanbul cradles the wonders of the Ottoman and Byzantine empires, from the breathtaking Topkapi Palace where sultans and their harems redefined the word ‘decadence’, to the looming Hagia Sophia – part cathedral, part mosque and totally breathtaking. Today, the indulgent lifestyle once enjoyed only behind closed palace doors is available on every gilded street. Istanbul has some of the coolest bars and clubs – whichever continent you’re standing in – as well as fashion-forward shops and delicious cuisine fit for a sultan himself. Before visiting be sure to apply for your Visa online; from 10 April 2014 the traditional entry Visas are being given the heave-ho in favour of e-Visas. The online application costs US$20 a person (www.evisa.gov.tr).
Do go/Don’t go
Istanbul is hot and humid in the summer, while winter may even see heavy snowfalls. Spring and autumn definitely see the city at its best, with fine weather and milder temperatures.
Planes Istanbul Atatürk (www.ataturkairport.com) is the main international hub | a 30-minute cab ride from the city centre (without traffic). The journey costs about £25 – try to avoid flights that arrive or depart around rush hour. From the UK | there are regular scheduled flights from London and Manchester to Atatürk. EasyJet flies from Luton daily to Sabiha Gökçen airport (www.sgairport.com) | 30 miles from the city centre. Remember to bring a £10 note for your Turkish visa on arrival at the airport.
Boats The ferries and water taxis on the Bosphorus are one of the most attractive ways to get around the city. Boats can transport you from Europe to Asia in a matter of minutes, or whisk you from the city centre out to the peaceful Princes’ Islands (see www.ido.com.tr for timetables). Hotel A’jia has its own private launch, to chauffeur guests around in style. Korfez (a fish restaurant on the Asia side) also has a private boat to ferry its guests across the Bosphorus.
Trains Istanbul has a modern and efficient metro and tram system. The network goes as far as Atatürk airport, and is as fast as a taxi in heavy traffic.
Automobiles Driving is a bad idea; the twisting streets are clogged with traffic and it’s very difficult to navigate – stick to taxis. There are also express buses between Taksim and Atatürk airport.
- Taxis Yellow taksis are relatively inexpensive but have the infuriating tendency to refuse to take you somewhere if they can’t face the traffic. During the day, the meter displays gündüz (day rate). From midnight to 6am, the gece (night rate) is in effect, adding 50 per cent to the cost (if the meter is not on, get out and take another taxi). Don’t expect your driver to know where he’s going; ask your hotel to write down the address.