As we are all now "connected" in many ways via the Internet, I too am also a member of many Internet communities to include Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Internations.
Out of all of these, I am most active on Facebook and Internations. I have a twitter account, but only a handful of followers and I follow a handful of people and never really got "into" the whole thing of twitting... maybe with time.
This year I also joined Linkedin... this looks like a good way to "network" if looking for a new job, etc., but once again, I site I don't often visit and have not signed on for the "extra"s as they seem a little expensive and not quite sure how I would use it.
On the otherhand FB and Internations (www.internations.org) are sights I visit quite often. Everyone knows what FB is, but for those of my readers who are not familiar with Internations, it is an international EXPAT community site, where people from all different backgrounds have an opportunity to exchange ideas, share experiences, ask questions and get together from time to time for IN initiated events and more!
I am a member of the Istanbul chapter, but we also have access to the World Forum posts as well.
For the last few months and now that I freelance, I have had a chance to visit IN quite often. When I worked full-time, I really never had the same opportunities. Besides visiting the website to interact with other members, I also inform IN members about my blog posts as I am trying to build up awareness and hopefully have more readers in time.
One of the main topics I've noticed in the last month is that there are IN members living in other parts of the world who are planning trips to our fair city by the end of the year and they have been posting and asking Istanbul members for tips and advice on all sorts of subjects - from placing to stay to exchanging foreign currency, where to go, shop, etc.
So, I decided in this post to share information on most of these subjects and give readers recommendations - based on my personal experiences or knowledge. I hope this comes in handy, and if you have any other questions and topics that I might have missed - just send me a comment!
TURKISH CURRENCY & FOREIGN EXCHANGE
The currency of Turkey is called the Turkish Lira (TL). The hard currency is available in the following denominations: 5 TL; 10 TL; 20 TL; 50 TL; 100 TL and 200 TL. Coins - called kuruş (cents) come in the following denominations: 1 kuruş, 5 kuruş, 10 kuruş, 25 kuruş, 50 kuruş and 100 kuruş (or 1 TL).
Your best bet is to exchange foreign currency at the many Döviz Bürosu (Foreign Exchange Bureaus) around town - you will get a better exchange rate than at a bank. But, make sure that the place you select does not charge a commission (komisyon yok). Almost all shopping malls also have F/X bureaus, but there rates are lower than those on the street, but they are open on the weekends. The street F/X bureaus are not open on weekends and most close early - around 5:30pm. There are F/X bureaus at the international airport, but again, the rates are lower. You can also exchange Travellers Cheques at these bureaus and there is a commission for these transactions - just like at banks.
Getting into town
The cheapest way to get into town from the Atatürk International Airport which is located in the suburb of Yeşiköy is to take the HAVAŞ bus (www.havas.net). The privately owned bus has scheduled bus service to Taksim (the center of the city) and Bakırköy (another suburb - about 15 mins from the airport) on the European side and to Kozyatağı on the Asian side of the city. The current per person cost is 10 TL to Taksim, 5 TL to Bakırköy and 17 TL to Kozyatağı. Check their website for details on schedules.
Your second option is to take a taxi. Once you exit the terminal, you will see the taxis lined up in front of the terminal. All taxis in Istanbul are yellow with a sign that says "Taxi" - even though they can be different makes and models of cars.
All taxis have a meter and there is one price - day or night. In fact, some of the new "taximeters" are in the rear view mirror versus the dashboard!
The opening rate is 2,5 TL and then you are charged 1,6 TL for every kilometer travelled thereafter. There is also a "waiting charge" (bekleme). If you sit in traffic for more than 5 minutes, you are charged an additional 25 kuruş (or cents) every minute thereafter.
Just like in all cities, there is a fast way and a long way to get from the airport to different parts of town! Just one general advice I can give you... I recommend that you take the E-5 highway instead of TEM in almost all cases - unless of course you are staying in the part of the city close to the TEM highway. But, 9 times out of 10, tourists usually stay in the city center or places surrounding the area and all can be easily reached via the E-5. You can also reach these places from the TEM highway too, but it will cost you more.
One very important thing to keep in mind... we have a terrible traffic problem in Istanbul! Even though new roads, highways and passages have been built and continue to be built... you must take this into consideration when travelling around the city too and always give yourself enough time to get back to the airport so that you don't miss your flight. For example, if a "normal" ride should take 30 minutes... double that to be on the safe side!
Getting around the city
Unfortunately, Istanbul does not have a sophisticated transportation system that we are used to seeing in other major cosmopolitan cities around the world. Our buses are overcrowded, but we do have a modern - yet limited - metro service. Again, the easiest way to get around is by taxi. But, for more information and details and schedules on the mass transit system, you can visit www.ido.com.tr
The current full fare price to ride the bus, train, ferryboat is 2 TL/one way.
|Levent Metro Station|
|Taksim Metro Station|
Now, this is the thousand dollar question and the one most frequently asked! Also, the toughest one to answer! As always, the answer to this question depends on your 1) budget 2) what part of town you want to stay 3) boutique versus large hotel, etc.
So, before I recommend specific hotels that I am personally familiar with - having seen their rooms or facilities... I suggest that you visit www.booking.com. I too have used this site to research hotels not only in Istanbul, part other parts of Turkey and the world and I find it very good with lots of different choices and offered at competitive prices.
There are so many hotels in Istanbul now that visitors have a lot more options to choose from. The following is a list of some of my personal recommendations:
Taksim & Vicinity (includes Pera, Nişantaşı and Maçka)
Ceylan Intercontinental Hotel - http://istanbul-intercontinental.com.tr
Divan Hotel - www.divan.com.tr
The Marmara Taksim - www.themarmarahotels.com
Ansen Suites - www.ansensuites.com
Swissôtel The Bosphorus Istanbul - www.swissotel.com.tr
Park Hyatt - www.istanbul.parkhyatt.com
midtown hotel - www.midtown-hotel.com
The Sofa Hotel - www.thesofahotel.com
Tomtom Suites - www.tomtomsuites.com
The House Hotel Nişantaşı - www.thehousehotel.com/nisantasi
Pera Palace Hotel - www.perapalace.com
|The Marma Taksim|
|The House Hotel Nişantaşı|
Bebek Hotel (www.bebekhotel.com.tr)
Radisson Blu Bosphorus - www.radissonblu.com
Çırağan Palace Kempinski - www.kempinski-istanbul.com
Four Seasons Hotel - Bosphorus www.fourseasons.com/bosphorus
Hôtel Les Ottomans - www.lesottomans.com.tr (very expensive!)
The House Hotel Bosphorus - www.thehousehotel.com/ortakoy
Villa Denise (www.villadenise.com.tr)
|Çırağan Palace Hotel Kempinski|
|The House Hotel Ortaköy|
|The Bebek Hotel|
Four Seasons Hotel - Sultanahmet - www.fourseasons.com/istanbul
Empress Zoe - www.emzoe.com.tr
Hotel Amira Istanbul - www.hotelamira.com
Senatus Hotel - www.senatusotel.com
Financial District - Levent & vicinity
Mövenpick Hotel Istanbul - www.moevenpick-istanbul.com
Point Hotel Barbaros - www.pointhotel.com
The Istanbul Edition Hotel - www.editionhotels.com
|The Edition Hotel|
A'jia Hotel - www.ajiahotel.com
Sumahan "On the Water" - www.sumahan.com
WHERE TO VISIT - HISTORICAL SIGHTS
The following are all of the important sites that should not be missed! You can visit the Ministry of Tourism and Culture's website for information on most of these sites (www.kultur.gov.tr)
- Topkapı Palace (Sultanahmet)
- Haghia Sophia (Sultanahmet)
- Blue/Sultanahmet Mosque (Sultanahmet)
- Turkish and Islamic Art Museum (Sultanahmet)
- Basilica Cistern - Yerebatan Sarayı - Sultanahmet
- Süleymaniye Mosque (Beyazit)
- Dolmabahçe Palace (Dolmabahçe)
- Kariye Museum - The Church of St. Saviour in Chora (Edirnekapı)
- Maiden's Tower (in the middle of the Bosphorus)
- Galata Tower (Galata)
- St. Anthony of Padua Church (Beyoğlu)
- Beylerbeyi Palace (on Asian side in Beylerbeyi)
WHERE TO VISIT - OTHER
- Take a Bosphorus cruise! There are many ways you can do this - from the "no frills" (visit www.ido.com.tr) to the moderate to the expensive! Besides the municipality run ferryboats that schedule cruises along the Bosphorus, there are numerous privately owned companies that also offer cruises - with and without meals. Your hotel concieige can assist you in organizing your trip, but you can also contact Plan Tours (www.plantours.com) a longstanding company that not only organizes land sightseeing tours, but also has boat cruises; Lüfer Tekneleri (www.lufer.com.tr); or just hop on one of the many smaller Bosphorus cruise companies boats that regularly depart from the pier at Eminönü or Ortaköy.
|The "first" or Bosphorus Bridge/Bosphorus Cruise Boat|
|Bosphorus Cruise Boats|
- The Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı) - no visit to Istanbul would be complete without visiting the first ever "shopping mall" in the world! Established in 1461, there are over 4,000 shops offering all sorts of goodies - from gold/silver jewelry, leather goods, texiles to carpets and kilims and souvenirs to well - just name it!
The Grand Bazaar is open from 8:30am to 7:00pm Monday-Saturday during the fall/winter months and is closed on all religious holidays. So, in November, it will be closed on November 7-9 due to the Kurban Bayramı - or Festival of Sacrifice (Eid-al-Adha).
The official website for the Grand Bazaar is www.kapalicarsi.org.tr, but surprisingly and unfortunately - it is only in Turkish!
|The Grand Bazaar|
- The Egyptian Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı)
Located in Eminönü, right next to Yeni Cami (New Mosque) and across the street from the Galata Bridge, the maze of shops at the modestly sized bazaar mainly include places where you can buy all sorts of herbs, spices, dried fruits, soaps, cheeses, olives, teas, Turkish Delights, Turkish coffee etc. Besides the shops inside the bazaar, there are shops on the parallel streets too.
Even if you don't purchase anything, you should just visit to get a whiff of the wonderful smells of the spices and other foodstuffs!
Some shops not to be missed: Güllüoğlu by Nejat Güllü (Tel: (0212) 528 51 81) - this branch is not affiliated with the branch in Karaköy and the specialty of the house is baklava with chestnuts - they are out of this world - and you can have them packaged to take back home too; Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi (www.mehmetefendi.com) for finely ground Turkish coffee or beans - the smells alone will lure you to the shop!
ARTS & CULTURE
1) PRIVATELY OWNED MUSEUMS
More and more, Istanbul is becoming a prime destination for those interested in arts and culture. In the last few years, many privately owned museums have opened with excellent permanent collections also organizing temporary exhibitions of worldclass Turkish and International artists. I recommend that you visit the websites of the following museums and then decide which one(s) should be on your list to visit on your trip to Istanbul.
- Doğançay Museum - www.dogancaymuseum.org
- Istanbul Modern Museum - www.istanbulmodern.org
- Pera Museum - www.peramuzesi.org.tr
- Proje 4 L Elgiz Contemporary Art Museum - www.proje4L.org
- Rahmi M. Koç Industrial Museum & Hasköy Dockyard - www.rmk-museum.org.tr
- Rezan Has Museum - www.rhm.org.tr
- Sabancı University Sakıp Sabancı Museum - www.muze.sabanciuniv.edu
- Sadberk Hanım Museum - www.sadberkhanimmuzesi.org.tr
- santralistanbul - www.santralistanbul.org
2) Art Galleries
Some of the major "not to be missed" art galleries in Istanbul include the following and please, don't forget, this is just a short list... there are many more but I can't list them all!
- ARTER - Space for Art - www.arter.org.tr
- DEPO - www.depoistanbul.com
- Gallery Baraz - www.galeribaraz.com
- Gallery Nev - www.galerinevistanbul.com
- Galerist - www.galerist.com.tr
- Iş Sanat Kibele Art Gallery - www.isbank.com.tr
- Milk - www.whatismilk.com
- Rampa Gallery - www.rampaistanbul.com
- SALT Beyoğlu - www.saltonline.org
- Soda - www.sodaistanbul.com
3) The 12th Istanbul Biennale (www.12biksv.org)
Organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture & Arts, the 12th Istanbul Biennale, titled "Untitled" began on September 17 and will continue through November 13.
There are 5 group exhibitions and approximately 50 solo exhibits to visit including the works of artists from around the world.
For detailed information, please visit the website above. This is a very important cultural event that should not be missed!
TURKISH BATHS - "HAMAM"
Another "must do" on your list of things to do in Istanbul - and if you are into being massaged, pampered and bathed - is to visit a traditional hamam - or Turkish Bath!
If a "traditional" experience is not for you - then you can also go to the many deluxe Turkish baths at the state-of-the-art and posh spas at most of the deluxe 5 star hotels in Istanbul. Guests not staying at the hotel are also welcome.
But, if you want to experience the "real" thing, then I suggest you visit one of the following. As you can see, most have websites which you can visit to get upfront information.
- Cağaloğlu Hamamı (www.cagalogluhamami.com.tr) - a 300+ year old hamam.
- Çemberlitaş Hamamı (www.cemberlitashahami.com.tr) - a 400+ year old hamam.
- Tarihi Galatasaray Hamamı - (www.galatasarayhamami.com)
This ends Part I of my post on Planning a trip to Istanbul this Fall/Winter... Part 2 will follow in a few days and include information on all types of Wining & Dining options and shopping alternatives in the city!
Enjoy your trip to our lovely city! I'm sure you will want to visit - over and over again!