When to fly?
Istanbul’s tourist season runs from April to the end of October. July and August are the busiest months. If you plan on visiting during these months, it's recommended to search for flights to Istanbul far in advance, especially around the festival dates, such as the International Music Festival, which is held in the city every June and July. This highly prestigious event, which showcases classical music, ballet, opera and traditional music performances from a variety of well-known international artists.
The chill and wetness of winter fends off most visitors, but you will find fewer crowds and lower prices for flights and hotels.
The shoulder seasons of April through June and September through October have mild weather, fewer tourists, and slightly lower hotel and airline ticket prices. It is also when the Tulip Festival takes place. Although tulips are widely associated with Holland, they are also an important symbol in Turkish and Ottoman history and can be seen on tiles in mosques, literature and on royal clothing. The Tulip Era also signifies an Ottoman Empire period in history. To celebrate it, Istanbul parks are filled with different coloured tulips, for about 10-15 days during either March or April. This coincides with art exhibitions, photo contests and other events in Sultanahmet and Taksim Square. The International Istanbul Film Festival offers movie buffs the chance to view Turkish movies with English subtitles. Starting late March and lasting two weeks, this festival is definitely for those travellers who are looking for something slightly different.
Why visit Istanbul?
Perched on the Bosphorus Strait with one half in Europe and the other half in Asia, Istanbul is a fascinating city with rich history. Its glorious imperial history includes stints as the capital city of four empires - Roman, Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman.
Istanbul's rich cultural heritage is apparent in the cobbled stones of the vast Grand Bazaar that hubbubs with the sounds of traders and tourists, in the Aya Sofya (Church of the Holy Wisdom, also known by Haghia Sophia, its Greek name), and in the Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi), the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans for more than 400 years.
As dusk descends, the city turns into a vibrant metropolis of eateries, bars and thriving nightspots. Turkish food is magnificent and delicacies include kebab, mercimek corbasi (red lentil soup), kofte (meatballs), imam bayildi (an eggplant and tomato dish, the name of which translates as "the priest wept" to represent its sheer deliciousness), borek (a pastry of which there are hundreds of varieties) and baklava. Whilst traditional attractions, such as the tranquil çay bahçesi tea garden and raki-soaked meyhane (tavern) haven’t been forgotten, there’s an exuberance of new and glamorous evening entertainment. These range from stylish bars and booming nightclubs, to live music spots such as the Jazz Café. And, for anyone wanting a holiday that fuses tradition with modern entertainment, Istanbul is perfect.
Hot in summer, Istanbul’s daytime temperatures are often in the high-20s Celsius. July and August are the hottest months with the least amount of humidity and rainfall. December and January temperatures are typically in the very low single digits, but seem colder because this is also the most humid time of year. Heavy snowfalls are not unusual during the winter. Spring and autumn are the nicest times to visit with temperatures in the teens and 20s. Getting to the cityGetting into Istanbul is easiest to do via Atatürk International Airport (IST). The heart of Old Istanbul is 14 miles to the west, and the Istanbul Metro provides a quick way into the city. This is also true for the airport shuttle service which runs every 30 minutes. If you are flying into Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW), there is a bus service into the city. However, it’s often a better idea to get a taxi to Pendick, where a train can be taken into the heart of Istanbul.
Getting around Istanbul
There are a lot of ways of getting around Istanbul, but the best way to explore is on foot. If walking isn’t your thing, you can always get a rechargeable Akbil transit pass, which you can buy at special kiosks and offers discounted fares on the local buses, trams, metro lines and ferries.
Ferries and catamarans will provide great views as you float along the Golden Horn or cruise up the Bosphorus. Buses go all over the city, but are usually slow and crowded. Take note that you need to buy bus tickets from ticket stands before boarding.
The metro is a good way to avoid traffic jams, and trams provide some great views of the city. Like many cities, public transport is crowded during rush hours. Ride in comfort by hailing a dolmus (shared minibus taxi) along its route, or picking it up at a dolmus stand. These shared minibuses cost less than regular taxis. When you board you should always give the driver your destination and ask what the cost will be.
If you decide to take a taxi, look out for con-artists. As a rule of thumb, taxis without a working, digital meter should be avoided. A good bus network, and a subway and light railways system also exist for those wanting to avoid cars and taxis.