Eco-friendly travel guide to Istanbul advises how to be a responsible tourist. Learn how to explore the attractions in a sustainable way and how to respect the local people and culture. Make your trip green by supporting locally owned hotels, organic restaurants and other businesses. Read more on how to protect the environment by making conscientious choices and how to travel green in Istanbul, Turkey.
- Air quality: 2.5 / 5
- Exploring by foot: 4 / 5
- Exploring by bicycle: 3 / 5
- Public transportation: 3 / 5
- Parks: 3.5 / 5
- Outdoor activities: 4.5 / 5
- Locals' English level: 2 / 5
- Safety: 3.5 / 5
- Accommodation: US$30 - $200
- Budget per day: US$100 - $500
- 1 Responsible Travel
- 2 Air Quality and Pollution
- 3 Respect the Culture
- 4 Top 10 Places to Visit
- 5 Explore
- 6 Eat
- 7 Drink
- 8 Activities
- 9 Accommodation
- 10 How to Get There
- 11 Moving Around
- 12 Sustainable Shopping
- 13 Recycling
- 14 Work and Study Abroad
- 15 See Also
Istanbul is the most populous city in Turkey and the country's economic, cultural and historic center. Istanbul is a transcontinental city in Eurasia, straddling the Bosporus strait (which separates Europe and Asia) between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. With a total population of around fifteen million residents in its metropolitan area, Istanbul is one of the world's largest cities by population, ranking as the world's fifteenth-largest city and the largest city in Europe.
Tourism in Turkey has increased almost every year in the 21st century and is an important part of the economy. The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism currently promotes Turkish tourism under the Turkey Home name. Turkey is one of the world's top ten destination countries, with the highest percentage of foreign visitors arriving from Germany and Russia in recent years. In 2018 Turkey ranked 6th in the world in terms of the number of international tourist arrivals, with 45.8 million foreign tourists visiting the country.
Some of the ways to ensure that your travel is responsible in Istanbul include:
- Choosing green hotels over other accommodation options and if you cannot find a green hotel of your choice then opt for an apartment or hostel. This is because most of the five star hotels and resorts create tonnes of waste every day including 79,000 tonnes of food waste (9% total food waste from the sector) and they do not adhere to sustainable business practices. If you choose to stay in an apartment you can work on your carbon footprint and decide on things like using no plastic, minimum waste etc. This will not only help with reducing your carbon footprint but massively help help with improving the environment.
- Eating Local food and buy the food from street food stalls or small restaurants. This is because most of the big restaurant chains or fast food conglomerates are guilty of producing so much waste and directly contributing the problem of pollution and climate change due to their harmful business models. Not only do the small business owners need the help of tourists to run their business and provide for their family but they also have ethical practices for example most of them do not use plastic.
- Using local transportation or electronic vehicles to keep the city pollution-free and save a lot of money at the same time.
- Shopping local. In order to support local craftsmen and artisans always shop local. During your trip to the city, you will come across small shops and food stalls in almost every lane of the city. If you want to have an unforgettable experience in the city, then buy goods and handicrafts from these shops. This will not only help you to save a lot of money but you will be supporting a lot of local people who are dependent on their small businesses to earn a livelihood
Air Quality and Pollution
With a population of more than 15 million, Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, and the country’s beating heart of commerce, technology and innovation. Unfortunately, Istanbul has a growing invisible problem, air pollution. According to the World Health Organisation calculations, Istanbul’s residents breathe hazardous levels of fine particulate matter. While population density and associated traffic pollution are significant contributors to the problem, industrial cities nearby, such as Kocaeli, the rapid degradation of green reserves, and Turkey’s huge appetite for new constructions and urban renewal are also major factors in the air pollution that now impacting public health and contributing to climate change.
As part of the solution, electric ferryboats and a low emission zone for road traffic have been proposed for Istanbul and it has been suggested that Turkey's vehicle tax system should be changed to better charge for pollution. Thanks to the recent pedestrianization efforts in the Historic Peninsula, vehicle emissions and pollution levels have come down significantly.
Respect the Culture
Turks are extremely patriotic. They are proud of their ancestors and the achievements of their modern society. The family is the most important social unit. Each person is dependent upon and loyal to the family. Rural life is still traditional, but in cities, women frequently work outside the home.
Shake hands with everyone present--men, women and children--at a business or social meeting. It is customary to shake hands with elders first. Shake hands again when leaving. It is common for Turkish men and women to cheek-kiss one another when meeting and parting.
There are many ways by which one can gain or lose honor. Typically, honorable behavior relates to having a high social status, maintaining sexual modesty and exhibiting core Turkish virtues such as honesty and hospitality. 'Seref' describes honor gained from accomplishments or achievements, whereas 'izzet' refers to honor that is derived from being good and generous to others. When one loses honor and feels a deep shame, this is referred to as 'yuzsuz’.
The Turkish community is often exceptionally generous, attending to those in need very quickly. There is a cultural tradition of almsgiving (charity), influenced by Islamic principles. Selflessness is noticeable on a day-to-day level. For example, a Turk may feel compelled to give their possessions as gifts when someone compliments them. They also tend to defer decision-making to the other person out of politeness. For instance, when asking for a time to meet, they may answer "whenever you feel like". While this can slow down day-to-day activities, it's reflective of the humbleness Turks adopt out of politeness.
It may be harder to end a conversation with a Turkish person than it is to start one. Farewells are typically prolonged as Turks have a tendency to restart conversation whilst saying goodbyes. The easiest way to end a conversation is to use a conventional expression that politely asks to leave with their permission – “İzninizle” (with your permission).
Try to be generous with your time and open to building relationships. Turks often go out of their way to make newcomers feel welcome – for example, extending invitations to their homes, to dine at local restaurants/cafes, or to show people around their town very early on in a friendship. Such gestures are usually made out of goodwill and should be accepted with gratitude where possible. It is important to give a legitimate excuse if you cannot or do not want to participate to avoid a Turk taking offense to the rejection.
Wear modest clothing. Some Turks may push this boundary themselves. Nevertheless, it is advisable to dress in clothes that cover the legs, chest and shoulders to ensure you make the best impression and avoid unwanted attention.
Top 10 Places to Visit
Istanbul is a city that wears its cultures and history well, blending them into an exciting city that has much to offer travelers from around the world. Founded during Neolithic times, Istanbul today is a modern city that remains true to its historic heritage through its mosques, basilicas and cathedrals, and ancient bazaars. Standing between the East and the West, Turkey’s largest city offers an aura of intrigue and charm that will appeal to all visitors.
İstanbul's strategic location has attracted many marauding armies over the centuries. The Greeks, Romans and Venetians took turns ruling before the Ottomans stormed into town and decided to stay – physical reminders of their various tenures are found across the city. The fact that the city straddles two continents wasn't its only drawcard – it was the final stage on the legendary Silk Road linking Asia with Europe, and many merchants who came here liked it so much that they, too, decided to stay. In so doing, they gave the city a cultural diversity that it retains to this day.
- Basilica Cistern: This subterranean structure was commissioned by Emperor Justinian and built in 532. The largest surviving Byzantine cistern in İstanbul, it was constructed using 336 columns, many of which were salvaged from ruined temples and feature finely carved capitals. Its symmetry and sheer grandeur of conception are quite breathtaking, and its cavernous depths make a great retreat on summer days.
- İstiklal Caddesi: Once called the Grande Rue de Pera but renamed İstiklal (Independence) in the early years of the Republic, Beyoğlu's premier boulevard is a perfect metaphor for 21st-century Turkey, being an exciting mix of modernity and tradition. Contemporary boutiques and cutting-edge cultural centers are housed in its grand 19th-century buildings.
- Hagia Sophia: The Hagia Sophia is a masterwork of Roman engineering; with its massive dome that covers what was for over 1000 years the largest enclosed space in the world. Hagia Sophia is the Greek term for Holy Wisdom and refers to Jesus Christ, the Holy Trinity’s second person. Constructed between 532 and 537, on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, the structure was an Eastern Orthodox cathedral until 1453, except for about 60 years in the 1200s when it served as a Roman Catholic cathedral.
- Blue Mosque: The Blue Mosque, built in the early 17th century, remains an active house of worship today. This means visitors need to time their visits carefully, as the mosque is closed to sightseers during the five daily prayer times for Muslims. All visitors must remove their shoes and women must cover their hair.
- Topkapi Palace: Topkapi Palace is one of the must-see attractions in Istanbul that combines history and stunning scenery in an experience that is not to be rushed. For almost four centuries, the opulent Topkapi Palace served as the official residence of the sultans who ruled the Ottoman Empire. It is one of the world’s largest extant palaces. Sultan Mehmed II started work on the palace shortly after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 and lived here until his death in 1481.
- Dolmabahce Palace: Luxurious, plush and beautiful are just some of the adjectives used to describe the Dolmabahce Palace, which has been compared to the Palace of Versailles. Built in the 19th century using 14 tons of gold leaf, Turkey’s most glamorous palace blends traditional Ottoman architecture with the European styles of Neoclassical, Baroque and Rococo.
- The Church of St. Stephen: One of the most popular churches in Istanbul and a must-see for all visitors. Frequently visited by Christian tourists, the building, which was closed to visitors due to restoration works, was reopened in 2018. It’s still used as a place of worship, so while you may visit on days when services are taking place, photographs or videos are forbidden.
- Sirkeci Station: This is a train station in the European part of the city. The grand opening took place in 1890. The architecture traces European and Eastern features. The facade is made of marble; the window frames resemble narrow high mosques. Instead of glass – painted stained-glass windows.
- Bosphorus and the Golden Horn: The Bosphorus is the famous strait of Turkey. The Golden Horn is a narrow bay that flows into the Bosphorus, which divides Istanbul into the “old” and “new” parts. The Bosphorus and the Golden Horn wash several areas of the city, in particular, Fatih, Eminenu, Beykoz and others.
- Taksim Square: Another interesting attraction of Istanbul is the square in the central area of the city called Taksim. As a rule, all city street events are arranged on it. There are several architectural monuments on Taksim: the 12-meter Republic monument, sculptures of military figures Mustafa Ataturk, who is also the first president of Turkey, Fevzi Chakmak and Ismet Inenu.
Istanbul is a major city in Turkey that straddles Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait. Its Old City reflects the cultural influences of the many empires that once ruled here. In the Sultanahmet district, the open-air, Roman-era Hippodrome was for centuries the site of chariot races, and Egyptian obelisks also remain. The iconic Byzantine Hagia Sophia features a soaring 6th-century dome and rare Christian mosaics.
- Maçka Park: This little park in the upscale Maçka neighborhood, bordering the fashion neighborhood Nişantaşı, is where you’ll find all the cool locals strolling, jogging, or walking their dogs. The smaller inner tracks are ideal for a run and include inclines and plenty of trees.
- Yıldız Park: One of the city’s largest urban parks, Yıldız is beautiful in the summer when the flowers are in bloom and is also an off-the-beaten-path sightseeing opportunity due to the pavilions and villas built by various Ottoman rulers in the 19th and early 20th century.
- Emirgan Park: One of the largest parks in Istanbul, Emirgan Park is named after the Emirgan suburb that it calls home. With 117 acres of land overlooking the Bosphorus, the park features a multitude of flora and fauna, public pavilions, jogging tracks, and playgrounds.
- Atatürk Arboretum: The Atatürk Arboretum is an amazing botanical garden with an artificial lake in Istanbul’s Sarıyer district. The 296-hectare area is home to many endemic species and thousands of different plants from all over the world.
- Polonezköy Nature Park: The nature park is located in the Beykoz district. In 1994, it was declared the first nature park in the city. With an area of 3004 hectares, it is also the largest nature park in Istanbul. Polonezköy Nature Park offers many activities such as hiking, jogging and cycling. Rental bikes are available on site. The park also features picnic areas and a campsite.
- Şamlar Natural Park: Şamlar Nature Park, which was announced in 2011, took its name from the Şamlar Neighbourhood. It covers an area of approximately 335 hectares. Nature Park, which is completely forest, has a rich variety of flora and fauna. Nature Park is an area that allows recreational activities with its forest and dam lake. Nature Park; It contains areas suitable for hiking, cycling, angling, photo safari, picnic and sports activities.
- Solar Beach Therapy: Situated on the north-west of central Istanbul, in Kilyos, Sariyer district, the Solar Beach Therapy offers a very comfortable beach holiday in Istanbul with its perfect sandy beach stretching 1 km., its deck and beach club for 2,000 people, its restaurant, bar and summer beach parties.
- Burch Beach: Situated on the north-west of central Istanbul, in Kilyos, Sariyer district, the Burc Beach is a fine beach that has a beautiful sandy beach. Burch Beach offers 1400 m2 sun terrace, 2,000 person capacity, 200-person capacity Cafe & Bar, food court and fisherman restaurant, concerts, weekend sunset parties, kite activities such as board, catamaran, windsurf, beach volley and beach soccer.
- Tirmata Beach: Situated on the north-west of central Istanbul, in Kilyos, Sariyer district, the Tirmata Beach offers a quality beach service in a beautiful bay with its beautiful beach and lawn areas. It is one of the popular beaches of Kilyos with its cafeteria where you can start the day with a spread breakfast, a restaurant with plenty of fish variety and a rich menu. It has 1200 m2 terrace area, 2500-person sun bed capacity, 400-person restaurant, 500-m2 Beach cafe and Kite Surf School.
- Galata Tower: The cylindrical Galata Tower stands guard over the approach to 'new' Istanbul. Constructed in 1348, the tower was the highpoint in the city walls of the Genoese colony, named Galata. It was the tallest structure in the city for centuries and still dominates the skyline. Galata Tower has had many uses. Originally built as a lighthouse by the Byzantines, it became a dungeon when the Ottomans conquered Istanbul.
- Bosphorus Bridge: The Bosphorus Bridge, or First Bridge, is one of two suspension bridges spanning the Bosphorus strait and connecting Europe to Asia. It was completed on 30th October 1973. The bridge measures 1560 meters long, with a deck width of 33.5 meters. The distance between the main span towers is 1,074 meters and the total height of the towers is 165 meters.
- Miniatürk: Miniatürk is one of the most interesting places to visit in Istanbul in 2020. Surrounded by miniature versions of Turkey’s top monuments and buildings, you’ll feel as if you are in a fairy tale. Built on a total area of 60,000 square meters, it’s the largest miniature park in the world. It is a must-do Istanbul activity to have a quick look at every monument in Turkey.
- Büyükada: Dolmabahçe Palace is one of the largest palaces in Istanbul. Spread over an area of 250,000 square meters, Dolmabahçe was built for important meetings during the Ottoman period. Besides, some points are very close to the seashore. Dolmabahçe Palace witnessed important moments in the history of the republic. It has not changed much since the old times, so you can still see its original decorations, carpets, and furniture in 2020. The world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier sparkles with 750 lamps, is placed in this glamorous palace which was a gift from Queen Victoria.
Istanbul is home to a wide variety of excellent museums. While many of its galleries and pavilions are rightfully well established in art and history spheres, the city also offers a great selection of the unexpected for those looking to go beyond the popular museum mainstays.
- Sadberk Hanım Museum: Housed in a converted 19th-century mansion on the shores of the Bosporus Strait, this little-known cultural treasure contains an impressive collection of artifacts (some 18,000 pieces) from the Anatolian civilization. Dating from prehistoric times to the Byzantine era, some of the collection’s most beautiful pieces include woven Ottoman textiles and a world-class selection of İznik tile art going back to the 16th century.
- Istanbul Modern: Dedicated to modern and contemporary art, the Istanbul Modern has been an important part of the city’s art scene since 2004. While the institution’s Karaköy exhibition space undergoes a major renovation (expected to be completed in 2021), visitors can head to the beautiful Union Française building in Beyoğlu, where it has taken up temporary residence.
- The Quincentennial Foundation of Turkish Jews: Located at the Neve Şalom Synagogue Complex in Beyoğlu (just a short walk from Galata Tower), this museum is a living chronicle of Turkey’s Jewish population, containing photographs and videos that detail the long contribution Turkish Jews have made to the country. The museum itself is separated from the neighboring synagogue by a glass barrier, allowing visitors a glimpse into modern Jewish practices.
- Sakıp Sabanci Museum: Situated in the green coastal neighborhood of Emirgan, the popular Sakıp Sabanci Museum houses one of Turkey’s best collections of historical art and continually hosts contemporary, world-class exhibitions such as 2018’s Ai Wei Wei on Porcelain. The museum is set in gorgeous garden grounds, and the collection includes calligraphy compositions and manuscripts as well as paintings by Osman Hamdi Bey and other prominent figures from the 1850s to the 1950s.
In İstanbul, meals are events to be celebrated. There is an eating option for every budget, predilection and occasion – all made memorable by the use of fresh seasonal ingredients and local expertise in grilling meat and fish that has been honed over centuries. When you eat out here, you are sure to finish your meal replete and satisfied.
Traditional Local Restaurants
- Asitane Restaurant: Asitane serves delicious Ottoman cuisine. They use original recipes and cooking methods so guests can taste truly authentic dishes that locals were enjoying 500 years ago. Understandably, a few of the recipes have been slightly altered as some ingredients are no longer available.
- Güler Ocakbaşı Harbiye: This cozy grill restaurant has been run by the same family since it opened in 1981. Most of the meat comes directly from their family farm, and locals say that absolutely everything on the menu tastes amazing. They’re famous for their fıstıklı kebap (kebab with pistachios).
- Cibalikapı Balıkçısı: Cibalikapı Balıkçısı is a fish restaurant serving old Ottoman dishes with a modern twist. Although it's one of the pricier options, the food here is simply amazing and worth the extra euros. Note that it's not a very big place so you might have trouble getting a table without a reservation. If you plan on coming here on a Friday or Saturday night, remember to book a table in advance.
- Varka Antakya Lezzetleri: If you fancy trying a range of different Turkish dishes, Varka is the place for you. Here you can enjoy delicious food from the Antakya province in southern Turkey. It’s perfectly located at the end of a dead-end street away from the noise and crowds of Istiklal Avenue. The waitstaff are very friendly and always smiling, and their English is good so you can leave your Turkish dictionary at home.
- Erzincanli Ali Baba – Suleymaniye: Erzincanli Ali Baba is a restaurant where you can find the most delicious haricot beans among many others that are lined up one after another at Suleymaniye. Erzincanli Ali Baba uses famous dermason beans and you can find other classical Turkish dishes like green beans, ground beef kebab served in a tray, fried meatball, and lamb stew at this restaurant.
Vegetarian and Vegan
- Bi Nevi Deli: You may be surprised to hear that traditional Turkish cuisine is no stranger to vegan and vegetarian dishes. There aren’t many restaurants that are 100% vegetarian or vegan, but most are more than happy to cater to vegans and vegetarians and even have offerings on the menu to do so. If you stay away from animal products in your food, you need to check out these ten best vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Istanbul.
- Zencefil: Zencefil is one of the best-known and popular vegetarian restaurants in Istanbul. Although situated in a vivid district. Most dishes on the menu are homemade with fresh, seasonal ingredients. All food is very tasty and you can opt for either a daily menu or a fixed menu. Lentil patties, stuffed dried eggplant, or okra with chickpeas are some highlights and their lemonade and basil zucchini are highly recommended.
- Community Kitchen: Community Kitchen is a rare find with its 100% vegan menu and affordable prices. The restaurant offers vegan workshops and organizes vegan days to encourage people to be vegan. You can enjoy a variety of legal vegan dishes and even try vegan Iskander and vegan Lahmacun – the chef’s animal-free take on two traditional Turkish meat dishes.
- Ecoisthan Vegan & Vegetarian Restaurant: Ecoisthan is a hostel in Galata with an attached vegan cafe. This makes it ideal for vegan and vegetarian travelers to explore historical Galata. The restaurant is available to hostel visitors but also hungry bypassers who wants to enjoy fresh, healthy vegan dishes. Delicious, filling, fairly priced food combined with Ecoisthan’s relaxed atmosphere ensures a lovely dinner. The menu is not fixed as all food is daily made from fresh seasonal ingredients.
- Galata Kitchen: Offering traditional Turkish dishes as if prepared by moms and grandmoms, Galata Kitchen’s motto is ‘Eat healthily!’. The restaurant has a laid-back atmosphere with homemade soups, antipasti, starters, salads, and main courses. They use fresh, seasonal ingredients and high-quality oils for their dishes. There a few meaty options but it’s safe to say that majority of the menu is vegetarian. Give chickpeas with vinaigrette sauce, black-eyed peas, and spinach cake a try.
- Komsu Kafe Collective: Another gem in the Anatolian side is Komsu Kafe, meaning ‘neighbor cafe' in Turkish. The cafe not only serves great vegetarian food, but also has a strong manifesto against authority, hierarchy, sexism, discrimination, and exploitation. Every aspect of the cafe encourages community development via various food-oriented events. Activities are planned almost daily where you can savor delicious and healthy vegetarian dishes while learning how to make them.
- Simit, Çatal, and Açma: One of the most popular street foods in Istanbul and certainly one of the quickest breakfasts on the go for many city dwellers, you can find simit everywhere. Just look out for one of the many red carts filled with simit (round crunchy bread covered in sesame), çatal (a soft savory pastry), and açma (a slightly sweet bun). You can also ask for something on your simit such as cream cheese, nutella, or olive paste that the vendor will gladly throw in the bag for you.
- İçli Köfte: Sabirtaşı makes Istanbul’s best içli köfte (a crispy bulgur shell filled with minced meat, parsley, and sautéed pine nuts), and if you don’t feel like walking up to their restaurant, their İstiklal Street vendor is always around to serve up the köfte on the go. Made by hand daily, the içli köfte is downright delicious.
- Balık Ekmek: Eating a freshly made balık ekmek (fish sandwich) right by the Bosphorus is a pretty iconic Istanbul experience. You can find a lot of balık ekmek vendors in Eminönü as well as Karaköy. The sandwich is filled with freshly grilled fish, salad, tomatoes, and onions and is very delicious. It is recommended that you skip the onions if you happen to be on a date.
- Lahmacun: Often referred to by tourists as ‘Turkish pizza’, lahmacun is a very uncomplicated meal of thin dough topped with a minced meat-onion-red pepper mixture, slid in the oven for a few minutes and served piping hot. It’s customary to top it with a handful of parsley and a squirt of lemon juice, then roll it into a wrap and enjoy with a glass of cold ayran.
- Tantuni: Tantuni features beef, tomatoes, peppers and a generous sprinkling of spices wrapped in the thinnest tortilla imaginable. It usually comes in spicy and less-spicy versions, though most Mersin natives (the hometown of tantuni) believe it’s not the real thing unless it leaves a burn on your lips. One of the best places to get authentic tantuni in Istanbul is Emine Ana Sofrası on Billurcu Sokak in Taksim.
- Midye dolma: More of a snack than a meal, midye dolma is none other than mussels on the half shell, mixed with spicy rice and served with a squeeze of lemon juice, served right out of a tray on every other street corner in Taksim at night. The trick with midye dolma is to keep eating as many as the seller gives you until you feel half-full and then stop.
In Istanbul, you have a wide variety of local drinks to try out — hot or cold, with or without alcohol. Some of them will sound and look familiar but come with a Turkish twist, such as tea or coffee. Others will be new to you and are well worth a try to please your taste buds. Among those are ayran, boza and other juices. In the alcoholic department, rakı is the undisputed national drink, followed by locally bottled beers and wines.
The most widespread drink in Istanbul is tea (çay), served in small, tulip-shaped glasses. Turks consume it during breakfast and continue drinking it throughout the day. They'll offer it to you in shops and bazaars, and even in banks and offices. Locals usually drink coffee mid-morning and to finish off a meal.
Though the consumption of alcohol is prohibited in the Islamic faith, it was practiced widely in the ruling class of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey has been a secular country since its establishment in 1923, and the consumption of rakı in particular is a significant part of Turkey's food culture.
Tap water in Istanbul is safe for general purposes. The officials claim it is also safe for drinking. However most people don't drink tap water, they drink bottled water instead. The main reason for the habit of bottled water consumption is that most buildings have their water storage to be prepared for water outages. Although now very rare, water outages used to be a frequent occurrence about 20 years ago. The water runs through water storage units and makes tap water potentially unsafe since people cannot be sure they are properly sanitized at all times.
Due to chloride and long retention time in the pipe, the water in Istanbul may not taste and smell as good as soft natural water. Locals have a very delicate taste and prefer not to drink tap water. However, tap water in Istanbul is safe and clean potable water.
The organic food movement has reached its peak in Istanbul, where restaurants now boast ingredients that have been acquired from organic markets and natural producers from all over Turkey. Of course, some of them are real standouts because of the original dishes created through the use of these both seasonal and organic ingredients. More Turkish consumers are looking for shops with sustainable products and responsible environmental practices, believing that how they spend their money helps create the kind of world they would like to live in. These are some of the organic food outlets in the city:
- Nicole Restaurant
- These Pera
The craft-beer movement has gained significant momentum in Istanbul in recent years, with numerous local breweries and pubs popping up across the city. An increasing demand for unique flavors of beer has seen local breweries boom across Istanbul. With a wide range of classic brews and lighter options suitable for summer months, Istanbul’s beer scene no longer falls short when compared to other metropolitan areas:
- Melita Brewery
- Taps Bebek
- Macır's Brewery And Distillery
- Torch Brewery
- Craft Beer Lab
Coveted by empires across the centuries, straddling both Europe and Asia, Istanbul is one of the world's great metropolises. Founded around 1000 BC, the colony of Byzantium grew into the Byzantine Empire's great capital of Constantinople and after the Ottoman conquest of the city, retained its glorious place as the heart of their empire. The city, which was officially renamed Istanbul after the founding of the Turkish Republic is liberally scattered with glorious remnants of its long and illustrious history, and the sightseeing here will impress even the most monument-weary visitor.
Locals take their eating and drinking seriously – the restaurants here are the best in the country. You can eat aromatic Asian dishes or Italian classics if you so choose, but most visitors prefer to sample the succulent kebaps, flavorsome mezes and freshly caught fish that are the city's signature dishes, washing them down with the national drink, rakı (aniseed brandy), or a glass or two of locally produced wine.
Yoga and Retreats
With great studios on both the European and Asian sides, the city’s yoga scene is strong with classes, retreats, international guests, and much more. Yoga instructors usually teach at several locations and have frequently changing schedules.
Some of the yoga retreats in Istanbul include:
- Naya Istanbul
- 40 Derece Bikram Yoga
- Huzur Vadisi Yoga Retreat
The best area to stay in Istanbul for first-timers is Sultanahmet. This area hosts the main landmarks of Istanbul such as the Hagia Sophia Museum, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and more. Sultanahmet is the most popular part of the city, the cultural and historical heart of Istanbul, where all the main attractions and points of interest are located. The only disclaimer of staying here is that the nightlife is pretty much non-existent, so the area is pretty calm and laid-back after the sun sets, which can be an advantage to some travelers.
Located north of the Sultanahmet district, Beyoglu is one of the liveliest districts in Istanbul. Home to the popular pedestrianized Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue), this district attracts locals and tourists day and night. Beyoglu is also where travelers can find the most accommodation options. From backpacker hostels to boutique hotels, this district is where travelers of all styles and budgets can find a great place to stay.
- Iconic the Public Hotel
- Gezi Hotel Bosphorus
- Sapko Airport Hotel
- Hypnos Design Hotel
- Manesol Boutique Galata Hotel
- Yasmak Sultan Hotel
- Hotel Sultania
Hostels and Guest Houses
- Cheers Hostel: Not even Istanbul’s priciest five-star hotels boast a better location than this budget hostel, only steps from the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Topkapı Palace. The rooms here, which include dorms and privates, are bright and spacious. The original Cheers property offers a range of bright dorms and privates, and this hostel empire has opened other budget-friendly accommodation around Istanbul.
- Bunk Hostel: Bunk is Istanbul’s most modern hostel in the city’s most modern area. Beyoğlu – the northern half of the European side, across the Golden Horn waterway from Sultanahmet – is a hive of cutting-edge eateries, bars and boutiques, and Bunk is a brilliant base to explore the area. The hostel has 170 beds (22 quad, nine six-bed, six twin and eight double rooms) spread across six floors.
- Second Home Hostel: Situated just a couple of blocks from Gülhane Park, which wraps around the walls of the Topkapı Palace, Second Home’s breezy rooftop terrace makes the most of its spectacular Sultanahmet location. Every evening the hostel fires up the nargile – commonly known as shisha, hookah or Turkish water pipe – on the roof, where you can chill out with a glass of Turkish coffee or fruit tea and a meal grilled on the barbecue while enjoying stunning vistas over the Bosporus.
- Jumba Hostel: Jumba is owned and run by three sisters who, after years of traveling themselves, decided to introduce visitors to their city by opening a hostel in the Çukurcuma neighborhood, famous for its antique shops and laid-back cafés. The name Jumba comes from the Turkish word cumba, which describes the enclosed balconies that Çukurcuma’s large Greek community built into properties like this one. The hostel, which is close to Beyoğlu’s bustling İstiklal Avenue, also features a homely lounge room and a rooftop terrace.
- Big Apple Hostel: Big Apple is a back-to-back Hoscar award winner, crowned the Best Hostel in Turkey by Hostelworld’s army of backpackers in 2016 and 2017. With an atmospheric location in the winding streets below the Blue Mosque and a rooftop terrace looking out over the Sea of Marmara, Big Apple feels more like a hotel than a hostel.
- Bosphorus Pearl Suite: The spacious four-bedroom apartment is the ideal choice for a family or a group of friends looking for a luxury serviced apartment in Istanbul. It is fully furnished with four luxurious well-appointed bedrooms, en suite bathrooms, a dining area and a living room with a home entertainment system. It provides the convenience of being located close to the capital's city center and offers extensive services.
- Istanbul Living Luxury Condo: Great for a family or friends, this comfortable apartment distributed over 153 sq.m places at your disposal a wide range of cutting-edge facilities and amenities. The building is located in the area of Besiktas, known for its harbor with plenty of ferries and Dolmabahce Palace. The building enjoys a rooftop pool, a gym and a 4000 sq.m spa area with 14 treatment rooms, three hammams, a hydrotherapy room, a relaxation lounge and a salty pool.
- Nisantasi Luxury Palace: This luxury palace, located on the second floor in a house is a perfect place for 6 people. With its 4-meter-high ceilings, high windows and Ottoman-era wooden floors and doors, furnished with designer pieces of B&B, Armani Casa, Philippe Starck, Minotti, Charles Eames, Flexform and George Nelson, this luxury apartment will make you feel particular. The apartment has 2 complete bedrooms and a sofa bed.
- Galata Luxury Penthouse: You have a chance to spend holidays in a luxury spacious penthouse in the European part of Istanbul. The size of this apartment is 150 square meters. It is divided into 3 well-finished bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a living room with a dining area, an open-plan totally-equipped kitchen and a balcony with great views over the Bosphorus.
There are a lot more male Couch-surfing hosts in Turkey than women and the female hosts receive a lot of requests because many female surfers don’t want to stay with men. Western women are not held to the same standard. This can be attributed to pop culture, Hollywood or other factors, but female travelers from Western countries are preceded by a much more liberal reputation. It is therefore important that one conducts oneself with a lot of dignity.
Camping can be a great way of exploring remote parts of Istanbul and the stunning countryside, getting close to nature and responsibly enjoying the tranquility of some of the wildest places in Turkey. Camping tourism is an economical holiday alternative, but it has a different concept other than usual classic holidays. Sleeping with your sleeping bag in the forest or right by the sea is a wonderful experience. Some of the best camping sites around Istanbul are:
- Sahilköy Camping Site
- Lake Poyrazlar Nature Park
How to Get There
You can travel to Istanbul by bus, train, boat or flights, the best option will depend on where you are coming from. All the major budget airlines fly to Istanbul Airport and Sabiha Airport, Turkish Airlines has good connections from all around the world. International flights will be arriving at either Atatürk or Sabiha Gökçen Airport. Between the two, Atatürk is closer to the city center.
Istanbul has three large international airports, two of which are currently in active service for commercial passenger flights. The largest is the new Istanbul Airport, opened in 2018 in the Arnavutköy district to the northwest of the city center, on the European side, near the Black Sea coast. All scheduled commercial passenger flights were transferred from Istanbul Atatürk Airport to Istanbul Airport in 2019, following the closure of Istanbul Atatürk Airport for scheduled passenger flights. The new airport currently has one terminal in service for domestic and international flights and four runways that are currently in operation.
Although currently the airport is only serviced from the city by affordable private Havaist and public İETT buses, it will eventually be linked by two lines of the Istanbul Metro. The new M11 line starting from Gayrettepe station is scheduled to open in August 2021. Another from Halkalı on the Marmaray rail line is expected to be completed in 2022. The Mainline railway will connect the airport to Halkalı, and via outer city bypass running over the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge across the Bosporus and connecting with the Asian rail network at Gebze.
Tickets for most buses connecting Istanbul to the rest of Turkey must be bought in advance from kiosks, either at the station or certain shops. Private buses exist which often run the same routes as the public buses which allow tickets to be bought on board. If you're looking for comfort, be aware that the private buses tend to be slightly older. An alternative to the bus is the dolmuş which, while a little more expensive, offers a faster, more comfortable journey.
After Istanbul's Haydarpaşa Terminal opened in 1908, it served as the western terminus of the Baghdad Railway and an extension of the Hejaz Railway; today, neither service is offered directly from Istanbul. Service to Ankara and other points across Turkey is normally offered by Turkish State Railways, but the construction of Marmaray and the Ankara-Istanbul high-speed line forced the station to close in 2012. New stations to replace both the Haydarpaşa and Sirkeci terminals, and connect the city's disjointed railway networks, are expected to open upon completion of the Marmaray project; until then, Istanbul is without intercity rail service.
Turkey is an extremely hitchhiking-friendly country. Your waiting times will rarely exceed 15 minutes on reasonably used roads, even off the main roads. On smaller roads, the first vehicle passing you is likely to stop for you. Also, you're very likely to be invited for tea and food, and often also to homestays. Very few people speak English, while German might be a little bit more useful, especially in the east. However, it's essential to learn at least a few words of basic Turkish, also for your safety. It's not very likely that drivers will ask for money, but it happens occasionally. If you feel your status as a free hitchhiker is unclear, make sure to say para(m) yok before you get into the car. On the other hand, this might offend drivers who genuinely want to help you and do not expect money.
Water transport is a major component of the Turkish economy. The Port of Istanbul is one of the three major Turkey’s shipping ports, along with the Port of Ambarlı, and the Port of Zeytinburnu. The port is used mainly for transporting cargo but a ferry service enables visitors to come to Istanbul by sea.
Istanbul stretches over 5,000 km ² therefore moving is not always easy because it is one of the most congested cities in the world. Moreover, its topography makes the development of the public transportation complex. There is currently a major project taking place in the city to develop public transport in Istanbul. This project mainly consists of the development of the Istanbul metro and in the connection between the two continents. The first step of this project was inaugurated in 2013 and allowed the connection between the Asian and European sides through a railed tunnel under the Bosphorus.
Istanbul is listed among the "12 walkable cities to visit.” Istanbul bridges the divide between Europe and Asia, so it just takes a quick walk to traverse between the city’s metropolitan city center and its historic district. For both domestic and foreign tourists, walking around the city is a really enjoyable activity. However, it's also a fact that even Istanbul born and raised locals miss some things. You do not need to go too far to see both European and Asian themes in Istanbul. Even a short walk from Sultanahmet to Galata Tower and ending at Karakoy will prove that true.
Although Istanbul is not really neither a bike-friendly city, nor it does have a vibrant biking culture, it is still a good idea to buy a bike and explore the city differently. According to recent research, biking is the most enjoyable medium of commute for people. Since Istanbul is not accustomed to urban life with bikes, parking can be a struggle. You might need to roam around a little bit before you can find some strong fence to tie your bike to. Keep a really good chain with you, and tie it to the body of the bike, not the wheels. If you have an extra chain, make sure to lock the front wheel as well, for extra security.
In December 2019, Turkey announced that its wait to produce a fully homegrown car was about to come to an end as the country unveiled the prototypes of its new electric vehicles in the northwestern town of Gebze. The vehicles are expected to provide no less than about 186 miles in range, although details about battery size are not yet known. The vehicles, including a crossover SUV and sedan, will be provided with DC Quick-Charging up to 150 kilowatts. Automated driving features are also being evaluated.
The bus rapid transit (BRT) system in Istanbul is called Metrobüs. The construction of the Metrobüs BRT line began in 2005. The first line runs between Avcılar and Söğütlüçeşme. This line is 41.5 kilometer-long and has 35 stations, which are located on Istanbul's main highway. Since 1985, privately-owned buses have been allowed to operate. There are 2,157 private-owned public buses, including 144 double-deckers. There are 783 bus lines excluding diversions as of May 21, 2018. Many routes have diversions running one roundtrip a day on average, which usually feed less developed suburbs around frequent routes.
Tram, Train and Subway
The construction of the underground railway in Istanbul began in 1992. The first line between Taksim and 4th Levent went into service in September 2000. This line is 8.5 km long and has 6 stations, which all look similar but are in different colors. A northern extension from 4th Levent to Atatürk Oto Sanayi station in Maslak entered service in 2009, as well as a southern extension from Taksim to Şişhane station in Beyoğlu, near the northern entrance of Tünel. The last northern extension for the short term, Hacı Osman was opened in 2011. The rest of the southern section of the metro, which will run to Yenikapı, across the Golden Horn on a bridge and underground through the old city, is also under construction.
As an experiment, Istanbul first opened a heritage tram on the European side in 1990. Due to increasing popularity, they opened a modern tram system starting in 1992, also on the European side. Now, the Asian side has a heritage tram system, whereas the European side has both a heritage tram and a modern tram system. The modern tram consists of lines T1 and T4, initially operated with 55 low-floor Bombardier Flexity Swift and 32 Alstom Citadis. The other line (T4) was opened in 2007 between Edirnekapı and Mescid-i Selam. Since March 2009, the line works between Topkapı and Hapibler Service is operated with LRT vehicles built by SGP in 1989.
With a current population of over 15 million people, Istanbul’s rapid growth over the past few decades has not been matched by strong environmental regulations and education around sustainability. A growing movement of initiatives—both governmental and from civil society and businesses—are now trying to bring about a revolution in Istanbul's sustainability culture. A mix of cultural practices and smart infrastructure investments has created a city that's a true pleasure to visit.
Supermarkets are becoming uncommon in Turkey as almost everyone does their shopping at weekly neighborhood markets filled with domestically-produced food. The streets of Istanbul are now filled with vendors selling all kinds of fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, clothing, and household goods. Groceries are supplemented with corner store and butcher shop purchases.
Weekly open-air markets where produce from nearby villages are sold by vendors are a common thing in Turkey. Apart from these temporary weekly markets, Istanbul also has its permanent markets where food shopping stores stand side-by-side offering some of the best ingredients available in the city. From organic produce to Turkish sweets, fresh fish to spices, Istanbul has everything you need and more:
- Mısır Çarşısı
- Feriköy Organic Market
- Kadıköy Balık Pazarı
- Beyoğlu Balık Pazarı
Istanbul has witnessed the rise of many different empires as well as cultures and religions. Therefore it’s no surprise that the Turkish city’s flea markets and thrift stores have plenty to offer from various decades and eras, whether visitors are looking for a pair of fashionable sunglasses or a used piece of beautiful furniture:
- Feriköy Flea Market
- Sentetik Sezar
- Beşiktaş Salı Pazarı
Second Hand Stores
Until recently, Istanbul’s secondhand clothing culture had been minimal, confined to costume shops, small racks in antique stores, and “eskicis” — old men wheeling carts of used items around the streets of the city. Secondhand clothing stores are now on the rise in Istanbul. Several excellent options have opened in fashionable central neighborhoods such as Galata and Cihangir:
- By Retro
- Eleni Vintage
Consumers are increasingly interested in clothing that's sustainable both in terms of the materials used and the workers who make it. In Istanbul, many outlets are slowly adopting eco-friendliness in their business models. More and more people are trying to reduce their impact on the planet and, as a result, a growing number of ethical and sustainable fashion brands are arising to both meet the demand and help change the fashion industry for the better:
- Atelier 55
- Jennifer’s Hamam
Recycling is a concept that is gradually being embraced throughout the world in the face of the threats posed by global warming and pollution; yet, recycling has only found its footing in Turkey thanks to the Zero Waste Project. The program aims to promote the efficient use of the planet's finite resources, aiming to curb and even eliminate waste by separating it at the source for recycling. The Zero Waste policy was first launched at the Beştepe Presidential Complex and went into effect at various government ministries throughout 2017, later spreading to the municipalities and several private companies and specific public institutions, including schools to hospitals.
A subway station in Istanbul has gone further by installing reverse vending machines that recycle used aluminium cans and plastic bottles in exchange for train fare. Customers can top up their city transportation pass (Istanbul Card) by feeding the reverse vending machines with recyclable plastic bottles and aluminium cans. The machines will crush, shred and sort out the recyclable waste. The purpose of the project is to encourage long-term recycling habits from commuters.
Istanbul, with a population of around 13 million people, is located between Europe and Asia and is the biggest city in Turkey. Metropolitan Istanbul produces about 14,000 tons of solid waste per day. In recent years, the Istanbul region has implemented a new solid waste management system with transfer stations, sanitary landfills, and methane recovery, which has led to major improvements. In the Black Sea region of Turkey, most of the municipal and industrial solid wastes, mixed with hospital and hazardous wastes, are dumped on the nearest lowlands and river valleys or into the sea. The impact of riverside and seashore dumping of solid wastes adds significantly to problems arising from sewage and industry on the Black Sea coast.
Work and Study Abroad
Turkey has only recently embraced the idea of the international student. There aren't many Western students in Turkey. According to the New Law on the İnternational Labor Force, foreign students who are enrolled in formal graduate programs as Master’s or Ph.D. programs in a higher education institution in Turkey can work and apply for a work permit. However, foreign students who are enrolled in an associate degree or undergraduate program can not apply for a work permit. Work permits granted to the foreign students do not terminate the valid student residence permit and the rights granted by this residence permit.
Foreigners cannot get a work permit on their behalf; the application should be done by the employer or its consulting company. If you are abroad you can apply for your work permit in your home country through the local Turkish Consulate. If you are in Turkey, your employer applies for your work visa on your behalf.
Istanbul is a fascinating place not only because it’s placed on two different continents, but also because it has an ancient history, is a synthesis of civilizations, and has various other names like Constantinople. Istanbul universities offer modern facilities and research centers. These universities welcome thousands of international students every year, have great campus facilities and all of them engage in top-notch research:
- Istanbul Aydin University
- Istanbul Sehir University
- Sabanci University
- Koc University
- Bahçesehir University
Turkey is a relatively conservative country. The concept of au pair is only becoming common in recent years. Due to this, host families and au pairs must agree to compensation terms before they start working together. A host family may not pay less than the weekly minimum stipend. Beyond private room and full board expenses, host families should remain mindful that the au pair becomes a member of the household.
Since the outbreak of civil war in Syria in 2011, Turkey has opened its borders to accommodate over 1 million refugees. Although volunteers are needed to assist, projects working with refugees almost always require trained and skilled volunteers. Turkey has a very rich history and heritage. It is home to many historical cities like Ankara, Izmir, and the famous Istanbul. Turkey has opportunities for volunteers to work on a variety of projects, and through volunteering, individuals will discover a different aspect of the nation.