Category Archives: Istanbul

Istanbul: Palaces

Istanbul hosted many empires through the history, the most important of which is the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman Empire had reigned for nearly 600 years, and Istanbul had been the capital city since 1453 (Turkish Republic has been founded in 1923 after the Ottoman Empire). The palaces of the Ottoman Empire still stand in Istanbul and are used as museums. The most important one is the Topkapi Palace on the Historic Peninsula. 

Istanbul Palaces

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace (Topkapı Sarayı): The palace has been built after the conquest of Istanbul (1453), and been used for nearly 400 years. It is a huge complex (700K sq. m.) that lies on the tip of the Historic Peninsula -aka Seraglio Point- with a magnificent view of the Golden Horn, Bosphorus and Marmara Sea. Besides the sultan, nearly 4000 people had resided in the palace at a time. The palace consists of four main courtyards, and many smaller buildings. The south bank of the complex has been the imperial park, Gulhane Park, which is open to public now. Topkapi Palace is one of the must-seen touristic attractions. Click here to visit Topkapi Palace official web site

Dolmabahce Palace

Dolmabahce Palace (Dolmabah├že Saray─▒): Dolmabahce Palace had been used as the imperial residence after 1853. In the Republican era, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had stayed in this palace when he visited Istanbul. He died in this palace in 1938. Dolmabahce Palace now serves as a museum.┬á┬áA complete tour in the palace takes 2-3 hours. I recommend you to be there before 1 pm. so that you can see the palace in detail before it closes. You can also enjoy the Bosphorus view while drinking your coffee in the park next to the palace. The palace┬ástands on the European bank of the Bosphorus and is very close to Taksim Square (10 minutes walk downhill).┬áClick here to visit Dolmabahce Palace official web site

Ciragan Palace

Ciragan Palace (├ç─▒ra─čan Saray─▒): Ciragan Palace was built in 1867 for Sultan Abdulaziz. In this century, all Ottoman sultans used to build their own palaces rather than using the existing ones. Ciragan Palace is the last palace built. It stands in the European bank of Bosphorus and is connected to Yildiz Palace with a bridge. The palace is now being used as a luxurious hotel.

Yildiz Palace

Yildiz Palace (Y─▒ld─▒z Saray─▒): Yildiz Palace stands in the large woodlands of Yildiz Park, which had been used as sultans’ hunting and vacation area since 16th century. The palace was built in 1880 and became the imperial residence afterwards. Yildiz Palace is a museum now and its gardens can be used for private receptions.

Beylerbeyi Palace

Beylerbeyi Palace (Beylerbeyi Saray─▒): Beylerbeyi Palace was built between 1861 and 1865 as a summer residence and a place to entertain visiting heads of state. It is relativeliy small compared to other palaces. It stands on the Asian bank of Bosphorus, by the foot of the Bogazici Bridge, and now serves as a museum.

Istanbul: Historic Peninsula

Historic Peninsula is the center of ancient Istanbul. Four major empires had been ruled from this point. As you can guess, there are many historic places on the Historic Peninsula like mosques, churches, palaces, etc. I tried to pick the most important ones, for the ones with limited time and I will be writing very briefly about them:

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya: The Church of the Divine Wisdom): Built as a cathedral in 537, converted to a mosque after the conquest of Istanbul, now is being used as a museum.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace (Topkap─▒ Saray─▒): Ottoman Empire was ruled from this palace for 380 years. Built in 1470’s. It is a museum now.


Mosques: Sultanahmet Mosque, Suleymaniye Mosque, Yeni Mosque

Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar (Kapal─▒├žar┼č─▒): One of the world’s largest covered markets with more than 4,000 shops. Well known for its jewelry, pottery, spice, leather and carpet shops.


Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarn─▒c─▒): This world-famous underground cistern was built in the 6th century and is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that still lie beneath the city of Istanbul; size of 143 by 65 meters, with capacity of holding 80,000 cubic meters of water.

Gulhane Parki

Gulhane Park (G├╝lhane Park─▒): One of the largest public parks in Istanbul. It was once part of the outer garden of Topkapi Palace, it is being used as as a public park since 1912. It extends from Topkapi Palace to Bosphorus, it is a nice alternative for a walk and a coffee break in a nice weather.

Beyazit Tower

Beyazit Tower (Beyaz─▒t Kulesi): It is an 85 meter tall fire-watch tower located in the courtyard of Istanbul University’s main campus on Beyaz─▒t Square. It was built in 1828.

The Spice Bazaar

The Spice Bazaar (M─▒s─▒r ├çar┼č─▒s─▒): It is the second largest covered bazaar after the Grand Bazaar. It stands next to Yeni Mosque. You can find many types of spices, herbs, nuts, Turkish delight, etc.

For more touristic places and detailed information, I recommend you to get map and a guide from the tourism information office which is next to the Basilica Cistern.

Where and What to See in Istanbul?

It is really a very hard question to answer. Since it is a huge city, there are many interesting places to see. It would take weeks to explore the whole city. I myself have not seen it completely, but I will try to explain the main points that you should not miss, and some small tips. At the end, I will be talking about the places you should avoid. Please click on the names of the places for further information.

Transportation in Istanbul

Metro and railway system is fairly developed in Istanbul, but not enough to reach every corner. They can be used for main lines, but you would need cabs and buses elsewhere. Also, people tend to drive their own cars; causing traffic jams. So I’d recommend you stay out of traffic in rush hours. Taksim Square is the center of public transport, you can find any transport anywhere.

Cabs are relatively cheap in Turkey. They should be preferred for short distances. Also, please note that there is NOT a surcharge in night time. I would like to warn you about the drivers; noticing the passenger is a foreigner, some of them tend to take the long way. Fares above TL100 or USD50 would be abnormal.

Transport from Ataturk Airport: Ataturk Airport is the main airport of Istanbul. It is on the European side, and closer to city center. There is a subway line from the airport, but you have to change several lines to get to city center. Considering your luggage, it would be wiser to take the shuttle for approximately $8 per person, or to take a cab (TL50-60 or USD25-30 in day time to Taksim Square depending on traffic). If you will be staying on the Asian side, you have two options: either shuttle or cab. The shuttle would be much more cheaper (TL10 or USD5). Click here for the shuttle routes and rates.

Transport from Sabiha Gokcen Airport: Sabiha Gokcen Airport is the secondary airport of Istanbul, and is on the Asian side. Just take the shuttle for TL12 or USD6. Click here for the shuttle routes and rates (Little information on the name of the airport: Sabiha Gokcen (Sabiha G├Âk├žen) is the first Turkish female aviator and the first female combat pilot in the world. She was one of the eight adoptive children of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk).

The main subway line is the one between Taksim Square and Levent. It is on the main commercial and residential area of Istanbul. If you are planning to go somewhere around the subway line, definetly take the subway to avoid traffic.

Ferries are also an important (and fun) way of transport in Istanbul, so I’d strongly recommend you to use them. To travel between European and Asian sides, just take the ferry. It is absolutely more fun, and faster. Do not miss this chance, enjoy the breeze of Bosphorus and the magnificent view. You may also consider taking a scenic Bosphorus ferry tour to enjoy Istanbul more, where the ferries travel all the way through Bosphorus, both by the European and Asian banks. Click here for details. You may want to experience to drive from one continent to an other, and the view from the bridge; you may take a bus as well. Take the bus using the Bogazici Bridge (Bo─čazi├ži K├Âpr├╝s├╝) a.k.a. “The First Bridge” (“Birinci K├Âpr├╝”). Click here for ferry routes and timetable.

If you are planning to use public transport (Subway, buses, ferries, etc.), buy an IstanbulKart – a prepaid RFID card valid for all public transport (There is an other type of prepaid device called “Akbil”, you can use it as well the same way as the IstanbulKart). They provide nearly 10% discount for each ride, and also nearly 50% discount for transfers (Transfers are valid among all public transports, e.g. from subway to ferry). You can buy IstanbulKart or Akbil from the main station in Taksim Square. If you do not have an IstanbulKart or Akbil, you need to buy tokens for metro and ferry; or take private buses (“├ľzel Halk Otob├╝s├╝”) that you can pay in cash as well.

Fares for public transport (valid as of March 2012): Fares may vary depending on the length of the route, or if the line travels across continents; but mainly in city center it is TL1.75 or USD1 (with IstanbulKart, else TL2 with tokens). If you make a transfer using IstanbulKart, it is TL1. You need to pay TL6 for IstanbulKart, and to add credits. When needed, you can add credits using the machines in subway stations.

Where to Stay in Istanbul?

If you are visiting Istanbul just for business, stay wherever is close to your business, or you may lose hours in heavy traffic. Otherwise stay in Beyoglu district, and as close to Taksim Square (said to be the heart of entertainment) as possible. There are many hotels suitable for your budget. 5 star hotels with Bosphorus view mainly lies in Ma├žka and Harbiye region, and there is one just in Taksim Square. There is also one in “Ciragan (├ç─▒ra─čan)“, an old palace by Bosporus. There are also many touristical hotels for much reasonable prices in Historic Peninsula, but personally I am not a fan of the neighborhood, hence I’d prefer Beyoglu district. In day time, you can take a cab (appr. $10) or alternative transport and one or two days would be enough for Historic Peninsula. I will be giving details about the Historic Peninsula and Taksim Square later.