Istanbul is the largest city and the historical and cultural center of Turkey. It is also one of the most populous cities of the world. It covers an area of 5,343 sq kms and had an approximate population of 13,854,740 in 2012. Archaeological evidence reveals that the area was settled in the 7th millennium BC.
In 660 BC, Greek settlers from Megara built an acropolis here which marked the beginning of the city. Istanbul occupies a strategically important position on the silk route which helped in the growth of its economy. In 330, the city was named Constantinople and became the capital of the Byzantine Empire. In 1453, it was captured and became the capital of the Ottoman Empire. When Turkey became a republic, the city was initially overlooked in favor of Ankara, which became the new capital. But since the 1970s, the city has seen steady economic growth.
Istanbul is located in the northwestern part of Turkey and occupies a highly strategic position. The city spreads over the two continents of Asia and Europe. The historical and commercial centers of the city lie in Europe, while most people live on the Asian side of the city. It has grown along both the banks of the Strait of Bosporus/Bosphorus, which is a narrow strait connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.
Two major bridges connect the two sides of the city. Another prominent landmark of the city is the Golden Horn, which is an inlet of the Bosphorus that has carved a natural harbor in ancient Byzantium, later renamed as Constantinople.
The climate of the city is characteristic of both the Mediterranean and humid subtropical types. Summers are hot and humid while winters are cold and wet, and snowfall happens once a while. High humidity is a major problem in the city.
How to reach (transport)
You can reach the city of Istanbul in the following ways:
- The Istanbul Ataturk airport is located about 20 kms to the west of the city and is connected by regular flights to several destinations of the world. The Sabiha Gökçen International airport is located on the Anatolian side and also serves the city.
- At present, the long distance train service is suspended due to the construction of rail lines, but in general, trains from all over Europe arrive at the station in Sirkeci, while those from the Asian side arrive at the Haydarpaşa station. You can travel from one to the other by ferry across the Bosphorus.
- The city is connected by bus to all major domestic destinations as well as to Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Romania. All buses reach Esenler Otogar, located about 10 kms from the city center.
- Apart from these, people also arrive in Turkey by cruise ships and international ferries.
When to visit
The best time to visit Istanbul is from late May to early June and from late September to early October as the weather is quite pleasant for sightseeing.
Culture (Fairs and Festivals) and Traditions
Istanbul enjoys a very colorful culture and that is reflected in the festivals celebrated in the city. Some of the most important festivals are as follows:
- The Istanbul International Film Festival is held in late March to mid-April when the latest releases and retrospectives are shown.
- The international Istanbul Tulip festival is held in April. The glorious display of tulips in the Emirgan Park is a beautiful sight.
- The International Puppet Festival is held in May and is a great treat for both adults and children.
- On 29th May, an enthusiastic re-enactment of the conquest of Istanbul by Mehmet/Mehmed is staged. Traditional arts and crafts are displayed.
- The International music festival is celebrated with more than 30 events of classical music, opera, and theater throughout mid June to mid July.
- The Tuyap Book Fair is held in late November and is the premier publishing event of the city.
- The Efes Pilsen Blues festival is celebrated in selected venues throughout November. Foreign or local bands perform during this time and are a great source of entertainment, both for the locals and visiting tourists.
Points of interest (places to visit)
There are a number of important historical and religious places to see in Istanbul. Some of them are:
- The Topkapi Palace is a complex of mansions, a harem, a stable, a library, and other buildings used by the Ottoman Sultans, and has now been converted into a museum.
- The Tiled Kiosk museum is located in a mansion commissioned by Sultan Mahmud and contains tiles and ceramic works from the Ottoman period.
- There are several places of worship in the city which contain beautiful works of art and sculpture. These include the Hagia Sophia, Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), Sakirin Mosque, St. Irene Church, etc.
- The Obelisk, the Constantine Pillar, and the Snake Pillar are some of the important landmarks of the city.
The overall experience of your trip can be pleasant if you come by some good stay options. But then, budget is certainly a factor to consider, when planning your stay. Thankfully, Istanbul offers a wide range of tourist accommodation for all budgets. For a lavish stay, you can count on 5-star hotels including the Four Seasons, Marmara Taksim, W Istanbul special class, Legacy Ottoman, etc. Even 4-star hotels like Uyan Special class, Sari Konak, Daphne, Erten Konak, Central Palace, and Lush work well for those eyeing a luxury stay. However, those on a strict budget but not willing to compromise on the stay quality, can plan their stay at 3-star hotels including Erboy, Artefes, and Stone.