thumb|upright=1.5|Ortaköy Mosque, along the Bosphorus
Istanbul (Turkish: ?stanbul) is Turkey's most populous city, and its cultural and financial center. Located on both sides of the Bosphorus, the narrow strait between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea, Istanbul bridges Asia and Europe both physically and culturally. Istanbul's population is estimated to be between 12 and 19 million people, making it also one of the largest in Europe and the world.
Istanbul was one of three European Capitals of Culture in 2010 .
Expanding the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium by the order of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, the imperial city of Constantinople was for nearly a thousand years the last remaining outpost of the Roman (later termed Eastern Roman or Byzantine) Empire. It was finally conquered by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II on 29 May 1453, an event sometimes used to mark the end of the Middle Ages. It was the nerve center for military campaigns that were to enlarge the Ottoman Empire dramatically. By the mid 1500s, Istanbul, with a population of almost half a million, was a major cultural, political, and commercial centre. Ottoman rule continued until it was defeated in WWI and Istanbul was occupied by the allies. When the Republic of Turkey was born in 1923 after the War of Independence, Kemal Atatürk moved its capital to the city of Ankara. However, Istanbul has continued to expand dramatically; today its population is approximately 14 million and increases at an estimated 400,000 immigrants per year. Industry has expanded even as tourism has grown. It continues to be a city that creates its own history at the intersection where both continents meet.
Istanbul is divided in three by the north-south Bosphorus Strait (Istanbul Bogazi), the dividing line between Europe and Asia, the estuary of the Golden Horn (Haliç) bisecting the western part and the Sea of Marmara (''Marmara Denizi'') forming a boundary to the south. Most sights are concentrated in the old city on the peninsula of Sultanahmet, to the west of the Bosphorus between the Horn and the Sea. Across the Horn to the north are Galata, Beyo?lu and Taksim, the heart of modern Istanbul, while Kad?köy is the major district on the comparatively less-visited Anatolian side of the city. The Black Sea forms the northern boundary of Istanbul.
Istanbul has a temperate oceanic climate which is influenced by a continental climate, with hot and humid summers and cold, wet and occasionally snowy winters.
Istanbul has a high annual average rainfall of 844 mm (which is more than that of London, Dublin or Brussels, whose negative reputation Istanbul does not suffer), with late autumn and winter being the wettest, and late spring and summer being the driest. Although late spring and summer are relatively dry when compared to the other seasons, rainfall is significant during these seasons, and there is no dry season as a result.
If there is a negative reputation that Istanbul does suffer from, it is the high annual relative humidity, especially during winter and summer with the accompanying wind chill and concrete-island effect during each respective season.
Summer is generally hot with averages around 27ºC during the day and 18ºC at night. High relative humidity levels and the ‘concrete-island effect’ only make things worse. Expect temperatures of up to 35° C for the hottest days of the year. Summer is also the driest season, but it does infrequently rain. Showers tend to last for 15-30 minutes with the sun usually reappearing again on the same day. Flash floods are a common occurrence after heavy rainfalls (especially during summer), due to the city's hilly topography and inadequate sewage systems.
Winter is cold and wet, averaging 2ºC at night and 7ºC during the day. Although rarely below freezing during the day, high relative humidity levels and the wind chill makes it feel bitterly cold and very unpleasant.
Snowfall, which occurs almost annually, is common between the months of December and March, with an annual total snow cover of almost three weeks, but average winter snowfall varies considerably from year to year, and snow cover usually remains only for a few days after each snowfall, even under intense snow conditions.
Late spring (late May to early June) and early autumn (late September to early October) are very pleasant and therefore the best times to visit the city. During these periods it is neither cold nor hot, and still sunny, though the nights can be chilly and rain is common.
For visitors an umbrella is recommended during spring, autumn and winter, and during the summer to avoid the sun and occasionally the rain. However, it’s not such a big problem, since streets of Istanbul are suddenly filled by umbrella sellers as soon as it starts raining. Although the umbrellas they provide are a little shoddy, going rate is only TL 5 –about US$ 3- per umbrella (though you can find much better umbrellas for that price at shops if you look around a bit).
Light clothing is recommended during summer and a light jacket and/or light sweater if the summer evenings do become chilly, warm clothing is essential during winter and a mixture of the two during spring and autumn.
Also take note that due to its huge size, topography and maritime influences, Istanbul exhibits a multitude of distinct microclimates. Thus, different sections of Istanbul can experience different weather conditions at the same time. For example, at the same moment, it can be heavily raining in Sar?yer in the north, mildly raining in Levent (northern terminus of metro line), while Taksim, the southern terminus of metro line, is having a perfectly sunny day.
h3>Atatürk AirportMost planes arrive at Istanbul Atatürk Airport(IATA:IST), 20 km west of the city centre. From the airport, there are various options for getting into Istanbul: you can take a taxi (about 35-40 TL to Taksim. There is no night fare in Istanbul anymore - the price would be the same at midnight or midday. About the same to Sultanahmet), the express bus service run by the local airport service called "Havata?" See Online which departs half-hourly between 4AM-midnight and costs 10 TL to Taksim and Aksaray, the public bus (line96T) run by ?ETT costing 5 TL(3.5 with ?stanbulKart), which has fewer departure times now, due to Havatas, which is also a municipality engaged bus service.
Then, there is the metro (6:00 - midnight) (signposted "light rail" in the airport, when you get outside the baggage claim its about a 10 minute walk in the airport to the metro line. Just follow the signs), which will take you directly to the Otogar (bus station) or to numerous stops within Istanbul (Aksaray in the city centre is the last stop, transfer stations for tram heading for deeper into old city is available at Zeytinburnu and Aksaray). It costs 3 TL, by token (+an extra 3 TL when boarding the tram) and getting to Aksaray takes around 45 minutes. It is possible to be at your bus departing from ''Otogar'' within less than one hour after landing by taking the metro.
When entering the metro station, you need to buy a jeton (token) for 3 lira. Just hand the cashier 3 lira and he'll give you a token, or use the automatic dispenser (''Jetonmatik''), which accepts banknotes (5 TL, 10 TL) as well as coins. Use 'select' to choose the number of jetons and then push 'ok'. They don't accept credit card or foreign currency here. This will get you on the red metro line (towards Aksaray). From this line, if you are going to Sultanahmet, you can transfer at Zeytinburnu and buy another ''jeton'' (3 lira) - see the section on "Istanbulkart" if further travel within Istanbul's metro system will be undertaken. Note that the ''jeton'' token here is different than the first one. From Zeytinburnu, take the blue tram line T1, towards Kabata? which passes by: Sultanahmet, Eminönu and Tophane. The trip from the airport to Sultanahmet takes about 45 min. Other Notes:
Note that people are working on commission at the airport trying to make you use special shuttle buses for very high fees (30+ TL), so for people who wish to travel more economically the Metro/tram-combination is easy and fairly quick, and offers very good value. Travel by metro/tram cost 1 token per trip which is equal to 3 TL. No matter how long you travel, it cost 1 token per trip.
Depending on nationality, foreigners arriving in Istanbul may need to purchase tourist visas (USA and some EU citizens, depending on exact nationality, do). This must be done upon arrival before queuing for passport control. The windows for purchasing the visa are located immediately to the left of the main passport control booths. You must pay in cash US dollars, Euros, or British pounds. Turkish lira is NOT taken, but there is an ATM where you can withdraw your own currency should you not have any (this ATM is frequently out of Euro and US $). You can pay by Mastercard/Visa at the visa desk as at May 2012. The fee varies depending on the visitor’s nationality. The fee is $20 (or €15 or 10 GBP) for visitors traveling with U.S. and $60 for Australian passports (May 2012). As of Sep 2008, Canadians pay US$60 (or €45). EU pays €15 (note that GB citizens may pay cash in Pounds (£10), and USD are taken in cash) you can use a debit or credit card but it will be charged 15 Euro.
Note that food and drinks at the airport may cost up to five times more than in the city proper, like in other international airports. If you are traveling on budget and plan to spend some time at the airport, it may be wise to bring your own meals from town instead of buying them there. If you come from the Metro, there is a supermarket in the tunnel leading to the elevators / stairs to the airport proper where you can do some last-minute shopping.
The cheapest way to arrive from Sabiha Gökçen in the European side of Istanbul is by bus (E10 line, from Sabiha Gökçen to Kadiköy) + ferry(from Kadiköy to many ferry stations, including some in the Sultanahmet area). It costs no more than 7TL for the bus ride and then you pay only 2TL for the ferry ride (which is linked to the public transport system, meaning you can also use akbil or electronic transport prepaid cards to pay for the ferry). That's less than €4 in total. Every other option priced at €10 and above ( 23 lira and above-by Feb 2013 rates) makes sense ONLY if you can't use this. And BEWARE of the company running the "HOTEL INFORMATION" office in the Sabiha Gökçen airport, see below.
A Havatas bus connects this airport with Taksim in the city centre for 12 TL (April 2013) and takes about an hour (closer to two or more in heavy traffic). There is also a Havatas service to Kad?köy, a transportation hub of Asian Side, which costs 8 TL. If you arrive in the middle of the night, you can move to the departure hall after passing customs and rest on very comfortable seats — you will even find coin-operated Japanese massage chairs. Then, at 05:00 the first Havatas bus will take you to town. The Havatas bus schedule is sometimes linked to the arrival/departure times of planes.
A cheaper option is to take public bus lineE9 to Kaynarca (get off at Tersane Lojmanlari) in (30 min, 2 TL); see timetables See Online ). From Kaynarca, you can take a suburban train (Banliyö Treni) to Haydarpasa (50 min, 2 TL), from where you can take a ferry to Karaköy (2 TL). Total travel time is approx. 1 h 40 min and the cost 6 TL.
Various private operators offer internet bookable shared minibuses to central locations — a good choice when arriving late. A typical price being EUR 90 for 4 people to a hotel in Laleli. A taxi to Sabiha Gökçen airport from Taksim, which lies around 50 km from the airport, takes ~35 minutes at 3:30am with no traffic. The meter will show ~75 lira, plus there is ~6 lira in tolls. Note the security screening is before the check-in counters, so add some extra time to make the cutoff times (45 minutes for international, 30 for domestic).
Beware of the company running the "Hotel Information" office in the Sabiha Gökçen airport which offers "shuttle-to-hotel" services from €15 (they pretend to make a discount based on your group size, you can get it as low as €12.5 for 4 people) because their drivers are totally uninformed about any hotel address and they may get lost/the trip may take 2-3 times more than normal because of their lack of knowledge with hotel addresses.
When arriving at Sabiha Gökçen airport, there are people offering shuttle services to the European side of the city, most costing €10, which is much cheaper than booking a taxi with your hotel/hostel (about €50-60). It is the best option after the Havatas airport buses. For the return journey, officers are quite zealous with luggage checks and they systematically remove the cap from bottled water once at the gate. It is recommended not to buy water before the flight although you can take the open bottle on board. Another surprising feature of Sabiha Gökçen airport is the luggage check at the main entrance, but fortunately you are allowed to take drinks in the airport at this point.