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Istanbul holidays: Visit the city where East and West meet

When it comes to a true city break in Turkey, Istanbul is one of the most interesting and rewarding destinations you can choose. Often seen as a city that straddles both Europe and Asia (or the West and East), Istanbul is a grand and memorable place that needs to be seen to be believed.

Most UK holidaymakers come to Istanbul for its rich history and culture; others use it as a starting point before heading elsewhere in Turkey, like Cappadocia or the Turkish Riviera. Even if you only have a handful of days here, expect them to be jam-packed, as there is so, so much to see in Istanbul.

Our guide covers the best bits of Istanbul, with plenty of advice for where to stay, what to expect and what to see while you're in the city.

Istanbul holiday tips and advice

So you're already convinced that you need to head to Istanbul on holiday? Great! Then this section is where you'll find all the practical information about Istanbul, such as when is the best time to visit, visa requirements and the best way to get to and around the city.

Istanbul at a glance

Flight duration (from London): 3 hours 55 minutes

Main airport: Istanbul International Airport

Population: 15.4 million

Language: Turkish

Currency: Turkish lira

Socket type: Type F (adapter required)

Time zone: GMT+03:00; 3 hours ahead of the UK

When is the best time to visit Istanbul?

Like most cities, there's no completely wrong time to visit as long as you pack the right clothing. Here's a breakdown of Istanbul through the seasons.

🌸 Spring: With mild, sunny days and little rainfall, spring is one of the most popular times to be in Istanbul. In April, Istanbul hosts its International Tulip Festival - the perfect way to celebrate spring!

☀️ Summer: It can get extremely hot and humid during Istanbul's summer months. While you might get the occasional breeze coming in from the water, be prepared for really hot weather.

🍁 Autumn: Even though the weather is cooler and there's more rainfall, autumn is another popular time to visit Istanbul due to the more comfortable conditions. Watch out for the popular Istanbul Coffee Festival, which is normally held in October.

❄️ Winter: Cold temperatures and occasional snow means that you'll need to wrap up, but wintertime Istanbul can mean a warm, cosy stay with fewer fellow tourists. And whenever the cold gets too much, you can retreat into the heat of a hammam.

Getting to Istanbul

With a flight time of just under four hours from London, catching a flight is how most UK holidaymakers find their way to Istanbul. You can also catch flights from other UK cities, like Birmingham, Edinburgh and Manchester.

A number of airlines offer direct flights, from low-cost carriers like easyJet, Wizz Air and Pegasus; British Airways and Turkish Airlines offer direct flights to Istanbul too.

British nationals can visit Turkey without a visa for up to 90 days within a 180-day period. Your passport must also be valid for 150 days from the date that you arrive. Always check the most up-to-date entry requirements.

Getting around Istanbul

Notorious for traffic jams, it feels like Istanbul's public transport is the answer if you want to get anywhere swiftly.

And there are plenty of options to choose from. You have trams, funiculars, the metro, buses, cable cars and ferries, which are all useful for getting to different parts of this massive city. At the airport, there should be vending machines and information points that sell public transport cards for tourists. Sold in different increments depending on how long you'll be staying in Istanbul, these cards will give you unlimited access to most public transport available in the city.

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The best areas to stay in Istanbul

Large and diverse, Istanbul is full of interesting neighbourhoods where you can choose to stay depending on your personal preferences and interests. Here are some of our favourite areas to stay in Istanbul.

  • Sultanahmet: Possibly one of the top spots for tourism, Sultanahmet is where you'll find famous sights like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace. There are numerous hotels and hostels in this area, as well as self-catering apartments.

  • Taksim: If you're after nightlife and good food, look no further than Taksim. This lively and modern neighbourhood is located on Istanbul's European side, and you'll find plenty of restaurants, bars, shops, art galleries and nightlife venues within walking distance.

  • Beyoğlu: Right next to Taksim, Beyoğlu is a culturally rich neighborhood that has an irresistable bohemian vibe. The popular shopping thoroughfare - Istiklal Avenue - is here, along with its numerous cafes, restaurants and entertainment venues.

  • Kadıköy: Located on the Asian side, Kadıköy is a great option for those wanting to see a more authentic Istanbul. Trendy and lively, this neighbourhood is filled with picturesque alleys, colourful markets and bustling cafes.

  • Beşiktaş: Thanks to its location along the Bosphorus, Beşiktaş is a great starting point for boat trips. This neighbourhood offers a vibrant atmosphere, with bars, restaurants and parks.

  • Karaköy: A fascinating blend of ancient culture and modernity, Karaköy is a popular neighbourhood on the European side. Here you can expect to find designer hotels, art galleries and trendy cafes.

  • Eminönü: Eminönü is located right near the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar, offering an authentic Istanbul experience with shopping opportunities right on your doorstep. You'll find a wide range of accommodation here.

Discover your perfect accommodation in Istanbul


Things to do in Istanbul

1. Visit the Blue Mosque

Famous for its gravity-defying minarets, the magnificent Blue Mosque is as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside!

2. Explore the Hagia Sophia

Starting its life as a Byzantine church, the Hagia Sophia was then a mosque and now a museum; don't miss seeing this architectural masterpiece with its imposing domes.

3. Discover the Topkapi Palace

Once the home of the Ottoman sultans for several centuries, you can visit Topkapi Palace's sumptuous gardens and admire its historical treasures.

4. Wander around the Grand Bazaar

One of the largest covered markets in the whole world, the Grand Bazaar offers an incredible variety of products, from carpets and trinkets to jewellery and spices.

5. Take a cruise on the Bosphorus

Explore the European and Asian sides of the city by boat, and enjoy spectacular views of Istanbul and its monuments from the water.

6. See Dolmabahçe Palace

A former residence of Ottoman sultans, this sumptuous palace has refined interiors and lovely gardens that make it a must-see site.

7. Stroll through the lively Taksim district

Taksim is vibrant and trendy; spend some time here to enjoy its nightlife, shopping, restaurants and cafes.

8. Explore the Beyoğlu district

Walk along Istiklal Avenue, visit art galleries, taste Turkish specialties and soak up the bohemian vibe of one of Istanbul's most popular neighbourhoods.

9. Taste Turkish cuisine

Eat as much as you can! The local specialties are delicious, including kebabs, mezze, baklava and Turkish coffee.

10. Marvel at the Basilica Cistern

As the name implies, the Basilica Cistern is an ancient underground cistern; stop by to see its colossal marble columns and feel its mysterious atmosphere.

11. Admire the view from the Galata Tower

One of the city's true landmarks, climb to the top of the historic Galata Tower to enjoy panoramic views of Istanbul.

12. Relax in a Turkish hammam

Relax and unwind by paying a visit to a traditional Turkish hammam, which can be found across the city.

Find more things to do in Istanbul


Istanbul holiday FAQs

Q: Is Istanbul safe for tourists?

A: Istanbul is generally safe for tourists, as long as standard precautions are followed, like being aware of your surroundings and sticking to well-lit, popular areas at night.

Q: What's the weather like in Istanbul?

A: The city experiences a Mediterranean climate, with summers that are hot and humid, with temperatures ranging between 25°C and 30°C. The winter months are cold and wet, with temperatures that hover between 5°C and 10°C. Istanbul springs and autumns are comfortable, mild and pleasant.

Q: Which language(s) is spoken in Istanbul?

A: While Turkish is the official language, you'll find that English is widely spoken in tourist settings, like attractions, restaurants and hotels.

Q: Are there local cultural norms that I should be aware of?

A: Yes, there are a few to be aware of, as it's important to respect local customs. At a minimum, you should dress modestly when visiting religious sites and remove shoes before entering mosques. You can also use your right hand for eating and when greeting locals.

Q: Should I tip for meals in Istanbul?

A: If standard service isn't included in your bill, your tip should be about 10-15% of the total.

Q: Do I need any vaccinations to visit Istanbul?

A: There are currently no vaccination requirements for Istanbul, but you may want to contact a travel nurse/doctor for personalised advice.