Istanbul is a city known for its history, sites, and food. But as wonderful a place as it is, the Turkish metropole can be an incredibly stressful place to visit. The city struggles to house its staggering 17 million people. This huge population causes many challenges, such as housing shortages and horrendous traffic, which will be covered shortly. The fact of the matter is, Istanbul is also swarming with tourists, and there’s a good reason why. The city is located right between Asia and Europe, meaning that it is convenient for most people around the world to visit. It is possible to be on two continents at once by merely crossing a bridge. The city is also quite affordable, which adds to its appeal. Add to that the general warmth of the environment, decent weather, and abundance of sites to see, and you’ve got yourself a dream destination.
Because the city is so overwhelming, it’s crucial to come prepared with a few travel hacks to manage the transportation hassles you may very well encounter. It’s not worth it to come excited about your trip and to go home more exhausted than you were before.
The first thing you should know about Istanbul involves navigating the city. The best thing you can do for yourself is to avoid renting a car, even to get to your hotel from the airport. Not only is traffic horrendous in the city (read close to four hours to get to the main airport from the city center), but the other drivers are quite frankly a bit dangerous. Instead, choose to take a taxi from the airport, or if you’re on a budget, several city buses will get you to the city center where you will most likely be staying anyway. The coaches are comfortable, and it is best to let someone else do the driving anyway. If you really can’t be bothered to deal with public transportation, a multitude of shuttle services exist for a door-to-door experience.
So well done. You’ve made it to your hotel. How to get around without a car? Not to worry, the tram system in the city is brilliantly designed. It comes quite regularly, so you don’t need to worry about missing one. That it is on a light rail system means that it is not affected by the number of cars on the road, and at less than $1 a ride, you really can’t beat the price. You will be able to get to points of interest such as Taksim Square and Hagia Sophia without a hiccup. Once you get the hang of Turkish signage and foreign-sounding names, the rest is easy.
You can also easily walk between your destinations because they are quite close together, particularly the Blue Mosque and the Basilica Cistern. The city is quite safe, especially in the touristy areas, where the worst you can expect is to be regularly asked if you’d like a guided tour of the Bosphorus.
Speaking of which, one of the best ways for you to see Istanbul is on the water, so don’t hesitate to snag a quick ferry ride around the bay. The scenery is absolutely stunning and made even more magnificent with a cup of strong Turkish tea. If you’re in Istanbul longer than a couple of days, make it a point to jump on another ferry that will take you to the Prince’s Island. A magical place without any cars, the island is an incredibly serene refuge from the chaos that is the central city.