Aeriel viewpoint of Hagia Sofia and surrounding area

Hagia Sofia (Gary Brown)

With four days in Istanbul, you can see the big sites. Europe’s largest city makes for an adventurous and unique city escape during the winter months. Take advantage of mild weather and affordable prices to tour the Turkish crossroads of the world. If you plan on staying more than five days, here are some additional places to check out.

Anatolian Istanbul: The less-touristic half of Istanbul sitting across the Bosporus in Asia. The Kadikoy, Yeldayirmeni, and Moda neighborhoods are particularly nice to walk around.

Çanakkale: Location of the brutal World War I Battle of Gallipoli in 1915-1916, a nation-defining event for Turkey, Australia, and New Zealand.

Bursa: A charming mountainside city only a few hours from Istanbul, home to ski resorts, cable cars, and alpine hiking.

Hisarlik (Troy): Ruins of an ancient city immortalized by Homer in the Iliad and Odessey unearthed by archeologists in the late 19th century.

Cappadocia: Arid and rugged region in southeast Turkey best known for sunsets and hot air balloon tours; easily accessible via short flights.

Flower garden with a castle in the background. A large group of people are waiting to enter the castle gate.

Topkapi (Gary Brown)

Getting there: Travelers once only arrived here by land or sea, but you don’t need to take the Orient Express to reach Istanbul anymore. The city is serviced by two major airports: Istanbul Airport [IST] and Sabiha Gökçen International Airport [SAW]. IST is the larger of the two, the primary hub for Turkish Airlines, and the busiest airport in Europe. Heavy traffic means that travel times from either airport to the center of Istanbul can regularly take two hours.

Transit: Driving is generally inadvisable in Istanbul due to the congestion, narrow roads and aggressive drivers. Thankfully, the city also has a robust bus, metro and ferry network connecting all parts of the city. It is both extremely affordable and easy for visitors to navigate. Transit passes (IstanbulGo cards) can be purchased at kiosks near any major stop.

Lodging: Most first-time travelers to Istanbul are best off staying near the Sultanahmet district, close to all the major attractions. Hotels, hostels, rentals and guesthouses are all generally more affordable than in Western Europe, especially in the off-season.

Currency: The official currency of Turkey is the Lira (TRY); 1 USD ≈ 25-30 TRY. As with most tourist destinations, prices are inflated the closer you are to major attractions. The same rules apply for withdrawing money as in the rest of Europe: Take out money at a local bank ATM and avoid airport or EuroNet ATMs if possible due to the fees charged.

Bartering: Haggling is a way of life in traditional markets and negotiations are expected. This is most apparent in the Grand Bazaar. Here, the initial price vendors will offer is often three to four times higher than what is expected.

Clothing: Istanbul has a temperate Mediterranean climate and winter weather is generally mild. Average high temperate hover around 50°F (10°C) with the occasional rain shower. Women are not expected to wear head coverings as in some other countries within the region. However, in mosques, shorts for either gender are prohibited, and women are provided with mandatory head coverings to wear before entering.

Animals: Those with phobias or allergies beware: Istanbul is famous for its love of stray animals. Dogs are common, but cats are what this city is really known for. There are upwards of 125,000 stray cats roaming the streets that are typically allowed to hang around restaurants, bars and other public venues.

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Tamala Malerk is a writer and editor with Stars and Stripes Europe. She has been with SSE since April 2022 writing articles all about travel, lifestyle, community news, military life and more. In May 2022, she earned her Ph.D. in History and promises it is much more relevant to this job than one might think.

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