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Turkey

Istanbul - Travel Tips

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Vapur

Vapur

I have blogged on travel tips for Istanbul before.

My visits in May ’19 produced a couple of useful new tips, so this is just a wee update.

The first is the new airport. Turkish Airlines transferred all passenger operations there in April 2019. Atatürk is no longer used. The new airport is massive, and you have to allow plenty time to move between gates if you have a connection. On the other hand, it is spacious and pleasant compared to Atatürk and so a longer layover would be a more civilised experience.

Istanbul Airport

Istanbul Airport

The new airport is a long way (43 km/26 miles) north of the city (measured to Sultanahmet, where I was staying) so if you are breaking a journey there a trip into the centre is now longer and more expensive.

I was told a taxi from Sultanahmet would cost 150 TRY (£19.50 or €22.20) and it is safe to assume airport taxis charge more. My guesthouse organised transfers for me at €40 (£35) per trip. Another option is HavaIst, which operates a coach service between the new airport and the city centre. The Metro is being extended to reach the new airport. The information I found suggests it could be ready in 2020.

Door to Door

Door to Door

It took just 30 minute to go to the airport on a Sunday morning. It took over an hour in the other direction during Friday night rush hour - even allowing for going against the flow of traffic.

Istanbul’s other airport - Sabiha Gökçen - is still operating as before but it is a long way from the city centre too - on the Asian side.

Sunrise, Terrace Guesthouse

Sunrise, Terrace Guesthouse

For this trip I flew with Turkish Airlines from Edinburgh to Istanbul, and then on to Tbilisi. I broke my journey to Tbilisi in Istanbul, but (from memory) that was choice rather than necessity. The EDI/IST leg cost £280 (return) and the IST/TBS one was £290 return.

The other Istanbul travel update to mention is taking the vapur (passenger ferry) across the Bosphorus from Eminönü on the European side to Kadıköy on the Asian side. It is a commuter hop, but the views of the city are amazing - unless you hit a thunderstorm, as I did!

Kadıköy

Kadıköy

The cost is 5 TRY each way - that was £0.65/€0.74 at the time. The last time I did the “voyage” (about 10 years ago) you bought a metal jeton (token) to put in a turnstile type entry gate to board the ship. Now you buy a plastic card. I could not find any ticket kiosk and maybe you can only buy from one of the automatic machine.

1 Trip

1 Trip

Locals all use a rechargeable IstanbulKart. The cards are also what you need for the tram, metro and bus services, so buying the rechargeable version (for 6 TRY) will save you time if you expect to be using public transport a lot.

Dusk, Aya Sofya

Dusk, Aya Sofya

Certainly the tram, metro and vapur services are very user friendly once you get familiar with them and can save you from getting hot and sweaty in the summer months. The trams’ air conditioning is worth 5 lira alone when it gets you out of the summer heat!

The vapur have a buffet cabin on board for snacks and drinks. In the morning I recommend you buy a simit - the bagel shaped, sesame seed covered bread roll - to take on board to eat with a Turkish tea from the buffet. Eat and drink out on one of the open air decks if the weather is good.

Another top tip is to buy a balık ekmek - fish sandwich - before you board. They sell them at the büfe on the quay at Eminönü. Ayran is ideal to drink with it (or beer, if so inclined).

Posted by IainT 13:58 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey istanbul transport Comments (0)

Travel Tips - Istanbul

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Blue Mosque, Dusk

Blue Mosque, Dusk

As I did on my visit to the city last year, I flew with Turkish Airlines direct from Edinburgh. Flight time is around 4 hours.

Departure from Edinburgh was 15:55 with arrival at Atatürk Airport for 22:10. On the way back the flight left Atatürk at 12:35 and reached Edinburgh at 15:00. In all respects those timings are good. You miss traffic rush hours, and you’re not leaving early or arriving late. Both flights arrived early.

Ready

Ready

You get a full lunch/dinner served, and I was very happy with the quality. You also get full in flight entertainment from a screen in the headrest in front.

4 Hours

4 Hours

Checkin arrangements were quick and efficient for both flights, as was baggage recovery. My flight cost £176 return, booked about 3 months in advance. The price includes a 23kg checked in bag, and a carry on bag of up to 8kg (dimension restrictions apply).

Passport control at Atatürk was very quick entering and leaving, but do remember that UK passport holders needed a visa at the time of my trip (obviously check current requirements if you’re planning a visit, but this has been the situation since my first visit to the country in 2005). The e-visa is available online in 5 minutes for US$20 (multiple entry and valid for 6 months).

No embassy application is involved. You can buy the visa on arrival, but this might involve waiting in a queue and then waiting in another one at passport control.

I stayed at the Terrace Guesthouse as usual - I know the owner. It is 20 minutes from the airport at 10:30pm, but it can take over an hour at the wrong time of day. It is located in Sultanahmet, one of the key tourist areas. You have the Blue Mosque on one side, Aya Sofya on the other, and the Bosphorus in front.

The price depends on which room you take, but mine was €79 per night. The price includes a sumptuous Turkish breakfast, from the terrace looking out over the Bosphorus.

Breakfast View

Breakfast View

They will organise airport transport for you if you want, at €30 per trip. I use it because I like the “meet and greet” at the airport - a sign with your name on it, and then you are escorted to your vehicle.

Istanbul Arrivals

Istanbul Arrivals

It will usually be a smart air conditioned minivan, and most often you’ll have it to yourself. The alternative is a battle with a taxi driver... and every risk of being ripped off.

As well as being convenient for the airport and several major tourist sights, the T1 tram line runs very close to the Terrace Guesthouse - a 5 minute walk. The trams will connect you with the Metro (for the airport if you prefer to get there by public transport), ferries at Eminönü and Kabataş, and the mainline (European side) railway station at Sirkeci.

Vapur

Vapur

When I think about it, all my arrangements went according to plan. Maybe I should go back in the autumn!

Posted by IainT 13:34 Archived in Turkey Tagged planes edinburgh ferries turkey istanbul transport flights airlines Comments (0)

Vapur

Plain Sailing

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Love at Eminönü

Love at Eminönü

So what do you do when you have a day in Istanbul, but in the past you’ve already had many days sightseeing in the city?

When I made my travel bookings so as to have a day in Istanbul, I had no real plan for what to do. Of course I knew it would be easy to fill a day in the city. In the end, I decided against any real sightseeing. I’d just relax and take it easy. Hang out. Chill out.

Coffee at Galata

Coffee at Galata

I enjoyed my Turkish breakfast, followed by a gossip with friend and guesthouse owner Doǧan. Then I walked from the guesthouse in Sultanahmet (very close to the Blue Mosque) to Taksim Square via the Galata Bridge and Istaklal Cadessi, stopping for a very welcome coffee and cake about halfway.

Galata

Galata

It’s a 2.7 mile (4.3 km) walk and I enjoyed it after a day on my travels. I walked all the way back too!

Taksim

Taksim

For the afternoon I decided on a short ferry trip up the Bosphorus. Şehir Hatları - one of the ferry companies - offers a 6 hour trip (almost as far as the Black Sea) or a 2 hour one - as far as Istinye. The short one sets you back a whopping 12TL (just over £2).

Vapur

Vapur

Of course you can pay much more on a tourist boat.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d done the longer version many years ago, so I half remembered what to expect. Going out on the water really is a good way to see the city especially when you’ve had enough of walking.

Ortaköy

Ortaköy

The ship has comfortable seating inside, and plenty of open deck area too. It has a snack bar, but if you want more than crisps, chocolate or simit, bring it with you.

Posted by IainT 12:46 Archived in Turkey Tagged boats ferries turkey istanbul transport Comments (0)

Escaping

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Ready

Ready

My spring break finally arrived.

With it came another Turkish Airlines flight, this time mid afternoon from Edinburgh to Istanbul. I had 4 flights with them in the autumn.

It all started - like so often - dropping the car at the local park and ride, before jumping on the airport bus. It was on time, comfortable and relaxing. Well done Stagecoach.

Relaxed

Relaxed

Check-in at the airport took about a minute, and security less than five. I was left with plenty time for a burger and a stroll around to help digest it. Boarding was quick and smooth too. Full marks to Edinburgh Airport and Turkish Airlines.

Calm

Calm

The flight left a few minutes early and arrived 20 minutes early. In between, we all got a good dinner (köfte with rice and a chickpea stew was the main course) and full inflight entertainment on a modern Boeing 737-800. More top marks to Turkish Airlines.

Perfect News

Perfect News


Passport control was very quick at Atatürk - no queue at all. I waited 5 minutes for my suitcase - probably because I got through passport control so quickly! My guesthouse in Istanbul had arranged a car to meet me at the airport, and so it was virtually right out of arrivals and into the transport. Well done Atatürk Airport.

20 minutes later I was in Sultanahmet being welcomed back to the Terrace Guesthouse. Then all I had to do was relax and get ready for bed - easier said than done with my body clock giving me 9pm signals and the local time being 2 hours ahead.

Balcony View

Balcony View

All in all it was a great way to start my wee break.

Posted by IainT 12:01 Archived in Turkey Tagged planes scotland edinburgh istanbul transport flights airlines Comments (0)

Old Friends

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On Monday night and Tuesday morning I found myself back in Istanbul after a long absence.

Was it 8 years or 9? I’d have to check my old passport.

This week was my 4th visit, or maybe my 5th, depending on the answer to that question.

I was on my way to Girne in North Cyprus and even direct flights (there are none from Scotland) have to land in Turkey for 45 minutes on the way. Istanbul was the obvious (and most attractive) choice as a stopover.

It turned into a real trip down memory lane. I stayed at the Terrace Guesthouse, as I did several times during those visits between 2006 and 2009. It felt like meeting an old friend when I arrived about 11pm.

I went for a short walk before bedtime, around the Sultanahmet area which the guesthouse shares with the Blue Mosque (or Sultanahmet Camii, to give it it’s posh name) and Aya Sofya.

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Breakfast was on the terrace at the top of the building, and normally it comes with amazing views of the Bosphorus and the Asian Side. That morning it was raining, but the view was still great.

Breakfast View

Breakfast View

Next on my whistlestop tour was an hour gossiping with Doǧan, the guesthouse owner, and another old friend. We didn’t solve all the world’s problems but we identified a lot of them.

Before heading back to the airport for my 16:30 flight, I had time for a leisurely walk around - down out of Sultanahmet to the Galata Bridge, where the Bosphorus meets the Golden Horn. I was tempted to get on one of the ferries which will take you across to the Asian Side in 20 minutes for 5 TL (£1 or €1.10) each way. The views of the city from the water are the best.

Eminönü

Eminönü

I suppose I must be at the old and boring time of life, because common sense took over and I decided I might not have time.

I did have time for lunch before checking out and getting my taxi. To a Scot it’s always a special thing to have lunch outside - and not have to run inside when the rain starts.

Lunch Stop

Lunch Stop

Well, I have another stopover in Istanbul on my way home next week. It will be a wonderful way to finish my trip. I hope the list of the world’s troubles isn’t any longer by then.

And by the way, if you've ever felt the urge to visit Istanbul, go for it! My flight (from Edinburgh direct) was about £200 (€210) return. If you do go, think about staying at the Terrace - and I'm not suggesting that because Doǧan is a friend or because I'm Mr 10%!

Posted by IainT 11:03 Archived in Turkey Tagged planes ferries istanbul Comments (0)

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