- Created on Monday, 26 September 2011 23:40
- Written by Dave Asmar
- Category: Travel Tips
Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey housing a population of approximately 13 million people which makes it practically one of the largest cities in Europe and Asia Minor. The city sits on both Asia and Europe and that makes it the only city that is located on two continents. Istanbul used to be the capital to Byzantine Empire until it was conquered by Ottomans in 1453. The date is considered in modern history to be the end of middle Ages. The modern day city is very different than what is used to be and witnessed a lot of changes and challenges since the end of the Ottoman Empire during the beginning of 20th Century. Because of its perfect location, Istanbul throughout centuries has never lost its important status as a port of commerce and a cultural center. With Turkey’s economy emerging again due to the latest reforms in the last years, the city has again started showing progress in going back to its glamorous days. Istanbul is 1 of the 9 candidates for the upcoming 2012 Summer Olympics and it also hosts a lot of different international conferences and exhibitions throughout the year.
Istanbul has a well-established transportation network with bus routes reaching almost every wherein the city, trains from both Asia and Europe making it into downtown, various sizes of boats and ferries cruising along the coast of Bosporus, a new and fast subway although it only serves a route with limited stations. Yellow cabs are easy to find almost everywhere in the city and they are not expensive at all. Taxis all charge according to a standard a meter and it doesn’t cost much to ride cabs around the city unless the distance is really long. But, some cab drivers are known to turn the ride into a thrill or a race which is not really fun unless you are missing your flight or in any kind of other emergency. Tipping is not needed at the cabs but you can round up the fee to the next Turkish Lira. You do not necessarily have to leave any extra cash after that. The speed of traffic, however, is likely to slow down a lot or almost stop at many intersections during the rush hours. The city center, however, has a lot to offer so this could be the ideal time of the day to take a walk around and discover the city.
On most of the popular routes, it is possible to take a shared cab which is named by locals as ‘Dolmus”. They are a little larger than regular taxis and they look like vans that can accommodate a total of 8 people including the driver. These automobiles are also yellow in color. The sign on the top of these autos reads ‘Dolmus” instead of “Taksi”. While some models might accommodate less people, most of them have a seating capacity of up to 8 people and they all charge a flat fee along the route depending on the distance. You can take the city boat or the ferry to ply over the Bosporus strait going all directions from Europe to Asia or the other way around. One of the best options to explore Istanbul is to do so-on water. That is a sight where you have the advantage of paying nothing more than a regular transportation charge. For a quick trip from the European side, just jump on a ferry to Uskudar and you will be back in an hour or quicker.
If you are planning on using the public transportation network, you are advised to purchase “akbil” which is a pre-paid electronic chip embedded on a plastic similar to a key fob. Akbil users both save up to 20% of the total transportation costs and are also eligible to take free extension trips with other vehicles in the city network as long as both trips are within a limited period of time.
You can use the pre-paid credit on “Akbil” and you will have access to city’s entire public transportation network with just a tap on the turnstiles. At all times, there is a direct bus service between the two airports of Istanbul and the Taksim Square. Taksim is the center of the transportation network, with buses, subways and dolmus' coming in from various destinations all around the city. Taksim central bus stop and the central metro station is only a couple of minutes from the infamous Taksim Square.
Notable places to visit in the Istanbul include the Hagia Sophia, Leanders Tower, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque and Yerebatan Cistern. Most of these historic sites are located in the old Istanbul part of the city and long term parking garages are available in this part of the city for those interested in parking their car for short to longer periods.