Istanbul Anna Berdnik – Unsplash

Our Istanbul travel guide

Discover with us Istanbul, the cultural capital of Turkey.

Rich of a legendary past, the cultural capital of Turkey is located between the West and the East. Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, is described as the jewel of a thousand and one nights. The city that was first called Byzantium, then Constantinople, has been called Istanbul since 1930.

Situated on a cape overlooking the European shore of the Bosphorus Strait, Constantinople enjoyed an advantageous defensive position. Moreover, it was located at the crossroads of land and sea routes.

Panorama d'Istanbul
Istanbul - Panorama

It was first Greek, then Roman and then Ottoman. The eventful history of Istanbul has made it an architectural marvel today. The Bosphorus Strait separates the city into two sides, one European and the other Asian. Some historical areas of the city are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The city is full of mosques, museums, palaces, churches, markets, but also beautiful coastal landscapes.

Istanbul has the largest urban area in the country, with about 15 million inhabitants. The city is also known as the city of seven hills, or “the second Rome”, and is therefore one of the most important megacities in the world.

As the city is vast, we recommend that you plan your stay in Istanbul well by choosing to sleep in an area according to your main interests (cultural visits, nightlife, shopping, etc).

How to get to Istanbul with Aeroplan points

From Montreal, there are no direct flights to Istanbul with Air Canada. A stopover is necessary to get there and you have to complete the flight with the partners Turkish Airlines or Lufthansa, among others.

Depending on the time of year, you can travel to Istanbul with your Aeroplan points.

For example, for a vacation to Istanbul in September 2023, 80,000 Aeroplan points and $200 are required.

Aeroplan YUL IST

Or, use the power of the program and its Aeroplan stop to visit a second city by going to Türkiye!

For an additional 5,000 Aeroplan points, visit Milan for four days. So you’ll have a two-for-one during your vacation for 85,000 points and $238.

YUL IST Aéroplan escale

Main sites of interest

Saint Sophia

Famous for its mosaics with gold background and its impressive four-sided dome, the church of Saint Sophia (Ayasofya) was built to replace the old basilica which had been burned in 532 during a revolt of the population.

Sainte-Sophie – Pixabay

The Blue Mosque

The Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque) is one of the most famous monuments symbolizing Istanbul. It represents one of the finest examples of Iznik earthenware used in interior decoration at the time. The mosque was built by order of the 16th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Ahmet.

Mosquée Bleue – Adli Wahid – Unsplash

The Topkapı Palace

This palace was for a long time the main residence of the Ottoman sultans. Built at the tip of the historic Istanbul peninsula, it is the most beautiful place with a breathtaking view of the Marmara Sea and the Istanbul Strait.

Palais de Topkapi – Pixabay

Dolmabahçe Palace

This palace is the largest in the Bosphorus. Its clock is stopped at the time of death of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, former president of the Republic of Turkey, who lost his life there on November 10, 1938 at 9:05 am.

Palais de Dolmabahce – Pixabay

Süleymaniye Mosque

Built between 1550 and 1557, the Süleymaniye Mosque is considered a masterpiece that gave its name to an entire neighborhood. It is one of the most monumental buildings in Istanbul.

Mosquée Süleymaniye – Pixabay

The Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı)

For your shopping, go to the Grand Bazaar where you will find about sixty alleys and more than 4 000 stores spread over 30 hectares. This Bazaar is not new: its foundation dates back to 1461, when Sultan Mehmet II ruled.

Le Grand bazar

The Istanbul Archaeological Museum

This museum consists of 3 buildings. It contains some of the most remarkable works of the ancient Byzantine period, such as beautiful sculptures and sarcophagi. You will be able to contemplate the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great and the 3 mourners.

Musée archéologique d-Istanbul – Tom Keldenich – Unsplash

The Galata Tower

Built by the Genoese in 1368, this tower offers a panoramic view of İstanbul and the Golden Horn.

Istanbul 1 – Pixabay

The basilica cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı)

This site dates back to 527 and was designed to provide drinking water to the Byzantine imperial palace. It is described as a veritable forest of 336 columns, one of which is called “the weeping column” since tears escape from the eyes of peacocks carved in the stone.

Citerne Basilique – Pixabay

Istiklal Avenue

This avenue is the main axis of the city’s Christian quarter, where the historic tramway crosses and where private mansions, foreign schools, consulates, churches, trendy bars, bookstores and cinemas are crammed.

Avenue Istiklal – Bakhrom Tursunov – Unsplash

Baghdad Avenue

You will find the major local and international brands on Baghdad Avenue which stretches for 10 km, between Kadıköy and Bostancı. This tree-lined, open-air mall is home to elegant boutiques, traditional restaurants, banks, pubs and cafes.

Louis Vuitton – Avenue Bagdad

The Bosphorus

During your stay in Istanbul, you may want to experience a traditional excursion on the Bosphorus, the winding strait that separates Europe from Asia. Several passenger boats make regular trips along its shores.

Istanbul – Pixabay

Where to eat?

The city offers different types of places to eat.

If you are looking for a cheap place that serves alcohol, there are meyhanes which are similar to taverns. Otherwise, the establishments called lokantas are similar to meyhanes but are more chic. You will also find more classic restaurants, the restorans, generally more expensive.

To avoid wasting time at lunchtime, a good low-cost option are the fast-food stands that offer, for example, pita kebabs or Turkish pizzas. Otherwise, several stalls sell corn on the cob and ice cream.

Camion de rue – Unsplash

In the tourist areas, there are also self-service buffets where you can eat a little healthier, but at low prices.

Sultanhamet Square has several quality addresses, some with terraces.

Under the Galata Bridge, several restaurants offer fresh fish of the day on their menu. This area is nevertheless more touristy than Sultanhamet Square.

At Taskim Square, hundreds of restaurants await you, from self-service buffets to gourmet restaurants.

Restaurants à Istanbul – Pixabay

Here are some good addresses to remember in Istanbul:

360 Restaurant offers creative and refined cuisine in a modern setting, with musical ambiance and a rooftop terrace with a breathtaking view of Istanbul and the Bosphorus.

Hafiz Mustafa Patisserie, an unmissable address to taste delicious baklavas, loukoums or kunefe (speciality made of cheese, butter and pistachio, sprinkled with a light syrup).

Nusr-Et Steakhouse for excellent red meat in a world-class restaurant.

Rika Cihangir offers tropical decor with a beautiful view of the Bosphorus. You can go there for a lunch, an afternoon coffee or an evening cockail.

For simple and authentic food, Nizam Pide is an area in the Taksim district where you can taste typical Turkish dishes (Pide, doner, salads, etc.).


Hafiz Mustafa Pâtisserie

Where to stay?

Istanbul is a very large city and not all neighborhoods are necessarily well served by public transportation. You’ll want to focus on those that are most central, such as Sultanahmet, the historical center; Eminönü and Sirkeci, lively port districts near the main bazaars of the city; Beyazit and Laleli, central districts; Galata and Karaköy, trendy areas; or Cihangir to party.

Quartier Galata – Unsplash

Among the abundant supply of accommodation, you will be able to find cheap accommodation, no matter if it is a hotel, an apartment rental, a youth hostel or a guesthouse.

Here are some good addresses to remember:

  • Grand Sirkeci
  • Taksim and Beyoğlu
  • Germir Palas Hotel
  • Story Hotel Pera
  • Hagia Sofia Mansions Istanbul, Curio Collection by Hilton
  • Iron Hotel
  • Peyk Hote
  • Orientbank Hotel Istanbul, Autograph Collection
  • Mercure Istanbul Sirkeci
  • Erboy Hotel
  • DoubleTree By Hilton Istanbul – Old Town
  • Hotel Venera
  • Hotel Miro Mansion Istanbul

There are a number of hotels connected to the Marriott Bonvoy chain. For as little as 10,000 points per night, you can enjoy great hotels without paying anything in cash.

For example:

So with a Marriott Bonvoy American Express card that has a welcome offer of 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, you would get 5 nights free!

Or, if you have a free night certificate, take advantage of it to pay yourself the draft and use it in these fabulous hotels:

Getting around the city

Istanbul’s public transportation system is relatively efficient.

It is best to take the streetcar, which is the most practical and economical way to get around the historic center. A funicular also connects the southern part of the city to Taksim Square and its surroundings. Otherwise, the metro has two lines.

Taxis à Istanbul – Unsplash

The bus is a bit complicated to take in Istanbul, but it is economical. Boats are another option for your travels.

As for cabs, they are affordable, but it is better to choose official cabs (yellow and with the Taksi sign). These have digital taximeters. The general starting price is 9.80 TL (0.50 US$) and the price per kilometer is 6.30 TL (0.30 US$).

Bateau à Istanbul – Pixabay

Practical information

Official language: Turkish, but many Turks speak English and sometimes French

Currency: Turkish Lira (TL)

Time difference with Quebec: 8 hours ahead

Climate: warm temperate. Precipitation is higher in winter than in summer. Average annual temperature of 14.9 °C.

Mosquée – Pixabay


Istanbul easily wins the hearts of travelers as it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world that have preserved their ancient wealth. It is a coastal city well located and full of charm. Since it is easy to get lost in this concentration of architectural wonders, good planning before your visit is the key to making your stay most memorable.

Come to discuss that topic in our Facebook Group!
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Marjorie has three passions in life: writing, travel and the world of wellness. The last decade has been full of exploration for her! Her travels have taken her all over the world, from Central America to Asia, Europe and Africa. This former travel consultant loves to inspire us and share her best discoveries. She is also the author of several novels and guides.

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