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.
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.
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.
Main sites of interest
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Galata Tower
Built by the Genoese in 1368, this tower offers a panoramic view of İstanbul and the Golden Horn.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.).
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.
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.
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.
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$).
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.
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.