Before I start, let me just say that I tried to find as much information about Istanbul before I went there, and somehow most of the things I found seemed outdated. After 3 days in there, I decided to share my experience in case you find yourself in a similar situation as I did. Some of the things I write might not apply to anyone, but coming from Canada here’s how things like:
- Getting there
Most people fly to Istanbul, but I was previously in Bulgaria so I got a bus from Sofia, which was a)cheaper b)just as convenient as getting the plane.
The night bus from Sofia is a decent option if you’re on a budget. I got my ticket from the central bus station in Sofia(Subway stops there so it’s not hard to find), and cost me 50Leva one way. The bus leaves from “Serdika” station, which is on the other side of the street across the railway station.
I got my ticket from “Metro”, but there are other companies that go the same route for probably the same amount. I can’t comment on their quality, but metro was okay. They gave some snack before we left, and coffee/tea, even though I didn’t feel like drinking coffee at 11PM.
The ride went smooth, and the only time we had to leave the bus was when we crossed the border. Check your country’s passport requirements for entry into Turkey. It wasn’t an issue for me, but for other countries, you might have to pay for visa on entry. A small thing to consider is that security isn’t as tight and nobody bothers you during the trip, so in a way I find the bus even better than flying there. (I hate airport security)
The bus arrived there around 8-9AM the next day. There was supposed to be a free shuttle bus to Sultanahmet, but it never showed up, and we got on the one to Aksaray. You can also get the subway from the central bus station. It is roughly 5 minute walking. Depending on where you’re going you should probably switch to tram at Aksaray station.
- Public Transport
This part is pretty straight forward as long as you get it right. There are 2 ways to travel with the public transport. One is a token, called”jeton”, which costs 4 Lira(as of July.2014), and Istanbulpass which gives you some discount, and you can charge the card at any station. I’m not sure exactly how much discount you’re getting, but if you change a bus or subway within a certain time period you pay only 50% on the next trip. You can also use it for more than 1 person, which makes it even more convenient. It will save you a lot of money so I’d really recommend buying one. I got mine from an employee since the machine was broken and I might have overpaid a bit, but it’s well worth having one if you’re staying 2+ days.
To put things in numbers traveling with a pass costs roughly 2.45 lira on the first and 1.20 on the second trip.
I avoided taking the bus, and I have absolutely no idea how convenient it is for foreigners to take. Fortunately, going around the main parts doesn’t require taking a bus. Walking should be fine for covering most of the historic part of Istanbul
Trams have a good announcement system, and there are also instructions in English on interchange stations. Same goes for the subway.
I actually used public transport from my hotel to Ataturk airport on the last day. It took me roughly an hour from Sultanahmet on Monday morning(considering traffic and commuters), and it’s really easy and cheap. You just have to switch from Tram to Subway at Zeyitinburnu station.
- Changing money
That’s another thing which bothered me before going to Istanbul. It might be convenient for people coming from Europe to use ATMs, but for me having only Canadian dollars it meant I had to find some place to exchange money. Didn’t try any banks, and went straight to exchange offices. I actually saw some pretty good rates at the airport when I was leaving, but they might charge commission, so check before giving them any money.
For me the best places to change money was in Grand Bazaar. Avoid changing around the main touristy areas since they’ll probably sell you liras for much cheaper. Look for “no commission” sign and you’ll probably be fine. I changed money in 3 different places and never had issues.
Do your research beforehand, and look for the difference in “buy” and “sell”. If it’s too big then it’s probably not a good rate you’re getting in there.
Many places accept credit cards, but companies usually charge fees for using them abroad.