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Moving to Istanbul

With one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, Istanbul is a cultural capital with frenzied markets, stunning royal palaces and minarets, and modern art and entertainment. Expats moving to Istanbul will experience a vibrant city, where many traditions intermingle to form a city which captivates the senses. 

Compared to the rest of Turkey, the cost of living in Istanbul is expensive. Petrol prices are particularly high when compared to Europe and the US, as is imported alcohol. In fact, most branded imported items will be costly due to high import duties.

However, for daily groceries, medical care and domestic help, Istanbul is cheaper than most Western countries. Education is another expense that expats with children will have to consider when moving to Turkey. Most expats choose to send their children to international schools, which generally offer a superior education to the local public schools in Istanbul. However, this comes at a high price.

Istanbul has a lively nightlife accentuated by some very upmarket restaurants and even trendier nightclubs. There are also numerous modern shopping malls and markets to entice avid shoppers. Most notably, Istanbul is home to the Grand Bazaar, which boasts over 4,000 shops and is surrounded by a maze of streets lined with even more shops.

Expats in Istanbul will hardly find themselves being bored. The public transport system in Istanbul is efficient and highly affordable, which makes it easy to explore the city, as well as its famed historic sites. There is also an abundance of nearby villages and towns which offer the chance for weekend escapes from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Weather in Istanbul

Istanbul has four distinct seasons. Winters are cold and rainy. Istanbul is known to get snow in the winter months. The snow can sometimes be heavy enough to justify schools being closed. Spring can be very wet. However, it also brings a riot of colour as many flowers, particularly tulips, bloom throughout Istanbul. Summers can be hot and humid, and an air conditioner is very useful. Autumns are mild.
 

Cost of Living in Istanbul

Istanbul has a high cost of living relative to other Turkish cities. However, it's fairly cheap when considered in a global context. It was ranked 154th out of 209 cities worldwide in the 2019 Mercer Cost of Living Survey.

New arrivals in Istanbul will find that accommodation is their biggest expense, while fresh products are affordable compared to Western Europe.


Cost of accommodation in Istanbul

Accommodation is a big expense in Istanbul – though costs can range tremendously depending on location and accommodation type. 

Houses and apartments with a view of the Bosphorus are available on both the Asian and European sides of Istanbul, but housing is generally more expensive on the European side. 

When securing a lease, one to two months' rent is typically expected to serve as a deposit. Tenants might also have to pay the first month's rent in advance. Most quoted rental prices also don't include monthly maintenance and utility costs, so expats should expect some additional expenses.


Cost of goods in Istanbul

Petrol in Turkey is particularly expensive when compared to Europe and the US, as is imported alcohol and other imported goods. This includes electronic items, like cameras and computers, as well as typically Western foods like maple syrup.

Istanbul is generally cheaper than most Western countries for daily groceries, medical care and domestic help. Fresh vegetables and fruit can be bought at bazaars (weekly markets) for low prices, and the local equivalent of many Western brands will be considerably cheaper and often equally as satisfying.


Cost of transport in Istanbul

Public transport in Istanbul is highly efficient, extensive and affordable. Most expats find that they don't need a car, especially as reserved parking spaces are expensive. Despite this, the cost of buying a car is not overly costly. 


Cost of living in Istanbul

Prices may vary depending on the product and service provider. The list below is based on average prices for Istanbul in February 2020.

Accommodation (monthly rent)

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

YTL 3,000 - 4,000

Three-bedroom apartment outside of the city centre

YTL 2,000 - 2,500

One-bedroom apartment in the city centre

YTL 2,000 - 2,500

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

YTL 1,200 - 1,500

Shopping

Dozen eggs

YTL 9

Milk (1 litre)

YTL 4.70

Rice (1kg) 

YTL 8.50

Loaf of white bread

YTL 2.40

Chicken breasts (1kg)

YTL 22

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

YTL 18

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

YTL 25

Coca-Cola (330ml) 

YTL 4

Cappuccino

YTL 12

Bottle of local beer (500ml)

YTL 20

Three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two

YTL 120

Utilities/household

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

YTL 0.70

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

YTL 80

Utilities (average per month for a standard household)

YTL 400

Transportation

Taxi rate/km

YTL 3

City centre public transport fare

YTL 3

Petrol/gasoline (per litre)

YTL 7

Accommodation in Istanbul

Istanbul is a large, sprawling city and it can be overwhelming for new arrivals seeking accommodation. Most expats looking for accommodation in Istanbul tend to choose the areas on the European side of the city, although there are also plenty of housing options on the Asian side.


Types of accommodation in Istanbul 

There are numerous accommodation options in Istanbul, including apartments, houses, condominiums and luxury villas. The price of property in the city varies according to the type and quality of the residence, as well as its location, age, and whether or not it has parking facilities. 

There are options for furnished and unfurnished apartments and houses in Istanbul. Many expats choose to live in housing estates, which are increasingly common. 


Finding property in Istanbul

There are many online property portals which cater to all budgets and tastes. There are also many real estate agencies (emlak) throughout Istanbul. Some of these specialise in the expat market, which is useful in limiting language barrier issues.

Traffic congestion can be a real problem in Istanbul. Expats should, therefore, consider the proximity of their house or apartment to public transport and the distance they will have to travel to get to work. 


Renting property in Istanbul

Leases in Istanbul are usually signed for a year. A deposit equivalent to one or two months' rent is typically required to secure the property. An agency fee may also apply if going through an agent.

In order to rent property in Istanbul, expats may need to provide a number of documents, such as their passport, a letter from their employer and proof of income. Other documents may also be needed, depending on the landlord or agent.

Utilities, including water, gas and electricity, are normally included in the rental price for short-term leases. Those in long-term rentals may be expected to pay for their own utilities. This is usually dependent on the landlord and may be negotiable. 

Most landlords and estate agents may not be able to speak English and most rental agreements are written in Turkish. It’s therefore best that expats have a trusted friend or colleague who speaks Turkish to accompany them on their house hunt.

Utilities

Expats renting in Istanbul will find that the utilities for most accommodation will be pre-registered in the name of the landlord and that it is the responsibility of the tenant to settle the bill monthly.

Setting up a landline telephone is an easy process, as is buying mobile pre-paid SIM cards. However, only Turkish residents can get mobile phone contracts, unless they are provided by their company. 

Most companies will help expats arrange telephone connections. This is useful as telephone company agents might not speak English. When dialling within Istanbul, bear in mind that the prefix for the European side is 0212 and for the Asian side is 0216. This must be dialled before the number each time when calling from one side to the other.

Most housing estates and apartment blocks will have a kapıcı or doorman. In most cases, the kapıcı acts as the handyman and will collect garbage and take care of minor repairs. The drawback to this is that expats will be hard-pressed to find a kapıcı who speaks English. Most expats will need to rely on secretaries or other office staff to translate for them in their initial days in Istanbul.

Household services are widely available in Istanbul, and at a generally cheaper cost than in the West. Both Turkish and Filipino domestic cleaners are commonly available. Although Filipino domestic cleaners are more expensive, they are more likely to speak English.

Areas and suburbs in Istanbul

There are many suitable areas and suburbs in Istanbul that have appealing accommodation options for expats. Many expats live in gated apartment complexes consisting of a collection of apartment blocks, or they live in houses in suburban, gated communities, called site in Turkish. 

Factors to consider when selecting an area include proximity to work and schools, commute distance and access to basic amenities. Below is an overview of the most popular areas and suburbs in Istanbul for expats.


Central Istanbul

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Etiler, Ulus, Levent, Ortaköy 

These neighbourhoods are in the Beşiktaş district, on the European side of Istanbul. They spread out over the hills above the Bosphorus. Depending on which side a house faces, expats can find a home with amazing Bosphorus views. The area is very central and is home to many shops and restaurants. These neighbourhoods have become very popular with expats. There is a wide variety of luxury housing available, including both villas and apartments.

Nişantaşı and Teşvikiye 

Nişantaşı and Teşvikiye are located in Şişli, a fashionable shopping district in Istanbul containing several older apartment blocks, most without Bosphorus views. These neighbourhoods are also very central. Apartments are smaller with no gardens or pools, and sometimes no elevator, which is typical of most city living in Istanbul.


Bosphorus villages on the European side of Istanbul

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Bebek, Kuruçeşme, Arnavutköy, Rumelihisarı

These are the more central Bosphorus neighbourhoods. If expats want to be on the waterfront, they will need to live in apartments. These tend to be expensive, especially since they are in prime areas along the Bosphorus, which is a premium location.

Emirgan, Yeniköy, Tarabya 

Located in the Sarıyer district, these neighbourhoods are further north along the Bosphorus shore but are no less exclusive. There are large waterfront villas, pretty tree-lined streets, cafés and beautiful views. Most waterfront housing is not available for rent and, if it is, it will be very expensive. However, there are several housing complexes in the hills above the coastal road with panoramic views of the Bosphorus. 


Suburbs on the European side of Istanbul

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Kemerburgaz

Kemerburgaz is a 20- to 30-minute drive northwest of central Istanbul. Although the area has recently undergone a lot of development, it is still quiet and lush with leafy green foliage. Decent hospitals, supermarkets and shops can also be found in the area. 

There are several housing complexes and gated communities in Kemerburgaz, as well as apartments. This is an ideal location for those who want to be out of the city but who still want to be a commutable distance away.

Alkent 2000

Alkent 2000 is a large and prestigious gated community located about an hour’s drive west of central Istanbul. The estate contains its own sporting facilities, supermarket options and malls nearby. Although it is quite a commute from central Istanbul, it is close to renowned private and international schools. Generally speaking, it is a popular choice for expats with school-going children, but otherwise, it can leave expats feeling fairly isolated.

Zekeriyaköy 

Zekeriyaköy is further north at the edge of the Belgrade Forest and near to the shores of the Black Sea. There are large villas with gardens and pools available here, as well as some schools. Its drawback is that it is quite far out of town – and while there are basic amenities available in Zekeriyaköy, one has to travel a fair distance for most other things, including petrol.


Asian side of Istanbul

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Most expats tend to live on the European side, but there is also a thriving expat community on the Asian side of Istanbul. There are many apartments and apartment complexes and a number of them are set among stunning greenery overlooking the Bosphorus.

Travel from Europe to Asia is easy enough – options include travelling either by ferry, under the Bosphorus on the metro system or over bridges. Traffic on the bridges can sometimes be highly congested, especially during rush hour.

Central Kadıköy 

Central Kadıköy is a vibrant and cosmopolitan area which also serves as a transport hub for the Asian side of Istanbul. As the area is located on the Sea of Marmara, expats can find a great deal of sea-facing apartments. Despite being home to numerous bars and restaurants, many expats appreciate how much more tranquil Kadıköy feels when compared to the European side of Istanbul.   

Healthcare in Istanbul

Istanbul has world-class private medical care that is often cheaper than private care in Europe and the United States. In comparison, the public healthcare system is overcrowded and substandard.

There are more private than public hospitals in the city. Most expats living in Istanbul access healthcare through private facilities. As such, new arrivals should ensure that they have private health insurance.

Hospitals generally stick to their appointment times. One rarely needs to wait very long to see a doctor, even in the emergency room. Many doctors can speak excellent English, and some have even been trained and have worked abroad.

There are plenty of pharmacies in Istanbul. Most neighbourhoods have at least one pharmacy that is open 24/7, so expats should have easy access to essential medication.

Below is a list of some of the most prominent hospitals in Istanbul.


Hospitals in Istanbul

Acibadem International Hospital

Website: www.acibadem.com.tr
Address: Istanbul Cad. 82, Yeşilköy  

American Hospital (Amerikan Hastanesi)

Website: www.amerikanhastanesi.com.tr
Address: Güzelbahçe Sok 20, Nişantaşı 

Florence Nightingale Hastanaleri

Website: www.florence.com.tr
Address: Abide-i Hurriyet Cad. 166, Şişli

Memorial Hospital Sisli

Website: www.memorial.com.tr
Address: Piyalepaşa Bulvarı, Okmeydanı, Şişli

Education and Schools in Istanbul

Primary and secondary education in Istanbul is compulsory for all children from the age of six. Expat children are allowed to attend public schools in Istanbul for free. However, most expat parents choose to send their children to international schools as the quality of public schooling varies and Turkish is the language of instruction.


Public schools in Istanbul

Education in Turkey is compulsory for all children from primary through to secondary school. Primary and secondary education in public schools is free to all children, including Turkish nationals and foreigners. The standard of education varies across Turkey. 

Public schools in larger cities struggle with overcrowding. In Istanbul, classes of between 50 and 60 students isn't uncommon. Another problem faced with public schools in Istanbul is the fact that Turkish is the language of instruction at all schools. This may make it almost impossible for older expat children, who don't already know the language, to adapt to the public schooling system. Most expat parents choose to send their children to a private or international school in Istanbul.


International schools in Istanbul

International schools in Istanbul cater to various foreign nationalities. They offer a variety of international curricula and foreign-language instruction. Most international schools in Istanbul offer students the opportunity to learn Turkish, while also organising field trips and cultural activities to assist children in assimilating into Turkish culture and society.

School fees in Istanbul are known to be exorbitant. Parents will find that these fees are accompanied by various additional expenses such as school uniforms, textbooks, extra-curricular activities and transport. Parents, therefore, need to budget carefully.

If moving to Istanbul as part of a corporate relocation, expats should factor schooling costs into their contract negotiations before moving to Turkey. Expats also shouldn't assume this allowance will be enough to cover the full tuition cost of a top school. So expats should make sure their salary is enough to cover the extra costs. 

Enrollment at international schools in Istanbul can be limited. It's essential to apply as soon as possible, especially if one's child is of primary school age. Most schools will post-admission requirements and application procedures on their websites. In many cases, it's possible to begin the application process from abroad. This should be a priority for expat parents when planning the move to Turkey.

International Schools in Istanbul

Since public schools in Istanbul use Turkish as the language of tuition, most expat parents will choose to send their children to an international school instead. These schools follow a variety of curricula from various nations. Expat parents are bound to find a school that fits their child's needs.

Below is a list of the most prominent international schools in the city:


International schools in Istanbul

British International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: English National Curriculum, IGCSE and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 2.5 to 18
Websitewww.bis.k12.tr

Eurosun Exclusive International Pre-School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate and Montessori
Ages: 2 to 6
Websitewww.eurosun.com.tr

Istanbul International Community School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 3 to 18
Websitewww.iics.k12.tr

Istanbul International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: English National Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE and A-levels
Ages: 3 to 18
Website: www.istanbulint.com

Keystone International School

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: Canadian
Ages: 2 to 18
Website: www.keystoneschools.com.tr

Tarabya British Schools 

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: English National Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE, A-levels, and Turkish
Ages: 3 to 19
Websitewww.tarabyabritishschools.com

Lifestyle in Istanbul

Istanbul offers expats a wonderful lifestyle that is exotic yet familiar and full of comforts, surprises and delights. The Turkish metropolis is a culturally fascinating city for expats to relocate to. It features diverse and unique leisure and lifestyle options for just about anyone. Expats can indulge in Ottoman restaurants, an abundance of bazaars and shopping opportunities, as well as a vibrant nightlife, world-class sporting facilities and Istanbul's famed Turkish baths.


Shopping in Istanbul

New arrivals will find a shopping landscape characterised by a hodgepodge of modern, antique, unique and kitsch buys.

The Grand Bazaar is an excellent starting point. Other famous shopping markets include the Egyptian Market, also known as the Spice Bazaar, and the Beyazıt Square flea market, which can both be treasure-troves when it comes to bargains.

Otherwise, Nuruosmaniye Caddesi is known for its exquisite jewellery, while its adjacent side streets are home to many art boutiques and independent stores.


Eating out in Istanbul

Turkish cuisine combines an amazing variety of colours and bold flavours. It flaunts Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, Western and Balkan influences. The cuisine varies from region to region depending on the produce available.

Eating out in Turkey is a social event. Families and friends often come together over a meal. Meals at local restaurants tend to offer good value. Expats can also find good deals in establishments that don't serve alcohol. However, as in many other cities, restaurant prices in Istanbul increase significantly in the main tourist areas.

In Turkey, breakfast is the main meal of the day. A typical breakfast in Turkey typically consists of fresh bread, cheese, cold meats, yoghurt, honey, olives, eggs and fruit. Expats who are coffee lovers should also enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee. Other popular food items are pede, kebabs, and baklava.


Nightlife in Istanbul

There are many bars and nightclubs in Istanbul. The more distinctive spots are the open-air clubs near the Bosphorus which are only open in the summer. With everything from belly dancers to cutting-edge techno beats, those who enjoy a good party will be thrilled to discover Istanbul’s dynamic nightlife as trendy clubs, bars and cocktail lounges abound.


Culture and concerts in Istanbul

Expats can indulge in a wide variety of cultural activities in Istanbul. The city offers a comprehensive programme of concerts, ballet and opera. There are also concerts held at the time-worn Hagia Irene, which is a Byzantine church that has been reopened for cultural events.

Rock bands occasionally visit Istanbul and there are regular jazz performances at clubs. There is, of course, no lack of Turkish culture, including Turkish popular music and whirling dervish shows.


Cinemas in Istanbul

Istanbul has a number of cinemas, which are found mostly in the malls. The latest English films are shown with only a slight delay from their original release dates. All films are shown in their original language with Turkish subtitles.


Sports and leisure in Istanbul

The city presents many options for leisure and sporting activities. Football is enormously popular in Turkey and Istanbul hosts Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray, fierce rivals and the country's most celebrated football clubs.

In terms of exercise, there are many swimming pools and tennis courts around the city and gyms are widely available. There are also several golf and country clubs for expats to join.

Weekend Breaks in Istanbul

New arrivals will find that their first few months in Istanbul will fly by, especially as they're caught up in discovering the city's intricacies. However, after a while, the thrill of discovery can subside as newcomers settle into “real life” and find themselves needing to escape from the big city.

Here are some options for weekend adventures, most of which are only a few hours' drive away from Istanbul.

Edirne

Edirne is a two-hour drive to the west of Istanbul, close to the border with Greece and Bulgaria. The city can be visited for a day trip or weekend getaway from Istanbul. It was the capital of the early Ottoman Empire and has some wonderful Ottoman architecture and mosques. The easiest way to reach Edirne from Istanbul is to take a bus, although there are daily trains from Istanbul.

Gallipoli and Troy

Gallipoli is an elongated peninsula stretching from the Thracian mainland, between the Gulf of Saros and the Dardanelles. It is about a four-hour drive southwest of Istanbul. There are several coach tours which travel directly from Istanbul. Thousands of people come here on Anzac Day to pay their respects and visit the First World War battlefields and memorials. Nearby is the ancient city of Troy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and national park, where visitors can see a replica of the Trojan horse.

Polonezköy 

Polonezköy means "Polish village", which is exactly what this once was. It is a thickly forested area on the eastern side of Istanbul. Polonezköy makes a good day trip, especially in the summer. There are numerous restaurants in the village, some serving traditional Polish meals. There are also a few guesthouses and hotels for those wishing to make a weekend of it.

Sapanca Lake

Sapanca Lake (Sapanca Gölü) is situated east of Istanbul. It offers beautiful scenery a couple of hours’ drive from the Asian side. The area has become popular for day trips and weekend breaks from Istanbul. 

Skiing in Kartepe

The closest ski slope to Istanbul is Kartepe. It is only a couple of hours' drive away and makes for an ideal day trip. It is a small slope however and serious skiers might feel dissatisfied. It also gets crowded at weekends. For more serious skiing, Uludağ is a good option, but this is further east and might necessitate a two- or three-day trip at least.

Bursa and Iznik

Bursa is a four-hour bus ride from Istanbul. It's about 12.5 miles (20km) inland from the Sea of Marmara. The city was the first capital city of the Ottoman Empire. The fastest way to get to Bursa from Istanbul is by boat. The historical city of Iznik, located on the eastern shore of Lake Iznik, is nearby. This region offers an ideal two- or three-day trip from Istanbul. Bursa has many examples of stunning Ottoman architecture, particularly the Grand Mosque, while Iznik is famous for its glazed tiles.

The Princes' Islands (Adaları)

The Princes' Islands are a collection of islands in the Sea of Marmara just to the southeast of Istanbul. They are a short ferry trip away from Istanbul. They can easily be visited either for a day-trip or as a weekend getaway. Cycling around the island is popular, as is meandering through the island's quaint, villa-lined roads.   

Kids and Family in Istanbul

The Turkish are generally known to be friendly towards children. Expats moving to Istanbul with kids will find many fun activities and places to visit, including museums, science and technology centres and the Dolphinarium. There are also several popular parks, beach resorts and nearby islands that are ideal for family outings.

That being said, Istanbul is not very accommodating to those with small children. The streets are narrow, traffic is a constant problem, and most sidewalks don’t have ramps for strollers.


Entertainment for kids in Istanbul

Istanbul Dolphinarium

The Dolphinarium is located on the shores of the Golden Horn of Istanbul. It's a wonderful outing for the family that offers shows with dolphins, seals and whales. There are six pools and a large show pool with capacity for 1,000 spectators. For those over 10 years old, there is also the chance to swim with the dolphins.

Feshane Children’s Entertainment Park 

The Feshane Children’s Entertainment Park is located within the International Fair Centre in the Feshane area of Istanbul. It’s an open-air park that's been designed especially for children, with some rides, games and activities to keep them busy. There's also a nearby food market for parents to enjoy.

Ferry trip to the Princes' Islands

A popular day trip to do with kids in Istanbul is to take a ferry trip to one of the Princes' Islands, located on the Anatolian side of Istanbul. Cars are banned on the islands, so there are lots of open spaces for the children to run freely. Children and parents alike can also enjoy horse and carriage rides, take a walk or hire a bicycle to explore one of the islands.


Kid-friendly museums in Istanbul

The Istanbul Toy museum

The Istanbul Toy Museum, situated in a wooden mansion in the Götzepe neighbourhood on the Asian side of Istanbul, is a popular attraction for both parents and children. The museum was founded by well-known Turkish poet, Sunay Akin. It houses a collection of over 4,000 toys from around the world.

Miniatürk 

Miniatürk is an open-air museum with tiny replicas of historic Turkish structures and monuments. The museum is a fun and educational place for a family outing and is open all year round. The park also features a life-sized chessboard, labyrinth and a playground for children to enjoy. Miniatürk is situated on the northeastern shore of the Golden Horn. 

Rahmi M Koç Museum

Also located on the Golden Horn of Istanbul, the Rahmi M Koç Museum is an industrial museum dedicated to the history of transport, industry and communications. Kids will have fun climbing into vintage cars and the cockpit of an aeroplane. They can also dabble in real-life scientific experiments. 

Istanbul Modern

The Istanbul Modern, situated in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul, houses permanent and temporary exhibitions of contemporary art. The museum has an interactive section where children aged between six and 12 can have fun while learning about art.

See and Do in Istanbul

Istanbul is a living, breathing museum. As a fascinating and historic city, Istanbul offers much to see and do for new arrivals. Expats will have a great time finding their way around, soaking up the culture and learning more about their new home.

Although there is an uncountable number of interesting sites all over Istanbul, the sites listed here are some of the most famous. 


Attractions in Istanbul

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)

Turkey’s most iconic mosque, the Blue Mosque, is one of the most distinguishable features of Istanbul’s skyline. It's one of the finest examples of Ottoman architecture. The Blue Mosque is still in use today.

Topkapı Palace Museum

Boasting spectacular views over the Bosphorus River and the Golden Horn, Topkapı Palace Museum was the seat of the Ottoman Empire for almost 400 years and home to nearly 3,000 people. Take a tour of the apartments, harem terraces and the royal bedchamber. They all provide a glimpse into Istanbul’s fascinating past and the opulence of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire.

Hagia Sophia

Famed for its incredible size and Byzantine architecture, the Hagia Sophia is one of Istanbul’s most prominent attractions. In the 6th century, it was commissioned as a cathedral. It was one of Christianity’s most important churches for over 900 years before it was conquered in the 15th century by Mehmet II and turned into a mosque. Since 1935 the building has functioned as a museum. 

Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı)

Expats will love discovering the oldest and largest covered bazaar in the world when they come to Kapalıçarşı. Visitors can wind their way around the 65 streets, brimming with more than 4,000 shops, teahouses, hamams (Turkish baths), storehouses, mosques and fountains.

Turkish and Islamic Art Museum

The Turkish and Islamic Art Museum is housed in what used to be the 16th-century palace of the Grand Vizier, Ibrahim Pasha. It features 40,000 examples of Selçuk, Mamluk and Ottoman Turkish art, as well as one of the richest and oldest collections of prayer rugs, carpets and kilims in the world.

Sunken Palace (Basilica Cistern)

Built around 532 AD by Constantinople the Great, the Sunken Palace is a subterranean cavern which is held up by 336 columns. It famously features in the James Bond film From Russia with Love. Featuring art and intricate designs on the columns themselves, approximately two million visitors a year flock to cross the walkways of the cavern.

Galata Tower

Providing the best 360-degree panoramic view across the old town of Istanbul, the Galata Tower was originally erected in the 14th century as a bastion for the walls of the Galata colony. Nowadays, expats are sure to enjoy visiting the restaurant nestled at the foot of the tower. 

Dolmabahçe Palace

The Dolmabahçe Palace was the last residence of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire and is one of the most glamorous palaces in the world. It has been converted into a museum. Now locals and tourists alike can wander through and admire the sultans of the past.

What's On in Istanbul

Istanbul is home to some great annual events that have put the city on the map. With the great climate and varying landscape, it makes sense that many of the city's major events take place outside. Religion also plays a major role in Istanbul. Seeing as the majority of the city's inhabitants are Muslim, this religion's festivals are widely celebrated annually. 

Here's a selection of popular annual events that take place in the city. 


Annual events in Istanbul

Istanbul Tulip Festival (April)

To celebrate the tulip, Istanbul's enduring symbol, about 30 million bulbs are planted annually. This turns the city's parks into rich tapestries of colour. These flowers generally bloom in April and can best be seen in the Yıldız, Göztepe, Emirgan and Gülhane parks, as well as in Sultanahmet Square

International Istanbul Music Festival (June/July)

The Istanbul Music Festival showcases opera, ballet, jazz, traditional and classical music. The festival has seen some world-renowned performers and artists over the years and promises a fabulous extravaganza each year.

The Bosphorus Cross-Continental Swim (July)

Expats living in Istanbul should head down to the Bosphorus Strait to cheer on the participants in the annual Bosphorus Swim. This even sees brave swimmers navigating their way across the 4.3 miles (7km) strait between Kanlıca on the Asian side and Kuruçeşme on the European side.

Istanbul Marathon (November)

The Istanbul Marathon is a major running event in Istanbul which includes a marathon, a competitive 9.3 mile (15km) race and a 4.9 mile (8km) fun run. The events start on the Asian side of the city, close to the Bosphorus Bridge, with the marathon and 15km race ending in the Sultanahmet district on the European side. The fun run finishing in Dolmabahçe.


Important Muslim festivals in Istanbul

Most of Turkey’s public holidays are secular in nature. However, Turkey also celebrates the two major Islamic festivals – the first is called Şeker Bayram (literally translated as Festival of Sugar) and the second called Kurban Bayram (Festival of Sacrifice). Şeker Bayram is celebrated after the month of Ramazan (Ramadan), where Muslims fast during the day and only eat after sunset.

Traditionally during the month of Ramazan, drummers walk the street before sunrise to wake up the observant so that they can have breakfast before sunrise. However, if living in an apartment complex, expats are unlikely to be disturbed by the noisy beat below. Iftar is the meal that is taken to break the fast after sunset. The roads are packed in the hour before Iftar with people making their way home for the evening meal.

When Şeker Bayram falls in winter, schools are let off early so that the rush-hour traffic can be avoided. On the first day of Şeker Bayram, locals go to each other's houses to distribute sweets and gifts.

Kurban Bayram is when most locals pay to have a goat sacrificed and sometimes distribute the meat to charity. Both of these holidays are floating holidays and change from year to year. Government departments, banks, schools and offices are normally closed for several days during these periods, although most retail business will only close on the first day of the holiday.

It is customary to give one's maid, driver, gardener, doorman and any other regular staff a gift at Şeker Bayram. This can either be in the form of money or food. All supermarkets have “Ramzan Packets” for sale, which are essentially food hampers. 

Getting Around in Istanbul

Getting around Istanbul is relatively easy regardless of whether expats decide to use their own transportation or take public transport. Many expats living in Istanbul's outlying suburbs do have their own cars. However, for those living fairly centrally, it is often more efficient and economical to utilise the city's many public transport options.


Public transport in Istanbul

Istanbul has an extensive public transport system, with many modes of transport operating within an integrated system. Those who plan on using public transport regularly should purchase an Istanbulkart. This electronic chip card can be reloaded and used to travel on most modes of public transport in Istanbul.

Buses

Buses in Istanbul are cheap and reliable. However, they can be very crowded. Bus routes run throughout the city and travel less frequently to the suburban areas. 

Metro

Istanbul's metro is excellent, clean and modern. However, it covers a limited area and mainly services the city centre. The Marmaray metro system runs beneath the Bosphorus, joining the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. 

Istanbul also boasts tram and funicular lines that connect various parts of the city.

Dolmuş

These are minibuses that stop to pick up and drop off passengers anywhere on pre-established routes. There are no dolmuş stops – rather the minibuses stop to pick up passengers wherever it is flagged down. It stops to drop off passengers whenever one asks the driver to stop. These are quicker and can be more flexible than regular buses.

Ferries

There are regular ferry services in Istanbul and they offer a cheap and relaxing way to cross the Bosphorus.


Taxis in Istanbul

Taxis are metered. They are fairly reasonably priced. As anywhere in the world, the costs add up if using taxis regularly. Another drawback of the cabs is that the drivers generally don't speak English. It's best to write down the address in advance and show it to the driver.

Alternatively, taxi services can be requested through local rideshare apps such as BiTaksi. Many expats prefer using these apps as it allows them to set their route and determine fare estimates without having to speak to taxi drivers. 

Water taxi

Water taxis in Istanbul serve as an on-call boat taxi service. The fare is calculated according to the distance travelled, rather than per person.


Driving in Istanbul

Istanbul has a good network of highways but it also has old, narrow and extremely steep streets. Turks tend to drive fast on highways and do not always stick to road rules, so expats should be alert.

By and large, the traffic in Istanbul is well regulated and fairly disciplined. Parking is not a huge problem compared to other major metropolises as there are many ‘Pay and Park’ areas available.

European and US licences are valid for driving in Turkey. However, it is essential to get a notarised Turkish translation of the licence when arriving and to keep both the original and the translated copy available at all times when driving.