Yes, there are direct flights regularly scheduled from London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham airports. These direct flights are predominantly operated by Turkish Airways, but one direct British Airways flight is operated out of Heathrow airport. These direct flights are about 4 hours long.
Keeping in mind that the temperature range to explore any city and enjoy the sun is from 15°C to 22°C, the ideal time to come to Istanbul is between April and June or, perhaps come to the city between September and November, later in the year. The mild Turkish sun, the bustling bazaars and the Bosporus are in a different trance in these months. With many festivals also falling into the above mentioned time span, a traveller can soak up all the Turkish culture in the best climate.
There are three international airports in Istanbul. The details of these facilities are provided below.
- The Istanbul New Airport (IST) is the biggest airport in the world. The airport became operational in October 2018 and has a capacity of handling 150 million passengers annually. The new airport is 40 kilometres from the historic area of Istanbul. The airport has its own five-star hotel, 6 large runways and a very modern lounge. In comparison, all six London based airports collectively handle 150 million passengers every year but this new airport can handle the same traffic just on its own. There are plans to expand its services for another 50 million passengers in the future.
- Istanbul Ataturk Airport (ISL) was the busiest international airport serving the city of Istanbul before the new airport was opened. The establishment of the new airport has not diminished the importance of Ataturk Airport and many international airlines still choose to land their aeroplanes at this airport, which is closer to the city centre. The airport is only 24 kilometres from Old Istanbul and handled 63.7 million passengers in 2017.
- Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW) is the only airport in Istanbul that is located on the Asian side of the city. The airport is 35 kilometres from central Istanbul and it handled 32 million passengers in 2017. The airport is an award-winning institution that has boosted tourism and travel industry in Turkey and has among the busiest runways in the world.
A British citizen has to apply for an e-visa before entering Turkey. The e-visa can be purchased from the following website for USD$ 20, and the traveller can use a debit or credit card to get one. Please visit the Turkish government’s official website https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/apply/ to apply for your e-visa and avoid using any phoney overpriced websites. The e-visa is a 90-day multiple entry visa for tourists coming to Turkey. Please keep a hard copy of the e-visa with you in case there is a computer failure at the airport.
The cheapest time to visit Istanbul is the months of December and January. Being a predominantly Islamic country, the prices do not skyrocket greatly when Christmas arrives, as is the case in most European countries. Moreover, Istanbul gets cold enough that it snows at least 10 days in December. Coming to Istanbul and spending Christmas in the city of the Blue Mosque can make you feel like a true global citizen and it would be less taxing on your pocket as well.
Napoleon Bonaparte was famous to have said that, had the entire world been one country, Istanbul would have been its capital. Istanbul is strategically located right on the narrow strip of land between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, connecting Asia to Europe. Istanbul was named by the Ottoman Sultans but before that, it was known as Constantinople to the Romans and Byzantium to the Greeks.
- The Hagia Sofia was an Orthodox Basilica in the Byzantine Empire but upon the conquest of Constantinople, it was converted into a mosque. With the secularization of Turkey, the Hagia Sofia was reopened as a museum in 1935. The Hagia is a relic of human civilization and carries the legacies of cultures that existed for the last 2000 years. The building is said to have changed the rules of architecture at the time. It is somewhat surreal to see the golden illustration of Jesus and Mary with the inscriptions of the Holy Quran in the same building. The building’s architecture and artistry helped define Muslim architecture in the Middle East and India.
- The Blue Mosque or the Sultan Ahmed Mosques is not two kilometres away from the Hagia Sofia. The mosque was constructed in 1606 by the Ottomans. The Mosque’s architecture is amazing and is clearly inspired by the Hagia Sofia. Two colours seem to be used primarily in the entire mosque’s design: Turquoise blue and gold. The central dome, five primary domes and eight secondary domes of the mosque bubble above the structure. The ceiling of the domes is adorned with Iznik tiles and extracts of the Quran are painted in gold on the rim of the main dome. Six pencil minarets, an ablution area and a grand courtyard add to the beauty of the structure.
- The Dolmabace Palace in Istanbul was the residence of the Ottoman Sultans and President Ataturk in his final years. The Dolmabace Palace is a combination of Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassical and traditional Turkish architecture. It also houses the largest collection of Baccarat crystal and Bohemian Chandeliers in the world. The most striking features of the palace include the Baccarat crystal staircase, 19th-century Hereke carpets and the use of Egyptian alabaster in the Sultan’s harem. 15 kilograms of pure gold were used to gild the roofs of the palace’s grand rooms. It is estimated that had the palace been built today, it would have cost USD$ 1.5 billion to create this architectural marvel.
Apart from celebrating Christmas and many Islamic Festivals, the Turkish people living in Istanbul love to celebrate many festivals that stem out of their rich history but have been westernized over time. The Istanbul Film Festival in April brings all the filmmakers and actors of Turkey to Istanbul. April and May are also the months in which the Istanbul Tulip Festival is carried out. The tulip has been long associated with the Ottoman Turkish culture and it is still celebrated during this festival. Many types of the tulips have been named after the ancient saints and philosophers of Turkey. The Conquest Celebrations begin in the last week of the May. This festival celebrates the Fall of Constantinople in May 1453 at the hands of the Seljuk Ottomans. The real party begins at the Istanbul International Music Festival when numerous musicians and bands come to the city to showcase their talent. In July there is Istanbul’s Shopping Festival, where the grand bazaars and the modern malls sell different items at discounted prices.
Istanbul is a great city to get around and explore. Interestingly, your Turkish adventure does not need a taxi or running shoes since the city has developed extensive transport systems. The vast bus network is among the most efficient in Europe and can get you from place to place cheaply. There is a highspeed Metrobus line that zooms through the city. A dozen tramways crisscross the streets of Istanbul and an underground rapid transit system with eight lines connects 82 stations aids the tourist to get from one landmark to the next. So, buy yourself an Istanbulkart and use this magnetic card to purchase tickets to any mode of transportation available in the city.
Being on the cusp of two continents, Istanbul has always been greeting guests from far and wide. There are many great five-star luxury hotels in Istanbul that could make your wishes come true.
- Hilton Istanbul Bosphorus
- Elite World Business
- Swissotel The Bosphorus
- Tomtom Suites
- InterContinental Istanbul