After four glorious nights in the Turkish capital, one thing that both of us agreed on was that we will be back and hopefully sooner rather than later. Our time in Istanbul far exceeded our expectations; it is a city that is exciting to visit and navigate with a beautiful blend of modern amenities combined with ancient treasures. On top of the amazing sites, beautiful architecture, and rich history, Istanbul also had welcoming people who were quick to offer help to us if the need arose.
Arriving at Istanbul’s airport on Tuesday evening ended up being good timing as the airport was not at all busy. Though we had read horror stories of long immigration queues we breezed right through passport control in about 5 minutes flat. We quickly headed to the exit (side note, Ataturk airport is huge) and got in line for the Havataş bus which offered direct service to Taskim Square in the city center. This is the most efficient and cost-effective method to get to city center as it costs 11 TL per person and takes about 30 minutes direct to Taksim depending on traffic. Taxis will cost about 50 TL and the metro would be about 5 TL but takes about an hour and includes a station change. As in most cities, children ride all forms of public transportation for free so we only had to worry about the two of us. For the remainder of the trip we purchased a reloadable “Istanbulkart” which allows you to load money onto the card and scan it for each trip. The card is good on the subway, bus system, ferries, streetcars, trams, and funicular and each time we used one of this route we scanned the card twice (once for each of us), no need to buy two cards and children ride free.
The public transportation system in Istanbul is fantastic and allowed us easy access to every part of the city. Outside of our initial use of the Havatas bus from the airport, we used the public transportation system exclusively and found it to be efficient, clean, and pleasant the entire trip. The maps are easy to figure out even though everything is labeled in Turkish. The announcements on the train are in both Turkish and English, and every station, car, and tram we road was labeled with maps and sometimes digital maps which showed progress along your given line. The other nice thing about public transportation is that it allows you to travel like the locals and save money over overpriced and sometimes shady Istanbul cab drivers. We had no problems taking our stroller everywhere as there were elevators available everywhere to go up and down to the stations. Our family of 3 rode public transportation for 4.5 days everywhere in the city and we spent a total of 50 Turkish Lira (approx $17 USD). This is a great deal — again, this would have been the fare for a one-way cab from the airport to our hotel.
Istanbul in December can be very difficult weather wise but we were incredibly fortunate as we only had a few rain drops for about 30 minutes one morning. The rest of the time it was cool but dry, and in no way did the weather interfere with our plans. The temperature stayed between 42-52 degrees the whole time and it was perfect weather for exploring the city. The other bonus was that since it was off-season the city was not at all crowded with tourists. We did not have to wait in any lines or battle any groups at the popular tourist sites and locations. Early December is not exactly an easy time for most people to take a trip with the holidays so close, we were fortunate that Tony’s school break allowed for the timing of this and we loved every part of our trip.