Hystorically known as Byzantium and Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul is the most populous city in Turkey. It has a rich history and offers unforgettable experiences.

The city boasts with amazing hotels and hostels, and top tourists desinations, such as the Topkapi Palace and Aya Sofya Museum. You’ll also miss out if you don’t add the Bosphorus Ferry trip and a shopping trip the Bazaar district to the top of your list.

Istanbul is located in north-western Turkey in the Marmara Region, and spans approximately 5,300 square kilometers. Even though there are no primary urban parks, the city has several “green areas” such as the Gülhane and Yıldız Parks.

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Istanbul is without a doubt one of the greatest cities in the world, and thanks to Travelstart, you can book a return ticket for under R9,000.

The city’s biggest tourist magnets are the historic centre, was is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as the city’s natural harbour and the cultural hub.

The Karaköy neighbourhood is a must-visit location as well. The area is described as “an exhilarating and contradictory neighbourhood within Beyoğlu where tradesmen’s workshops share narrow streets with chic cafes and galleries.” It’s also the location of the famous Umbrella Street.

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If you need some help navigating around, then you’ve come to the right place.

Read: Zambia: 12 pictures that will make you want to visit right now

What to do in Istanbul and when to go

Best time to visit Istanbul

December to February are wet months, so be sure to pack weather-appropriate and don’t forget an umbrella or rain coat. While it may not sound ideal to most travellers, December is the best time if you’re travelling on a budget.

It is the cheapest time of the year, and you will be able to visit the traditional Hamman, or Turkish bath.

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Weather-wise, the ideal times to travel would be between March and May, and again between September to November. The streets also won’t be too crowded and you can enjoy all the sight-seeing wonders relatively peacefully.

June through to August is peak season and the streets will be crowded and prices will skyrocket, so avoid these months if you have budget to stick to.

Read: Mauritius: 15 pictures that will make you want to visit right now

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What to do in Istanbul

Visit the Blue Mosque

Pictured above, the Blue Mosque is a distinct landmark, founded in 1616 and is known for it’s collection of domes. According to historical record, the Sultan Ahmet I designed the structure as a project to rival a former church – now turned museum – the Byzantine Hagia Sofia.

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Visit the Topkapi Palace

One of Istanbul’s greatest gems, the palace is a statement of Turkish progress from “a once feudal society to a great empire,” according to Viator. The palace served over four centuries of Sultans, and the remainder of the palace premises contains courtyards, bathhouses, harems, an armory and imperial halls.

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Visit the Bosphorus, or Istanbul Strait

A border between Europe and Asia, it is also one of the most beautiful sites in Turkey. You’ll will be treated to scenic greenery, beautiful views of palaces and parks, as well as the waterfront.

The ferry trips are not the cheapest around, but it’s well worth it to spend a little bit extra for this experience. It definitely is a hidden gem.

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Read: Travel safety: Keep your data safe whilst abroad

Visit the Grand Bazaar

The mother of all markets contains a treasure trove of gifts, souvenirs, and food that you simply cannot skip. The bazaar stretches along 60 domed alleys and streets, with more than 5,000 stallholders selling their wares. Everything from carpets to jewelry, lanterns, and outfits. It would be near impossible to visit all the stalls.

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The Grand Bazaar is a few streets back from the waterfront in Sultanahmet. It’s best reached from Divan Yolu, Sultanahmet’s main thoroughfare. It takes a minute for your eyes to adjust to this Arabian Nights visual feast of glimmering Turkish lights, brightly colored rugs and flickering candles.

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Visa requirements for South Africans

South African passport holders are required to have a visa to enter Turkey. One month multiple entry visas can be obtained at the Turkish border gates and official passport holders are exempted from visa for their travels up to 30 days.

Be sure to confirm with the Embassy of Turkey in Pretoria before booking your trips, as visa requirements are prone to change. You can reach them via phone on 012 342 6053, or via email embassy.pretoria@mfa.gov.tr. The embassy is situated on 573 Fehrsen St, Nieuw Muckleneuk, Pretoria.

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Holiday accommodation in Istanbul

Accommodation rates drop significantly this time of the year. A week’s stay at the Hippodrome Hotel will cost less than R4,200 for two adults and breakfast included! Take at look at what Booking.com has to offer, there are cheaper options as well.

If luxury is what you’re after, consider booking in at the Radisson Blu Hotel, where a week’s stay will cost approximately R13,000. Alternatively, check in at the Istanbul Dora Hotel for only R4,200 for a six-day stay.

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