Rick Steves Istanbul

With Ephesus & Cappadocia


By Lale Surmen Aran

By Tankut Aran

Formats and Prices




$24.99 CAD



  1. Trade Paperback $19.99 $24.99 CAD
  2. ebook $14.99 $19.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around December 22, 2020. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Walk in the footsteps of emperors and sultans, marvel at some of the greatest monuments on earth, and experience the wonders of East and West with Rick Steves! Inside Rick Steves Istanbul you'll find:
  • Comprehensive coverage for spending a week or more exploring Istanbul
  • Top sights and hidden gems, from the world's largest domed churches and monumental mosques to relaxing Turkish baths
  • How to connect with local culture: Haggle with merchants in the lively Grand Bazaar, shop along sophisticated avenues, and watch whirling dervishes in action
  • Beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps
  • The best places to eat, sleep, and relax
  • Self-guided walking tours of lively neighborhoods and incredible museums
  • Detailed neighborhood maps for exploring on the go
  • Strategic advice from trusted Rick Steves Europe tour guides Lale and Tankut Aran on how to get the most out of your time and money, with rankings of their must-see favorites
  • Useful resources including a packing list, a Turkish phrase book, a historical overview, and recommended reading
  • Updated to reflect changes that occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic up to the date of publication
  • Over 400 bible-thin pages include everything worth seeing without weighing you down
  • Complete, up-to-date information on Istanbul's neighborhoods, plus a cruise along the Bosphorus Strait
Make the most of every day and every dollar with Rick Steves Istanbul.


Welcome to Rick Steves’ Europe

Travel is intensified living—maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It’s recess, and we need it.

In my 20s, I finished several European trips in a row with a visit to Istanbul. I didn’t plan to...it was the subconscious cherry on top of every adventure. I’ve been sharing my love of travel ever since—through my bus tours, public television and radio shows, and travel guidebooks. And I remain passionate about how Istanbul offers an accessible, enriching experience in the Muslim world.

Istanbul is a complex destination, and you deserve the expertise of locals to guide you. To co-author this book, I partnered with talented tour guides (and Istanbul residents) Lale Surmen Aran and Tankut Aran. Lale and Tankut wrote the first edition, my team of guidebook researchers and editors (including Cameron Hewitt and Gene Openshaw) shaped it, and I personally traveled with their work, adding my own perspective.

This book offers you a balanced mix of Istanbul’s top sights and lesser-known gems. And its self-guided museum tours and neighborhood walks provide insight into Istanbul’s vibrant history and today’s living, breathing culture.

Lale, Tankut, and I advocate traveling simply and smartly. Take advantage of our money- and time-saving tips. Try local, characteristic alternatives to expensive hotels and restaurants. In many ways, spending more money only builds a higher wall between you and what you traveled so far to see.

We visit Istanbul to experience it—to become temporary locals. Thoughtful travel engages us with the world, as we learn to appreciate other cultures and new ways to measure quality of life.

Güle güle! Happy travels!


Istanbul by Neighborhood


Planning and Budgeting




Travel Smart

Istanbul is one of the world’s great cities, period. For millennia, it’s been at the crossroads of civilizations, where Europe meets Asia. Few places on earth have seen more history than this sprawling metropolis on the Bosphorus.

As you wander this colorful, dynamic city—where fishermen sell sandwiches from bobbing boats, shops offer saffron-hued mounds of spices, and sturdy trams and ferries carry thousands of people daily—it can be easy to forget that you’re walking in the footsteps of Roman emperors and Ottoman sultans.

Over the centuries, Istanbul served as the capital of two grand empires: first as Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire (AD 313-1453), and then as Istanbul, the renamed capital of the conquering Ottoman Empire (until Ankara was made the capital of modern Turkey in 1923).

In the lively Old Town, monuments to those empires still stand and impress. Hagia Sophia, the greatest Byzantine church, became the Ottomans’ most important mosque. The multidomed Blue Mosque, with its soaring interior, is among the world’s most beautiful. The colorfully tiled Topkapı Palace was home to the ruling sultans and their harems.

Turkey today is a proud republic. While it’s no longer the capital, Istanbul is still the country’s historical, cultural, and financial center. You’ll see the nation’s red flags flying everywhere.

A focus of “East meets West” trade since ancient times, Istanbul is famous for its bustling markets. The biggest is the world’s oldest mall, the Grand Bazaar, a sprawling warren of shops with eager merchants selling jewelry, housewares, sandals, clothing, and Turkish carpets. Bargaining and banter go hand in hand, and English is the common language.

A vendor displays a scarf at the Grand Bazaar; a man washes before prayers at a mosque.

Istanbul literally links Europe and Asia, with several bridges and tunnels crossing the Bosphorus Strait. To sail between two continents, take a relaxing Bosphorus cruise toward the Black Sea (on your right—Asia). As you return to Istanbul, you’ll glide into the shimmering inlet of the Golden Horn as the sunset glows on the city’s spine-tingling skyline, bristling with minarets.

As the showpiece city of a moderate Muslim nation, Istanbul offers curious travelers from other backgrounds the opportunity to witness the Islamic faith in action. Five times a day, the call to prayer echoes across the rooftops. People stop to pray...or not. Close up, it’s easier to see similarities between faiths than differences.

Day or night, Istanbul is a hive of human activity. Sample sweets at the busy Spice Market. Stroll the two-level Galata Bridge, where vendors sell sesame-seed bread rings (simit) from steamed-up carts and fishermen cast lines into the water below. Inhale apple-flavored smoke from a water pipe in a trendy nargile café. Marvel at the mesmerizing spinning of whirling dervishes as they meditate on universal harmony. At a Turkish bath, get cleaner than you’ve ever been. Linger over a seafood feast overlooking the Sea of Marmara, and sway to live Turkish music in a New District nightclub. Join the happy crowd in Sultanahmet Park, between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. It’s breathtaking at night, when hard-pumping seagulls dart between floodlit minarets against the black sky.

Whirling dervish performance; family-friendly Sultanahmet Park in the Old Town

With more time, consider a short-flight side trip to the ancient Roman city of Ephesus, on Turkey’s Aegean coast, or the geologic wonderland of Cappadocia, with “fairy chimneys” and early Christian settlements, located deep in the country’s heartland.

The mix of Muslim faith, Western outlook, and warm hospitality make Turkey a rewarding stop for travelers. The country’s best sights are its people—they’re among the friendliest on the planet. It’s easy to strike up conversations, whether you’re asking a fisherman about his catch, haggling over a Turkish carpet in the Grand Bazaar, or playing backgammon with a grizzled elder. Many conversations lead to an invitation to drink tea (çay) together. If you accept, little tulip-shaped glasses of steaming liquid appear within minutes, and soon the language barrier dissolves faster than a sugar cube in hot tea.

Istanbul’s incomparable sights will wow you, while its open-hearted welcome makes you feel you’re among friends. It’s a crossroads not only of commerce but humanity. And according to the Turkish proverb, every guest is a gift from God.

Istanbul by Neighborhood

Sprawling Istanbul (with a population of over 15 million) straddles two continents: Europe and Asia. Tourists focus on Istanbul’s European side, which consists of the Old Town and “New District,” split by the Golden Horn inlet. Across the Bosphorus Strait is the mostly residential Asian side of Istanbul.

Mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent.

Old Town

The Old Town is corralled on a peninsula bordered by the Sea of Marmara, Bosphorus Strait, and Golden Horn.

The city’s blockbuster sights—Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapı Palace—are clustered in the central, welcoming neighborhood called Sultanahmet, which also has the highest concentration of hotels and restaurants. Also here are the Istanbul Archaeological Museums and the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum.

To the west of Sultanahmet, on a long hill spilling down to the Golden Horn, are the Grand Bazaar (the world’s oldest market), the Mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent, and the bustling Spice Market.

Farther west, just inside the old city walls, is the Chora Church, with beautiful Byzantine mosaics.

Golden Horn

The Golden Horn, a tapering inlet of the Bosphorus, runs roughly northwest to southeast, separating the Old Town from the New District. Humming with ferries, the Golden Horn is spanned by the people-friendly Galata Bridge, itself abuzz with pedestrians, fishermen, food carts, and eateries.

At the south end of the Galata Bridge is the lively Eminönü district (near the Spice Market), with ferry docks offering day-long Bosphorus cruises and trips across the strait to the Asian side.

New District

North of the Old Town, the triangle of land flanked by the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus is what I call the “New District.” This urban, European-feeling area is full of life day and night. The delightful pedestrian street called İstiklal teems with window-shoppers, stores, and eateries, and connects huge Taksim Square to the Tünel funicular, which conquers the steep hill down to the Galata Bridge in seconds.

Clockwise from top: Spice Market; Chora Church mosaics; Galata Bridge action; İstiklal Street tram

Clockwise from top: Kadıköy market; New District skyline with Galata Tower; ballooning in Cappadocia; friendly shopper

The New District’s major sights are the Pera Museum (Orientalist art), the Galata Dervish Monastery (Sunday performances), and the 14th-century Galata Tower (for great views).

The New District also hosts hotels, restaurants, and lots of nightlife. Farther north, the trendy Ortaköy neighborhood draws crowds for its fun nightlife scene on the Bosphorus.

Across the Bosphorus

The eastern half of Istanbul, across the Bosphorus Strait, hosts two contrasting and easy-to-visit neighborhoods. Üsküdar, the traditional starting point for trips to Mecca, has a religious vibe, numerous mosques, and a view of Istanbul’s stunning skyline. Modern, energetic Kadıköy offers a cacophony of colorful market activity, shop-lined streets, and busy eateries.

The Bosphorus, crowded with ships, tankers, fishing boats, and ferries, is a sight in itself. Its shores are lined with historic fortresses, Ottoman palaces, luxury hotels, and parks and gardens—best viewed from a public ferry that sails nearly to the Black Sea.

Beyond Istanbul

Turkey’s most rewarding sights outside of Istanbul are Ephesus and Cappadocia, each a short flight away.

The ancient city of Ephesus, one of the grandest in the Roman Empire, is impressive even in ruins, with marble-paved boulevards, the Library of Celsus, and a huge theater where the Apostle Paul once spoke. Ephesus, on Turkey’s western Aegean coast, is a popular excursion for cruise ships docking at the shopping mecca of Kuşadası.

The Cappadocia region in central Turkey is a sprawling landscape of fantastical geological spires, cave dwellings, early Christian sites (even underground cities), open-air museums, and down-to-earth villages. Hot-air balloon rides offer thrilling overviews.

Bosphorus Bridge spanning Europe and Asia

Planning and Budgeting

The best trips start with good planning. Here are ideas to help you decide when to go, design a smart itinerary, set a travel budget, and prepare for your trip. For our best general advice on sightseeing, accommodations, restaurants, and more, see the Practicalities chapter.


As you read this book and learn about your options...

Decide when to go.

Istanbul has a moderate climate year-round. It is generally hot and humid from mid-July to mid-August, and it can snow during January and February. The peak-season months (with the best weather) are from April to late June and September through November. In the off-season, you can generally find better deals and smaller crowds; the weather is usually good, and all the sights are open. Weather conditions can change throughout the day—especially in spring and fall—but extremes are rare. Summer temperatures generally range from 65 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (42-60 degrees in winter). Temperatures below freezing and above 90 make headlines. For more information, check the climate chart in the appendix (and www.mgm.gov.tr for a daily forecast).

Keep in mind that Istanbul is more crowded and has higher hotel prices during Christian holidays such as Easter, Christmas, and New Year’s.

Work out a day-by-day itinerary.

The following day plans offer suggestions for how to maximize your sightseeing, depending on how many days you have. You can adapt these itineraries to fit your own interests. To find out when sights are open, check the “Daily Reminder” in the Orientation chapter. Consider whether you’ll want to buy a Museum Pass or tickets for major sights in advance.

Istanbul deserves a minimum of two full days, but you’ll need four days to do it justice. And if you have up to a week, the city will keep you busy and entertained.

To include both Ephesus and Cappadocia, add another three to five days.

Day One

In the morning, focus on the Sultanahmet district in the Old Town. Take the self-guided Historic Core Walk in this book to get your bearings, visiting Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern, and the Blue Mosque. Then follow the self-guided tour of the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum (across from the Blue Mosque).

Evening Options: On any evening, consider dinner in a sea-view restaurant, a whirling dervish performance, or live music and clubbing in the New District. Enjoy a Turkish bath, or catch the sunset from a city viewpoint like the Galata Tower. Stroll the Galata Bridge, the Old Town’s Sultanahmet Park, or İstiklal Street in the New District.

Blue Mosque on a quiet morning; strolling the New District at night

Clockwise from top: Gates of Topkapı Palace; bread rings for sale; viewing art in the Pera Museum; a relaxing Bosphorus cruise

Day Two

Follow this book’s self-guided tours of the sprawling Topkapı Palace and nearby Istanbul Archaeological Museums. For a break, Gülhane Park is next door.

Then take a taxi to the Chora Church for a self-guided tour of its Byzantine mosaics. From here, you could follow this book’s self-guided City Walls and Neighborhoods Walk, which starts near the church.

With only two days for Istanbul, skip the church and instead take a self-guided New District Walk.

Day Three

Spend today on this book’s self-guided Old Town Back Streets Walk—stopping along the way to tour the Grand Bazaar and the Mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent—then visit the Rüstem Paşa Mosque and the Spice Market. You’ll finish near the Galata Bridge, where you could end your day with a self-guided Golden Horn Walk.

Day Four

Devote today to the New District, following this book’s self-guided walk along the street called İstiklal, including visits to the Pera Museum and Galata Tower.

To fit in more New District sights, choose from the Military Museum (near Taksim Square) or the Quincentennial Museum of Turkish Jews (near Galata Tower). Or take a funicular from Taksim Square down to the Bosphorus and Dolmabahçe Palace (sultans’ 19th-century digs; book a tour in advance). Catch a taxi to the Chora Church in the Old Town (if you didn’t go on Day Two).

Day Five

Go to Asia. Set sail on the Bosphorus Strait, following this book’s self-guided Bosphorus Cruise by public ferry. You’ll spend a full day cruising up toward the Black Sea, stopping at the Asian village of Anadolu Kavağı before returning to Istanbul.

Or, for a quicker visit to Asia, catch a ferry across the Bosphorus to Üsküdar or Kadıköy, and follow this book’s self-guided walks through those local neighborhoods.

With More Time

With extra time in Istanbul, choose among many smaller museums, mosques, outlying sights, and experiences such as a Turkish bath, a nargile (water pipe) café, a cooking class, or shopping.

Or catch a flight to Ephesus or Cappadocia, or visit both. Ephesus merits a day, while the Cappadocia region warrants two to four days. Flights connect Cappadocia and Ephesus.

Üsküdar waterfront perch; smoking water pipes in a nargile café; a massage at a Turkish bath


Run a reality check on your dream trip. You’ll have major transportation costs in addition to daily expenses.

Flight: A round-trip flight from the US to Istanbul costs about $600-1,500, depending on where you fly from and when.

Public Transportation: For a one-week visit, allow about $15-20 per person for public transportation (each individual trip costs about a dollar). It’s cheap to treat yourself to a cab—$10-20 will cover the cost of connecting virtually any two sights listed in this book. Add $35-50 if you plan to take a taxi between the airport and your hotel in the Old Town or New District.

To add on Ephesus or Cappadocia, figure about $150 for a round-trip flight to either destination.

Budget Tips: To cut your daily expenses, take advantage of the deals you’ll find throughout Istanbul and mentioned in this book.

A Museum Pass saves avid sightseers time and money (see the Sights chapter for details). Or, visit only the sights you most want to see, and seek out free sights and experiences (people-watching counts).

Some businesses—especially hotels—offer discounts to my readers (look for the RS% symbol in the listings in this book).

Reserve your rooms directly with the hotel and book good-value rooms early. Some hotels offer a discount if you pay in cash and/or stay three or more nights (check online or ask). Rooms can cost less outside the peak spring and fall seasons. And even seniors can sleep cheaply in hostels (most have private rooms) for about $30 per person. Or check Airbnb-type sites for deals.

It’s no hardship to eat inexpensively in Istanbul. You can get tasty, affordable meals at self-service cafeterias and from street vendors (döner kebabs, bagel-like simit). Cultivate the art of picnicking in atmospheric settings.

When you splurge, choose an experience you’ll always remember, such as a cooking class, a Turkish bath, or a hot-air balloon ride over Cappadocia. Minimize souvenir shopping; focus instead on collecting wonderful memories.

A budget-friendly, tasty, and satisfying cafeteria meal; a welcoming hotel room with all the comforts


You’ll have a smoother trip if you tackle a few things ahead of time. For more information on these topics, see the Practicalities chapter and Ricksteves.com, which has helpful travel tips and talks.

Make sure your travel documents are valid. You need a passport and a visa, but no shots, to travel in Turkey. If your passport is due to expire within six months of your ticketed date of return, you need to renew it. Allow up to six weeks to renew or get a passport (www.travel.state.gov). You must buy your visa before you enter Turkey (at www.evisa.gov.tr/en or at an embassy or consulate).

Arrange your transportation. Book your international flights. Overall, Kayak.com is the best place to start searching for flights. If you’ll be traveling in Turkey beyond Istanbul (to Ephesus or Cappadocia), book a flight on a Turkish airline, and consider reserving a rental car for Cappadocia.

Book rooms well in advance, especially if your trip falls during peak season or any major holidays or festivals.

Buy a pass or advance tickets for major sights, and reserve splurge experiences. To avoid ticket lines at Istanbul’s sights, purchase a Museum Pass or buy advance tickets for just the biggies, such as Topkapı Palace (www.muze.gov.tr is a one-stop shop). If you’re adding Cappadocia and want to splurge on a hot-air balloon ride or a folk show, reserve far ahead.

Hire guides in advance. If you want to hire a guide, reserve ahead by email. Popular guides can get booked up.

Consider travel insurance. Compare the cost of insurance to the cost of your potential loss. Check whether your existing insurance (health, homeowners, or renters) covers you and your possessions overseas.

Call your bank. Alert your bank that you’ll be using your debit and credit cards in Europe. Ask about transaction fees, and get the PIN number for your credit card. You don’t need to bring Turkish lira for your trip; you can withdraw lira from cash machines in Turkey.

Use your smartphone smartly. Sign up for an international service plan to reduce costs, or rely on Wi-Fi in Europe instead. Download any apps you’ll want on the road, such as maps, translators, transit schedules, and Rick Steves Audio Europe (see sidebar).

Pack light. You’ll walk with your luggage more than you think. I travel for weeks with a single carry-on bag and a day pack. Use the packing checklist in the appendix as a guide.

Travel Smart

If you have a positive attitude, equip yourself with good information (this book), and expect to travel smart, you will.

Read—and reread—this book. To have an “A” trip, be an “A” student. Note opening hours of sights, closed days, crowd-beating tips, and whether reservations are required or advisable. Check the latest at RickSteves.com/update.

Be your own tour guide.


On Sale
Dec 22, 2020
Page Count
496 pages
Rick Steves

Lale Surmen Aran

About the Author

Lale Surmen Aran and Tankut Aran, an Istanbul-based couple who have been married for 11 years, lead tours for Turkish and American groups to wherever they can (including Best of Turkey tours for Rick Steves Europe). They have a passion for unusual travel destinations, and always enjoy learning about the past, present, and future of the peoples of the world. With each trip, they say they become new souls, enriched and enlightened, taking one step forward. In addition to traveling, tour guiding, and guidebook researching, they run an Istanbul-based travel agency, SRM Travel (srmtravel.com).

Learn more about this author