Istanbul City Guide and General Information
Istanbul’s iconic status makes it a high rolling global metropolis. Ranking alongside the likes of Rome, Milan, Paris and New York, its title as Turkey’s most significant and busiest city sees millions of tourists descend on it every year.
Its vibrant history has a notorious reputation, and while these days are more peaceful, it is still a bustling hub of tourism business, educations, arts, culture, fashion and food. This Istanbul area guide for first-time visitors introduces you to the city through general facts and figures and a brief explanation of areas, of which there are plenty.
However, Istanbul cannot be stereotyped or packaged into a neat tourism slogan. Diversity is its vital attribute and what makes it thrive. To understand the city behind the travel scene would take many months and if you haven’t already experienced it first-hand, we recommend booking a flight ticket, to see it with your own eyes.
Istanbul General Information
Location: Istanbul sits on two continents; the Asian and European. Surrounded by the Marmara and the Black Sea, it is home to the Bosphorus, an important strait of water, over which many empires have fought for control over. The Istanbul province covers 6220 square kilometres, of the North-west tip of Turkey.
Demographics: The population of 18 million people, makes it the busiest city in Turkey. The ethnic and religious diversity of citizens has been a core theme throughout its history, and these days, many foreigners of various nationalities live there.
Economy: Istanbul generates 30% of Turkey’s GDP and as the country’s largest industrial and export centre enjoys worldwide international fame. Primary business regions include Levant and Maslak, and there are plans to build a financial centre on the Asian side.
Climate: Istanbul’s Mediterranean climate falls into the Csa Koppen classification system. However, its location and enormous size make it borderline, so certain parts experience high humidity. Summer temperatures average 30 degrees, while Istanbul experiences cold winters, heavy rainfall, and snow from January to March.
Architecture: Istanbul excels in diverse architecture, because of its history and modern-day trends. Old parts display intricate traces of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture while emerging areas portray the talent of Turkey’s best architects.
10 Interesting Facts and Figures About Istanbul
- Contrary to widespread belief, Istanbul ISN’T the capital of Turkey. Ankara is.
- It was built on seven hills to replicate the seven hills of Rome.
- Earlier names include Stamboul, Constantinople, and Byzantium.
- When the Ottomans ruled, citizens had access to over 1400 public toilets.
- Author Agatha Christie penned her renowned novel at the Pera Hotel
- In 1502, Istanbul was the most crowded city in the world.
- The third oldest subway sits in Istanbul.
- It has the highest density of mosques in Turkey
- The historical Grand Bazaar has over 3000 shops under one roof
- It is the top visited tourist destination in Turkey.
Istanbul Area Guide: Districts and Neighbourhoods
Istanbul’s 39 districts separate into smaller neighbourhoods called Mahallesi in Turkish. Some are more well-known than others, and some excel in certain aspects of daily life that have made them a Turkish real estate hotspot. 25 districts sit on the European continent while 14 are in Asia.
Areas of Asian Istanbul
Adalar (Princes Islands): Made up of 9 large and small islands, locals adore this tourist attraction and weekend getaway. Buyukada, the most legendary, boasts of old Ottoman mansions and traffic-free streets.
Ataşehir: Covering 25,84 square kilometres, Ataşehir breaks down into 17 neighbourhoods. Over the last ten years, foreign real estate buyers have contributed towards Ataşehir’s rise in popularity.
Beykoz: With its three-thousand-year history, Beykoz was the first place the Ottoman Empire conquered in 1453. Sitting at the northern end of the Bosphorus and surrounded by the black sea, its bright green landscapes make it a desirable place to live.
Cekmekoy: Breaking down into 17 localities, Cekmekoy, a lesser talked about Asian district, sits inland, hence lacks a seaside ambience. Few tourists venture there, but in recent years, it has attracted family orientated property buyers.
Kadikoy: As a prominent district of Asian Istanbul, Kadikoy’s cultural scene attracts many tourists and like-minded Turks. Home to the iconic Haydarpaşa train terminal, locals use its ferry port as a cheap and efficient way to get to the European side.
Kartal: With Byzantine heritage, Kartal’s off the grid reputation throughout history, is no longer. Urban transformation and high hopes to become a fully-fledged green city are attracting international and domestic attention from environmentally conscious property buyers.
Maltepe: Giving off a stunning view of the Princess islands, Maltepe’s out-of-the-way location is ideal for people who want to experience the quieter side of life. Breaking down into 18 smaller neighbourhoods, the daily pace is slower than other places.
Pendik: With a population of 700,000, Pendik’s primary attribute is its close distance to Sabiha Gokcen airport. Local often use regular ferry services to get to out-of-city places like Yalova.
Sancaktepe: Its inner land location and far distance from the city centres makes Sancaktepe a low-key area, separating into 18 smaller localities.
Sultanbeyli: As another landlocked area, Sultanbeyli isn’t for those seeking a coastal lifestyle, but it embraces tranquillity, making it fashionable with working-class families.
Sile: Facing the Black Sea region, many Turks have summer homes in Sile. It offers everything a beach resort should and is an ideal alternative to Mediterranean and Aegean coastal resorts.
Tuzla: With a history steeped in fishing, Tuzla, another common retirement and summer home destination for Turks, enjoys a more low-key lifestyle rarely featured in travel magazines.
Umraniye: 35 communities make up the large district of Umraniye near the more famous Uskudar region. It’s a fast-growing area, with new housing replacing uninhabitable complexes.
Uskudar: Breaking down into 33 neighbourhoods, some stand out more than others because of their main touristic attractions. Beylerbeyi has an Ottoman palace of the same name, while Maidens tower sits in Salacak, and every day, Turks head to Kisikli to see a fantastic view of the Golden Horn and Bosphorus from Camlica Hill.
Areas on the European Side of Istanbul
Arnavutkoy: This district shot to international fame when the Turkish government announced the New Third Airport, an air travel hub set to change the face of transportation between the east and west, was being built there.
Avcilar: Once a small fishing village and destination for wealthy retirees, Avcilar’s real estate transformation has put it on the map with foreign buyers.
Bagcilar: Even though it is a crowded district, Bagcilar’s transformation over ten years, has appealed to property buyers seeking a working-class suburban environment.
Bahcelievler: Translating into “houses with gardens,” Bahcelievler’s name reflects its middle-class ambience, but world-class universities also attract many students.
Bakirkoy: As a long-standing region, the upper-class reputation, and commercial status of Bakirkoy enjoys countrywide fame. The racecourse, the oldest and biggest in Turkey, is its famed local landmark but Yesilkoy, an idyllic seaside neighbourhood receives more attention from locals eager to hit the beach.
Basaksehir: Located inland and surrounded by several other districts, the local council made up for lack of seaside ambience by opening several parks and building the largest artificial lake in Turkey.
Bayrampasa: In history, Bayrampasa had a thriving artichoke industry. Hence it is the town's mascot, although that trade trailed off over the last 10 years. With 273,000 residents spread over 11 communities, Bayrampasa’s rapid urban transformation over the last decade is slowly improving its status.
Besiktas: As the home of a prominent football team of Turkey, Besiktas’s notorious neighbourhoods include Ortakoy and its historical mosque, and the elite areas of Etiler and Levant.
Beylikduzu: Its prestigious reputation dates from Ottoman times, when wealthy residents retreated from the main centre for relaxation during summer. These days, the high number of shops and seaside environment, boost its upper class lifestyle.
Beyoglu: Often called the new city centre, Beyoglu’s nightlife and shopping scenes outrank all others. It also houses Istiklal Avenue, the longest and busiest street in Turkey, as well as prominent landmarks like the Galata Tower, Saint Anthony Padua Church, and the Taksim Independence Monument.
Buyukcekmece: In recent years, Buyukcekmece shot to fame as an ideal Istanbul property investment location, due to excellent prices, transportation links and shopping and nightlife facilities.
Catalca: Locals love this rural district on the outskirts of Istanbul because it offers many opportunities of rest, relaxation and getting in touch with the power of Mother Nature through natural, undisturbed landscapes.
Esenler: Separating into 16 smaller communities, Esenler, another district enjoying excellent transport links to areas all around Turkey, offers low prices per square meter. In history, Esenler was one of the areas affected by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.
Esenyurt: Covering 2,770 hectares, Esenyurt’s cultural centres, higher universities, green parks, and excellent priced property easily attracts foreign buyers.
Eyup: Made up of 21 neighbourhoods, Eyup extends from the centre of European Istanbul up to the black seaside. Conservative families like Eyup because it is a sacred place holding famous Islamic relics and landmarks.
Fatih: The historical neighbourhood of Sultanahmet sits in the Fatih district. Certain parts with iconic buildings like the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Eminonu, a busy seaport and location of famous landmarks like the Spice Bazaar and Galata bridge is also within the Fatih boundary lines.
Gaziosmanpasa: The inland district of Gaziosmanpasa, unheard of outside Istanbul, aims to transform its working-class atmosphere through a series of urban projects.
Gungoren: In the past, many city planners criticised this working-class and industrial district for its lack of urban planning, but local councils have made efforts to improve transport and infrastructure to boosts its reputation.
Kagithane: Also experiencing an urban transformation of its real estate market, Kagithane takes advantage of its central location in European Istanbul to promote itself as the gateway to many surrounding districts.
Kucukcekmece: A large lake defines Kucukcekmece, but a few Ottoman landmarks also receive much admiration from Turkish history lovers. Kucukcekmece, one neighbourhood on the planned Istanbul Canal route, has seen real estate prices rise in recent years, as investors take advantage of a strategic location.
Sariyer: Rumelihisar castle, old yali mansions and quaint seaside villages make Sariyer a desirable location, although getting your foot on the property ladder can be expensive thanks to reflected prices.
Siliviri: Sitting outside of the city centre, Siliviri enjoys much fame as a weekend, summer and retirement retreat. The relaxed, yet pleasant ambience easily attracts people during the summer when the population can swell by 5 times.
Sultangazi: As another inland district, Sultangazi has 11 quarters of which the respected Zubuyde hanim is named after the mother of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of Turkey. Another neighbourhood is named after Yunus Emre, the famous Sufi follower and Turkish poet.
Sisli: This cosmopolitan area and respected district get much attention from wealthy Turkish real estate buyers. Boasting of Europe’s largest shopping mall, the charming Nisanti neighbourhood, Turkey’s most exclusive area, boosts its reputation for high-end luxury brands.
Zeytinburnu: This working-class area breaks down into 13 smaller neighbourhoods. Its central location makes it popular because property owners have all the benefits of city living, just a short distance away, but are far enough to avoid the trappings of urban life.
Living and Buying Property in Istanbul
To bring our Istanbul area guide to an end, if you plan to buy property in the city, our viewing trips take you to see potential properties within your budget but also to individual neighbourhoods and districts that will appeal to you. Alternatively, for more general information about Istanbul, our blog talks more about living and travelling in this great metropolis.