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The phrase ‘east meets west’ has been used to describe many cities in the world, but only to Istanbul does the phrase literally apply. Dissected by the Strait of Bosphorus, this great Turkish city straddles two continents. On one side is Europe, while on the other is Asia. Istanbul has a history dating back to ancient times, but today, it is the home of 13.5 million people. Hiring a car is the practical choice for those wishing to enjoy excursions to the many excellent destinations right outside of Istanbul.
Who to Book With
Both local and international car rental companies are represented in Istanbul. Sixt has arguably the most locations, followed by Budget and Hertz. Other car hire companies include Alamo, Europcar, Dollar and Avis. The Galata district, north of historic Sultanahmet district, also has many locals firms such as Economic Rent A Car, Mass Rent A Car, Miller Car Rental and several others. To get the best prices, compare and book online before arrival.
Best Time to Go
Summers in Istanbul can be hot and humid, with temperatures reaching 35°C, while the winters tend to be cold and wet, sometimes involving snow. The best times to visit, therefore, are spring and autumn, when the weather is just right.
Need to Know Essentials
Upon collection of the rented vehicle, you must provide:
- An International Driving Permit or national licence with photo
- Proof of identity
- Confirmation of booking
- The credit card of renter (the same one used when the car was booked)
Driving in Istanbul can be a bit daunting for those used to places with light to moderate traffic. Jams are common during peak times on weekdays. Because of the lack of street signs, it is common practice to ask pedestrians or fellow motorists for directions. The two sides of the city are connected by two bridges, the Bosphorus Bridge and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, which both require payment for crossing.
It may be confusing at first, but public transport in Istanbul is the best bet if you want to get around the many parts of this historic city without a car. Several types of rail services are available, covering both the European and Asian sides of the city. Buses complement the train system, while taxis, both private and shared types, are relatively cheap.
A ticket in Istanbul’s public transport system, covering buses, trains and even ferries, refers to a small plastic or metal token, which costs about £1. These tokens can be purchased at machines and kiosks found in bus and train stations. Only cash is accepted. Those who intend to use Istanbul’s public transport a lot can buy an Istanbulkart, which can be topped up at designated booths in stations and at newsagents. The buying card involves a non-refundable £3.60 deposit.
Trains & Trams
Several rail lines operate in the city. The modern tram plies through many important parts of downtown, including the Old Town in Sultanahmet. The underground metro and the light rail comprehensively cover the European side. Suburban commuter trains pass through the Sea of Marmara coast on both sides of the Bosphorus. A ride on any urban train costs a flat fare of £1.1, no matter how far you go.
Taxis are cheap and are perhaps the easiest way to get around the city outside the peak hours. Cab fares begin at around £1, increasing by £0.60 for every kilometre (0.62 mile) thereafter. This price system also applies to night travel. Shared taxis, locally called dolmuÅ, take passengers to and from set points in the city.
Buses cover many destinations in the city. Privately run buses are blue-green in colour, while the state-run IETT buses come in many different varieties. The flat fare is £0.50, but a pass called the Istanbulkart can be used on both private and IETT buses.
The main attractions of Istanbul, such as the Hagia Sophia, the TopkapÄ± Palace and the Blue Mosque, are located in the historic district of Sultanahmet, a small area situated near the southern mouth of the Bosphorus. Public transport conveniently covers the area and those surrounding it. To explore the equally beautifully surrounds of this Turkish city, it is best to drive your own car, however, as public transport can unnecessarily prolong travel time.
Kilyos - This is an area north of the city along the Black Sea coast. It has several beaches and is thus an ideal daytrip for those visiting in the summer. When traffic is light, it can easily be reached within 30 minutes.
Atatürk Arboretum - This is a large wooded park area just three miles from the city. There are benches, a pond and grassy areas perfect for picnics. Bird-watching can also be enjoyed here in the autumn when birds migrate south from Europe.
Yoros Castle - This is a historic site on the Asian side of Istanbul near the northern mouth of the Bosphorus. Although much of the castle now lies in ruins, the area offers spectacular views. The castle sits on top of a hill right by the strait. A number of cafés have cropped up in recent years, making for relaxing stop-offs.