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Flights from South Africa to Istanbul are very popular as more and more people visit the Turkish capital or fly via the city to other destinations. After the largest ever move in the history of global civil aviation, in April 2019, all flights to Istanbul now land at the Istanbul Airport. Around 10,000 pieces of equipment – from planes and towing vehicles to security sensors – were moved from Ataturk to the new airport’s location, 30km north of the Black Sea. Visa requirements for Turkey state that South African passport holders must hold a Turkish tourist visa to travel to Istanbul. It should take no more than 10 minutes to apply online for the e-visa, which is issued within 48 hours and is valid for 180 days after issue. This tourist visa for Turkey allows South Africans a 30-day stay in the country. Historically referred to as Byzantium and Constantinople, Istanbul is a city rich in history, architectural wonders, and amazing food. The Bosphorous Strait, a natural waterway connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, runs through the city, famously dividing it into a European side and an Asian side. Along its shores, you’ll find fine neighborhoods, Ottoman palaces, parks and gardens, fortresses, old wooden villas, hotels, restaurants and cafes.


Attractions in Istanbul

The Sultanahmet Square is at the heart of the city, the historical hub with remnants of an ancient hippodrome. From there, you can see the famous Hagia Sophia and the Sultanahmet Mosque, known as the Blue Mosque. The breathtaking Hagia Sophia features mosaics made of gold, silver and colourful stones, while the Blue Mosque – which dates back to the early 1600s – is so-named for the handmade ceramic Iznik tiles that decorate the interior. For fewer crowds, head to the Suleymaniye Mosque instead. Also worth a visit are the Topkapi Palace and Dolmabahçe Palace, for which no expense was spared – think gold leaf and marble, a Baccarat crystal staircase, and a ceremonial hall with a 4.5 tonne chandelier. The 60m tall Galata Tower offers great views over the city, as does a trip up to Çamlıca Hill. History buffs will enjoy the Archaeology Museum of Istanbul, which contains artifacts from the earliest civilizations of the Anatolian and Arabian peninsula, Mesopotamia, Egypt and the more than 8,000 years of history of the Istanbul area.

Shopping in Itanbul

Istanbul offers amazing shopping, from antique shops and designer boutiques to modern malls and ancient markets. Perhaps the most famous place in the city to shop is the Grand Bazar, with 60 streets that contain no less than 5 000 shops, 60 restaurants, 18 fountains, 12 mosques, and even a school. One of the world’s largest covered bazaars, it is 500 years old and known for its carpets, leather, ceramics, souvenirs and jewelry. For the likes of Prada and Louis Vuitton, head to the exclusive Nişantaşı Street and take a wander around the Teşvikiye neighborhood nearby for small restaurants, cafés, boutiques, and bars. Bebek has plenty of clothing boutiques, while the area around the Galata Tower is also worth a visit for cool local designers – on Serdar-ı Ekrem Street with its cobblestone paths and neoclassical facades, you’ll discover design shops and boutiques with clothing and antiques. If you’re looking for a mall, try Kanyon or Zorlu Center, which has the city’s only official Apple Store as well as Crate & Barrel, the Beymen department store, Cos, and Eataly.

Transportation in Istanbul

When it comes to transport in Istanbul, there are many options for getting from A to B. You can use the subway and buses, trams, overland trains and even ferries to get to different parts of the city. The public transportation network can be overwhelming at first, but you will get the hang of it. It’s a good idea to buy a refillable Istanbulkart, which covers all of the main public transport options. You can use the same card for different people by tapping it multiple times, which is useful if you are traveling with others. Taxis are not very expensive, but look out for drivers who try to negotiate fixed fares or try to shortchange you.

Accommodations in Istanbul

If you are looking for accommodation in Istanbul, you’ll soon discover that the city's variety is reflected in its range of hotels and rooms. From former palaces to small-scale boutiques, hostels to private apartments or villas, accommodation in Istanbul offers something for everyone. The best area to stay will depend on what you hope to enjoy on your trip. If you are interested in the Old City, history and architecture, opt for the Sultanahmet area, which is in the heart of the oldest part of Istanbul. Taksim is another popular area, known for luxury hotel names such as Hilton and Hyatt. For nightlife and bars, the Golden Horn or Galata areas are best. The lively Beyoğlu district, which is close enough to all of the Istanbul attractions, also has great street food, local shops and good nightlife – opt for an Airbnb in the Cihangir neighbourhood and you’ll find yourself amongst artists, musicians, young Turks and expats.

Flights to Istanbul

Direct flights from Johannesburg to Istanbul are offered by Turkish Airlines, and it is also possible to fly direct from Cape Town to Istanbul. The national flag carrier of Turkey, Turkish Airlines operates to 304 destinations in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas – serving more destinations non-stop from a single airport than any other airline in the world. Emirates, Qatar and Etihad also offer flights to Turkey from South Africa. You will land at the new Istanbul Airport which will become the world’s largest airport (with an eventual capacity of 200 million passengers per year) if later phases of construction are completed as planned.

Our expert preferred spot in Istanbul

A cruise on the Bosphorus offers great views of both the European and Asian shores. You’ll see century old palaces and mansions galore, and there is even a romantic sunset cruise in the summer months. If you take a cruise or ferry to the Asian part of Istanbul, spend some time in Kadikoy to experience a whole different atmosphere, a mix of architecture, and authentic culture, food and markets. Istanbul is also the original home of the tulip, and you can see beautiful displays at the Sultanahmet Park and Emirgan Park if you’re visiting between March and May. For some Turkish-style pampering, be sure to go for a hammam, with sauna, steam, full body wash, and massage at one of the city’s many Turkish baths.