About Istanbul

Istanbul, with a population of nearly 14 million spread over an area over 5000 square kilometers, is the world's second largest city proper and the only major city in the world that stretches over two different continents. The Asian and European portions of the city are divided by the Bosphorus Strait, and connected through two suspension bridges both over a kilometer long.

Founded in 7th Century BC, and the city has served as the capital of four empires (Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman). Today, it serves as Turkey's cultural and economic center (but it is not Turkey's capital; that designation belongs to Ankara), responsible for producing over a quarter of the country's GDP and over 40 percent of its tax revenues and exports. It is also a very popular tourist destination, ranking the 5th most visited city in the world in 2012 by the MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index.

Air Travel Information

Istanbul International Ataturk Airport (IST) is the primary international airport in Istanbul. It's on the European side and about 28 km west of the city centre. It is a modern airport and has a tourist office, post office, 24-hour banking, ATMs, cell phone retailers selling SIM cards, car rental offices, exchange bureaus, and several shops and restaurants.

Please remember to visit the AIB Air Travel Discounts page for a special Star Alliance discount for AIB conference participants.

Visa Information

To attend the AIB conference in Turkey, foreign nationals may need a Single Entry Tourist Visa. However, a number of countries are exempt from the visa requirement. Citizens of a second set of countries can simply pay a fee and get a "visa sticker" at the border gate at Istanbul Airport (exact amount and cash only - SEE UPDATE BELOW). Others will need to apply to a close-by Turkish Consulate or Mission, in advance, to apply for a visa.

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a Visa Information for Foreigners page which provides a detailed listing of all countries and whether a visa is required for entry into Turkey. There is also a list of Turkish Embassies/Consulates/Missions around the world available.

You can also visit the Consular Website of the Republic of Turkey, select your Country and the closest mission to reach the most up-to-date information available.

If you need an invitation letter to attend the conference in Istanbul, please contact the AIB Secretariat to request one after you have registered for the conference.

UPDATE AS OF MAY 1, 2013: The Turkish Government has just announced a new Visa website that is supposed to consolidate all the sites above, and also provide e-Visas for a select group of countries (those that were previously eligible for 'visa stickers' at the airport). The site located at https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/ just went live on April 17th, so we have no experience with the process. If it works as advertised it should make the process easier on everyone. Particularly those that are eligible for e-visas can now get the visas at the comfort of their home with their Credit/Debit Cards, instead of lining up at the airport and paying with cash.

Getting to the Conference Venue

The AIB 2013 meeting will take place at Hilton Istanbul located at Harbiye on the European side of Istanbul, a short walk from the popular Taksim district. The conference venue will also serve as the primary conference hotel for the AIB 2013 meeting. Please visit http://aib.msu.edu/events/2013/Lodging.asp for reservations.


View AIB 2013 Istanbul in a larger map

You have three alternatives to get from the Ataturk Airport to Hilton Istanbul (or any other hotel in the area).

  1. Shuttle Transfer - IDEE Travel, our valuable partners in Turkey assisting AIB with conference arrangements and tours, can arrange for transfers from the airport to the conference hotel. The cost will vary somewhat based on how many people are coming in on the same day and time, but we expect the price to be about 10-15 Euros per person. Contact Tumay Akcay, our Project Manager, to learn more or to reserve space in advance.
     
  2. Taxi - Taxis are plentiful in Istanbul and are easy to recognize since they are all yellow colored and have a "Taksi" sign on the roof (do not get on a taxi if it does not have those, it means it's not licensed). The ride from the Airport to Taksim should cost approximately 50 Turkish Liras (about 30 US Dollars or 20 Euros), but will depend on the route the driver takes and the amount of traffic, thus the time the ride takes.

    If you do take a taxi, a few things to watch out for: (1) Whenever possible, try to get a cab from designated taxi stands (durak taksi) where taxis are lined up and waiting for customers. If you need to get a taxi from the street, always prefer those that operate in association with a taxi stand, which is indicated by the logo of the stand (and typically its location as well) on both sides of its doors; (2) Write down the name and address of the hotel on a sheet of paper, most taxi drivers in Turkey do not speak English; (3) Get Turkish Liras at the airport, either using ATM machines or the exchange bureaus; (4) Don't count too much on trunk space. Most Turkish taxis run on natural gas and use a large portion of the trunk for a tank that stores the gas. Expect some of your luggage to be put in the passenger compartment; (5) As with most large tourist destinations in the world, you may run across a taxi driver that will try to hustle you. Read the excellent Tips to Prevent Popular Istanbul Taxi Scams blog post.
     
  3. Shuttle Bus - Istanbul municipality runs a reliable shuttle service, called HAVATAS, back and forth between Ataturk Airport and Taksim. The shuttles leave outside the airport terminal, and run every 30 minutes. The ride costs 10 Turkish Liras per person, luggage included. Visit the Havatas website to see what the buses (and the Havatas logo) looks like and the departure schedule. You will need Turkish Liras in cash for this service. IMPORTANT: Please note that these buses drop all passengers in Taksim square, and it's approximately a 10 minute walk to the Hotel from the square (you need to walk on Cumhuriyet Caddesi).

Please also note that it is technically possible to use the Municipal Rail Network to get from the airport to Taksim, however we do not recommend it as you will need to transfer multiple times and some of the transfers are not readily obvious. The network is great to travel around Istanbul once you have your bearings, but not for first time arrivals and not when hauling luggage.

Basic Travel Information

Money

The legal tender is the Turkish Lira (TRY). However, you may also see prices for medium-to-large value items may be quoted in Euros or US Dollars, especially in touristic areas. Visa and Mastercards are widely accepted at most stores, restaurants, and hotels, except for very small stores, street vendors, and taxis. American Express is also accepted, but not as frequently. Most stores accepting Credit/Debit Cards will utilize machines that will look for chip-and-pin Credit/Debit Cards, so US travelers may face difficulty in certain places, so please make sure to have enough cash with you at all times. ATMs and exchange bureaus are practically everywhere in Istanbul.

Time

In July, Istanbul will be in is in the Eastern European Summer Time (EEST) which is UTC+3.

Electricity

Turkey operates in 220 volts, 50 cycles (50hz), with two round-prong European style plugs. Please remember to bring any adapters you need.

Climate

In July, Istanbul will be hot and humid, with daytime temperatures around 25-28°C but it may feel worse due to humidity. Light layers of clothing is advisable as most indoor spaces also do not have sufficient air-conditioning. However, please keep in mind that Turks dress fairly conservatively in cities, so avoid wearing shorts and other revealing clothes.

Language

Turkish is the official language. You will find that most touristic shops and major hotels have foreign language speaking staff, but smaller stores and restaurants as well as taxi drivers may be hit or miss.

Internet Access

It is very easy to find Internet cafes anywhere in the city with reasonable prices. Many restaurants, cafes, hotels, and bars will also have Wi-fi but you will need to ask for the password. The lodging rates at Hilton Istanbul for the AIB conference include free Wi-fi access at the hotel.

Crime

Istanbul is generally quite safe, especially in the major commercial and tourist areas of the city. However, as with any large city, especially those with many tourists, please use common sense and be cautious. Avoid deserted streets and alleys after dark. Pickpocketing is common especially in crowded spaces so secure your belongings. Also keep an eye out for some common tourist scams.

Tipping Advice

Tipping is quite modest in Turkey. You can tip in Turkish Liras (coins or bills) or a foreign currency (bills only, coins cannot be exchanged). In general, tip around 10 percent in restaurants, cafés and bars. Hotel staff will also expect tips depending on the service they provided; for porters a 5 TL note is appropriate. At the airport, if a porter assists you, pay about 2-3 TL per bag. Turks usually do not tip taxi drivers but round up the fares to a convenient amount. Please note that there is no way to leave tips using Credit/Debit Cards like in most Western countries, tips are always left in cash.

Shopping and Dining Guides

IDEE Travel, our valuable partners in Turkey assisting AIB with conference arrangements and tours, has put together two PDF guides for AIB members:

  • Istanbul Shopping Guide - A wonderful compilation of internationally recognized shops and brands around Istanbul for buying clothing, jewelry, carpets and kilims, leather, glassware, ceramics, and antiques. It also provides an overview of the major shopping districts and centers in Istanbul.
  • Istanbul Dining Guide - A listing of well-known Istanbul restaurants, categorized by cuisines, including traditional Turkish/Ottoman, Kebab & Meat, Seafood, Mediterranean, and International.

Additional Resources

  • Books about Turkey - A list of non-fiction and fiction books about Turkey compiled by our local hosts at Sabanci University.
  • Witt Hotels Magazine - More of a blog, then a magazine, the site is hosted by a hotel owner in Istanbul with regular blog posts by an Expat. The blog posts are organized into logical sections (accessible through the right column menu) and include very insightful and to the point advice.
  • NY Times - Istanbul Travel Guide - A combination of New York Times articles about Istanbul with advice from Frommer's. The NY Times articles are the value added here, since they cover unique perspectives and experiences that are hard to find in traditional travel books and articles.
  • The Guardian - Istanbul City Guide - Features and articles from the Guardian newspaper about Istanbul. Apart from the articles that are quite insightful, the site also features a number of extremely interesting videos.
  • Time Out - Istanbul - The UK based outfit is known for its weekly listings magazines found in many cities around the world. This is the Istanbul version.
  • Istanbul Eats - An excellent blog covering the Turkish cuisine and restaurant scene, written by expats. It's a blog even locals closely follow, and is the winner of "Best Culinary Travel Blog" in 2012 by the Saveur magazine.

Recommendations from AIB Members

If you have visited Istanbul recently (or you are a local AIB member) and would like to share personal recommendations with AIB members that will be participating in AIB 2013, please use the form below to add your recommendations to this list.

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