When we learn of critical changes to the information in our Istanbul guidebook, we post them here. (Of course, it's still smart to reconfirm critical transportation and sightseeing details locally.) Armed with a Rick Steves guidebook and these late-breaking updates, you're set for a great trip!
- Turkey is again issuing tourist visas to Americans, but it's smart to monitor the Turkish Embassy’s website for the latest updates.
- The Basilica Cistern is closed for renovation until August 2021.
For books printed before December 2020, the following may also apply:
- The new Istanbul Airport, located northwest of the city, is now operational. A Metro line connecting the airport to the city center should be operational sometime in 2021.
- Golden Horn ferry cruises and ferries to Eyüp now leave from Karaköy İskelesi at the New District end of the Galata Bridge. They no longer leave from the Eminönü pier to the west of the Old Town end of the bridge.
- The cruise port is being completely rebuilt in a redevelopment project called Galataport. The cruise terminal itself will be located underground, freeing up the waterfront for a new promenade with shops and restaurants along the Bosphorus. It’s expected to open in mid-2021.
- The Marmaray commuter rail now connects Sirkeci Station in the Old Town with the Asian side of Istanbul via an underwater tunnel. Istanbul’s train stations are being overhauled with the goal of reestablishing seamless train service to and from Europe. In the meantime, some stations are closed (such as Halkalı Station), and others are being used only temporarily (Söğütlüçeşme Station).
- Chora Church is now open daily.
- On July 24, 2020, the Turkish government changed the status of Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque. Details regulating tourist visits are still being formulated, but for now it's known that the building is open daily (closed during prayer services five times a day) and admission is free. Updated information may be available at www.muze.gen.tr.
- State-owned museums are now under one website: www.muze.gov.tr. Advance tickets can be purchased on their website.
- Rüstem Paşa Mosque is closed for renovation (timeframe for reopening is not certain).
- Istanbul Modern, the city's modern art museum, is being redeveloped. For now, it's in a temporary location in the New District, near the Pera Museum (likely through 2022).
- Ucuzcular spice shop has changed its name to Hayfene.
- Portus House is now Cheers Porthouse Hostel. Their new information is: www.cheersporthouse.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Istanbul Hostel is now Avrasya Hostel.
- Agora Guesthouse has new website: www.agoraguesthouse.net.
- Hotel Golden Horn Sultanahmet is now Deluxe Hotel Golden Horn Sultanahmet and has new web information: www.deluxegoldenhornhotel.com, email@example.com.
- Bada Bing Hostel in Karakoy has closed.
- There is no longer access to the view platform on top of the wall at the beginning of the City Walls walk (on Hoca Çakır Caddesi near Kariye Bostanı Sk). Nearby access to a wall-top view can be had from the newly reopened Tekfur Palace (20 TL entry fee).
- Partial restoration of the Chora Church will continue into 2021 or possibly 2022. While it remains open to visitors, certain areas may be unavailable for viewing as the work progresses. The entrance may be through the front door rather than at the north side.
- Bus #87 no longer goes directly to the Chora Church from the New District. It's better to take the funicular and then tram to the Eminönü stop, near the Galata Bridge, and catch bus #32, #91O, #37E , or #38 from there.
- The Golden Horn ferry cruises now depart from the Karaköy pier in the New Town, east of the Galata bridge.
- The Museum of Archaeology is being renovated through at least mid-2021. Some collections may be closed or displayed in temporary exhibits.
- The Topkapi Palace and Harem are both open Wed–Mon 9:00–19:00, until 17:00 off-season, closed Tue. Tickets are no longer available at www.muze.gov.tr. To save time, you can use a Museum Pass to skip the ticket line, or purchase a fast-track ticket with a shorter security line (35 TL more than regular ticket). The Museum Pass no longer covers the Harem. Parts of the Harem and Imperial Treasury are under renovation into 2021.
- While Istanbul's main station, Sirkeci, is being remodeled, trains between Istanbul and Asian Turkey are served by Söğütlüçeşme Station, in the Kadıköy district (across the Bosphorus from the city center, but much more central than the recent terminus at Pendik). Trains to/from the west and north are still served by the suburban station of Halkalı (west of the city center). The Marmaray light-rail line now connects both Halkalı and Söğütlüçeşme with central Istanbul.
- The correct address for Quincentennial Museum of Turkish Jews is Bereketzade Mahallesi, Büyük Hendek Caddesi 39, Beyoğlu, and its telephone number (also printed incorrectly in some editions) is +90 212 292 6333.
- Istanbul's huge, brand-new airport (IST) replaced Atatürk Airport in April 2019, and is now the city's hub for Turkish Airlines and all international flights. Located to the northwest of the city center on the European side of the Bosphorus, Istanbul Airport is a one-hour taxi ride from either the Old Town or the New District, or 1.5 hours by bus (but can be much longer during rush hour; plan ahead to be at the airport 3 hours prior to international flights).
The airport has five concourses, signed as "piers," that extend from the central terminal (concourses A, B, D, and F are international — Turkish Airlines uses concourse F; concourse G is domestic). There are no trains or trams between the piers, but the lofty ceilings and glimmering design may distract you from all the walking. Use the moving sidewalks when possible.
All of the concourses empty into the central terminal, where you'll find shops, eateries, duty-free stores, and exchange desks (see the airport's zoomable map). To exit, continue down the escalators into baggage claim. From the center of the baggage-claim area, continue through customs onto the arrivals floor. An info kiosk is to the right as you leave customs, and ATMs flank each end of the building. Car-rental desks and other services are also located on this floor. Taxis wait outside door 9; Havaist and IETT buses are near door 13.
You can reach the Old Town or the New District by taxi, private transfer, or shuttle bus (Metro lines connecting the city center to the airport are currently under construction, with plans to be operational by 2020): To ride either the Havaist or IETT bus, you'll first need to purchase a refillable Istanbulkart transit card, available at blue ticket machines in the airport's arrivals hall at the airport.
- Located outside door 9 of the arrivals floor, 24/7 taxi service can take you directly into the city (expect to pay about 240 TL to the Old Town or 170–190 TL to the New District).
- Private transfers can be booked directly though your hotel for €50, with a customary 10 percent tip.
- Havaist runs luxury buses every 30–50 minutes between the city center and airport, with onboard Wi-Fi, USB outlets, and space for luggage. The IST-1 line runs into the Old Town, while IST-19 serves the New District (18 TL).
- For those staying in the New District, the cheapest option for getting to/from the airport is the H2 shuttle line, which leaves at roughly 15-minute intervals, costs 5.20 TL, and is run by Istanbul's public transit agency, IETT. (IETT does not offer direct or connecting buses to the heart of Old Town; the closest stop is a fairly short taxi ride away, but taxis often turn down fares this small — you could find yourself stranded.