One of the world’s greatest cities, Istanbul is a vibrant metropolis where many different cultures collide and co-exist. With an estimated population of around 16 million (in 2019), it is the world’s sixth largest city, and while there has been widespread internal migration, it also attracts a significant number of foreign migrants from Europe, the Middle East and further afield. Expatriates who buy Istanbul Property and make Istanbul their home are drawn to a chance to live in a bustling city with an impressive history and easy access to both the Eastern and Western worlds.
History of Istanbul With its strategic location, bridging Europe and Asia, it’s no surprise that Istanbul has been the capital of three empires. It has been inhabited by the Greeks (as Byzantium), Romans (who changed the name to Constantinople) and Ottomans (who renamed it Istanbul). In smaller numbers there have also been large Armenian, Jewish, Kurdish, Arabic and Western European populations here – all of whom have left their mark on the cultural and architectural make-up of the city. After Turkey became an independent republic in 1923, the capital was shifted to Ankara, but Istanbul remains the beating heart of Turkey – as both its largest, and most diverse, city.
Istanbul Today Over the past few decades, Istanbul has gone through a period of rapid development. Modern housing, offices and facilities have sprung up to complement the rich tapestry of history on view in its old city. Affordable and luxury living options on the outskirts of the city provide buyers with easy access to the wonders of Istanbul from more green, spacious and liveable locations. Foreigners are attracted to the quality of life, delicious Turkish food, and shopping opportunities, as well as the sheer cultural variety that Istanbul offers.
Istanbul Attractions Over 11 million tourists visited Istanbul in 2014, and this number increases year on year. Besides the magnificent Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapı Palace, there are a number of lesser known sights to explore. These range from the Theodosian city walls to the Iznik tile-adorned Rustem Pasha Mosque (designed by Mimar Sinan) to the Greek Patriarch Church in Fener – all of which reveal an aspect of Istanbul’s rich history. There are also a number of museums to visit; the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, the Pera Museum and the Sakıp Sabancı Museum. In recent years, Istanbul has also experienced a boom in its contemporary art scene with hundreds of new galleries opening and several art fairs taking place. Alongside this, the local restaurant scene has also been developing and top international chefs have opened up casual and fine dining options to complement the existing Turkish eateries.
Leisure and Shopping Istanbul has a high proportion of very wealthy inhabitants, which has attracted many big name designers to open up shop here. Aside from the modern shopping malls such as Kanyon, City’s, Aqua Florya, and Zorlu Centre, there are a number of more traditional shopping districts boasting international and local boutiques (Nişantaşı, Galata, and İstiklal Caddesi to name a few). For a more authentic Turkish experience, you can also visit the city’s old covered markets – the Grand Bazaar, Arasta Bazaar and Spice Bazaar – all of which have remained unchanged for centuries, and offer a chance to pick up a bargain, whether it’s in art, antiques, textiles or food.
The quality of life in Istanbul is also helped by the vast array of culture offerings. Every year there are a number of film, music, dance, ballet, and theatre festivals that see some of the biggest international names perform in various locations. Outside of these dates there are many concerts and performances in venues such as the Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall, Istanbul Conference and Exhibition Centre, the Sürreya Opera House and the İş Sanat Cultural Centre. Aside from these large arenas there are also a number of smaller celebrated venues such as Babylon, Salon İKSV and Nardis Jazz Club.
Around Istanbul Although Istanbul is divided between the two continents of Europe and Asia, it is the European side where most of the historical sites and commerce are based. In the centre, the neighbourhoods are quite densely populated, but further away, more space is afforded. For people who want to get out of the city, there are a number of close-by options for day trips or mini-breaks. You can take a boat to the Princes’ Islands in the Marmara Sea, head north to the Black Sea resort of Kilyos, or west to wine-growing regions of Thrace.
Bahçeşehir Bahçeşehir literally means ‘garden city’, a name it was given on account of the lush green surrounding in which it is set. It is located 30km west of central Istanbul, and just north of the more densely populated Esenyurt and Halkalı. Besides a large, landscaped park and man-made lake there are many restaurants, bars, shops, schools, and concert halls in the neighbourhood – making it a self-contained suburb. Aside from the motorway, regular buses connect Bahçeşehir with both central Istanbul and Istanbul Atatürk Airport. It will also be well placed for Istanbul’s third international airport (currently under construction).
Sarıyer Fronted by the Bosphorus strait at the very northern tip of the city, this district contains some of Istanbul’s most picturesque neighbourhoods (Rumelifeneri, Tarabya, Yeniköy, İstinye and Rumelihisarı) along with the Black Seacoastal resorts around Kilyos. Not only that, but it is also home to the expansive Belgrade Forest, a favourite hiking place of locals. The third Bosphorus Bridge (due to be completed in 2015) will connect Sarıyer to Beykoz on the Asian side of the city, as well as providing convenient access to the third Istanbul airport (also under construction). There are two roads leading into central Istanbul, along which a number of public buses run. The coastal road is lined with fish restaurants and pretty wooden mansions, whilst the inland option goes through Istanbul’s business and financial neighbourhoods. There are also ferry services and an underground metro station in Hacıosman that connect the area to central and Asian Istanbul.
Zincirlikuyu Located in the heart of Istanbul’s business districts, Zincirlikuyu is well connected to the rest of the city, serving as an inner city transport hub. Besides the many bus routes that pass through here, it also serves five of the city’s metrobus lines, offering fast passage to the Asian side of the city (among others) and is connected to the underground Metro system via the Gayrettepe station. In 2014, the multipurpose Zorlu Center opened in this district. This sleekly designed space boasts over 200 shops, some of Istanbul’s top international restaurants and the city’s largest performing arts centre.
Beylikdüzü A former farming village by the Marmara Sea, to the west of central Istanbul, this leafy suburb is now home to affluent and educated middle classes, attracted to its modern housing and conveniences. It is also a favourite of commuters, as it connects directly to central Istanbul via the 24 hour Metrobus service in just 60 minutes and is well placed for international travellers, just 12km from Istanbul Atatürk airport. The local communities know it as a shopping destination, due to the large number of malls and megamarkets that have opened in the area.
Esenyurt This residential province of Istanbul has grown in popularity in recent years in correlation with rapid expansion in its affordable housing options. It is flanked by two major highways to the north and south, and is well-connected to Istanbul via various bus and metrobus lines. To meet the new demands of the local population, several shopping malls, culture centres and parks have been built, creating a lively place to live.
Guneşli & Halkalı Perfect for regular international travellers, these neighbourhoods are located just 15 minutes drive from Istanbul’s main Atatürk Airport. They are a similar distance from the Marmara coast and its many fish and kebab restaurants as well as Küyükçekmece Lake. In 2014, work began to convert the Halkalı railway station to connect to the commuter Marmary line. When it’s finished (expected to be in 2015), passengers will be able to travel easily to central and Asian Istanbul in a matter of minutes.