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WhereToGoForMyHoliday.com

The best destination comparison site!

Istanbul or Barcelona; a vs city comparison and travel guide

Both Barcelona and Istanbul are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?

We understand your dilemma. There is an abundance of travel guides for both cities, but few actually comparing them, and advising you which is the better for your trip.
This article will provide our unbiased and independent views of Barcelona and Istanbul, hopefully making your choice that little easier.

The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the links:
• Introduction to the cities
• Scores and ratings
• Which one should I, friends, or family visit?
• When to visit and weather
• Who is the city suited for?
• The perfect 48hours (with map)
• Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)

Introduction to Barcelona and Istanbul

Barcelona is the vibrant heart of the Catalonia region, with its strong and proud identity.
This is a modern, young and stylish, city with attention-grabbing tourist attractions, and a focus on contemporary and it’s future more than its history.

Being hemmed in by the sea and mountains, creates a bustling and energetic atmosphere within the city. Thankfully it is easy to escape to glorious beaches or refeshing scenary of the mountains.

Barcelona is one of the greatest cities of Europe, so long as you are happy to compromise with excessive tourism and indifferent service that this instils.

With one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, Istanbul is the bridge between two continents. As much of a cliché as that might sound, this really is a place where you can wander between spiked mosque minarets on one street and be gazing at a Byzantine cathedral the next, and where shisha smoke mingles with the smells of falafel;

Most travelers aim for the north-western portion of the city, and separated from Asian Turkey by the Bosphorus Strait. Its districts include enthralling Sultanahmet – the home of the iconic Topkapi Palace and the legendary Hagia Sofia – and vibrant, youthful Galata.

Those who prefer off-the-beaten-track adventures can go over to Asian Istanbul, for atmospheric areas laced with hookah plumes and bazaars.

Blue Mosque in Istanbul

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul

Gothic Quarter Barcelona

The Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) is one of the most atmospheric areas of Barcelona

Istanbul vs Barcelona: City Ratings

Summary
Which city would I go to?
Istanbul
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Barcelona
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Barcelona
Which for my food obsessed friend?
Barcelona
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year - which is detailed later in this article.

The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map).
The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city.

We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip!

Destination details

How long to spend each city?

Barcelona can be fully seen with two intense days of sightseeing, but if you include the beaches, the mountain viewpoints and a more leisurely pace, this leads to the conventional four-day visit.

A trip could be extended by visiting the picturesque Montserrat Monastery and mountains or the attractive coastal town of Sitges. Barcelona is much more suited for a short city break than a longer holiday, and does lack the diversity of day trips as with other destinations.

Don't think you can distil Istanbul into a few short days. Even with weeks to explore, this vast metropolis (it's one of the largest in the world, let alone Europe) will surely still hold secrets. That said, a fly-in jaunt for a weekend is always going to be fun. You'll just need to pick your side of town and focus on the sights you want to see the most. So, choose between the Old City streets and Asian Istanbul before arriving, and plan accordingly if time is limited.

For those with longer to spare, this great Turkish town is your oyster. You'll be able to cross the Bosphorus to explore districts of steamy hammams and mosques. You can have whole days in the Grand Bazaar and Ottoman palaces. You might even be able to head over to Agva (for beaches) and the islands of Marmara (for wild hikes in pine woods). Basically, having too much time is rarely an issue.

Park Guell Barcelona

The flamboyant Park Guell, colourful mosaics and whimsical buildings all designed by Barcelona great designer Antoni Gaudí

Beyoglu district in Istanbul

The Beyoglu district in Istanbul with the medieval Galata tower rising above this historic section of the city

When things get hot in Istanbul, things get really hot. In fact, it's not uncommon for summertime temperatures to creep over 30 degrees. What's more, June to August is when the crowds come, packing out sights like the Grand Bazaar.
The upshot here is that spring and fall reign as the top times in the calendar to plan a visit. March, April, September and October tend to be cooler, less busy and less expensive.

Winter can bring snows. Photographers will adore the city when it's blanketed, as the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque look simply stunning under a sheen of the white stuff. However, the months from November to February can be bitterly cold, so off-season visitors will need to wrap up warm and forget having al fresco Turkish coffees on the street side.

Barcelona is almost a year-round destination, and the best time of year to visit is either early spring or later autumn as this is outside of the peak season, but the weather is still pleasant.

The peak tourist season is July and August, and we suggest Barcelona is best avoided, as it is just too hectic and crowded. The weather is suitable for spending time on the beaches from May until October. The winter months are cooler and possibly wet but there is a less hectic pace around the city.

Barcelona is flashy, energetic and modern. The city has vibrant tourist attractions, without the stuffy atmosphere of many other historic destinations. It generally appeals more to the younger visitor with its heady mix of nightlife, beaches and Instagram ready tourist attractions.

It should be noted that Barcelona is not a cheap city, being the most expensive city in Spain. Barcelona is great for a short stay or a one-day visit, such as from a cruise ship.

There's no doubt that Istanbul is one of the more adventurous and unusual breaks for European travellers. Most folk come to Turkey on package holidays, with pre-booked hotels by the sea. But this destination forgoes all that in favour of enthralling Ottoman history and heady bazaars.
It's a place that will help you break out of the comfort zone and push your boundaries a little.

Those keen on seeing a city that's walkable and compact should certainly steer clear of Turkey's largest. At 15.5 million strong and covering two separate continents, this isn't a bitesize destination by any stretch.

cathedral of Barcelona

The cathedral of Barcelona is dedicated to Saint Eulalia, and in the adjoining cloister are the 13 white geese commemorating her young martyr death at 13

Grand Bazaar Istanbul

The lively and chaotic Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

Barcelona
Barcelona is a tremendous destination for a 48-hours, and excels as a short-stay destination. Below is an interactive map for 48 hours in Barcelona; day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights marked grey.

The first morning would start on the La Rambla the authentic shopping street, which is so popular with tourists and locals alike. For the middle of the day explore the Gothic Quarter, which contains the cathedral and Picasso museum.
For the final part of the head towards the harbour and the lively Barceloneta district, that lies the beaches. For the evening both Gothic Quarter or Barceloneta boasts restaurants, atmosphere and entertainment.

Barcelona cable car

The cable car up to Montjuïc Castle provides wonderful views over Barcelona

For the second day begin by visiting the awe-inspiring Sagrada Familia basilica, with is whimsical towers, intricate carvings and masterpiece of Antoni Gaudí. The theme of Gaudí continues with the next sight, the Parc Guell, which was designed by him and includes delightful mosaic-covered buildings and wonderful views of the city.

The final area to discover is Montjuï, where you can ride the cable car to a stunning or visit the MNAC museum housed in the grand Palau Nacional.
The finale for your time in Barcelona is the inspiring Magic Fountain light show, held at the fountain near the MNAC museum (Wed-Sun peak season).

Barcelona beaches

Did we mention Barcelona has beaches, and that they are amazing!

You can unearth some seriously jaw-dropping sights, taste some unforgettable food, and get a grounding in Turkish history with only 48 hours to spend in Istanbul.

Day 1: There's really nowhere else to begin but Sultanahmet. This is the Istanbul you will have seen on the postcards; the land of minarets and mighty mosque domes. The kingpin of it all is the colossal Hagia Sophia.
In its long life of more than 1,500 years it's been an Orthodox cathedral and a mosque. It's now a museum containing gorgeous mosaics and frescos, although the star of the show is still its dome, flaunting an amazing 30-metre diameter.

Sitting opposite just to the south is the majestic Blue Mosque. Built in the early 1600s, it's still in working order. And even more history awaits in the Topkapi Palace Museum, which is a few blocks northwards. That sprawling complex reigned as the home of the Ottoman sultans. It's now a UNESCO site and occupies a stunning perch above the Bosphorus.

A pitstop at the Tarihi Sultanahmet kofta house is a must for those keen on trying traditional Turkish meatballs – the joint's been in operation since the 1920s!

From there, it's not far to the Grand Bazaar. One of the largest markets on the planet, it's a haven for haggling and souvenir shopping, where lantern sellers converge on sari stalls and shisha houses.

Galata tower Istanbul

Galata tower is at the heart of the Beyoglu district

Day 2: Big, modern Taksim Square starts day two with a sighting of what 21st-century Istanbul is all about. Be sure to take a glimpse of the honorific statue at its heart.

That's the Republic Monument, made to celebrate the foundation of the Turkish state in 1928. Nearby Istiklal Street has abundant choices on the food front, no matter if you're craving a gritty Turkish coffee or a regional breakfast spread of mezze cheeses, flatbreads, and olives.
It's also a busting artery of the city, with high-street shopping and a classic trolley car running its length. One thing you can't miss – literally! – here is Galata Tower. Built by the Genoese to protect their European strongholds from the east, it's a mind-blowing fortification that boasts sweeping panoramas from its top floors.

Your afternoon session should be dedicated to exploring the Bosphorus. There's really no better way to do that than on a boat. Some cruises even offer stops in Asian Istanbul and meals with the sunset to boot.

Blue Mosque

The entrance to the Blue Mosque

Beylerbeyi Palace Istanbul

The Beylerbeyi Palace was the summer residence of the Sultan

If you can find decent accommodation, then Barcelona is enjoyable for a city break. The main airport of Barcelona is 17km from the city centre and connected by train, but the low-cost airlines may use the very distant Barcelona-Reus (110km south) or Barcelona-Girona (90km north). Neither airport is good for a short city-break, as so much time will be waste travelling.

Accommodation for Barcelona is always in high demand, and you will typically end up paying much more than you originally planned before making any reservations. The summer months can be a real challenge to find good accommodation – book well in advance.

Sagrada Família barcelona

The Sagrada Família is the standout attraction of Barcelona

Once in Barcelona all of the main sights are close and can be easily walked. The standard of food and service at restaurants in the tourist areas varies dramatically, it’s always advisable to check reviews first.

The modern Istanbul New Airport is the main hub serving this big city. It handles the largest amount of air traffic in Turkey, so expect to find lots of connections in from Western Europe and beyond. Regular shuttle buses link the terminals with the downtown in around 50 minutes to one hour, but, be warned, travel times can vary greatly depending on traffic. The smaller Sabiha Gokcen International Airport hosts most of the services coming in from across the Middle East. It's over on the south side of the metropolis.

Public transit in Istanbul is just what you might expect from a vast, consistently expanding megacity. The best way to go about getting from A to B is to bag yourself an Istanbulkart. It's an all-in-one pass to the town's multi-faceted transport networks, allowing holders to use buses, trams, trains, metros, and even a few of the ferries. You'll need to buy your card from a kiosk and then top it up with credit to make journeys.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque

Istanbul's tourist areas suffer from the same scams as many other European cities. Fake guides, pickpockets and unregistered taxis are particularly common, so be sure to have your wits about you when sightseeing. Be wary when converting cash in the Old Town area too, because extortionate commission rates and even fake banknotes have been reported.

Choosing a hotel in Istanbul really depends on what you want. Sightseeing in Sultanahmet is what most people come for and there are loads of hotels to pick there, even if paying a premium is normal. Beyoglu is better if you're after chain hotels and boutique stays, and it's right on the more modern and happening part of town. Asian Istanbul will likely be cheaper, but also a ferry ride from the most famous attractions.

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