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Istanbul or Lisbon; a city comparison and tourism travel guide

Both Istanbul and Lisbon 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 website provides our unbiased and independent views of Lisbon and Istanbul, hopefully making your choice that little easier.
The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City ratings -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)

Introduction to Istanbul and Lisbon

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.

Lisbon is a progressive and liberal city, which still retains its rich seafaring history and distinctive Portuguese heritage. The city effortlessly blends history, vibrant culture and exciting nightlife into one charismatic tourist destination.

Lisbon is a city of compact variety; you can get lost in the maze of narrow streets in the Alfama district, be wowed by the grandeur of the plazas in Baixa or join the hipsters and fashionistas in the Principe Real. Close to the city are glorious sandy beaches, and Lisbon boasts one of the finest climates in Europe. This is an amazing city, which you must visit.

Istanbul vs Lisbon: City Ratings

Do you agree with us? Why not provide your own scores for Lisbon here

Summary
Which city would I go to? Lisbon
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Lisbon
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin? Lisbon
Which for my food obsessed friend? Lisbon
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 in the city?

Lisbon is a varied and fascinating city, which takes three days to fully explore. Often, people like to visit Sintra as part of their stay, but at a minimum, we recommend you dedicate two days to Lisbon itself.

For a longer stay, there are many enjoyable day trips, all of which can be reached via the inexpensive public transport. These include, the palaces of Sintra, the beach resorts of Cascais and Sesimbra and the historic towns of Obidos and Evora. In the summer, a holiday to Lisbon can also include visiting the beautiful beaches along the Estoril or Costa Caparica coastlines.
Related articles: 3 days in Lisbon48 hours in Lisbon

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.

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.

The recommended time to visit Lisbon is in the late spring and early autumn, when the city is sunny and warm, but without the summertime crowds. Lisbon is subject to the pressures of over-tourism at times, most notably being incredibly crowded during the summer months in the popular tourist areas, such as the Belem district and Sintra.

Due to the increased popularity of Lisbon, it is becoming a year-round destination, however, be warned that the winter months can be wet and chilly. Our favourite time of year to visit Lisbon is during the first two weeks of June, when the whole city celebrates the Santos Populares festivals with street parties and traditional dances.

Lisbon has a wide appeal; there are cultural sights, a buzzing nightlife and a blossoming artisan scene. The city will appeal to young or old, either for a cultural trip or as a fun weekend away.

In the summer (May-Sep) the beaches make for a really good extension to your trip and are easily accessible from the city. There is little to fault Lisbon and most visitors leave with fond memories of the city.

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.

There’s a lot to squeeze in for 48 hours in Lisbon.
Below is an interactive map for what we recommend doing in a 48 hour tripto the city; day 1is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights in grey.

Most tours begin in the Baixa district with its grand avenues and magnificent plazas, such as the Praça do Comércio and Rossio. In the later part of the day, start to climb the hills into the Alfama district which is a maze of medieval streets leading up to the castle. Take in one of the viewpoints close to the castle for a romantic sunset and then ride the quaint number 28 tram as it rattles through the city.
For dinner, head into the Baixa district and then for a night out, head to Barrio Alto, with its funky bars and social scene which fills the streets.

Torre de Belem lisbon

The Torre de Belem once guarded the Tejo Estuary and Lisbon

For the second day, head to the scenic Belem district, which contains the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, and Torre de Belem, along with views across the Tejo Estuary.
For the second part of the day discover the stylish Príncipe Real and Avenida da Liberdade districts or visit the ultra-modern side of Lisbon, the Parque das Nações.

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.

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.

When exploring the city, all of the main tourist areas are centrally located and can be reached on foot,he only exception is the Belem district, to the west. There are a lot of steep hills in Lisbon, and sightseeing can be very draining in the intense summer sun.

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.

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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