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Both Paris 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 Istanbul and Paris, 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?)
Paris is famed as the capital of Romance, the epicentre of French culture and grand European art, and the home of iconic monuments like the Eiffel Tower. There's no question that it's an amazing city to explore.
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; where shisha smoke mingles with the smells of falafel; the muezzin's call echoes between relics left by the ancient Romans.
Most travelers aim for the north-western portion of the town. That's 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.
Which city would I go to?
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Which for my food obsessed friend?
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!
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.
Paris could take a lifetime to explore completely. This is a living, breathing, sprawling capital city, which means even the locals can be surprised at the new cafes, bistros, and cultural events that come and go. For travellers, at least three days is a good idea.
That's probably just enough to see the mainstay sights and hop into the Louvre to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa. Trips to explore outer arrondissements and sample Paris's pumping nightlife should probably be between four days and a whole week, with more extensions needed if you want to hit the Loire Valley for wine tasting.
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.
Paris is known for its café culture, it would be a shame to miss all those al fresco coffees on the canal side. Enjoyments like that are most likely to be had in the warmer months, which – this far north in France – means May to September.
Outside of those, the rainfall picks up and things get chilly. That said, the summer is the most expensive and busy part of the year, so you'll be contending with others for those selfies by the Eiffel Tower.
Visits pre-Christmas tend to be pricier than those after Christmas. If you're eager to cosy up and see Paris in the ice and cold, you might want to push your break to February or March. Those months tend to be nice, quiet and free from the tourist masses.
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.
Paris is a master of art and culture. From the gold-gilded palaces of Versailles to the endless works of the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay, you'll never be short on paintings or architecture or sculpture.
But the best Paris trips mix all that with a little bit of food, some classic sightseeing, and even a touch of hedonism. That makes this a versatile city-break option, offering wine bars and bucket-list attractions like the Eiffel Tower.
It's probably worth dodging Paris if you're not the sort who deals well with crowds, traffic, and big cities. The nearest place you can go to escape to nature are the forest parks on the outskirts. What's more, it can take a while to get from A to B in the French capital.
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.
Paris in 48 hours is a hard ask, but this itinerary should help distil the city's preeminent culture, art and atmosphere into two short days:
Day 1: Breakfast time in the 19th arrondissement. Local and traveller joints meet there, with some charming cafés and bakeries lining Le Bassin de la Villette, where there are open-air swimming spots in the summer months. Then, move south-west along the picturesque Canal Saint-Martin.
It takes you to the beating heart of the city, just shy of where the Île de la Cité hosts the beautiful Cathedral of Notre Dame. Take your photos and then move across the Seine River to the famous Latin Quarter.
Day 2: Seek out the bohemian neighborhood of Montmartre to start your second day in Paris. It's known for its zigzagging cobbled streets and urban staircases, but also comes replete with cosy coffee houses with crispy croissants. At the very top of the hill where the district is draped is the gorgeous Sacré-Cœur. Its great travertine domes gaze over the city, so expect some awesome views.
On the way down, heading west, you might just pass by the infamous Moulin Rouge and its makeshift windmill all lit up in red neon. You can catch a metro from that to go along to Ternes. Emerge and you'll be looking straight down at the Arc de Triomphe, which marks the start of the Champs-Élysées – a place to shop till you drop.
Be sure to pull yourself from that grand boulevard with enough time (and light) left to see the Eiffel Tower in all its glory. The landmark is just over the river to the south, but the best view might be from the Trocadéro Gardens on the northern banks.
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.
Paris is served by two large international airports. Low-cost carriers typically use Orly. From there, you can hop to Anthony Train Station and then switch to the urban metro line to reach the city. The trip costs around €12 in total. The more famous and larger airport at Roissy Charles de Gaulle is for long-haul fliers and premium services. It's linked straight to the Gare du Nord station in the middle of the city by regular trains that take around 35 minutes from terminal to town.
The Parisian transport network is vast and efficient. Travelers shouldn't need more than the RER and Metro combination. They can be caught to virtually all the major sights and areas around the capital. You can purchase a contactless card ticket to travel on all the lines – tariffs are €1.90 per ride.
Even among the French themselves, the Parisian people are renowned for being curt and a little rude. Remember that this is a working, living metropolis, so expect central areas to be busy with commuters and the like. You'll also want to be especially cautious on public transport when carrying large luggage or travelling at night, because pickpocketing and thefts certainly aren't unheard of.