The best destination comparison site!
The best destination comparison site!
Both Stockholm 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 Stockholm, 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?)
Magical, mystical Stockholm spreads over a speckling of islets surrounded by the icy Baltic Sea. At its centre is the fairy-tale Gamla Stan. Cobbled lanes wiggle and writhe around medieval rowhouses in those parts, opening onto a kitschy plaza filled with gingerbread cafés and grand Neo-Classical palaces.
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.
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.
Stockholm is a perfect city break spot. Two or three days is a great amount of time to while away between the historic Gamla Stan and the museums of Östermalm. What's more, planning a fly-in, fly-out jaunt has never been easier. There are no fewer than four airports serving the town, from big Stockholm-Arlanda to low-cost favourite Skavsta Airport. The advantage? It should be a cinch to find affordable connections in and out, say 72 hours apart.
If you've got a little more time to spare, then use it. Stockholm has secrets that aren't on the main tourist menu. For example, you could venture out to the rugged islands of the outer Stockholm Archipelago. They're for sailing, swimming, fishing, and wandering quaint villages. There are also the Viking relics of Birka and the idyllic forests and lake lands of Bornsjön. All those will require more than just a weekend.
Wrap up warm if you're heading north in the winter months. Stockholm is a cold capital, but it comes with hefty sides of festive charm. At Christmas, you'll find lovely markets on Stortorget square in the middle of the Gamla Stan, the scents of mulled wine and hot chocolate floating up through the pastel-painted guild mansions. On the flip side, November to March also means uber-short days (think sunset as early as 3pm!) and lots of rain and snowfall.
If you prefer a dose of Vitamin D, consider the white nights of summer. It doesn't get dark until well into the evening between June and August. What's more, the weather is usually warm and mild, with daily averages in the low 20s. Of course, this is also the most popular time to come, so expect hotel rates to be inflated.
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.
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.
If you're a fan of culture-brimming capitals and enchanting old towns, then Stockholm is sure to impress. Whole days of wandering between waterside parks, centuries-old terraces, cobbled squares and stooped taverns are on the menu. And so are visits to places like the Vasa Museum, with its 17th-century Swedish warship pulled up from the deep.
In addition to all that, districts like Södermalm are there to entertain the foodie and the art lover. It's a vibrant mix of multicultural cafés and restaurants. On one corner you'll see a Bahian curry stall, on the next you'll catch a Lebanese rice kitchen. And that's not even mentioning the wealth of fair-trade coffee shops and roasteries that make an appearance.
It's also quite pricy, so we'd recommend anyone on a budget to steer well clear.
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.
48hours in Stockholm
Let's get stuck into Stockholm with this curated 48-hour itinerary. It whisks you from the aged heart of the town to some of its lived-in outer areas, and passes acclaimed museums and eateries as it goes…
Day 1: Hop out at Gamla Stan station in the early morning. Doing that puts you right at the meeting point of the Free Walking Tour Stockholm. Their trips typically take around two hours from start to finish, but they're a fine intro to all the secrets and monuments of the amazing district.
You'll probably encounter the bustling shopping thoroughfare of Stora Nygatan, the narrow alley of Prästgatan, and the handsome Stortorget square, all topped off with the stunning Royal Palace of Stockholm to learn about the boundary-breaking monarchy of Sweden. Once it's finished, be sure to stroll down cobbled Österlånggatan between the toyshops and Nordic taverns.
Have something to eat there and then move south across the water to Södermalm. One of the first things you'll encounter is the Katarina Elevator, with its high lookout points gazing across the old town. A few blocks to the south and you'll be in SoFo. This is the hipster hub of the city. If you can get a place, be sure to dine at quirky Meatballs for the People – expect modern twists on Scandi staples. If not, there are oodles of ramen places and Indian joints to boot.
Day 2: Breakfast at the Hötorgshallen. A colossal, two-floor food court, it's bursting with pretzels, smoked-salmon outlets, New Yorker delis, and more. It's also on the edge of Norrmalm's chic shopping area. Wander that to see designer outlets galore before emerging onto the salt-washed quays around Berzelii Park.
From there, you'll be able to see the forested island of Djurgården – your next destination. It's a short walk, with a few riverside cafes like the Sjöcafeet to enjoy en route. Then you delve straight into the Vasa Museum. Simply not to be missed, it's a chart-topper of Stockholm. The whole exhibit revolves around a mighty warship that sunk in Stockholm harbour just minutes after launching in the 17th century.
If time allows, ABBA the Museum is also next door, complete with glitzy pop paraphernalia and the piano on which some of the band's hit tracks were written. Behind all that is the vast open-air museum come park of Skansen. It's got living history that'll transport you back to medieval Sweden, along with a fun funicular train ride and even enclosures with brown bears.
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.
Stockholm has four individual airports. Stockholm-Arlanda is the largest. That's where you're likely to land on long-haul connections. The direct Flygbussarna transfer can get you back and forth in just 45 minutes, but there's also express rail straight to the terminal.
Skavsta Airport is a hub for low-cost carriers like Ryanair and is linked to the city by private coach transfers (travel time: 1.2 hours). Bromma Airport is mainly for domestic links and also has buses straight to the city. Finally, there's Västerås Airport. Over 60 miles to the west, it's popular for Sweden-UK flights. A coach transfer there takes around 80 minutes in total.
If you're struggling on deciding where to stay in Stockholm, look no further than the northern quarters of Södermalm. That's a good balance between affordability, convenience, and proximity to the Gamla Stan. Of course, there are also hotels in the middle of the old town, but you'll usually need to fork out more for the immersion.
Stockholm is one of the safest capital cities in Europe, though problems are not unheard of. There are still pickpockets and muggings but stay sensible and calm and they are very unlikely to affect your trip. The most common places to fall victim to these sorts of crimes are on the subway, in the Gamla Stan, and in busy food halls..
Never stand on the cycle lane in Stockholm. Getting around on two wheels is an important mode of commuting for many locals. They don't take kindly to folk who get in their way!