If thoughts of a slow international economy and ongoing insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq are holding you back, rest assured: Turkey has more than gracefully weathered the storm. The nation's economic growth rivals that of China, while tourism is up, up, up, with no sign of slowing. So in spite of somewhat inflated prices in comparison to previous years (bordering on shocking in Istanbul), Turkey still presents itself as one of the best, safest, easiest, and all-around most rewarding destinations in the region. What's more, for the first time in history, visitors will be able to sample the best of Turkey's culinary treats minus the flavor of tobacco, as the smoking ban is in effect as of July 2009.
While planning your trip and consulting this guide, you should know a few things about the nature of travel and tourism in Istanbul and Turkey in general.
It is no surprise to any of us that hotels, restaurants, and museums raise their prices regularly (and in some cases, annually). However, this natural inflation is compounded by Turkey's current popularity as a tourist destination, and indeed the Ministry of Culture and Tourism accordingly recalibrates the entry fees for museums at the start of each tourist season. Thus, sparsely visited museums such as the Askeri Müzesi (Military Museum) charge lesser fees in the hopes of attracting more visitors, while the fees for "must-sees" such as Topkapi Palace and the Ayasofya continue to climb to accommodate what the market will bear. Hotels (some of which are now excluding breakfast from the package) and restaurants (which shamelessly have begun to charge a "cover" for bread and water) are also taking advantage of the increased level of demand. I have tried to balance this unavoidable fact by selecting honest and reliable establishments led by professional businessmen and women, and to weed out the "get-rich-quickers." This in itself is not always possible, as ownership of hotels, restaurants, cafes, and even websites changes and evolves, often without the corresponding name change.
Furthermore, Turkey is undergoing a level of development and renewal that it has not seen in decades. Foreign direct investment, improvements in the tax collection system, an unprecedented commitment to the country's as-of-yet unexcavated cultural goods, and elevated museum entrance fees are being plowed back into the economy, while projects anticipating Istanbul's reign as European Cultural Capital (2010) and Turkey's continued bid for membership in the E.U. have given the entire country a major face-lift. The country is changing at an incredible clip, and unfortunately it's impossible for a biennial guidebook to stay on top of things.
Finally, there is an unavoidable (and inconvenient?) truth to writing up those rare and secret "finds." Once the secret is out, the floodgates open, and the secret becomes a cliché. The lag time varies, but the process is sadly inevitable. Hotels double their rates, carpet shops double or triple their profits, and restaurants start to cut corners. Some of these establishments ride the coattails of a Frommer's trusted listing for years, proffering outdated guidebooks to "illustrate" the endorsement.
What does this mean for you while you plan and fantasize about your trip? In the end, we do our best and expect that you will do yours. In exchange for our experienced and researched advice, we hope that you will be smart travelers, savvy shoppers, and selective with your praise and criticism, and that you will continue to let us know what you think.
Advance Tickets to Cultural Events in Istanbul -- Tickets for all of Turkey's main events can be purchased through Biletix (tel. 0216/556-9800; www.biletix.com) and at an ample list of retail outlets and hotel concierge desks. In Istanbul, you can get your tickets at the Divan, Swissôtel, Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt, Radisson SAS, Marmara, and Marmara Pera hotels. See the website for locations in other major cities.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.