35 Important Travel Tips For Istanbul

travel tips for Istanbul
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THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE GOING

My recent trip to Istanbul left a huge impression on me with its diverse range of architecture, blend of cuisines and complex history. A vibrant and colourful metropolis in Turkey, that people should visit at least once. But, it’s wise to be prepared before going. These important travel tips for Istanbul will provide you with tools and information to set off on your journey and make the most of the fascinating city that awaits you, particularly if you’re going for the first-time.

Istanbul is one of the few cities in the world which straddles two continents, divided by a body of water, the Bosphorus Strait. Part of Istanbul lies in Europe and the other part in Asia, hence sometimes called Eurasia. A geographical phenomenon and one of the things that makes Istanbul a unique city. 

As you explore the city, you’ll be captivated by the blend of old and new, traditional and modern, East and West, that gives Istanbul its charm. With 16 million people spanning the two continental sides and thousands of years of history, Istanbul can seem overwhelming and a bit scary for many tourists. Fortunately for you, I have lots of practical tips, advice and recommendations to help you navigate the Istanbulite landscape.

Be sure to read Epic Sites of Istanbul You Must Visit to guide you in planning your time in the city.

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These are my travel tips for Istanbul. I hope you find them useful in helping organise your trip to enjoy your stay in this popular city.

1. Visa

Certain passports, including US and Australian, require a Visa for entry to Turkey. Check online and if needed, arrange it in advance. An e-Visa is easy to obtain and normally very quick to be approved.

2. I.D.

By law, you must carry a photo ID with you at all times. Or, at least a copy or a photo of your ID on your phone.

3. Language

Turkish is the main language, but English, Kurdish, and Arabic are commonly spoken.

4. Currency

Turkish Lira (TLR) is the local currency, sign ₺. Carry a little local currency for small purchases when cards aren’t accepted. Many places will take credit cards.

Sometimes Euros or American Dollars are accepted as well.

5. Asian side of Istanbul

The Asian side, or Anatolia, is bigger, mainly residential, quieter and generally cheaper for most things. The Asian side is also more conservative and less touristy, although it does have attractions you may wish to visit also, such as MiniaturkSealife and Legoland.

6. European side of Istanbul

The European side, or Thrace, is smaller but has an abundance of famous historical and cultural attractions. In fact all the major iconic sites most people want to visit are found in European Istanbul, and thus where tourists spend most of their time.

7. Religion

More than 90% of the residents are Muslim. Istanbul is a destination of spiritual importance for those of Islam, with many pilgrimage sites.

8. Behaviour

Avoid public displays of affection and being drunk in public, especially women. Smoking is banned in all indoor public places. Avoid talking about Turkish political matters. Blowing your nose at the table is the height of rudeness. Pointing your finger at someone is also a no-no.

9. Clothing

Dress conservatively wherever you go, as skimpy clothing is not what the locals wear. So if you want to fit in and look like you belong, wear clothes that cover the body.

10. Visiting Mosques

As a sign of respect it is important to cover up when entering mosques, especially adult females, who must also wear a head scarf or hat to cover the hair. No short clothing or singlet tops, even for men, otherwise you will not be allowed entry. Remove shoes and either leave them at the entrance, or carry them in a bag, and wear socks inside. Note, if you leave shoes at door, they may get stolen. Large items are not allowed inside. 

These rules must be strictly adhered to. You may feel more comfortable going with a local guide.

11. Tipping

Leaving a tip is much appreciated, but not compulsory, so give at your own discretion.

12. Haggling

It is definitely part of the market experience and is expected by shop owners, however be sensible in your haggling.

13. Public holidays

Avoid visiting tourist attractions during Turkish public holidays, such as Ramadan, as the crowds are horrendous and the citizens are given free public transport on these special days which brings them out in droves.

14. Istanbul E-Pass

Purchase the Istanbul E-Pass online for access to major attractions, valid for a short number of days.

15. Public transport

Trains, buses and trams do not accept cash. Instead get an Istanbulkart or Unlimited Transportation Card with Istanbul E-pass, perfect for a short period of time and the cheapest way to get around. Or, get the Public Transport Card.

16. Ferry

A great way to cross the Bosphorus Strait from one continent to the other and enjoy the scenic views, spot the many landmarks, avoid traffic and it’s very reasonably priced. There are several Ferry lines to choose from. Piers are located on both sides of the Strait.

17. Alcohol

It is best to drink at designated places or privately. The Asian side has less establishments serving alcohol. You may wish to ask the brand of liquor being served to you to ensure it is good quality, otherwise you may be given nasty stuff. 

Raki is the national liquor of Turkey, made from grapes and aniseed.

18. Turkish cuisine

A blend of Mediterranean, Asian and Middle Eastern foods to tantalise your tastebuds, Turkish cuisine includes fish, lamb, beef, and chicken dishes, plenty of vegetables, and uses an array of herbs and spices. Breads, rice and a selection of sweets will tempt you.

19. Street food

Make sure to buy from busy street vendors to ensure freshly cooked and better quality food or go with someone who knows.

20. Pork

 Very uncommon in Istanbul, as most Muslims do not eat pork products.

21. Coffee

Turkish coffee is the most popular type of coffee in Istanbul. It is strong, unfiltered and quite thick. You can order western style coffee also.

22. Tea

Turkish çay is the most popular drink in Turkey and is always offered to guests. Tea is served without milk, in pretty glasses.

23. Toilets

You will have to pay to use some public toilets. The cleanest toilets are always in Mosques. Men’s are bay and women’s are bayan.

Toilet paper cannot be flushed in some toilets due to very old pipes, so look out for signs and bins placed next to toilets.

24. Taxis

Uber and Yellow Taxis are connected, both of which are not always reliable, so be careful and be wary of scams.

25. Shops

Best things to buy in Turkey are leather goods, ceramics, rugs, sweets and spices, if your country allows you to bring food back (Australia does not).

Markets and some shops are closed on Sundays.

26. Water

Don’t drink tap water. Whether because of old pipes or the water treatment, the quality and taste is not always good. Bottle water is safest.

27. Phones

Get an e-Sim before you come to Turkey, as availability of e-Sims for tourists in Istanbul is limited.

28. Websites

Some sites get intermittently blocked by the government in Turkey, such as social media, news sites, Wikipedia and others. 

25. Pharmacies

Pharmacies are a little hard to find, and they are all small and privately owned. Look for eczane. They often sell medicines without the need for prescription and reasonably cheap.

25. Airports

There are two international airports in Istanbul. The main one is on the European side (IST), and the other on the Asian side (SAW) which serves as a secondary airport. So be sure to check which one your flight is departing from.

26. Accommodation

Be aware if you choose accommodation near a Mosque, you will likely hear loud callings to prayer 5 times per day, starting before dawn. It is part of the Turkish experience, but not everyone’s cup of tea. If you opt to stay near the tourist areas, such as Sultanahmet district, it will of course be very busy and dearer. The Asian side of Istanbul will offer some cheaper accommodation options.

Wherever, you decide to stay, book in advance. Note, the Booking.com site can only be used outside of Turkey, so don’t leave arranging your accommodation till you get there.

27. Stay

Plan for at least 3 or 4 days in Istanbul to make the most of your visit in Istanbul. Longer is preferable.

28. Insurance

Travel Insurance is a must when travelling on a Visa to Turkey, to cover any unforeseen  circumstances.

29. Medical

For any medical emergency you can call 112 for immediate assistance in Istanbul.

30. Gambling

Gambling and betting is prohibited in Turkey, except for state-run lottery. Hence there are no Casinos in the country.

31. Crime

Watch out for pickpockets, especially in crowded areas. Scams are also part of life here, so be wary and don’t be too quick to trust people.

32. Touting

The extent of touting outside of shops is a little overwhelming, and they can be quite insistent in trying to get you to come and buy their goods, and they often speak other languages.

33. Driving

Istanbul traffic is crazy all the time. So hiring a car and driving around Istanbul is not recommended. However, if you are planning to take a day trip out of the city, then driving makes perfect sense.

34. Queues

Everywhere you go in Istanbul, and no matter what time of day, you will find long queues of people waiting to buy tickets and to get into famous sites, including Mosques, so you have too be a bit patient.

35. Tourists

Finally, high season for tourism in Istanbul is June to August. So be prepared for crowds of tourists. Typically, residents flee the city for their Summer break.

Istanbul is somewhat of a tourist magnet. The number of people that visited Istanbul in 2023 was 17.4 million, making it one of the most favourite tourist destinations in the world. 

I hope my travel tips for Istanbul are of value to you.

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Foods You May Like To Try In Istanbul

  • Kebabs: Grilled or roasted meats, often served on skewers, including döner, shish and adana kebabs.
  • Baklava: A sweet, flaky pastry made from layers of filo dough and filled with chopped nuts and honey.
  • Turkish Delight: Small cubes of sugar and starch, flavoured with rosewater, lemon, or pomegranate.
  • Mezze: A mix of small dishes, served as appetisers, which include hummus, stuffed grapevine leaves called dolma, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, olives .
  • Popular street foods: grilled fish sandwich called balik ekmek, filo pastry with various fillings called borek, sesame crusted bagel called simit, char-grilled meatballs on bread called köfte ekmek, and roasted chestnuts.

Tours and Attractions In Istanbul

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Accommodation Options in Istanbul

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8 thoughts on “35 Important Travel Tips For Istanbul

  1. Sonia says:

    Great advice for planning our Istanbul trip. I hadn’t thought about shoes getting stolen in mosques, we’ll definitely carry them with us.

  2. Terri says:

    I loved seeing the street cats in Istanbul. The Turks are so good about feeding them. It was fun to have a cat join me at a cafe! 🐈

  3. Angela Lowe says:

    This is perfect. All the info you need when prepping for a trip to Istanbul. I learned so much and it gave me lots to think about. I was not thinking about hotel near a mosque where loud prayers can be happening before dawn. Personally I think that would be a nice experience but I could see where people might have issues with it. Thanks so much

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