Best Istanbul Travel Tips

Best Istanbul Travel Tips

Istanbul is literally the bridge that connects East and West. Located on the Bosphorus Strait and surrounded by two seas, it is the pearl of two worlds. Here are 10 tips to enjoy your visit to this magical city.

Best Istanbul Travel Tips

With nearly 15 million inhabitants, in Istanbul you will find museums, monuments, bazaars and magical places that seem suspended in time. But also a lot of modernity with shopping malls and restaurants that will give you a taste of the best of the local gastronomy.

A duality that mixes the Muslim, Christian and Jewish world, which will make this destination a mystical and enchanting experience, while enjoying the best of two worlds. If this is your first time visiting the city, here are some key facts to help you plan your experience.

1. Find out how to get from the airport to Istanbul

Atatürk Havalimani International Airport terminal illuminated at night.| ©Jorge Franganillo

Before your trip to Istanbul, it is a good idea to confirm which is your arrival airport, to avoid last minute confusion, as there are two airports in the city: Atatürk International Airport, relatively well connected to the city and Sabiha Gökçen Airport, where most charter and low cost airlines operate.

A good option is to check what transfers are available between each airport and Istanbul to book a safe transport to take you to your accommodation. The trip may take an hour or a little more depending on traffic, but it is a comfortable alternative that will save you time and avoid the stress of moving alone in a city as chaotic as Istanbul.

If you want to move on your own and depending on your arrival time, you can also use the city’s public transportation network.

2. Check entry requirements for the country

Turkish Embassy| ©Nazif İLBEK

Upon arrival, and depending on your nationality, you may be required to obtain a visa or other documentation to enter the country.
A quick check before your trip on the website of the Turkish Embassy in your country can guide you on the mandatory requirements to be presented to the authorities. You may also need to pay for a 90-day tourist permit, either upon arrival or in advance online.

3. Find out how to communicate during your stay in Istanbul

The official language is Turkish and you will have no problem communicating in English. It is also curious that in many restaurants and stores Spanish is spoken, but it is worth learning some greetings and words in Turkish, with which you can win the sympathy of the locals.

Here are some basic expressions:

3. Pay attention to currency exchange

Turkish money| ©The Black Pearl 12

The official currency of the country is the Turkish lira and you can check the exchange rate in your local currency before your trip, to give you an idea, 1 euro is equivalent to approximately 16 Turkish lira.

Although in many places you can pay by card, it is advisable to carry cash, which you can withdraw from ATMs or currency centers at the airport, although without much advantage in the particular exchange rate from euros to lira.

My suggestion is to change a small amount before traveling and, already in the city, consult the ATM network of collaborating entities with the bank you use and make cash withdrawals, which in my experience give you a fairer rate to Turkish lira than the exchange agencies.

4. Compare different accommodation options

Sisli Neighborhood| ©Arko Asko

There is a lot to see and do in Istanbul, so where you stay is key to better enjoy the city. I start by explaining that the city is divided into two main areas: the more European area close to the tourist attractions and the eastern side of the city, more residential and local.

Because of its proximity to the major tourist attractions and ease of getting around, especially if it is your first time in the city, the Sultanahmet neighborhood has good accommodation options, plus it is very safe. You will be able to start your activities early and avoid the cumbersome queues.

Another popular area is the one located a little further east past the Galata Bridge; such as the neighborhoods of Galata and Karaköy. With a slightly wider choice in terms of nightlife, party places, and gastronomic proposals, it is relatively central and well connected to other places of interest in the city.

You will find accommodation options for all tastes and budgets in both areas, however, I recommend staying in the central area and take more advantage of the time, as traffic in the city at certain times can be chaotic. You can always check the schedules and frequencies of public transportation.

5. Find out how the city’s public transportation works

Taking an Istanbul Train| ©*SHERWOOD*

From end to end, Istanbul is a city with hundreds of places to visit and with the option of getting around by streetcar, metro, ferry, city bus or funicular.

In my opinion, the best option is to take the T1 streetcar line, which has stops at almost all points of interest, with the advantage of saving time, as the metro lines that the city has, can be difficult to understand if it is your first visit to Istanbul.

Transportation is relatively inexpensive and there is an option that allows you to save even more money, such as the rechargeable Istanbulkart card, which gives you access to all means of public transport available including the ferry. You can purchase it online and it is valid for the days you plan to be in the city.

The ferry is one of the nice experiences to cross the Bosphorus Strait andthe Golden Horn, cross to the Asian side of Üsküdar and enjoy the sights that Istanbul has to offer.

Cabs in Istanbul

Although a cab ride through different parts of the city center does not exceed 4 or 5 euros, it can become a real odyssey to get a free one. In addition, to avoid scams, I recommend you always move in a certified cab.

If you have no choice but to take it on the street, I advise you to look for the route suggested by a GPS, negotiate in advance with the driver, check the taximeter and be very attentive at the time of payment so that they give you the corresponding change.

6. Learn how to bargain in the local stores

Inside the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul| ©Bahnfrend

If bargaining runs through your veins, you are in the right place to play with your cunning and have advantages when it comes to buying. If not, I recommend you to be very patient and calm, because this is a city where shopkeepers and waiters are usually very insistent so that you do not leave their business without buying anything, so knowing the tricks to bargain in Istanbul will be key.

In addition, if you do you can enjoy places like the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, where you will find a great commercial offer.

In many places, especially in the bazaars, markets or street food stalls, they do not have electronic means of payment. It is advisable that, if you are going to visit one of them, you carry Turkish lira in your pocket or consult where to withdraw to make a good offer and enter the colorful commercial spaces that the city has.

7. Taste the best of the local food with a gastronomic tour

Turkish Food| ©Marcela L

When it comes to food, in Istanbul you will find incredible gastronomic tours around Istanbul. Turkish cuisine is famous all over the world and places to try, fortunately, are not going to be lacking.

Although Istanbul is located between two seas and seafood dominates the restaurant menus, let me tell you that you have many more options of Turkish cuisine to include in your menu. With its famous kebabs, lahmacun (Turkish pizza), chicken with honey and spices or a Meze, you will travel to paradise, dominated by the best culinary techniques of the two worlds.

From experience, I believe that the most varied and appetizing places to eat are found in the street stalls or self-service food restaurants that abound in the city. They are a varied option, suitable for all tastes (vegetarian paradise, moreover), safe and with really good costs to try every day the best typical dishes of Turkey.

If you intend to take your experience even further, meyhane, lokantas and traditional restaurants can be places where you can live an experience full of flavors that you will not forget.

In these places you can also enjoy traditional drinks such as tea in all its expressions, a good Turkish coffee, fresh orange and cherry fruit juice or “spirits” such as Raki or lion’s milk, with its delicate spicy touches of aniseed.

8. Take a sightseeing bus tour of the city

Istanbul sightseeing bus tour| ©Jonathan D

A panoramic view of the city, will always allow you to better decide the agenda of places you want to visit according to your traveling nature. That’s why I’m a fan of guided sightseeing bus tours, which in a few hours allow you to have a mental map of the city and plan a route that fits your needs or time. You tour the city at your own pace, hopping on or off wherever you want, ideal for those traveling just for 1 day in Istanbul.

These tours usually have free admission to certain attractions, included in the value of the ticket and have about 20 stops near the best attractions of the city, audio guides in several languages and are suitable for children, people with reduced mobility or disability.

9. Don’t miss Istanbul by night

Istiklal Avenue by night| ©Jens G

Discovering the city of Istanbul by night is highly recommended. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the night magic of one of the most iconic cities of humanity.

If you go on foot, on your tour you can find cozy bars and pubs to share a drink, with many different styles and atmospheres. For drinks and snacks, after visiting the most beautiful mosques or having had an afternoon of shopping, you can find places with snacks and other dishes, as a prelude to Istanbul’s nightlife party.

But the best is a pleasant stroll along the Bosphorus strait and the so-called Golden Horn aboard a boat, letting yourself be bewitched by the spell of old Constantinople, its music and night postcards, to the rhythm of Arabian belly dancing and other magical expressions of the Cossacks or the distant Anatolia.

If you want a novel experience, I also recommend a good Segway ride, accompanied by the best and friendly tour guides of the city. Glide through Istanbul’s radiant nightlife, tour its enormous urban gastronomy and get ready to have a great time.

10. The must-see

People doing Sufi dance| ©Jose T

If you’ve made it this far, you already have an idea of what the city’s most popular tourist attractions are. However, there are some unique expeditions and activities in this bridge city between two worlds. Here are my favorites.

Turkish baths

The Turkish baths of Istanbul, which are replicated in each of the latitudes of the planet, but whose popular origin arose in ancient Constantinople. Better known as Hammam, Istanbul has hundreds of such rooms where you can relax, receive an exfoliating wash or a massage, while enjoying these architectural gems of the city.

Excursion to Cappadocia

If you are going to be in Istanbul for three days or more, you can not fail to include in your agenda an excursion to Cappadocia, a perfect place to enjoy a Turkish sunrise with incredible views from a hot air balloon.

Dervish dance

Another plan you can’t miss in the city is to attend a dervish dance. This is one of the most hypnotic and curious experiences that Istanbul has, although it is not a tourist spectacle and is rather a religious ceremony, which has its origin in a Sufist ritual that follows a spiritual current detached from material goods.

Seeing these people with their long robes spinning in absolute coordination, is a mystical experience that you can not miss to take in your heart the soul of Turkey.

Magical and mysterious, radiant, cosmopolitan and traditional, this place gathers the best of East and West in the same space. I can only wish you to enjoy your stay in the city.