Istanbul is a city packed full of people, history, and rich culture.
The city is a true melting pot and an incredibly unique place. It embraces its ancient history while moving forward with a modern flair – in it, you’ll find grand mosques and bustling markets alongside epic nightclubs and a cutting-edge art scene.
The city’s diverse and seemingly countless neighborhoods offer something for every type of tourist.
But before setting off to Istanbul, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about traveling to Istanbul, including:
- What are the costs for travelers?
- Things to know about culture and etiquette
- What are the top attractions?
- How safe is it?
- Local food and drinks
- How good is the WiFi?
- How long can you stay?
Ready? Here are the top 7 things you need to know before visiting Istanbul:
Did you know… Istanbul is the only pan-continental city in the world. The Bosphorus strait divides the European side from the Asian side. The most popular tourist sites are on the European side in the Sultanahmet district, which is a great neighborhood to base yourself in if it is your first visit.
1) Istanbul Affordability
Visitors to Istanbul will find everything under the sun when it comes to dining. How much you spend is up to you.
- A 3-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two costs around $30.
- For a cheap meal at an inexpensive restaurant, expect to pay around $7
- A beer costs between $3-$4, while a cappuccino is about $2.
Istanbul is a massive and very busy city, so visitors should base themselves close to the neighborhoods and attractions they plan on visiting to cut down on transit time.
- Istanbul has many forms of public transportation – trams, funiculars, metro, and ferries. Fares start at $0.79/per ride or $0.52 if using an Istanbulkart smart card.
- Taxis are another option, although the streets are usually congested so you’ll likely be paying to sit in traffic. Rates start at $0.66 plus an additional $0.72 per mile.
- Uber is available in Istanbul but is typically more expensive than taxis. Similar apps such as BiTaksi and iTaksi are cheaper options.
2) Culture And Etiquette In Istanbul
Check this list before your trip! Here are some of the major Dos and Don’ts in Istanbul.
- DO dress appropriately: especially when visiting mosques – be sure to remove shoes, cover shoulders and knees, and women should use a scarf to cover their hair.
- DON’T visit mosques during prayer times: Muslims typically pray five times a day, and the specific times are posted outside each mosque.
- DO negotiate the price: bargaining for a better price is commonplace at the Grand Bazaar.
- DON’T use your left hand: only use your right hand when greeting someone, as the left is considered unclean.
- DO leave a tip: 10% is customary at restaurants and 25% at hammams.
3) Top Attractions in Istanbul
Here are a few of the top things to see and do while exploring Istanbul:
- The Grand Bazaar – a sprawling 500-year-old covered market with over 4000 merchants selling carpets, lanterns, ceramics, jewelry, clothing, and so much more
- Topkapı Palace – the official residence of the Ottoman sultans for 400 years, the palace is now a museum where visitors can explore the extensive grounds, rooms, and artifacts
- The Blue Mosque – a majestic 17th-century mosque with over 20,000 hand-painted blue tiles decorating the interior walls and 200 stained glass windows
4) How Safe Is It For Tourists?
As far as big cities go, Istanbul is relatively safe. However, there are still some things that travelers should keep in mind to stay safe during their visit:
- Beware of pickpockets: Be especially vigilant in tourist areas and on public transportation, as pickpocketing is the most common crime against tourists in Istanbul.
- Watch out for scammers: If someone approaches you offering to sell something or wants to help you uninvited, be weary of their intentions.
- Know what to do in an emergency: Earthquakes and tremors are common in Istanbul, so know the proper safety protocols and have an emergency plan. Dial 112 for emergency services.
- Women be aware: Catcalling is common on the streets of Istanbul. Avoid walking alone at night and don’t leave drinks unattended.
- Check for travel warnings: There have been terrorist attacks in the city before, so stay current on government travel warnings.
- DO get travel insurance: Travel insurance can help in health emergencies as well as with covering the costs of any travel mishaps during your Istanbul trip. For 5 great options, read more here.
5) Local Eats And Drinks
One of the best parts of travel is checking out the local cuisine, and Istanbul is a fantastic place to try new foods. Don’t let yourself leave without trying at least one of the following:
- Döner Kebab – beef, or lamb cooked on a vertical rotisserie and served with pita and vegetables
- Balık ekmek – a delicious sandwich of seasoned grilled fish popular all over the city
- Köfte – Turkish meatballs made with minced meat, herbs, and bulgur
- Lahmacun – thin crispy flatbread topped with seasoned meat and herbs
- Börek – crispy layers of paper-thin dough filled with cheese, meat, or spinach
- Tea – you’ll be offered hot black tea sweetened with sugar at restaurants and cafes
- Turkish coffee – thick unfiltered coffee in a tiny cup, sweetened with sugar, and served with a cold glass of water
- Rakı – a popular alcoholic drink of twice distilled grapes and aniseed
- Efes Pilsen – a light lager and the most popular beer in Turkey
6) How’s the WiFi?
Using Ookla, an internet speed testing service, the average internet speeds in Istanbul for January 2023 were 33.96mbps download and 13.82mbps upload.
7) How Long Can I Stay?
U.S. Citizens now obtain an e-visa via an online application. Travelers can stay up to 90 days within a 180-day period after paying the $50 e-visa fee. The application should be submitted at least 48 hours prior to arriving in Turkey. Visitors who wish to stay longer than 90 days will need to apply for a residency visa.
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