The Best Istanbul Tourist Tips:
Here are our top travel tips to help take the stress out of your trip to Istanbul. You can thank us later.
1. Tourist Visa: Yes you need a tourist Visa to visit Turkey as it is not part of the European Union. Up until 2013 you bought your Visa right when you after landing at the Airport, but to deal with long lines they moved the process online. The Visa is $20 for American visitors and is done on the the Turkish Custom’s website HERE. You simply apply, pay, and print it off right from home.
2. Planning & Dividing Your Time: Istanbul is such a huge sprawling city that knowing how to divide your time is very important. It can be hard to prioritize what are the most important things to see and how to maximize your time, so we decided to do the work for you. Whether you are only in town for 1-4 days over more than a week we’ve come up with the best plan of action to get your started. Check out our Suggested Itineraries for Istanbul.
3. The History of Istanbul: With 1000s of years of rich history, visiting Istanbul can be one of the best experiences a traveler can have. Better understanding this long history will go a really long way to help you more appreciate the sights that you’ll see. Kingdoms like the Roman and Ottoman Empire’s have both had their capitals in this metropolis adding even more to the lore. To help with your trip, check out our guide on the Historical Timeline of Istanbul.
4. Visiting A Mosque: Tourists may only enter during non-prayer time through the North West entrance. Modest dress is required for both men and women with your shoulders and knees covered; most major Mosques will let you borrow a wrap if you are not covered. Women must also cover their heads with a scarf which are available to borrow but you can buy your own cheaply at any market. Even during non-prayer time people may be praying so no running or yelling. Like any place of worship do not take photos of worshipers without permission. Keep in mind that non-Muslims must stay behind the wooden barrier surrounding the main worship area.
Before entering the Mosque everyone must remove their shoes at the raised platform by the door. Proper etiquette states that before stepping up on the platform you take your shoe off without letting your foot touch the ground below the platform. This act ensures that both your feet and the platform will remain clean before entering; socks typically remain on if you are wearing any. Plastic bags for your shoes are provided to bring them with or you can safely leave them outside in the racks by the door.
Visiting Hours: Open daily one hour after sunrise until one hour before sunset. Closed to tourists starting 30 minutes prior to each of the 5 daily prayer times until the service it over. Services last around 30 minutes, but the Friday mid-day sermon may last a full hour. Best Time To Go: Typically between 9am and Noon as it is the largest gap between services. Here is a helpful list of current prayer times for Istanbul day by day to better help you plan your time. Cost: Free.
5. Turkish Language Tips:
Hello is Merhaba (pronounced Mare-ha-ba)
Good Morning is Günaydın (gew-nahy-DUHN)
Good Day is İyi Günler (E-yee Guen-ler)
Good Evening is İyi Akşamlar (EE ahk-shahm-LAHR)
Goodbye is Hoşçakal (Hosh cha kal) is you are leaving, but if you are the person stay Goodbye is Güle güle (guele guele) so expect to hear it when leaving shops
Thank You is Sağ Ol (SOWL)
Do you speak English is İngilizce konuşabilir misiniz
Cheers for drinking is Şerefe! (Sher-a-fa)
Hagia Sophia in Turkish is spelled Aya Sofya (Eye-ah So-fee-yah)
Mosque in Turkish is spelled Camii (Jah-mee)
6. Food & Drink Tips: While many people know that Turkish Delight sweets and pomegranates are booth really popular, there are more food and drink tips to help you out. Doner is a common street food and is basically the same thing as a Greek gyro. Both Gyro and Doner mean turning in their respective languages which just means how the meat is cooked while constantly turning. Usually when ordering you’ll ask for a Doner (turning) Kebab (meaning on a skewers) followed by the type of meat you want. Testi Kebab is a flaming clay pot stew and our favorite dish. Rucka is the National Drink and tastes a lot like Greek’s liquorice flavored ouzo. Cheers for drinking is Şerefe! (Sher-a-fa)
7. Getting Around Istanbul: Istanbul is very spread out with a number of main districts to visit, but a number of transportation tips will take the stress out of getting around town. Most of the main neighborhoods are easy to walk around in which is good since traffic jams can make cabs very slow at times. Although there are no subway lines in the older parts of town getting between neighborhoods is greatly helped by a couple of main tram lines plus a couple funicular lifts. Check out our guide on How to get around Istanbul.
8. How To Get To/From The Airport: There are a couple great options for getting from Istanbul’s main Atatürk Airport to the middle of town. The hard part is knowing what is best for you. Typically the shuttle buses and taxis from inside the airport are going to be really expensive. Just outside the airport, however, there are many cheaper and respectable taxis. The down side to the taxis is that although they may only take 30 minutes it can be 2-3 times that in heavy traffic or rush hour. Another popular option is a combo of subway and tram which only takes 45 minutes regardless on how much traffic there is. The downside to the metro is that it can be hard if you have a lot of bags and they are closed down from Midnight to 6am. Check out our guide on How to get to Istanbul from the Airport.
9. Where To Stay In Istanbul: Figuring out where to stay in Istanbul can be confusing, but get easier when you understand where the top attractions are on the map. There are plenty of affordable hotels right by the Hippodrome with great views of both Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, plus they are close to Restaurant Row. Outside of that main area there are still a number of hotels worth staying in. Check out our Best Places To Stay In Istanbul.
Top 10 Things To Do In Istanbul:
1. Visit The Blue Mosque
2. Explore Aya Sophia
3. Get Lost In The Grand Bazaar
4. Roam Topkapi Palace & The Harem
5. Check Out Chora Church
6. Enter The Underground Cistern
7. Investigate Galata Bridge & The Spice Market
8. Stroll New Town & The Dolmabahçe Palace
9. Eat Turkish Delights And Smoke A Nargile
10. Go To A Turkish Bath House
Bonus: Do A Bosphorus River Cruise