Traveling to Istanbul for the first time? This incredible city is full of wonders, and I am sure you will love your time here.
Having been to Istanbul for the first time, I know a few tips we first-timers would appreciate. Additionally, my three-week stay in the city provided me with some great tips to create a comprehensive guide of Istanbul travel tips.
What to Know Before You Visit Istanbul
1. Visa Requirements
Check the visa requirements for your country before traveling to Turkey. Some nationalities may require a visa, while others may be eligible for visa-free travel or e-visas. Make sure to apply for the appropriate visa well in advance if needed.
The official currency in Turkey is the Turkish lira (TRY). It’s a good idea to exchange some currency before you arrive or withdraw cash from ATMs once you’re in Istanbul. Credit cards are widely accepted in most places, but it’s best to carry some cash for smaller vendors and markets like the Grand Bazaar.
3. Official Language
The official language is Turkish, but many people in Istanbul, especially in tourist areas, speak some English. Learning a few basic Turkish phrases can be helpful. For example, it’s polite to greet locals with “Merhaba” (hello) and “Tesekkür ederim” (thank you).
Familiarize yourself with Turkish customs and etiquette. For example, when visiting mosques, dress modestly, bring a headscarf, remove your shoes, and be respectful of prayer times.
Istanbul has a combination of Mediterranean and temperate climates, with hot and humid summers and chilly, rainy winters. When preparing your wardrobe, be sure to pack accordingly and consider the season.
Fun Fact: Istanbul is the fifth-largest in the world by population, and it’s unique because it’s located on two continents. It is considered European while also straddling the border of Asia, with one part of the city located in Europe and the other part in Asia.
What to Pack for Your Trip to Istanbul
In Istanbul, you can wear a variety of outfits, including shirts, t-shirts, jeans, trousers, or shorts while exploring the city. However, when visiting mosques, remember to dress modestly and respectfully.
2. Comfortable Shoes
It’s a good idea to bring comfortable walking shoes as the city is VERY hilly and you’ll likely be doing a lot of exploring on foot. I like to wear something like these shoes, which go with a wide variety of outfits.
3. A Water Bottle
When traveling to Istanbul, make sure to bring a water bottle, so that you can stay hydrated wherever you go. To save space in your luggage, here is a collapsible water bottle with a lot of good reviews.
4. Sun Protection
Just like with any warm destination, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat can be useful, especially during the hot summer months.
5. Adapter and Chargers
Check the plug type used in Turkey and bring a suitable adapter for your electronic devices. Don’t forget to bring chargers for your phone, camera, or other gadgets.
6. A Travel Pouch
While traveling to any new destination, I recommend either using a money belt or a travel pouch to keep your money and documents safe.
7. A Power Bank
This power bank is solar-powered and can charge your phone and other devices multiple times, making it a convenient travel companion.
8. Cash and Cards
Bring a mix of cash (Turkish lira) and multiple credit/debit cards for transactions. Most of the time my Discover and American Express cards didn’t work in Turkey, so I recommend having at least a couple of Visa or MasterCard cards on hand. Notify your bank about your travel plans to avoid any issues with card usage.
Carrying a small backpack is great for keeping your essentials close at hand while you explore the city.
Leave Some Space in Your Suitcase for Shopping
Istanbul is renowned for its bustling markets, grand bazaars, modern shopping malls, and unique artisanal shops. Leave some space in your suitcase because shopping in Istanbul is a must!
More Helpful Tips for Your Istanbul Trip
Where to Get a Sim Card?
When you visit Istanbul for the first time, it will be easy to buy a prepaid sim card if your phone is unlocked. I bought mine at the airport when I arrived – there were several phone service providers available to choose from. You’ll just need a passport to register the sim card.
How Safe is Istanbul?
Istanbul is generally a safe city for tourists, but like any other major city, it’s important to take precautions. Be mindful of your belongings, especially in crowded areas, stay informed about the current situation, and follow any travel advisories issued by your government.
Does Istanbul Have Public Transit?
Istanbul has an extensive public transportation system, including buses, trams, metros, and ferries. Consider purchasing an Istanbulkart, a rechargeable transportation card that can be used across most modes of transport. I bought mine at a newspaper kiosk next to the tram station. It’s a convenient and cost-effective way to get around the city.
Is It Acceptable to Bargain at Markets in Istanbul?
Bargaining is common in the Grand Bazaar and many other markets in Turkey. Sellers often set higher initial prices, expecting customers to negotiate. Don’t be shy to haggle politely, and aim to get a reasonable price for the item you want. Remember to stay friendly while negotiating.
How to Get a Taxi in Istanbul?
You can take a regular yellow or blue taxi at the airport or at designated taxi stands throughout the city. Regular taxis are metered, and the fares are charged based on distance and time. Make sure the driver starts the meter at the beginning of your journey.
BiTaksi is also often recommended as an app to order a taxi in Istanbul for convenience. However, every time I tried using it, my order was canceled or didn’t arrive. The app should work the same way as Uber does, but I found public transit to be more reliable for the rest of my trip.
Let me know if this guide was helpful for your trip to Istanbul and if you have any more tips from your journey to this captivating city. Happy travels!