42 Things to Know Before You Visit Istanbul: Helpful Istanbul Travel Tips

Istanbul is a magnificent beast.

Thirty-nine districts, 15 million people, and 1700-plus years of history – it’s still difficult for me to wrap my head around a city of this scale.

I never know where to begin with Istanbul. And yet every time I arrive, I somehow feel instantly at ease. Turkey’s biggest metropolis has a way of encircling you, sweeping you up and taking you along for the ride. For me, it’s one of those places where it’s best to relinquish expectations and anxieties and just go with the flow.

View of Istanbul city at sunset from the Galata Bridge, with a Bosphorus ferry and mosque minarets. Travel tips for visiting Istanbul for the first time.

That’s easier said than done, and there are countless tidbits I wish I had known before I visited Istanbul for the first time back in 2019. On my recent re-visit, there were many more things I noticed for the first time.

I struggled to whittle this list down to a digestible size – not because travelling in Istanbul is particularly complicated or difficult, but because when you’re dealing with a city of such incredible breadth and depth, there’s just so much to talk about.

Here are 42 Istanbul tips that I think every traveller will benefit from , including cultural quirks, itinerary planning tips, logistics hints, and common faux pas.

  • Also read: The perfect itinerary for 4 days in Istanbul

Please note: This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may earn a commission if you make a purchase by clicking a link (at no extra cost to you). Learn more.

Istanbul quick links

  • Istanbul airport transfer: Private transfer from Istanbul Airport or Sabiha Gokcen (from $27)
  • Where to stay in Istanbul: Hostel Le Banc (budget); 38 Hotel (mid-range); Hotel Empress Zoe (boutique); Ecole St. Pierre Hotel (luxury)
  • Istanbul Official E-Pass: Pre-purchase online here
  • Skip the line: Blue Mosque & Hagia Sophia Small-Group Tour (from $40)
  • Best Istanbul food tour: Taste of 2 Continents (from $100)
  • Top-rated Istanbul city tour: Best of Istanbul in 1 Day (from $60)
  • Turkey car hire: Find a low-cost rental on Local Rent (from 28€/day)

Essential Istanbul travel tips

Starting with the basics, here are answers to some of the burning questions I had before my first visit to Turkey (Türkiye) and Istanbul.

1. Avoid visiting in summer

Never underestimate Istanbul’s magnetism. The city pulled in more than 14 million tourists in 2019 (including me), and on my most recent trip in 2022, it felt just as crowded as it had been three years earlier.

I’m willing to bet that most people visit Istanbul during the summer months – June, July and August. This feels a bit hypocritical because I myself have visited Istanbul twice during summer – but because I did, I know what peak season is like.

Istanbul’s climate is quite mild relative to other cities in the region. Temperatures might not go too far beyond 30 degrees Celsius in the shade, but the sun is scorching hot, and it’s very dry.

Aside from the oppressive heat, there are the summer swarms to contend with. (You haven’t really experienced a queue until you’ve stood in line for the Hagia Sophia on an August afternoon.) There are crushing crowds at every landmark during summer, and that gets old pretty quickly. On top of that, accommodation prices are noticeably higher and it can be challenging to get a reservation.

The best time to visit Istanbul is during shoulder season, spring (April to early June) or autumn (mid-September to the start of November). For something different, consider visiting Turkey in winter , when snow covers Istanbul and the city’s charm-o-metre is off the charts.

Take note of the dates for the Holy Month of Ramadan (usually around March-April-May, but it changes every year), which influences the way the city operates.

2. You need at least three days to do Istanbul justice

However many days you give yourself in Istanbul, it will never be enough. You will always feel like you short-changed yourself – there’s always one more neighbourhood to explore, one more ferry trip to take, one more museum to visit, one more restaurant to try…

Three days is the bare minimum for a first-time visitor, but you could easily stay for a week or more.

I recently spent 10 days in Istanbul and found it was a good amount of time to see the city at a relaxed pace. I stayed in the centre for that entire time, though I did have a few ‘down’ days to work. There are dozens of day trip opportunities to break things up if the city gets to be too much.

One of the highlights of Istanbul is the food, so you’d do well to measure the duration of your stay in meals eaten rather than nights slept! Six square meals (and a couple of ‘spread breakfasts’) is ideal for indulging in the best of Istanbul’s food scene .

Plan your time with my 4-day Istanbul itinerary , which covers the must-sees and a few local gems.

Ottoman-era wooden houses in Arnavutkoy district of Istanbul, Turkey.

3. Save time (and maybe money) by applying for an e-visa

Most nationalities require a tourist visa to enter Türkiye. The country’s e-visa scheme, which launched in 2013, is available to citizens of 40+ countries, including the States, Australia and Canada. (EU citizens do not need a visa.) A standard multiple-entry visa is valid for a stay of up to 90 days with 180 days validity from the date of issue.

Visa on arrival (VOA) is also available, but if you’re flying in, it requires queueing at the airport – and because of the high volume of flights arriving at IST particularly, it can be a long wait. For some nationalities, it’s also more expensive – 10 USD dearer on average compared to the e-visa according to the official fees (though for US passport holders, VOA is cheaper).

Applying for a Turkish e-visa requires completing a simple online form. The website has English-language support and international card payment, but be warned that sometimes it’s a bit glitchy. Both times I’ve applied, my visa has landed in my inbox almost instantly (within the hour). Be sure to print off the A4 piece of paper to show at immigration.

There are copycat sites out there – the official e-visa portal is located here .

I have never been asked for proof of onward travel or a hotel reservation when entering Turkey. If you want one or both for peace of mind without making an actual booking, then I suggest using OneWayFly .

4. Travel insurance is a must

Travel insurance is mandatory for all foreign visitors to Turkey. Again, you might not be asked to show proof of insurance if you’re travelling on an e-visa (I haven’t), but rules are rules nonetheless.

Istanbul is generally regarded as a safe city, but pickpocketing and crime do occur. More importantly, local health care can be expensive, so it pays to be covered in case of accident or unexpected illness.

For single-policy or annual trip insurance, I recommend HeyMondo. Get 5% off your policy when you sign up using this link .

Read up on these Istanbul safety tips before you go.

5. Use the Havabus (Havaist) shuttle to travel to/from the airport

Update: Since publishing this guide, both Istanbul airports now have an underground metro service. I would definitely look into this option – avoiding traffic could be a real time-saver. Here are more details .

Havabus is a terrific service for travelling between Istanbul’s airports (yes, there is more than one – see the next point) and the downtown area. Shuttles operate 24/7, with departures in both directions every 30-60 minutes.

Tip: At Sabiha Gokcen airport, the shuttle is called Havabus and at Istanbul Airport, it’s called Havaist. I have used both – they operate in much the same way, but they have separate websites for checking the schedule ( here for Havabus and here for Havaist).

When you land in Istanbul, look for the airport bus signage. At Sabiha Gokcen, the bus stand is located on the other side of the car park directly in front of the arrivals terminal. Tickets are purchased using cash on the bus and cost 37.50 TRY (around 2 USD) per person to go to Taksim.

If you prefer a private transfer, airport cars are very well priced (from $27 to/from either airport). Pre-book a door-to-door airport transfer online here .

Eventually the Istanbul metro will extend to IST Airport, but the line has not been completed yet.

6. There are multiple airports in Istanbul – don’t front up at the wrong one!

Istanbul Airport (IST) is the city’s largest and busiest international airport. Located on the European side in Arnavutkoy, 40km / 45 minutes’ drive from Taksim Square, it is sometimes referred to as ‘Istanbul Grand Airport’ or IGA. If you’re flying with Turkish Airlines or from Europe, there’s a high chance you will be landing at IST.

A second airport, Sabiha Gokcen International Airport (SAW), receives flights from the Middle East (Emirates, Qatar ) as well as Turkey’s own Pegasus Airlines. It is located on the Asian side, 40km / 60 minutes’ drive from Taksim Square.

A third airport, Ataturk Airport, closed in 2019.

The two airports are 80km apart and it takes at least 75-90 minutes to travel between them. There are shuttle buses, but if you show up at the wrong one for your flight, there’s a good chance you’ll be left high and dry. Triple-check your reservation and make sure you show up at the correct airport.

We got caught out with this on our first trip and rolled up at the wrong airport for our flight back to Australia. Luckily we had come a day early with the intention of staying the night at the airport hotel, so we still made our flight.

You can use Havabus/Havaist to get back to the airport from the city, too. Buses depart from Taksim Square. Take the metro to Taksim and follow the exit towards Taksim Gezi Park. From there, the station is a short walk (you will see the coaches waiting and two ticket booths on the footpath).

Buses to both airports depart from the same area, so again, triple-check you’re hopping on the right one!

7. Pre-book your accommodation

Hotel platform Booking.com doesn’t work in Turkey, so if this is your preferred way to find accommodation, you’ll need to do your browsing and booking before you arrive. (This can be overcome by using a VPN of course.)

Pre-booking is essential for peak-period travel as properties do fill up and prices can skyrocket for last-minute reservations.

I normally use Airbnb in Istanbul for the simple reason that I prefer to stay in local neighbourhoods. Sisli is my district of choice: It has great access to public transport, fantastic local restaurants, and a more relaxed vibe.

8. Card is widely accepted, but it helps to carry cash

Ninety-nine percent of venues and shops in Istanbul accept credit/debit cards, including Visa and Mastercard, as well as contactless pay. For small markets and convenience stores, local restaurants, bars and taxis – and when dipping into the wonderful world of Istanbul street food – you’ll need cash.

Many smaller shops in Turkey have a primary limit set on card purchases, meaning you need to meet a certain threshold if you want to pay with a card. In these instances, cash is necessary. Small bills also come in handy for tipping (more on that later).

I suggest withdrawing cash when you first arrive and reserving it for smaller purchases and tips. Check out my Istanbul Travel Budget to learn more about budgeting for your trip and the cost of common items and services.

Tipping is Istanbul, Turkish lira notes and coins on a restaurant table.

9. Most ATMs in Turkey charge a fee

ATMs are ubiquitous in Istanbul and most of the time, you’ll see half a dozen different cash machines clustered together. Majority charge a withdrawal fee – up to 5% for some banks – and have a transaction limit of between 3000-5000 TRY.

The only no-fee ATM we could find was Ziraat Bank. It’s red with a distinctive wheatear logo. We also used HalkBank, which did not charge us a withdrawal fee, but did hit us with a 13 TRY fee on Wise.

Banks change their fee structure regularly, so you might need to experiment with a few different machines. If the bank does charge a fee – either a flat fee or a percentage – this should always be displayed on the screen before you finalise the transaction.

On our first trip to Turkey, we had issues with our Australian bank cards not being accepted. This time around, I used my Wise card without any issues. I found the best method for withdrawing cash was to exchange stored currency to Turkish lira within the Wise app, then withdraw lira from the ATM.

Wise is great for international travel and offers very competitive exchange rates – if you don’t yet have an account, you can sign up here .

10. Buying a SIM card in Istanbul is easy, but your options are limited

Open WIFI is not readily accessible in Istanbul, which makes buying a local SIM card more or less a necessity.

If you’re not a Turkish citizen and you don’t hold a residency permit, you’ll find you have limited options when it comes to buying a SIM. Low-cost packages are not available to foreigners and most telcos only offer one standard tourist package.

After doing a bit of research, we settled on a Vodafone SIM. Vodafone only has one option for tourists, which includes 20GB of data, calls and texts, and unlimited access to Whatsapp. We paid 350 TRY (around 19 USD).

The process of buying a SIM is very straightforward and only took us about 15 minutes. You need a hard copy of your passport for registration, so make sure you’re carrying it with you. The tourist SIM automatically expires after 60 days.

A red Vodafone sim card at a shop in Istanbul, the best sim card for tourists in Turkey.

11. The public transport system is phenomenal

If you’re considering hiring a car in Turkey to continue your travels beyond the city, make sure you pick it up on the outskirts of the city (possible when using a company such as Local Rent ). The traffic is maniacal and I would not recommend driving in the city centre.

There’s no reason to drive a car in Istanbul, anyway: The public transport system is affordable, easy to use and reliable. Between the metro, trams, buses, ferries, and my personal favourite, dolmus vans, you can get anywhere you need to go with ease. Google Maps works well for planning your route.

Dolmus minivans – Turkey’s answer to a marshrutka – are a fun experience. The name literally means ‘stuffed’ because passengers are squeezed in like sardines. Keep in mind that the entire transport network is very busy and squishy during peak hour, especially in the morning between about 8-9.30am.

When boarding a bus in Istanbul, enter through the front door and tap your IstanbulKart on the electronic reader. If the bus is very full, you can board through the back doors and pass your card down the line for someone at the front to swipe.

12. You need an IstanbulKart transport pass

On our first trip to Istanbul, we walked a lot and relied on buying single-journey metro tickets for longer trips. This time around, we re-learned that only certain ticket machines inside the metro dispense single tickets – and usually they are the ones with an obnoxiously long line of people.

An IstanbulKart is an essential purchase if you plan to use public transport. There are several different cards available – all are valid for the metro, buses, trams and ferries. The so-called Anonymous IstanbulKart is recommended for tourists and is sold at kiosks and newsstands and inside metro stations for 50 TRY (non-refundable). You can use one card for multiple people (up to five people).

A single IstanbulKart fare costs 7.67 TRY. Compared to the 15 TRY for a single-journey ticket, you’ll end up saving almost 50% on every trip.

Note that metrobus fares vary according to the number of stops travelled, but metro fares are flat. Transfers are charged at 5.49 TRY for the first transfer and 4.17 TRY for the second leg.

Find more information about the public transport system here .

13. Use an app for taxis in Istanbul

Istanbul’s cab system is similarly well organised, with three types of taxis at different price points. Yellow taxis are standard and have the lowest fares (6.3 TL/km plus a switch-on fee of 9.8 TL). Turquoise taxis are a premium service and cost 20% more, while black taxis (always luxury vehicles) are twice as expensive as yellow taxis.

Taxis are metered, so it’s generally considered safe for a tourist to hail a cab on the street. However, scams do happen , which is one of the reasons most people (including many locals) prefer to use an app.

After numerous legal battles, Uber re-launched in Turkey in 2021. We used it on several occasions and found the service to be good – short wait times, friendly drivers, and competitive fares (we always paid in cash rather than hooking up our credit card – make sure you are carrying small bills).

Uber alternatives include BiTaksi and Itaksi. The former has POS contactless payment, which is great for paying by card.

A yellow taxi on a steep street in Istanbul's Galata district.

14. Tipping is standard

Tipping is customary in Turkey, with 10% being the standard mark for restaurants and bars. For taxi drivers, it’s normal to round up to the nearest lira when paying in cash.

Of course you should only tip if you’re satisfied with the service. We found the quality of customer service in Istanbul to be pretty good across the board, with the exception of one chain cafe where we had a terrible experience.

Tipping is slightly higher for other service providers: 10-20% goes to your tellak or natir at the Turkish baths, and to your hairdresser or barber.

15. Can you drink the tap water in Istanbul?

This is a rhetorical question, because I’m still not sure what the correct answer is! Locals will warn you off tap water while at the same time, the government is running campaigns to encourage more people to drink from the faucet.

From what I understand, Istanbul tap water was undrinkable a decade ago. Infrastructure improvements (and the addition of chlorine to the water stream) have made tap water safe to drink, but many people still prefer to drink bottled water.

If the building you’re staying in has old, rusty pipes, it might be best to give tap water a wide berth. Try a small quantity and see how it sits with you.

16. Don’t flush your loo paper

Istanbul’s pipes are a bit sensitive, thus most restaurants, cafes and hotels request you place toilet tissue in a bin rather than flushing it down the loo. If this is the case, you’ll likely see a sign and a strategically placed wastepaper bin. If in doubt, don’t flush it.

17. If you need a bathroom, head to the nearest mosque

After chasing after non-existent bathrooms in malls and metro stations, I finally cottoned onto this little Istanbul tip: There are public toilets attached to most mosques and in my experience, they are almost always cleaner than public bathrooms elsewhere. Pan toilets are common. Men’s rooms are marked with bay , and women’s with bayan .

Some bathrooms are free to use, while others charge a small (1-2 TRY) fee. Another good reason to carry some small bills or coins with you.

18. Sip ayran to keep your tummy happy

Ayran is a savoury yogurt drink that has its roots in Turkey, but is popular around the region (I developed my ayran addiction several years ago in Bosnia and Herzegovina and have been sipping it ever since). It’s not too creamy, not too watery, and has just a hint of salty effervescence.

Because it’s yogurt, it’s full of good bacteria that do wonders to keep your gut in balance. Just as you might drink lassis in India, you can drink ayran in Istanbul to help ward off any potential food or water-related bugs.

Food poisoning definitely does occur in Istanbul, so watch what you eat and try to consume street food earlier in the day when it’s fresher (especially fish wraps and seafood).

People drink ayran with breakfast, lunch or dinner, and it is served at virtually every restaurant in Istanbul – either in little plastic tubs or from a fountain. Always go for the fresh option when it’s available: It’s light and aerated and extra delicious, presented with a big scoop of yogurty foam on top.

A silver cup of ayran, a creamy yogurt drink served with a round spoon at a restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey.

19. Drinking is common, but alcohol is not ubiquitous

The most popular alcoholic drinks in Istanbul are beer, wine and raki , a powerful spirit distilled from grapes or other fruits. Not all restaurants serve alcohol, however, and when you make your way over to the Asian side of Istanbul (which is noticeably more conservative), you’ll find that only a handful of establishments are licensed.

If you prefer to BYO, tekels are Istanbul’s answer to bottle shops. They normally sell a selection of local bottled beers and Turkish wines along with soft drinks, snack foods and cigarettes. It’s illegal to sell alcohol within 100 metres of a mosque or a school, so you won’t find any tekels in some neighbourhoods.

Sales are restricted to certain times of day – you cannot purchase drinks from a bottle shop between 10am and 6am (there are no restrictions on restaurants and bars, though). Alcohol is served as normal during Ramadan.

Excessive drinking is taboo in Turkish culture. Raki, the national drink, is a social beverage consumed slowly with food. It has aniseed notes and is sometimes served over water and ice, which gives it a milky colour.

If you want to try raki, head to a meyhane (meze bar), where alcohol is served with small places of food (also see point #26 on this list). You can order a small 350 mL bottle or a shot (~40 mL). Start slow – some rakis are 80-90 proof.

20. English is widely spoken (sort of)

The number of Turkish people who speak English is somewhere between 15-20% . Of course the rate is much higher in Istanbul, but still, English is not as widespread as you might imagine.

We found a bit of a paradox here: In big shops and phone stores, very little English was spoken, while we encountered staff who spoke perfect English in small restaurants and humble bakeries.

The bottom line is that it’s a bit of a mixed bag, so be prepared to sign and mime your way through some situations. Of course it helps to have some simple Turkish under your belt – knowing a few basic phrases can help to smooth things over.

Istanbul quirks to know before you go

Here are a few unusual quirks that tripped us up in Istanbul.

21. Pharmacies are hard to find

Turkey differentiates between ‘pharmacies’ and ‘cosmetic stores’ in a way that I’ve not noticed in any other country. The latter sells beauty and health products, but there is no pharmacist on staff and nowhere to buy over-the-counter medications or prescription meds.

Chains such as Watsons, Rossmann and Gratis are classified as ‘cosmetics stores’. If you need anything more serious than paracetamol or a revitalising face mask, you need a pharmacy or eczane .

Eczanesi are more difficult to come by. That’s because there are no chain pharmacies in Turkey. All pharmacies are small and owner-operated by a pharmacist – essentially mom-and-pop shops. You won’t find them in malls, only on the streets. Look for the ‘eczanesi’ sign in the window, and when using Google Maps, search for ‘eczane’ rather than ‘pharmacy’.

Pharmacies are worth hunting down if you need them: Many medicines are freely available in Turkey without a prescription, and prices are almost always cheaper than elsewhere in Europe. You do have to ask around, though, as every pharmacy has different stock and different generic brands. My partner spent several days searching for his medication and after asking at a dozen eczanesi, he finally found what he was looking for at a quarter of the price it is in Georgia.

22. Hand cologne is a thing

Istanbulites were sanitising their hands long before it was cool. The first time we had our hands doused in hand cologne by a friendly waiter, we assumed it was hand sanitiser – but no, this tradition far predates the pandemic.

Kolonya harks back to the days of the Ottoman Empire when a pleasant smelling liquid was sprinkled on guests’ hands as they would enter or exit private homes, hotels or hospitals. Today it’s widely used in restaurants after you pay the check. Some places have a little bottle on the table next to the salt and pepper shakers.

Scented with jasmine, lemon, rosewater or dark spice, a dash of hand cologne leaves your paws smelling fragrant fresh. Unlike hand gel, kolonya is very thin and watery – a little bit goes a long way. And because it’s ethanol-based, it does act as a disinfectant as well.

A bottle of lemon flavoured kolonya hand cologne at a restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey.

23. Don’t be surprised if you get asked for your phone number

Grocery stores, cosmetic stores, clothing shops and pharmacies alike seem to ask customers for a local phone number – I assume for marketing purposes rather than to track or register anything. This happened to us on a daily basis, and the first few times, the language barrier made it very confusing.

If you don’t have a local SIM (and even if you do), you can always say no and the cashier will copy a random number off the back of an old receipt.

24. Don’t stay too close to a mosque if you like to sleep in

Istanbul has its own backing track, and that is the sound of the call to prayer ( ezan ). The rumble of minarets whispering to each other is incredibly stirring – but your opinion might be slightly different if you happen to be laying your head near a mosque’s speakerbox every night.

The call to prayer happens five times a day, starting with the pre-dawn İmsak ( Fajr ), which reverberates around the city some time between 4-6am depending on the time of year. In July, it can be as early as 3.30am, with a second Sunrise ( Güneş ) call around 2 hours later.

With well over 3,000 mosques, you’ll more than likely have at least one or two nearby. If you’re a light sleeper, it’s worth scoping out the local mosques and choosing accommodation that’s further than earshot from the nearest minaret.

25. Don’t linger too long at a lokanta

Lokanta are a specific type of Turkish restaurant that serve casual, home-style meals to workers and tradesmen. Every neighbourhood has them, and they are a terrific place to sample salt-of-the-earth Turkish cuisine and soak up a bit of local culture at the same time.

When you sit down at a lokanta, a waiter will come to take your order within seconds. Some are cafeteria style, others are a-la-carte. At the end of the meal, empty plates are spirited away and the table sprayed and wiped just as fast as the food came out. Usually you settle the bill at a cash desk rather than requesting a written check.

It’s easy to overstay your welcome at this type of establishment, where the imperative is to turn tables as quickly as possible. They are perfect when you need a quick bite, but if you want a leisurely meal, choose a different sort of restaurant. Sidewalk meyhanes , for example, are the complete opposite. Serving meze and raki, they are designed for long, lingering lunches.

Wait staff at a meyhane restaurant in Kadikoy, Istanbul.

26. Don’t assume those meze plates are free

It’s normal for wait staff at a meyhane to present you with an attractive tray of small plates before they take your order. Turkish meze includes grilled eggplant with yogurt, fava beans, artichoke, and many, many more delicious bites designed for sharing over a bottle of raki.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming these small side salads are free – they are not. (Sides of chopped onion, herbs and chilli served in smaller silver dishes with kebab, on the other hand, are usually included in the price.)

27. Brace yourself for lots of uphill walking

They don’t call Istanbul the ‘City on Seven Hills’ for nothing. After a few days walking the streets, you might think the ‘city of seven million hills’ is a more apt nickname.

Constantinople was laid out in the image of Rome, which was of course built over a septet of hills. On the ground, it feels like all of Istanbul is rippled, with steep streets and vertiginous staircases at almost every turn. There are many advantages to this city plan, the delightfully sloped houses in Balat for one, and the spectacular city views you get from the higher elevations for another.

Comfy shoes and a whole lot of patience are absolutely essential when exploring Istanbul on foot, where it can literally feel like an uphill battle to get from one place to the next.

There are ways to avoid the slog, including using the funicular railways: Taksim-Kabatas and the historic Tunel that links Karakoy and Beyoglu. The latter is the world’s second-oldest subterranean rail line (after the London Underground) and the oldest still-operating underground funicular in Europe.

Istanbul travel tips to feel like a local

While it takes more than a three or four-day stay to feel like a fully fledged Istanbulite, here are a few little tricks to help you fit in.

28. Dress modestly to blend in

Istanbul is a metropolis through and through, with a liberal dress code to match. Almost anything goes, but I still recommend you cover up for comfort and to fit in with the crowd. Women should try to avoid plunging necklines, revealing fabrics, and very short hemlines.

There are noticeable differences between the European and Asian sides of Istanbul, with more modest dress and more hijabs worn in Uskudar compared to Eminonu, for example. Generally speaking, Turkey gets more conservative the further east you go, and this holds true even in the city centre. Keep it in mind if you’re travelling around the country.

One place you definitely must observe the dress code is mosques, where covered arms (to the elbow for men or the wrist for women) and legs (down to the ankles) is required. Women must also cover their hair. Majority of mosques have pull-over muumuus that you can borrow (for free) at the door to fully cover up. Note that there are no dress requirements for young kids.

It’s obligatory to remove your shoes when entering a mosque, so on days when you’re sightseeing, wear kicks that you can easily slip off and on. And if you prefer not to go barefoot, carry a pair of ankle socks in the bottom of your bag. Some mosques provide plastic bags, otherwise you can just leave your shoes outside.

A woman dressed in a cover-up at a mosque in Istanbul.

29. Never skip breakfast…

Breakfast is certainly the most important meal of the day in Turkey. Sunday breakfast is the queen of the morning meals, when the famous kahvalti tabagi ‘spread breakfast’ comes into its own.

On a Sunday, some Istanbulites spend the better part of the day between mid-morning and late afternoon gathered around the breakfast table with friends or family, noshing on an extravagant spread of cheeses, olives, cut vegetables and eggs served with supple somun bread. Kahvalti is a daily occurrence in places like Besiktast ‘Breakfast Street’ and in gourmet cafes such as Van Kahvalti.

If you’re on a tight timeline or a budget, breakfast doesn’t have to be drawn-out or expensive: There are faster and more affordable options, such as a pick-and-choose breakfast at Cakmak Kahvalti Salonu, where small plates range from 2-8 TRY each. 

Borekcisi (borek bakeries) serve portions of steaming hot filled pastry and chai, or for a simple breakfast snack on the go, grab a simit bagel from a street vendor.

30. …But don’t order coffee first thing

Kahvalti means ‘before coffee’. Breakfast is traditionally accompanied by cay , strong black tea, rather than Turkish coffee. It’s normal to down half a dozen glasses of tea in a single sitting (though two or three is usually enough). Most sit-down kahvalti breakfasts come with two pots of tea.

If you want to do things like a local, save your Türk kahvesi for after lunch and start your morning with cay sade – strong and bitter tea with no sugar – instead.

31. Don’t be afraid to haggle at the bazaar

Haggling is customary and expected at markets in Istanbul and in other commercial settings. You’ll find that most items at the Grand Bazaar or Spice Bazaar have a price tag, but for those that don’t (and even for those that do), it’s quite normal to bargain for a better price. This is especially true if you’re buying more than one of something or multiple items from the same vendor. Rule of thumb is to aim for a 35-50% discount on the sticker price.

There are huge mark-ups at the Grand Bazaar, which seems to be almost exclusively the domain of tourists these days. There are local markets and street markets all over Istanbul where you’ll have a better chance of striking gold for a fair figure. Markets are held on different days of the week and following a rotating schedule, so you can always find something on. Popular food and flea markets take place in Karakoy (Tuesdays), Ortakoy (Thursdays), Uskudar (Fridays), and Besiktas (Saturdays).

If you do decide to brave the Grand Bazaar or another historic market in Istanbul, the best advice I’ve heard is to do your shopping in the mid-morning. It’s more likely that vendors have already made a few sales and met their daily commission targets, so there will be less pressure on you.

32. Don’t fall for the ‘shoe cleaner trick’

This one got us good.

One early morning we were walking down an alleyway in Besiktas when we heard a clack on the cobbles and noticed that someone had dropped a wooden shoe brush. Being the saint he is, my partner rushed to pick it up without a second thought and handed it back to the shoe cleaner whose caddy it had tumbled from.

Expressing his profound thanks, the guy promptly took a seat on the curb at our feet and insisted on shaking my husband’s hand in gratitude. That’s when he grabbed him by the wrist in a monkey grip and tried to pull him down for a coerced shoe cleaning. I should mention that he was wearing joggers, not leather shoes!

Neither of us were aware of this common scam at the time, so we thought the whole situation was quite hilarious. The man had a gorgeous smile and was very friendly – we actually gave him credit for this ingenious trick.

Only later when we heard about the scam did we realise what had (almost) happened to us. Ross managed to talk his way out of it, dirty shoes still intact.

We were not mad in the slightest, but it could have been a different story had we actually been talked into handing over cash. Keep an eye out for this trick, especially in touristy areas.

33. Embrace cat culture

There are up to a million cats and kittens living on the streets of Istanbul. Every cafe is a cat cafe, and every corner has its own posse of cute pusses. A picture-perfect clowder of cats lounging on fence posts and chairs like the princes and princesses they are awaits you at every turn.

Similar to street dogs in Georgia , the cats of Istanbul are regarded as community pets rather than strays and are fed and cared for by the locals. For the most part, they don’t bother people and keep to themselves. We definitely encountered a few fiercer felines on our travels – it’s pretty obvious which cats want pats and which ones need their personal space. They will let you know with a dagger stare or a hiss.

Cat culture can be traced back to Ottoman times, when tabbys helped to quash the city’s mice population. In this respect, cats are an inseparable part of the city’s social fabric.

If you’re an animal lover, it can be distressing to see so many cats living rough, especially when they’re not in the best shape. (Though I must say that every cat I met in Istanbul was plump and rosy.) It helps to know that Istanbul (and all of Turkey) has a no-kill, no capture policy.

A cat looking longingly at a tank at a fish market in Uskadar, Istanbul.

34. Brush up on your basic hammam etiquette

Partaking in a traditional Turkish bath is a must-do in Istanbul. The hammams have aeons of history and custom attached to them – there are definite dos and don’ts, just as there are with the sulfur baths in Tbilisi . It helps to know how to handle things once the towels come out, lest you embarrass yourself.

Regarding nakedness, men normally strip down to nothing while women wear undies (single-use pairs are supplied by most bathhouses) then don a pestemal towel, which stays wrapped around you for the duration of your stay.

The Turkish-style skin peel/massage ( kese ) can be quite rough on the skin and muscles. The therapist, known as a natir or tellak , will always be of the same gender. It’s customary to tip them 10-20% after your treatment.

For more Turkish hammam hints, see this guide .

More helpful Istanbul tips to make the most of your visit

Finally, here are a handful of practical tips for planning your itinerary and getting the most out of your time in Istanbul.

35. Organise your Istanbul itinerary by neighbourhood/district

Istanbul has 39 districts, each with its own character and appeal. From the Instagrammable houses and antique shops in Balat, to the trendy cafes in Cihangir, the rambunctious fish market in Uskudar to the Ottoman-era mansions in Arnavutkoy , every corner of the city has something incredible up its sleeve.

A great way to organise your time in Istanbul is by planning your movements around the different neighbourhoods. Each one is quite discreet, so you can knock out a to-do list before moving onto the next.

Some neighbourhoods naturally pair together thanks to geography and transport logistics: Galata and Karakoy, Fener and Balat, Uskudar and Kadikoy, Cihangir and Cukurcuma. See my Istanbul 4-day itinerary for more ideas on how to plan your visit by district.

Colourful row houses in Balat, a famous neighbourhood in Istanbul, Turkey.

38. Consider signing up for a food tour

One thing every Istanbul neighbourhood has in common is its never-ending supply of cafes, restaurants and street food vendors. One of the best ways to discover the city – especially if you’re on a tight timeline – is by signing up for a food tour.

I was lucky enough to join Culinary Backstreets’ Born on the Bosphorus tour during my most recent visit to Istanbul. It was one of the highlights of my trip – not only because of the delicious food, but mainly thanks to our incredible guide, Benoit, who over the course of a full day taught me so much about Istanbul’s food and beyond.

The popular Taste of Two Continents tour, with 11 food stops and a Bosphorus ferry crossing, is a good alternative if you’re looking for a half-day experience.

37. Get an early start to beat the crowds

This is particularly important in summer, when the touristy parts of the city get extremely crowded. One of the best ways to avoid long waits at landmarks such as Galata Tower is by waking up early and arriving as doors open.

The metro starts running at 6am – and from Friday evening to Sunday morning public transport operates 24/7 – so there’s no excuse not to get out in the early AM.

Galata Tower, a must-visit in Istanbul for first timers.

38. Invest in a Museum Pass or Istanbul E-Pass

There is a gamut of different tourist cards and passes available for Istanbul. The 5-day Istanbul Museum Pass or the 2-7 day E-Pass is one of the best investments you can make if you plan on doing the rounds through the city’s best museums and big attractions.

The digital pass gives you skip-the-queue access to 10 of the city’s finest cultural institutions, including Galata Tower, Topkapi Palace and the Harem, the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, and the Galata Mevlevihanesi Museum.

Available to purchase online before you arrive, it uses a simple QR code system. Just show your pass on your mobile – no need to print anything.

Only buy the pass if it makes sense for you, though: You have to visit multiple attractions for it to pay off, though the other perks – particularly the ability to skip the ticket line – are invaluable in a sense.

Purchase the official Istanbul E-Pass here via Viator .

39. Check prayer times in advance

The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are both active mosques, open to visitors 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Except during prayer times, that is.

All of Istanbul’s mosques temporarily close to non-Muslim visitors five times a day for a period of about 90 minutes. For the duration of the Congregational Prayers, no tourists are permitted to enter.

It’s imperative to check prayer times in advance. If you show up while prayers are on, you will be met with a long wait outside. Times are signposted at the bigger mosques or you can check online .

The queue to enter the Hagia Sophia gets very long towards the end of the prayer session. The best time to visit is 30-40 minutes before the mosque is scheduled to close. Don’t try to visit on Fridays when the Jumu’ah prayer takes place – this is one of the busiest times, and it’s always crowded and chaotic.

If your Istanbul visit coincides with Ramadan or another Islamic holiday, prayer times might be different and mosques might be closed for longer periods during the day.

A sign in front of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul with opening times for the mosque and closures for daily prayers.

40. Skip the Bosphorus cruise – take advantage of local ferries instead

Some people opt to experience the Bosphorus on board a yacht at sunset with champagne and nibbles. If your budget won’t stretch that far, or you just prefer a local experience, then a ride on the public ferry offers the same ambiance and water views for a fraction of the price.

Hundreds of ferries criss-cross the strait, linking Istanbul’s Asian and European sides. The most scenic ferry routes include Besiktas to Kadikoy, Karakoy to Uskudar, and Karakoy to Kadikoy. Some boats go up the Bosphorus towards the Black Sea, and others head in the opposite direction towards the Princes’ Islands.

Bring a simit bagel to snack on (and to lure seagulls in for photos), or order a tulip-shaped glass of tea from one of the roving vendors on board.

A ferry on the Bosphorus in Istanbul glides past a beautiful mosque.

41. Don’t miss the sunset from Galata Bridge

There is only one way to end a day in Istanbul in my opinion, and that’s by watching the sun go down from Galata Bridge. It might be touristy as heck, but there’s a good reason why this is such a popular spot. Views of the glittering water and intertwining boats, mosque minarets silhouetted against a dusky blue sky framed by fishermen casting their lines off the edge of the bridge, are absolute gold.

I recommend finding a spot to stand on the western side of the bridge, above the area where the Karakoy ferry docks. Aim to arrive about an hour before sunset for the best light.

For the perfect Istanbul photo, wait patiently for the garbage truck to come down the street and dump its load in the bins near the ferry terminal – this sends the seagulls into a frenzy, and they fill the skies with their spinning and diving for a good 15 minutes.

42. ‘Authentic’ Whirling Dervish ceremonies still exist – here’s how to find one

Speaking of Istanbul must-dos: A Whirling Dervish show is a bucket-list item for many. I was warned that all Mevlevi Sema ceremonies had become commercialised and ‘spoiled’ by tourists to the point where they just weren’t worth pursuing any more. So I made it my mission to find a real, ‘authentic’ Sema ritual in Istanbul, and I’m happy to say that I eventually did.

Get all the details about the best Whirling Dervish ceremony in Istanbul in this guide .

A man films Dervishes at a traditional Sema ceremony at a local mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.

Where to stay in Istanbul

Budget: Hostel Le Banc (⭐ 9.5) – This popular hostel in Beyoglu is footsteps from the Galata Tower and Sishane metro station. It features air-conditioned rooms (private doubles and mixed/all-female 4 and 10-bed dorms), a shared lounge and a terrace.

Mid-range: 38 Hotel (⭐ 8.6) – Located in Sisli, close to Osmanbey metro station, this hotel has compact, tidy double rooms and suites.

Boutique: Hotel Empress Zoe (⭐ 9.2) – This gorgeous boutique hotel is decorated with heritage flourishes and boasts hammam-like ensuites and private internal terraces. The location in Fatih, minutes from Sultan Ahmet Mosque and the Blue Mosque, is very central yet the hotel still feels secluded.

Luxury: Ecole St. Pierre Hotel (⭐ 9.5) – Located in Beyoglu close to Galata Tower, this boutique-luxury hotel offers high-end suites with private courtyards and terraces. The building, an old Italian Dominican school with remnants of the 13th-century Galata walls inside its courtyard, is dripping with history.

Turkey essentials

Here are some of the websites and services I recommend for planning a trip to Turkey. Remember to check out my full list of travel resources for more tips.

FLIGHTS: Find affordable flights to Turkey using the Skyscanner website .

VISAS: Use iVisa to check if you need a tourist visa for Turkey and apply for an expedited visa online.

DOCUMENTATION: Use OneWayFly to obtain proof of onward travel/hotel reservation for your visa application.

TRAVEL INSURANCE: Insure your trip to Turkey with HeyMondo , my preferred provider for single-trip and annual travel insurance.

CAR HIRE: Use the Local Rent platform to hire a car from a local agent. Prices start from as little as 18€ per day.

ACCOMMODATION: Find the best Turkey hotel deals on Booking.com .

CITY TOURS & DAY TRIPS: Browse the Viator website to find the best itineraries and prices for Istanbul food tours, Cappadocia balloon rides and more!

More Istanbul travel resources

  • 1-4 day Istanbul itinerary
  • Istanbul travel budget
  • The ultimate guide to eating out in Istanbul
  • Tips for visiting Galata Tower for Istanbul city views
  • The best Whirling Dervishes ceremony in Istanbul
  • Guide to Arnavutkoy, Istanbul’s most beautiful district
  • The best places to visit in Turkey
  • Turkey in winter: Where to go plus travel tips


Detailed tips are super helpful, especially about the best time to visit and the ins and outs of public transport.

Thank you. Right now in Turkey with wife and kids. Following your steps and recommendations. Just one thing: booking asked for a price but the hotel converted the price to Liras and charged me much more for exactly the same booking and service! Thank you again,

I love your travel blog! Your vivid descriptions and stunning photographs make me feel like I’m right there with you. It’s inspiring to see someone embracing adventure and exploring new cultures. Keep the travel stories coming!

Excellent article and links for further information. I am planning a trip to Turkey in September with my wife and your articles a great start and support. Great job! Alejandro

This is very, very helpful. Thank you so much.

Early in your article you indicated that Booking.com does not work in Turkey, yet in the section, entitled “Turkey Essentials”, you direct us to that site for Hotels. Maybe I am missing something, but that appears to be contradictory. I found the article very helpful…..Thanks for the information.

Hi JB – I still recommend using Booking, only you have to reserve from outside of Turkey ie. before you arrive.

Thanks so much, this was really helpful. Lots of good to know stuff that I didn’t find mentioned elsewhere

it was very helpful thank you

Ha, I made the same mistake again and didn’t read through your info thoroughly. In Georgia, I paid more than I needed to for a SIM at the airport and this time, I could have saved a few lira on a bank withdrawal in Istanbul.

Already appreciating the smiles and kindness in Istanbul very much.

Love your work Emily.

Perhaps it’s different for Australian passport holders, but I found the VOA to be a better deal than the eVisa for Americans. Our eVisas were fast and easy to get, but cost $50 plus a 2 dollar service fee. We got them before traveling to Turkey last year, but went twice to make them a better value. This past month we got VOA (no lines) and paid 25 euros each. Both are valid for 6 months. Plus you get a little visa stamp in your passport!

Thanks Owen for the info – you’re right, VOA is more affordable for US passport holders, but not for us Aussies unfortunately! I would have loved a visa stamp. I’ll update that now. Cheers!

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Home > 70+ Epic Things To Do In Istanbul, Turkey – Istanbul Travel Blog

70+ Epic Things To Do In Istanbul, Turkey – Istanbul Travel Blog

Post author Nicky

Written by our local expert Nicky

Nicky, originally from the UK, is now a local in Turkey. She moved to Marmaris, Türkiye for love 12 years ago and is now your Turkey travel planner.

Istanbul, Türkiye’s sprawling metropolis, is a city of endless discovery, where every corner offers a new adventure and a unique story. With my annual weeks-long sojourns to this vibrant city, I’ve curated a comprehensive Istanbul guide, revealing over 70 things to do in the city of Istanbul that cater to every interest and passion.

Whether you’re marveling at the grandeur of ancient monuments, sampling exquisite Turkish cuisine, or wandering through bustling bazaars, my local guide ensures you’ll capture the true essence of Istanbul.

Turkey Travel Blog_Best Things To Do In Istanbul

Istanbul is a HUGE city. There is far too much to see and do here over the space of just one break, and no matter how much you think you can zip your way around and see the main sights , you’ll still find yourself missing out on several things you had on your list.

This is a city that has more history than perhaps anywhere else in the world. Once part of Greece and known as Constantinople, the Ottoman Empire based itself here for centuries, fighting war after war, battle after battle.

The buildings here are dripping in history, the streets have echoes of the past, and it’s a beautiful blend of old and new that you’ll struggle to find anywhere else on the planet. Of course, Istanbul is also the only city in the world to straddle two continents; half sits in Asia, and the other half in Europe , divided by t he mighty Bosphorus Strait , considered one of the most dangerous shopping lanes in the world, thanks to its endless twists and turns.

If you want to get the most out of Istanbul , you need a plan. It would be best if you also made peace with the fact that there is no way on this Earth you’re going to see everything . Some people visit Istanbul several times a year and haven’t seen everything!

With that in mind, let’s check out sights and experiences you should have on your list of must-dos . If you have extra time (unlikely), you can carry on your exploration.

First, let’s start with a massive, quick list of things you’ll love in Istanbul:

Book yourself one of our favorite Istanbul hotels , and get started on your adventure with these Istanbul tourist attraction ideas:

1. Catch a ferry to see the best views of the city and Bosphorus

2. Visit the Grand Bazaar to find souvenir shops , authentic spices, jewelry, carpets, and more

3. Take a tour of the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque to appreciate their grandeur

4. Explore the Basilica Cistern for a unique underground experience

5. Visit Spice Market (one of my favorite things to do when I rent an apartment) for amazing aromas and plenty of shopping opportunities

6. Try Turkish coffee for an unforgettable caffeine experience

7. Take in a local show at one of Istanbul’s many theaters or cinemas

8. Stroll along Istiklal Caddesi Avenue for shopping, eating, drinking, music, and more

9. Go to Taksim Square to connect with locals and soak up Istanbul’s vibrant nightlife

10. Spend an evening dining at one of Istanbul’s rooftop restaurants with incredible views

11. Have a picnic in Gülhane Park to take in some nature in the middle of this bustling city

12. Take advantage of Istanbul’s public transportation system for easy access around the city

13. Get up early to watch fishermen selling their catches at Eminönü market near the Galata Bridge

14. Visit the Hippodrome for a taste of Istanbul’s ancient history

15. Take a Bosphorus night boat tour, it is the best way to see some of the city’s most iconic sights light up

16. Check out the Istanbul Modern Art Museum to admire contemporary Turkish art

17. Attend a religious ceremony at one of Istanbul’s many mosques to experience local traditions and culture

18. Explore the Topkapı Palace to learn more about Ottoman rule in Türkiye

19. Visit Sulaimaniye Mosque, one of Istanbul’s oldest and most beautiful buildings

20. Join a guided food tour around Karaköy and Balat to sample some delicious traditional Turkish dishes

21. Hit up the Fındıklı-Karaköy pier for incredible views of both sides of the city across the Bosphorus Strait

22. Take a traditional Turkish bath at one of Istanbul’s historic hammams for an unforgettable experience

23. Ride the nostalgic Funicular from Taksim to Kabataş for a unique way to get around town

24. Try the street food – kokoreç, çiğ köfte and simit are all must-tries

25. Visit one of Istanbul’s many parks , they are a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city

26. Explore Istanbul’s backstreets for hidden gems like vintage clothing stores and cozy cafes

27. Check out some of Istanbul’s lesser-known museums, such as The Rahmi M Koç Museum, Pera Museum, and Sakıp Sabancı Museum

28. Watch a Galatasaray football match to soak up some local sports culture

29. Admire the Chora Church, one of Istanbul’s oldest surviving Byzantine churches

30. Visit Eyüp Sultan Mosque, one of the most important Islamic religious sites in Turkey

31. Visit Yedikule fortress for amazing views of the old city walls

32. Enjoy a romantic sunset from Galata Bridge

33. Enjoy a delicious and authentic Turkish breakfast – try poğaça, gözleme, simit, and more!

34. Pass by Galata Tower for some great photo opportunities from the observation deck

35. Eat traditional Turkish ice cream – tastier than ever imagined!

36. Visit the Bebek district for stunning seaside views and an upscale dining experience

37. Experience an Islamic call to prayer at one of Istanbul’s many mosques

38. Check out one of Istanbul’s oldest synagogues, Neve Shalom

39. Go to the Maiden’s Tower for a postcard-perfect view of Istanbul

40. Enjoy a day at Ortaköy market, where you can find handmade crafts and souvenirs

41. Visit Karaköy Güllüoğlu Baklava shop for some of the best desserts in town

42. Try some delicious seafood at one of the city’s many fish restaurants

43. Take a ferry from Eminönü across the Bosphorus to explore the Asian side

44. Visit Çengelköy village on the Asian side for some fantastic views of Istanbul

45. Shop for unique Turkish rug designs at Cezayir Pasajı near Taksim Square

46. Check out the Balat district for a unique experience in one of Istanbul’s oldest neighborhoods

47. Explore the Beyoğlu neighborhood, home to galleries, best restaurants, and much more

48. Have some fun at Vialand Theme Park – there’s something for everyone!

49. Check out the Istanbul Archaeology Museums, home to some incredible artifacts

50. Spend an afternoon at Dolmabahçe Palace, one of Istanbul’s grandest places

51. Explore the Bosphorus and Golden Horn for fantastic views of the city

52. Visit the Süleymaniye Library for a peek into Istanbul’s rich literary culture

53. Try fresh fish sandwiches from the street stalls in Eminönü

54. Eat lahmacun (Turkish pizza) at one of the local restaurants in the Galata district

55. Browse through the old bookstores at Beyazıt Square for hidden gems and rare finds

56. Browse through Ağa Mosque, one of Istanbul’s most impressive Ottoman mosques

57. Walk along Galata Bridge for some fantastic views of both sides of the city

58. Pick up some authentic spices from one of Istanbul’s spice shops

59. Enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee with friends or family

60. Visit Çamlıca Hill for some great views over the city skyline

61. Visit Rumel ihisarı fortress to learn more about Istanbul’s history

62. Enjoy some live music at one of Istanbul’s many jazz clubs

63. Explore the city on foot – you never know what hidden gems you might find!

64. Go to Princes’ Islands (Adalar) for some picturesque views and great seafood restaurants

65. Take part in an old Ottoman tradition – smoking hookah in one

66. Eat Turkish delight – nom nom

67. Take a walking tour on the Asian side of Istanbul

Now, let’s dive into some of Istanbul’s best activities!

Skip Ahead To My Advice Here!

Feed The Seagulls On The Ferry

The ferry ride between the European and Asian sides (or vice versa) is a rite of passage, but as much fun as the journey is, feeding the seagulls is a major highlight.

They’re huge, plentiful, and hungry! Buy a simit from the small cafe downstairs and break it into pieces, throwing it into the air – they’ll definitely catch it.

Blue Mosque

istanbul travel guide blog

Sultanahmet is considered the ancient part of Istanbul ; you’ll find many of the significant historical sights here.

The Blue Mosque is iconic and one of the most beautiful buildings you’ll ever set your eyes on. Built in 1609, the mosque has six minarets, while most mosques have 2 or 4. The design inside will take your breath away, for sure.

However, the Blue Mosque is a working mosque and, therefore, a place of worship. This means you need to adhere to mosque etiquette and be respectful of anyone praying inside. Never stand in front of or walk in across anyone praying. Always cover your shoulders and legs, and wear respectful clothes. When going inside, everyone will need to remove their shoes, and women will need to cover their heads .

The mosque is closed during prayer time , and on Fridays, you’ll find this happens more frequently, as this is the Muslim holy day. It’s free to go inside, but donations are always welcome and will go towards the upkeep of this beautiful and incredibly historic building.

  • Best Hotels In The Sultanahmet
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Walk along the promenade in bebek.

Take the bus from Besiktas to Bebek and get off the bus just after Rumeli Fortress. Not only will you be able to take photos of the castle, but you can walk along the waterside promenade for miles; it’s such a scenic walk, and it’s so quiet compared to the hustle and bustle of the city.

You’ll pass by people fishing, drinking coffee, or simply walking hand in hand.

Bebek is the upmarket part of Istanbul, and if you keep walking, you’ll reach Sariyer, another affluent neighborhood where many Turkish TV shows are filmed. There are some great restaurants around here, not to mention many seafood spots to try.

Hagia Sophia

Best Things To Do In Istanbul - Hagia Sophia

If you visit Blue Mosque, you should head to Hagia Sophia next. Another Istanbul, a must-see landmark in Sultanahmet, is directly opposite and dates back to 537 AD when it was first built as a church.

When the Ottomans took over, they changed Hagia Sophia into a mosque, and nowadays, it stands as a place where both religions sit side by side, with relics and monuments of both shown. The museum is simply stunning and a truly beautiful place to visit .

Sunset Hagia Sofia - Sultanahmet Istanbul-5

The only downside is that it can become quite busy, and the queue to get inside can be very long. In addition, there are parts where you can’t use your camera flash, so adhere to signs shown in both English and Turkish.

As of January 15th, 2024, Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque has introduced a distinct policy for tourists and worshippers. If you’re visiting for cultural exploration, there’s now a 25 euro entry fee . This ticket grants you access to the gallery floor, where you can admire the sanctuary’s stunning Ottoman and Byzantine features, including the historic mosaics.

This new policy is all about balancing the preservation of this iconic site and enhancing the visitor experience, while ensuring that daily worship remains undisturbed.

Handy QR codes offer insights in 23 languages, making your visit both informative and enjoyable. For the latest updates and details, it’s a good idea to check out their official website . 

Basilica Cistern

Best Things To Do Istanbul - Basilica cistern

If you’re someone who likes weird and wonderful experiences, Basilica Cistern is the one for you! Once inside, you’re actually going under Istanbul’s streets , down to where the main water supply for the royal palace was held. This is one of the oldest sites in Istanbul and dates back to Emperor Justinian’s times during the 6th century Byzantine era.

You’ll see many columns in carefully arranged lines, stones carved in the face of Medusa, and a strange atmosphere that you really won’t be able to get enough of.

Galataport, Karakoy

 Galataport has , in recent years, opened its doors, and it’s a top place to visit. In fact, you should definitely plan to spend at least half a day here, a full day, if you want to enjoy dinner in the evening.

Galataport is a waterside entertainment center that’s expanding by the day. With incredible views over the Bosphorus , thanks to the fact that it’s literally lapping at the center’s shores, you can check out the sunset from here and get some fantastic photographs. Aside from that, there are countless stores, cafes, bars, and restaurants, including a new Salt Bae restaurant from the owner of Nus’ret.

Dolmabahce Palace

Romantic places in Istanbul - Dolmabahce Palace

If you love opulence, prepare to have your mind blown! Sitting on the banks of the Bosphorus in Dolmabahce/Besiktas, this palace almost bankrupted the Ottoman Empire, thanks to its sheer beauty and intricate design!

You’ll need to pay to go inside, but you are given a guided tour. You’ll learn about the history of the palace, which was the Ottoman Empire’s living quarters towards the end of their rule, the summer holiday spot for many European rulers, and the spot where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk died.

You can’t take your camera inside with you, but you can take photos of the outside and the palace grounds .

Rumeli Fortress

Past Ortakoy and on the road toward Bebek, you will find a huge Rumeli castle. Built to defend Istanbul (then Constantinople) from attacks, this castle is extremely famous and has been the filming site of many movies.

If you look over the Bosphorus toward Asia, you’ll see another castle directly opposite – both built for the same purpose.

A visit to the fortress is a great idea, and as long as you don’t mind walking up steps and hills, the view from the top is a true delight.

Çırağan Sarayı Palace – Ciragan Palace Kempinski

Palaces in Istanbul - Ciragan Palace_Istanbul Turkey_Depositphotos_469395120_S

Çırağan Palace is among the prettiest palaces in Istanbul. There are many reasons we recommend you visit this palace; the most interesting reason we recommend a trip to this Istanbul palace is that here you have the opportunity to stay in this palace.

Çırağan Palace allows you to travel in time . This palace was built at a time when every Sultan wanted to live in his own house instead of his parent’s home.

You can experience things that even the Sultan could not experience in this palace, built during Sultan Abdulaziz’s reign. Sultan Suite is ranked 14th on CNN’s list of “The 15 most expensive hotel suites in the world”. It comes then as no shock that Çırağan is the most expensive place for accommodation in Istanbul.

If you don’t want to spend the night here, reserve a spot at one of the four luxury restaurants or grab a drink at one of the bars or pop-up food venues. 

Topkapi Palace

Istanbul Palace - Braided Guards (Zuluflu Baltacilar), Topkapi Palace, Istanbul_Depositphotos_595477328_S

If you want to see how the other half lived, Topkapi Palace in Sultanahmet will make your jaw drop! This was the royal residence of the Ottoman sultans from 1465 and is still in superb condition.

The gardens are simply beautiful, and they are free to go inside, named Gulhane Park. However, the palace itself will cost you to go inside, with the harem costing extra. However, it’s worth it for what you will see, and there are some of the oldest relics in the whole of the Middle East on display here, including shields and armor worn by Ottoman sultans, weapons, and old cooking equipment used by the staff within the palace.

Drinks in Turkey - Roko drinking Ayran

During our visit in the winter of 2023, we found the palace was so huge that we needed a pit stop. So, we stopped at the on-site Topkapi Palace cafe. It was an outstanding place to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee while looking out at the beautiful gardens. The cafe has a wide selection of coffees, teas, pastries, and snacks. The staff are friendly and helpful, and the atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable. 

Dripping in gold and offering some stunning views over the Bosphorus, enjoying the Topkapi Palace is an Istanbul must-do!

  • Top Palaces In Istanbul & How To Get To Each One

Whirling Dervish

Nightlife In Istanbul - Whirling Dervish_Turkey

You can watch these captivating ceremonies at many locations throughout Istanbul. This iconic ceremony is a spiritual, meditative dance that has been declared a UNESCO Heritage of Humanity and is one of the best things to do in Istanbul at night, even with kids (over 6-7 years) . My two boys, aged five and ten, sat quietly and enjoyed it.

We saw the Whirling Dervish at the Hodjapasha Dance Theater, which is located in a converted 15th century Turkish bath within walking distance of Sirkeci train station .

Whirling Dervish Istanbul-7

During winter, while we visited, performances were held every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday (at 7 pm). Then, beginning in March, daily ceremonies were scheduled.

Though it may look like an art performance of sorts, it is still actually a religious ceremony. I was disappointed they asked us not to take any photos (even without a flash), but I understood why. You also can not talk or leave your seat at all while the Dervishes spin – so make sure the kids go to the restroom (on the lower floor) before the starting time.

  • Istanbul Turkey’s Whirling Dervish Shows

Grand Bazaar

Best Places In Turkey To Visit For Every Kind Of Traveler - Istanbul Bazaar

Visiting the Grand Bazaar without getting lost is impossible, but that’s half the fun! Dating back to 1461, this is the oldest covered bazaar globally, and it’s an authentic experience and an assault on the senses!

You’ll find hundreds of small stores selling everything you could think of. It’s loud, bright, quite hilarious at times, and a little confusing, but it’s something you have to do to get a real feel of the “old” Istanbul in Sultanahmet/Fetih.

Spice Bazaar

Shopping in Istanbul - Spice bazaar

The bustling Spice Bazaar of Istanbul is one of the largest and best-known bazaars in the city, second only after the world-famous Grand Bazaar. This sprawling covered market is in the Eminönü quarter of the Fetih district and dates from 1660, with revenue coming from Egypt .

This is why it is/was also known as the “New Bazaar” or “Egyptian Bazaar.” Since its founding, the Spice Bazaar has been the focal point of Istanbul’s lucrative spice trade. Nowadays, there are still dozens and dozens of shops selling all kinds of spices and herbs, but you can also find things like coffee, sweets, dried fruit and nuts, jewelry, and Turkish souvenirs here.

Spending an afternoon browsing the Istanbul Spice Bazaar is one of the must-do things in Istanbul, particularly if you like cooking and shopping.

Ortakoy Mosque And Bosphorus Bridge

Best Things To Do In Istanbul - Ortakoy mosque and Bosphorus bridge

The massive Bosphorus Bridge is quite an impressive and imposing sight on its own, but sitting right next to it is one of the most stunningly beautiful mosques you’ll ever set eyes on. Situated in Ortakoy/Besiktas, it’s a literal old versus new picture, and it’s one that you will no doubt have seen on websites and photos across the world. See if you can snap the famous sight for your own collection.

Down by the waterside at this iconic place in Istanbul are countless cafes , restaurants, and even a Starbucks. You can grab a coffee and sit outside, watching the seagulls circling and the huge ships passing by.

If you want to enter the mosque built in 1856, remember that it is a working mosque, so you need to follow mosque etiquette, as we discussed when we mentioned the Blue Mosque earlier.

Day Trips From Istanbul - Bebek - iStock Bebek District Of Istanbul Beautiful Houses On The Coast Of The Bosphorus Strait

If you head into Besiktas and then follow the main road straight, you’ll come to a pretty seaside area called Bebek. This area is very affluent, so you’ll likely see a Turkish celebrity or two with huge houses decorating the hillside. It’s calm and pretty feel around here, a far cry from the center of Taksim or Besiktas on a regular day.

Grab a coffee and walk along the waterside, watching the huge ships pass by almost silently, or sit and enjoy a traditional Turkish cay or even breakfast at one of the many restaurants . This area also has some very high-quality steakhouses and seafood restaurants, but it is certainly not the cheapest area!

You can get the bus down to Bebek from Besiktas or Ortakoy, and it runs quite frequently, although you are likely to get stuck in the famous Istanbul traffic at some point!

Mosque Of Suleyman The Magnificent

Most beautiful mosques in Turkey - Süleymaniye Mosque - Fatih, Istanbul

While the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque are more famous, the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent may just be the most beautiful of all mosques in Istanbul . Founded in 1550, this enormous mosque was the largest in Istanbul until 2019, when the Çamlica Mosque surpassed it.

Its bright and shiny interior is absolutely gorgeous, while the exterior boasts the classic dome and four tall minarets at each corner. You can admire this monumental religious building from the outside, but entering is also possible. This majestic mosque is genuinely one of the landmarks you must see in Istanbul, especially if it’s your first visit.

Additionally, don’t miss the Mausoleums of Sultan Suleyman I and his wife, Hurrem Sultan.

  • 18 Best Mosques In Istanbul

Tea Overlooking Europe

Istanbul Nightlife - Galata Tower Istanbul

One of the most popular low-cost activities in Istanbul is to head over to the Asian side and sit on the waterside in Uskudar.

Here, you can buy a glass of Turkish tea (cay) and sit on the cushions, watching the famous sunset over the Golden Horn of Europe. It’s a calming experience showing you this city’s true beauty.

This area is also home to a chill nightlife scene if that’s more your style.

Taksim Square

Best Things To Do In Istanbul - taksim square Red tram in Istiklal street

You can’t visit Istanbul and not go to Taksim Square . This is the busiest part of Istanbul, day and night. Seeing traffic and crowds on the famous Istiklal Street at 3 a.m. is not unusual!

Jump on the famous red tourist tram and make your way down i̇stiklal Caddesi without having to weave your way through the crowds, do some shopping, grab a coffee, eat a delicious meal, go to the cinema, go to a nightclub – the list goes on!

Taksim is a very international part of Istanbul, and you’ll see people here from all over the world . It’s a friendly vibe, for sure, but it’s also a very busy one, so follow your common sense and remember to keep your bag close to you and not flash your valuables. The same goes for any busy city in the world, of course. For more tips, check out our post on scams you may encounter in Istanbul .

  • How To Get From Istanbul Airport To Taksim
  • Best Hotels In Taksim Square
  • Guide To Surviving Taksim With Your Sanity Intact

Galata Tower

Glatata Tower Istanbul -8

The Galata Tower is one of the most iconic landmarks in Istanbul, Türkiye. Standing at a whopping 984 feet (300 meters) tall, it offers breathtaking views of the cityscape below. Visitors can take an elevator to the top of the tower and take in the stunning panoramic views. On a clear day, you can even see all the way across the Bosphorus Strait to Asia!

Also known as the Tower of Christ, the Galata Tower is a striking medieval tower in Istanbul’s Karakoy district. It stands just north where the Golden Horn meets the Bosphorus. Built by the Genoese, this magnificent tower was once the highest point in the city walls of Galata, a former Genoese colony in Turkey .

Galata Tower Family Istanbul

While most of the walls are gone nowadays, the Galata Tower survives. And it is also open to the public every day of the year. A visit to this fantastic view is one of the best things to see and do in Istanbul, Turkey .

Note: Many sites say a cafe/restaurant is on the top floor. During my visit in February 2023, there was no such option.  

Walls Of Constantinople

Another ancient fortification and fascinating place in Istanbul to see are the Walls of Constantinople. These mighty defensive walls were built after Constantine the Great made Constantinople the Roman Empire’s new capital in the 4 th century AD.

The Walls of Constantinople were the last great fortification system constructed during Antiquity. There are still among the grandest and most expansive systems of fortified walls and towers ever built. Once surrounding the city on all sides, both on land and on the shore, the most significant part of the system was the Theodosian Walls, a famous double defensive line.

Although most of this once-imposing system is now gone, sections of it still stand to this day. You can even walk on top of parts of the Istanbul City Walls! This is possible on your own self-guided visit or on guided tours. If you’d like to learn more about the city’s rich and long history, this is one of the best things to do in Istanbul, Türkiye, for you.

Rooftop Dinner Or Drinks

Turkey Travel Blog_Best Rooftop Bars & Restaurants In Istanbul_16 Roof Swisshotel Restaurant & Bar

Rooftop bars and restaurants epitomize luxury, sophistication, and panoramic views . These sky-high oases offer a unique dining and drinking experience that elevates any evening to new heights. Whether looking for a romantic date night or a night out with friends , rooftop bars provide the perfect combination of breathtaking views, delicious cocktails, and gourmet cuisine.

Istanbul is home to many fantastic rooftop bars and restaurants, so be sure to add one to your city visit!

  • Best Rooftop Bars & Restaurants In Istanbul

Sea taxis are one of the most recent additions to Istanbul’s transportation options. Out of commission for almost a decade, they’re now back in business. You can hire these sea taxis and go anywhere that has a shore.

They can anchor almost everywhere, which eliminates the need for more port space and, in return, provides virtually endless routes. This is a fantastic way to explore the Bosphorus Strait, Marmara Sea, Black Sea , and Golden Horn on your own schedule.

Bosphorus Dinner Cruise & Night Show

Romantic Places In Istanbul - Bosphorus Sunset Cruise

An evening boat trip helps you see Istanbul from a different vantage point, with the glistening lights around you. A dinner cruise and night show is a great way to spend the evening, and you’ll undoubtedly get your money’s worth as you’ll be on board for four hours! During that time, you’ll enjoy a traditional dinner and travel along the Bosphorus, seeing two continents simultaneously.

After dinner, the entertainment begins with belly dancing, whirling dervishes , and folk dancing. You can also dance freely once the entertainment program has finished.

The tour price includes dinner, soft drinks, and limited local drinks; however, you’ll need to pay extra if you want imported drinks. If you stay  in the Sultanahmet and Sirkcei areas, you’ll get a free pick up and drop off.

Find more details and availability of this tour here.

  • Shared & Private Bosphorus Cruise Tours
  • Istanbul Nightlife

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Discover Colorful Fener & Balat

Colorful sights if Balat, Istanbul Turkey

If you’re looking for a taste of the real Istanbul, away from tourist traps, then head to Balat. Step into this charming bohemian quarter of Istanbul, and you’ll be transported to a world where time seems to have stood still. This historic neighborhood is home to colorful tea houses, vibrant street art, and eclectic galleries that showcase local talent.

From sipping traditional Turkish tea with locals to exploring hidden alleys adorned with captivating murals, there’s no shortage of things to do in Balat. And with its central location on the European side of Istanbul, it’s easy to get to from anywhere in the city.

  • Enjoy A Day In Colorful Balat

Eat Turkish Ice Cream

Ice cream in Turkey - Istanbul 2

Turkish ice cream is a delicious and refreshing treat that can be enjoyed in Istanbul all year round. This type of ice cream is made with milk, sugar, and starch and often has a thick, creamy consistency.

One of the best places to enjoy Turkish ice cream in Istanbul is at one of the many street carts that can be found throughout the city. These carts generally have a wide selection of flavors to choose from, and the ice cream is usually served in a cone or cup. It is also typically flavored with vanilla, chocolate, or pistachio.

Another fantastic place to savor Turkish ice cream is at one of Istanbul’s many cafes or restaurants . Many of these establishments serve traditional Turkish desserts like baklava, which can be enjoyed alongside a scoop or two of ice cream. What better way to cool down on a hot summer day than by enjoying some delicious Turkish ice cream?

  • Beyond Doner Kebabs – Lesser Known Istanbul Street Foods

Turkish Hammam

Hurrem Sultan Hammam

After a tiring day exploring Istanbul , you should know how to relax and rest your body. There are many options, yet none is as good as visiting the hammams of Istanbul.

Istanbul is home to many famous and historic hammams in the world. These historic bathhouses were once an integral part of daily life in the city and still play a significant role in the city’s culture and history.

The Cağaloğlu Hammam, erected in the 18th century by Ottoman architecture big wig, Mehmet Ağa, is one of Istanbul’s most famous and historic Hammams. This hammam is still in use today and is a must-see for anybody interested in experiencing Istanbul’s traditional culture and heritage.

The Galatasaray Hammam, built in 1481, is another old Hammam in Istanbul still in use. This hammam is well-known for its stunning tilework and elaborates architectural aspects, and it is an excellent choice for a classic Turkish Hamam experience.

In Istanbul, hammams are not merely a place for personal grooming but also a cultural and social activity. Visitors can enjoy the traditional Turkish hammam experience with friends and family.

Gulhane Park

Just behind Topkapi Palace, you’ll find a huge expanse of green and calm. You won’t feel like you’re in a huge city at all, and you can imagine yourself walking around with sultans, just like the Ottomans did back in the day.

I often refer to these gardens as ‘Narnia’ because, with the huge trees and open spaces, that’s exactly how it feels, especially when it has snowed in winter.

Walk up the hill, following the path, and you’ll find a tea garden with a stunning view over the Bosphorus.

Take Photos At Galataport

Things to do in Istanbul - Galataport

If you walk along the road from Kabatas to Galata and Karakoy, you’ll find a brand new shopping center and dining area called Galataport. However, this is far more than a mall as it has some of the best views over to the Asian side and over to the Blue Mosque.

Visit at sunset, and your jaw will drop – this is one of the best spots to take photographs.

While you’re here, you can dine, shop, and simply enjoy the ambiance of being directly by the waterside.

Nusr-et in Etiler

Everyone has heard of Salt Bae, either when he crashed the World Cup Final or from his meme with the salt. But have you ever tried one of his steaks? This restaurant is seriously in demand, and while it’s certainly not the cheapest, it’s a must-visit if you can.

The steaks here are huge, and if you want to splash the cash, there’s always the gold leaf steak to try. Alternatively, or perhaps as well as, go for the profiterole tower!

If you want to dine here, you need to book a table well ahead of time and still be prepared to wait. There are countless other people all booked in at the same time, and especially at weekends, the queue can be huge.

Walk Around Yildiz Park, Besiktas

Few people are aware of the sheer number of parks in central Istanbul, and once you’re in one, it’s almost like someone has muted the noise. Yildiz Park is somewhat of a hidden gem on the road between Besiktas and Ortakoy.

Look out for the brown side, which points up the street to your left; walk up the rather steep hill, and you’ll be rewarded with plentiful greenery, cute statues, and a river with ducks to feed.

  • Turkish Hammam Tips Before You Go
  • The Best Hammam In Istanbul

Is one day in Istanbul enough?

No! Even with a week, you’ll have difficulty fitting everything in. Aim for 3-4 days if your timing allows, knowing you can’t see it all.

What is the best area of Istanbul to stay in for first-time visitors?

Sultanahmet, Karaköy, & Taksim are all near main attractions and have east public transport available.

Do I need to cover my hair in Istanbul?

Istanbul is a relatively liberal city, so you only need to cover your hair at religious sites. Bringing a scarf, or buying one as a souvenir, is a good idea to always have one on hand.

Do they speak English in Istanbul?

Yes, you will find that most people, especially at main tourist sites and hotels, speak English.

These are some of the best experiences and attractions in Istanbul that you have to tick off your list, but the story isn’t finished, as Istanbul still has far more on offer!

  • Cool Day Trips From Istanbul
  • Relax & Rejuvenate At The Best Spa Hotels In Istanbul
  • How To Get From Istanbul To Cappadocia
  • Your Guide To Beyoglu, Istanbul
  • Things To Do On The Asian Side Of Istanbul
  • The Istanbul Museum Pass
  • Guide To Best Places In Turkey To Visit

Comments (5)

After Reading this blog It’s all clear what to visit and what all things to do in Turkey. I have also read a blog where it says top places to get the best pictures, you might also want to consider writing that as another post.

Thank you for the information. Its good to know some important things to do and some special attractions in Istanbul that you must visit once.

thanks for sharing such great infos about Turkey we really helped.

You write a very informative article.

It was a great article, thanks for sharing🙌

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Istanbul travel blog — the fullest istanbul travel guide for a great budget trip for first-timers.

istanbul travel guide blog

Ancient, mysterious but full of surprises will be your first impressions when visiting Istanbul, Turkey. The city of Istanbul is considered the heart of Turkey with more than 2,600 years of history, Istanbul has many churches, mosques and many attractive tourist attractions. Especially, The Historical Area of Istanbul has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Thanks to these historic architectural works, Istanbul has attracted millions of visitors each year. So, what to do and how to plan a budget perfect trip to Istanbul for the first-time? Let’s check out our Istanbul travel blog (Istanbul blog, Istanbul trip blog) with the fullest Istanbul travel guide (Istanbul guide, Istanbul tourist guide, Istanbul visitor guide) from how to get, best time to come, where to stay, best places to visit and top things to do to find out the answer!

  • My trip to Istanbul — Explore the bridge city of Asia and Europe
  • Istanbul travel tips — 9 things & what to know before going to Istanbul
  • What to eat in Istanbul? — 19+ Famous, must try food in Istanbul & best food in Istanbul
  • Where to go in Istanbul? — 10 must & best places to visit in Istanbul
  • How to spend 12 hour layover in Istanbul perfectly?


Napoleon once said: “If the world were a country, Istanbul would be the capital!”. So, what prompted Napoleon to say that, this can be easily is explained by Istanbul’s unique location lying on the two continents of Asia and Europe. But that’s just the shell on the outside. Deep inside Istanbul also contains a rich culture and timeless historical values.

Istanbul travel blog: Overview of Istanbul

Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey with an area of 5,343 km² and a population of more than 15 million people, located on two continents of Asia and Europe, stretching on the both sides of the Bosphorus Strait – an important waterway connecting the Sea of Marmara and Black Sea. Istanbul is also the center of economic, cultural and commercial of Turkey and the capital of the province of Istanbul.

Galata Bridge Istanbul with Yeni Cami mosque, view from Galata Tower

Because of such strategic location, in the past Istanbul was once the capital of many powerful empires such as the Roman Empire (330-395), the Byzantine Empire (395–1204 and 1261–1453) and the the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922). Today, imprints of these empires still exist in Istanbul.

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Istanbul travel blog: Is Istanbul the capital of Turkey?

Once the capital of many powerful empires in the past but today Istanbul is not the capital of Turkey, the capital of Turkey is Ankara. However, many people still mistake that Istanbul is the capital of Turkey (like mistaking Sydney as the capital of Australia).

Galata Tower

Some fun facts about Istanbul

  • The Istanbul’s population is more than 13 million people, more than the population of Belgium. And only a third of the population living in the Asia part of the city.
  • Istanbul’s metro system is the 3rd oldest metro system in the world after London and New York.
  • Istanbul is the city with the most mosques in Turkey with the number up to 3,113.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul,Turkey-9

Istanbul travel blog: Which season should I travel to Istanbul?

You can go to Istanbul at anytime of year. But it is advisable to travel in spring and autumn. Because these two seasons have a cool climate, it is very pleasant to visit. Spring in Turkey starts from April to June while autumn lasts from September to November.

Note: In particular, if you travel to Istanbul in October, you need to pay special attention. Because October is Ramadan month of Muslim. The people of Istanbul in particular and Turkey in general will live in a completely different time compare with normal days. All banks and ATMs will stop working.

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Istanbul travel guide: How to get to Istanbul?

Currently from Hanoi or Saigon (HCMC) has a direct flight to Istanbul with a flight time of 10-12 hours, which is very convenient operated by Turkish Airlines. This is Turkey’s airline with the widest flight network around the world. From Vietnam, the airline operating routes to Turkey and all European countries.

Turkish Airlines will land at Istanbul new airport – the world’s largest airport which has just come into operation since April 2019. Due to its massive scale, it takes time to move to the departure gates of the aircraft, so you also need to find out some information about this airport in advance to avoid missing flights.

istanbul travel guide blog

Fares vary from time to time, ranging from 900 – 1,000 USD for round trip. Depending on the time of promotion or some agents have their own policy with the airline, you can hunt for cheap round-trip tickets from 650-700 USD. With a total flight time of ~ 10 hours from Hanoi and 12 hours from Saigon, you will be served 2 meals and free drinks. In-flight dishes are generally quite delicious, nutritious, often with bread, butter and a kind of thick sauce come together. Drinks including free tea, coffee and fruit juices are served with meals. Economy Class passengers have 8kg of carry-on baggage and 30kg of checked baggage. The airline does not limit the number of packages to bring. Its online booking website: https://www.turkishairlines.com .

There are also several airlines fly to Istanbul such as Emirate Airlines and Qatar Airways, but fly with these airlines you have to transit via Dubai or Doha airports.

Getting from the airport to the city center

There are 2 main airports in Istanbul: Istanbul (IST) and Sabiha Gokcen (SAW). Both of these airports are international airports, however Sabiha Gokcen mainly serving low-cost airlines.

You should choose fly to Istanbul Airport because it is located on the Europe part of the city and there are more types of public transport to travel to the city center. Specifically, how to get from the airports to the city center as follows:

From the new Istanbul Airport to city center (and vice versa)

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Currently, this Istanbul new airport has just come into operation in April 2019 and is about 40km from the city center.

Bus: The most economical way to travel from Istanbul airport to the city center – Taksim district and vice versa is to take a bus of Havaist company .

The advantage of this type is convenient, cheap (only 30 lira / person / way), straight to Taksim square, but not directly to the Sultanahmet area (only to the nearby stop Beyazıt Meydan). Please visit this website to see its route, schedules and book tickets. ($1=7.46 Turkish lira (TL)).

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Shared Istanbul Airport (IST) Transfer for City Center

Taxi: If you have a lot of luggage and have just traveled through a long journey, you should take a taxi. Taxi price from IST airport to city center is around 150 lira.

However, the price is not always fixed at 150 lira. For the trip from city center to the airport, the driver will prefer to bargain with customer than turn on the meter. If you ask them turn on the meter, they will take a detour to charge you more.

Metro: Metro is also an affordable option, but you will have have to carry your luggage, a bit tired. Specifically, you will have to change trains at Gayrettepe station to the Taksim line. And another downside is that you could not go straight to the Sultanahmet area (only to Veznecilar station nearby).

istanbul travel guide blog

From Sabiha Gokcen Airport to city center (and vice versa)

There are fewer transport options available from Sabiha Gokcen Airport to the city center than from Istanbul Airport. The easiest way is to book airport transfer service . This service you can book directly with the hotel or travel agencies. The price for this trip is about €10 (90 lira).

istanbul travel guide blog

Istanbul trip blog: Getting around Istanbul

In Istanbul city we mainly walk, because we stayed a hotel which close to some famous attractions. For a long distance, we use tram or taxi.

istanbul travel guide blog

There is also a popular public transport, that’s ferry. However, the ferry is only needed when you want to go to the Asia coast of the city and it is not convenient way to access any tourist destinations at all.

NOTE: If you traveling a lot around the city, you should buy an Istanbul Kart card ( iOS , Android ). You will have to spend 10 TL for the card and 20 TL deposit to use all public transport with an unlimited number of people (as long as there is enough money in the card). However, after buying the card, it cannot be returned or withdrawn. One advantage is that the card can be used for many people. You can buy it at some major transit stops such as airports, Sultanahmet, and Eminönü. See more here .

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  • Istanbul Welcome Card

Istanbul travel blog: What to do and where to go?

Hagia sophia (aya sofya).

Used to be the largest Orthodox church in the world for 1000 years. After being invaded by the Ottoman Empire, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. Visiting this place, you can easily find remnants of Orthodox on the walls. The main highlights of Hagia Sophia are its majestic domes and magnificent mosaics that amaze even the greatest architects. In just 6 years (532 to 537), the Turkish people built a remarkable architectural work of mankind in Byzantine style.

  • Hagia Sophia Introduction Tour with Audio Guide

Address: Sultan Ahmet, Ayasofya Meydanı No:1, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey Height: 56 m Opening hours: 9am – 5pm (winter) & 9am – 7pm (summer) Admission: TL 30

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)

Sultanahmet Camii was built in the early 17th century, it owns the largest scale and most beautiful among the mosques and is also a symbol of Istanbul. The reason for its name Blue Mosque is because the mosque is paved with 20,000 blue glazed tiles with more than 50 different tulip designs decorated throughout the mosque. Like many other mosques, inside the Blue Mosque there is also the tomb of Sultan (King) Ahmed I.

istanbul travel guide blog

  • Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque Small Group Tour

Free opening to visitors but the mosque still remains a sacred place of worshipping. So, before going inside the mosque, you will have to remove your shoes and women will have to wear a headscarf. For Muslims, they will clearly wash their hands, feet and face as a show of respect to their (God) Allah.

Blue Mosque in Istanbul, architectural masterpieces

  • Istanbul Classics Tour

It also free offer bags for visitors store their shoes and lend a headscarf to female guests (but this headscarf is not nice).

Address: Sultan Ahmet, Atmeydanı Cd. No:7, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey Hours: 9AM–7PM Admission: Free

Topkapi Palace Museum

Located in the Sultanahmet District, Topkapi Palace is a witness to the historic ups and downs of the Ottoman Empire. Topkapi has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site because of its historical stature as well as its unique beauty. This palace was built in the 15th century and served as the residence of the sultans for more than 400 years during the most prosperous period of the Ottoman Empire (1465-1856). Because of that, this palace complex is extremely large.

Topkapi Palace

Istanbul Topkapi Palace Tour with Skip-the-Line and Audio Guide

By the early 20th century, the Turkish government used it as an office before turning Topkapi into a museum. Tourists will not only be impressed by the scale of the palace, but also have the opportunity to witness first-hand historical artifacts such as the sultans’ weapons, the watch collections or precious jewelry from the Ottoman period.

Before it became an open museum to visitors, the palace used to be the residence of the Sultan and the queen, imperial concubines with hundreds of houses, mosques, entertainment areas and harem. In addition to keeping historical artifacts of the Ottoman Empire, this Istanbul tourist spot is also a beautiful place to enjoy a view of the Bosporus Strait.

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  • Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, & Basilica Cistern Combo Tour in Istanbul

Address: Cankurtaran, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey Hours: 10AM–4PM/Tuesday: Closed Construction started: 1465 Admission: Museum 40 TL + harem 25 TL

  • The 3 tourist attractions of Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace are always crowded with tourists, so you take advantage of going from the early morning at around 8:30am.
  • If possible, hire a guide to learn more about each place because the information inside each spot are not enough.

Dolmabahce Palace

Considered as “The Versailles of Istanbul” because of its extremely magnificent architecture. Dolmabahce will impress you from the moment you set foot in the Bosphorus where separates Istanbul into two parts in Europe and Asia.

If Topkapi Palace looks ancient, Dolmabahce Palace has a bit of modernity and elegance. Located right next to the Bosporus, the palace is like a shining jewel that adorns the city of Istanbul.

Dolmabahce Palace

Because the palace only allows 5000 guests to visit a day, you should take advantage of early visiting. Visitors can freely visit the garden while wanting to go inside the palace will have to take a tour guide. Visitors are not allow to take pictures inside but when the guide and security do not pay attention you can still “take some photos”. When detected, the guide will remind guests but they will not be too strict.

Address: Vişnezade, Dolmabahçe Cd., 34357 Beşiktaş/İstanbul, Turkey Hours: 9AM–4PM/Monday, Thursday: Closed Construction started: 1843 Admission: 40 TL (visit the outside palace)

Galata Bridge

A historic bridge crossing Golden Horn Bay connects the old town of Sultanahmet with the modern northern part of Istanbul.

Galata Bridge does not have a monumental architecture like the Chain Bridge in Budapest or the Tower Bridge in London. But it has a more special meaning of all, the connection between the past and the present, the connection between cultures. If this side is a bustling street scene with modern buildings, then the Sultanahmet side has a ancient look. Therefore, it has a very special meaning, standing here to see the world of two separate cultures.

Strolling along the bridge you can easily encounter the idyllic life of the people of Istanbul. In particular, you will see many fishermen, they fish during the day and resell to the restaurants below or fish sandwiches boats.

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Galata Tower

The Galata Tower was completed in 1348, once the tallest tower in Istanbul that many visitors want to come. Galata Tower is one of the prominent tourist spots in Istanbul. In the past, the tower was destroyed by two major fires in the 18th and 19th centuries and was restored to welcome visitors. Today, visitors can admire the 360-degree panoramic beauty of the city when reaching the top floor of the tower.

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With a height of up to 67 m, Galata Tower is the ideal spot for visitors to admire the panoramic beauty of the whole city under shimmering lights at night. Guests can also enjoy a cozy and romantic evening at the top of the tower as there is a restaurant and cafe to serve visitors.

Address: Bereketzade, Galata Kulesi, 34421 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey Opening hours: 9am – 8:30pm Admission: 25 TL

Bosphorus Strait

It is the most beautiful sunset spot in the world. This narrowest strait in the world is the natural boundary separating the two parts of the Eurasian continent of Istanbul. In addition, this is also a political hot spot, which get countless papers and ink of the international media.

But contrary to the information in the newspaper, the Bosporus is a very poetic place. Visitors can take a cruise tour to enjoy scenery along the Bosporus, admiring the two continents of Asia – Europe of the city.

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To catch the yacht you have to go to the Eminonu Pier to buy tours from the “hot boys” here. Before buying the tour you should go along the pier to aks tour prices but most of the prices that the “boys” offer are the same, 15 TL. After gathering enough guests, all will be invited to get on the bus to get to the pier, whoever gets on first will get a nice spot on the 2nd floor of the boat. As for my team who came up late, we had to sit in a decorated wedding cabin.

Honesty, this is one of my memorable experiences in Turkey. I was also quite surprised because I have never seen such a beautiful sunset, even much more beautiful than the sunset in Santorini.

Basilica Cistern

Known by various names such as the Underground Palace or the Sunken Palace. But in fact, this was once an underground water storage and a water filtration system providing drinking water for the people of Istanbul. Visiting this place you will be lost in a different world with columns created by the ancient Romans.

Inside Galata Tower

The Basilica Cistern is a famous underground structure in Turkey that has appeared in many TV series. Previously, it was a underground water lake for the people of Istanbul then forgotten for a few centuries and now becomes a tourist attraction in Istanbul.

Take the space of darkness as the main theme, it is lit by spaced lamps and 336 pillars built by the ancient Romans. This work will make visitors can not help admire by the talent of the ancient people. In particular, there is a stone pillar with an upside down Medusa head statue (which historians have yet to explain why the head of the statue was placed upside down).

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Address: Alemdar, Yerebatan Cd. 1/3, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey Opening hours: 9am – 5:30pm Admission: 20 TL

Maiden’s Tower (The Virgin’s Tower)

If you have ever seen pictures of Turkey, you will see a nearly 30 meter high tower alone in the middle of the Bosporus sea.

There are many legends surrounding this tower, but the most famous is the story of a rich father who wants to protect his beloved daughter from the dangers and he built this tower in the middle of the sea. It has also been used as an ancient watchtower and worshiped the god of fire since ancient Baku. From this tower, you will admire the peaceful sea scenery with the hillsides and surrounding nature.

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Today the tower has become a restaurant. If you have an opportunity to travel to Istanbul, you should try to have a meal here to be able to see Istanbul scenery and hear more thrilling stories.

The most bustling neighborhood in Istanbul. Contrary to the timeless beauty of Sultanahmet neighborhood, the Taksim district brings the breath of modern life. When night falls, Taksim will become very crowded with shops and bars.

In the Istiklal pedestrian street, there is also an ancient system of tram that has existed for nearly a hundred years, creating something very unique for this neighborhood.

NOTE: The security of this Taksim area is a bit complicated, you should be a little bit more careful, especially at night. Because there are many restaurants and bars in this area, there are many risks.

Ortakoy Mosque

Ortakoy Mosque, also known by another name is Buyuk Mecidiye Camii. The mosque is both a symbol of the Ortaköy district and is known as the “jewel” of the Bosphorus. Buyuk Mecidiye Camii is built right next by the Bosphorus, located at the foot of the Bosphorus Bridge.

Among over 3000 mosques, Ortaköy is still one of the most beautiful structures in Istanbul. This mosque was built from 1854 to 1856 by order of Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid. Ortaköy was designed by great architects Garabet Amira Balyan and Nigoğayos Balyan.

Mecidiye Mosque

Address: Mecidiye, Mecidiye Köprüsü Sk. No:1 D:1, 34347 Beşiktaş/İstanbul, Turkey Opened: 1856 Hours: 4AM–10PM

Istanbul travel blog: What and where to eat?

Due to a city located on two continents, that is why Istanbul there are many unique culinary features that are difficult to find anywhere else in the world. Among them are doner kebab, fish sandwich, stewed lamb, baklava… Below are famous dishes you should try.

Doner Kebab

Referring to Turkey can not help but to mention Doner Kebab – a famous traditional dish in Turkey. Previously, Turkey was a country of nomadic tribes, so they often roast meat to keep for a long time, sandwiches with bread and vegetables, quite similar to today’s doner kebab. In Turkey, Doner often sandwiches with lamb, beef and chicken … absolutely no pork because the Muslim Turks do not eat pork. The marinated chicken is delicious, soft, juicy. Beef is okay, while lamb is a bit too strong taste, maybe because I am not used to the taste of Turkey.

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Turkish Ice Cream Tricks (Battered ice cream)

The reason for the name ice cream trick is because the sellers will use all kinds of tricks to fool you, not allowing you to get the ice cream. Note that this cream is only for virtual living, but it is boring to eat, a bit flexible so that the seller can playing with you.

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Fish sandwich (balık ekmek) at Galata bridge

For a long time, I have read an article on a travel forum that this fish sandwich is so delicious, but the truth is it is not as delicious as I hoped. A fish sandwich only has a few lettuce and fried fish without any sauce, so it is bland. Only the fried fish show on the boats is attractive. You can come to Galata bridge and try it on boats.

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Stewed lamb

Lamb is a familiar ingredient in Turkish meals, there are many dishes prepared from it, in which this attractive stewed lamb cannot be ignored. Lamb after being thoroughly stewed with spices will put in a ceramic jar. After that, the waiter will light the fire around and create a unique fire dance before you can enjoy it.

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Tea and raki

These are the two most used drinks in Turkey. When entering someone’s home, you will definitely be invited to a cup of tea, showing the hospitality of the people here. Raki a alcoholic drink made of twice-distilled grapes and anise with a fairly high alcohol content (up to 48%). Therefore, if you cannot drink alcohol, you should consider before drink it!

istanbul travel guide blog

Turkey is a country with high annual honey production in the world, honey prices are not cheap either. This is a commonly used ingredient in cuisine to make cakes, sweets, yogurt,…

istanbul travel guide blog

Turkish Baklava

Baklava in Turkey is a layered pastry dessert made of filo pastry, and filled with chopped nuts, and sweetened with syrup or honey. This is must-try food in Istanbul in particular and Turkey in general. It also was one of the most famous and popular sweet pastries of Ottoman cuisine.

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Turkish Red Lentil Soup

This is also one of the indispensable dishes in the daily life of the people of this country that you should try. The dish is attractive and eye-catching with the main ingredient is lentil stewed with tomatoes, peppers, onions and a little cream to create fat.

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Lahmacun cake

Turkish style pizza is known as signature street food but it is everywhere so you can buy to try it. Place on top of the cake is minced lamb stir-fried with spices, chopped chili, coriander and squeezed on a little lemon juice to enhence flavor. Then roll it up, wrap it in paper and cut it in half to eat, not bring it to bake, fast, neat, and quick.

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Midye Dolma

This is a famous dealcoholized wine dish consisting of clams stuffed with a mixture of spicy rice. At restaurants in this country, they will not stop bringing this dish until you say stop and the shop owner will charge by counting clam shells.

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Cig kofte (raw meat balls)

Cig kofte is one of the best raw meat dishes in the world with a very spicy taste. This raw meat dish is often served with flat bread, salad, pomegranate seed oil and spicy sauce.

istanbul travel guide blog

Simit (Turkish sesame bagel)

This is a traditional Turkish cake and is often used for breakfast. A kind of soft and spongy bread is formed in a ring shape, sprinkled with white sesame seeds on top and then bake. You can buy them in street food vendors or pastry shops. Enjoying a hot cake with a cup of tea or served with cheese, salad brings delicious flavors.

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Türk Kahvesi (Turkish Coffee)

Turkish coffee not to be mixed with boiling water as usual. They are incubated in a stove at a low temperature and served in large cups. Turkish coffee has a slightly sour taste, very strong and especially when you drink to the bottom of the cup you will see a layer of coffee paste due to coffee powder will settle down.

istanbul travel guide blog

This is a famous Turkish ice cream and pastry chain of stores in Turkey. The desserts, ice cream, and juices were delicious. In addition, it also serves savory dishes, pizzas in large plates, a quite full for a meal of about 70 TL. Nice view, cozy, very nice service staff, nice dress.

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Address: Alemdar, Divan Yolu Cd. No:24, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey Hours: 8AM–12AM

Turkish Delight Chain

Here is a collection of famous Turkish brands, Turkish traditional sweets, pastries, cakes, baklava… My favorite is Turkish Chocolate, which is very cheap and delicious. This is must-visit place in Istanbul.

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Istanbul travel blog: What and where to buy?

When traveling to Istanbul, you can buy many interesting things as gifts such as apple tea, lokum (Turkish Delight candy) or hand-woven rugs, Nazars (charms against the evil eye), olive oil, traditional pottery handmade, leather products, refrigerator stickers with pictures of famous places, …

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Grand Bazaar

One of the oldest markets in the world, the Grand Bazaar has more than 3,000 stalls, it can take many days to explore. The Turks are known for their skillful, careful and meticulous skills, so at Grand Bazaar you can find unique Hand-made items. Even basic items such as water bottles, pots, but under the talented hands of the Turks they turn into extremely beautiful home decorations. In addition, the Grand Bazaar is famous for the areas selling condiments, spices or chocolates. A note for visitors is to bargain when shopping here. The merchants in Turkey, especially in the Grand Bazzar always say overcharge. You have to bargain, usually 1/3 of the value of the item.

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Address: Beyazıt, Kalpakçılar Cd. No:22, 34126 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey Opened: 1461 Hours: 10AM–6PM

Misir Carsisi (Spice Market)

Located next to the Bosphorus on the European coast of the city, this market sells many Turkish specialties: Nuts, apricots, tea, confectionery, cheese and unique handmade decorations. The experience of buying nuts is to buy at shops outside the market, I see the list price of these shops 10-20% lower than shops in the market.

istanbul travel guide blog

Shopping Malls

Forum istanbul shopping center.

This is the largest shopping mall in Istanbul and is also one of the Metro stops, so travel is very convenient. This place can meet most of the shopping needs of customers, including all famous domestic as well as global clothing brands, cosmetic brands, supermarkets, fruit stalls and food courts. What I like the most is the food court here, the price is cheap and the taste is very easy to eat. If you cannot eat Turkish food, coming here will feel like being saved with delicious fried chicken, nutritious and cheap salmon.

istanbul travel guide blog

Address: Kocatepe, Paşa Cd, 34045 Bayrampaşa/İstanbul, Turkey Hours: 10AM–8PM/Saturday, Sunday: Closed

Marmara Forum

This mall is located next to the Media Mart and the large mall of Decathlon Mall Of İstanbul and about 800m from Metro station. In addition to household items, clothes, food, and fruit, I really like the shops selling crockery, ceramics here: Fancy designs with very affordable prices.

istanbul travel guide blog

Address: Osmaniye, Çobançeşme Koşuyolu Cd. No:3, 34100 Bakırköy/İstanbul, Turkey Hours: 10AM–8PM/Sunday: Closed

Aqua Florya Shopping and Life Center

This is also a pretty big shopping mall in Istanbul, but what I like most here is its location. This mall is close to the old airport, next to the beach road and a park where you can relax, entertain, cycle, sunbathe or watch the sea. You can also enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee at the outdoor restaurant overlooking the sea, or lie on the large rocks to sunbathe and watching seagulls.

istanbul travel guide blog

Address: Şenlikköy, Yeşilköy Halkalı Cd. 93-93/1, 34153 Bakırköy/İstanbul, Turkey Hours: 10AM–8PM

Istanbul travel blog: Where to stay?

According to my Istanbul travel experience, you should stay in the Sultanahmet and Taksim neighbourhoods:


Old Quarter where famous tourist attractions of the city gather such as Sultanahmet Camii, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace …

If you want to feel the timeless beauty of Istanbul, you should book a room here. Get up early and walk around so you can feel the quaint beauty of each street.

Some hotels in the Sultanahmet area:

  • Sirkeci Park Hotel ( Agoda.com or Booking.com )
  • Istiklal Terrace Hotel ( Agoda.com or Booking.com )
  • Sunlife Oldcity ( Agoda.com or Booking.com )
  • Hotel Megaron ( Agoda.com or Booking.com )
  • Aldem Hotel ( Agoda.com or Booking.com )

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It is considered the heart of Istanbul with the square and bustling pedestrian street. Moreover, this is also the main hub of all traffic routes in the city.

You can easily find cheap buses to get to the airport from here. However, the security of this area is not very good, as I saw here.

Some hotels in Taksim area:

  • Santa Ottoman Hotel ( Agoda.com or Booking.com )
  • The Legend Platine Suites ( Agoda.com or Booking.com )
  • Mirrors Hotel ( Agoda.com or Booking.com )
  • Jakaranda Boutique Hotel Istanbul ( Agoda.com or Booking.com )
  • Gravis Suites Taksim ( Agoda.com or Booking.com )

istanbul travel guide blog

Istanbul travel blog: Some useful travel tips before you go

  • Buying Istanbul Museum Pass to save money on entrance tickets to attractions. See more infornation and prices via the following link .
  • Using Hop-On, Hop-Off Sightseeing Bus Tour in case there is only a few hours of transit to visit the city. See more here.
  • Preparing in advance the pocket WiFi device or buy a sim card in advance at home (or if it’s convenient to buy at the airport). Because if you buy at stores, the staff knows that you are a foreign tourist, so they will recommend very expensive sim packages.
  • Turks speak English quite poorly, not as well as I imagined. The hotel staff who read number 4 as “five”, should I sad or happy?!
  • For girls, you should choose beautiful headscarf in advance when entering the mosque, because the headscarfs that are borrowed at the tourist sites are not beautiful.
  • Do not point your camera at people who are praying.
  • Muslims do not eat pork, so when entering a restaurant, you should not order dishes with pork.

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Some best day tours, trips, activities and transfer services, tickets in, from and to Istanbul you can refer to

  • Istanbul Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off Tours (Open-Top)
  • Hop-on Hop-off Bosphorus Sightseeing Cruise
  • 4G SIM Card (MY Delivery) for Turkey from joytel2u
  • Istanbul Museum Pass
  • [Sale] Sea Life Aquarium Ticket in Istanbul
  • Round Trip Ferry Tickets between Prince’s Islands and Istanbul
  • Princes’ Island Full Day Tour from Istanbul
  • Istanbul Bosphorus Cruise Tour
  • Istanbul: Mevlevi Sema and the Whirling Dervishes Show
  • Istanbul: Bosphorus Music and Dinner Cruise w/ Private Table
  • Istanbul: Bosphorus Cruise with Audio App
  • Istanbul: Blue Mosque & Hagia Sophia Small-Group Tour
  • Best of Istanbul in 1 Day
  • Istanbul: Topkapi Palace Guided Tour and Skip The Line
  • Istanbul: Bosphorus Sunset Cruise on a Luxurious Yacht
  • Istanbul: Basilica Cistern Skip-the-Line Guided Tour

istanbul travel guide blog

Are you looking for more top things to do in Istanbul: Tours, activities, attractions and other things? Let’s check it out here . And My trip to Istanbul — Explore the bridge city of Asia and Europe. And Turkey travel guide here .

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ISTANBUL , MIDDLE EAST , TURKEY · January 13, 2020 Last Updated on March 12, 2024


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If you are looking for a city filled with culture, full of history, and a unique mix of two continents, Turkey’s largest city Istanbul is the perfect city for you.

Located on the Bosphorus peninsula, and with a waterway running straight through it that separates Europe and Asia, Istanbul has a unique history and its location makes it culturally diverse from numerous influences.

Istanbul has a unique and wonderful culinary scene, palaces, beautiful mosques, museums, and a great waterfront ideal for cruising and exploring. The city is Turkey’s cultural and economic hub, mixing tradition with a thriving metropolis that’s modernising with the rest of the world.

In this complete Istanbul City Guide we share the city’s history, the best places of interest to visit, where to eat, where to stay and other activities to do in the city! 

Istanbul Background

Throughout history, Istanbul has been ruled by the Greeks, Romans, and Venetians. Reminders of these rulings can be witnessed all throughout the city in its architecture.

Istanbul straddles both Europe and Asia, which is what made it so appealing for these rulers along with the fact it was the final location on the Silk Road , one of the main trading routes.

The city’s prime location on the Bosphorus peninsula has made it act as a bridge and a barrier, and it was once one of the most coveted cities in the world, which has made it the culturally diverse place it is today. 

Istanbul is a thriving city filled with an ever-growing community of people who have a distinct love of life and locals who work hard as well as party hard. Long-lasting traditions blend perfectly with modernity, making it one of Turkey’s most important city in terms of culture and the economy. 

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Best Time Of Year To Visit Istanbul

Turkey and Istanbul have very hot summers and cold winters. During the summer months, the temperature can reach high into the 30c’s (high 90f’s) and during the winter months, the temperature can get to as low as 6c (43f).

The best months to visit Istanbul are between March and May and September to mid-November , when the temperatures are pleasant and the crowds have disappeared. 

Where To Stay In Istanbul

Istanbul has several neighbourhoods on both sides of the river, the European side and the Asian side, which offer top-name hotel chains, hostels, and boutique hotels to suit everyone’s budget. 

Beyoğlu is located on the European side of the river and is considered a trendy neighbourhood with cobbled streets, cafes, shopping boutiques, restaurants, and small boutique hotels. This area has a large number of tourist attractions such as Taksim Square, Serdar-ı Ekrem – a large shopping road, and Soho House. 

Some of the best rated accommodation in the area includes:

  • Clarion Hotel Golden Horn
  • Taksim Line Hotel 
  • JW Marriott Istanbul Bosphorus

Şişli District and Beşiktaş

Both the Şişli and Beşiktaş neighbourhoods are known for being upscale and have large hotels, stylish buildings, large apartments, and attractions such as the Zorlu Center mall, designer outlets, and pastel-coloured buildings.

  • Ada Suites Nisantasi 
  • Elysium Art Residence Bomonti
  • Radisson Blu Hotel, Istanbul Sisli


Sultanahmet is the most touristy neighbourhood in the city. Located on the European side, this neighbourhood is home to some of the best places to visit in Istanbul , including Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Topkapı Palace, and Basilica Cistern.

Sultanahmet is slightly more expensive to stay in than other areas of the city with food and drinks costing nearly double that of in other neighbourhoods. 

  • Sura Hagia Sophia Hotel 
  • Celal Aga Konagi Metro Hotel  
  • Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet

Where To Eat In Istanbul  

Istanbul’s history has given it a diverse cuisine, with delicious mixes of Asia dishes and Italian classics, along with the Turkish favorites of kebabs, freshly caught fish, and some of the city’s signature dishes.

Some Turkish dishes to look out for are Iskender kabab (a lamb meat kabab), Midye Dolma (stuffed mussels), Menemen (Scrambled eggs cooked in sautéed tomatoes & peppers), Pide (Turkish pizza), Manti (Turkish ravioli), and Dürüm (Turkish burrito). 

  • Mangerie (Bebek neighbourhood): Mangerie has a beautiful terrace. I suggest you order a freshly squeezed juice, Turkish tea (çay), yogurt & granola with fresh fruits, avocado toast (you can order it with poached eggs or smoked salmon), menemen (delicious Turkish breakfast dish), eggs benedict, or go for the full Turkish breakfast… I think you will enjoy anything you order at Mangerie!
  • Çeşme Bazlama Kahvaltı (Nişantaşı neighbourhood): This popular Turkish breakfast restaurant has no menu but they serve breakfast all day. It is a cheap set price per person & all you can eat and gives you a great sense of how important breakfast is to Turkish people! Take a walk around Nişantaş after you have had breakfast as this neighbourhood is full of hip cafes, boutiques, & high-end designer shops.
  • The Allis at Soho House Istanbul : This restaurant has chilled vibes and is quiet on weekdays. Sit outside in the garden or inside if it’s a chilly day. The avocado toast is consistently great and there is a buffet on the weekends. An insider tip is to ask the waiter to make you nice latte art, he will impress you!

Lunch + Dinner

  • MSA’nın Restoranı (at the Sakıp Sabancı Museum in Emirgan neighbourhood): This is the restaurant of Turkey’s leading professional culinary institution, with a lovely view and ambiance. Expect super creative, beautifully presented dishes. Try their beetroot ravioli and skip the tuna poke bowl because it’s hard to find fresh, high-quality tuna in Istanbul. Be aware this restaurant is closed on Mondays. 

Desserts, Coffee & Tea

  • Seven Hills Restaurant: Come here for a cup of tea with an amazing view of Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Four Seasons Sultanahmet, etc. 
  • Karaköy Güllüoğlu :   A must visit! My favourite place for baklava and they also have Turkish ice cream which is super thick & unique! 
  • Kahve Dünyasi:  This is a chain but stop here to buy “Gofrik”… dark chocolate wafers with pistachios… I come here before every trip back to the United States and buy many boxes for my family & friends.  
  • Vi Coffee & Healthy Living: Delicious coffee & raw cheesecake.
  • Four Seasons Hotel at the Bosphorus : I especially love coming here during the afternoon or during sunset. Sit outside & watch the boats go by and don’t leave without seeing the outdoor pool & intimate indoor pool/spa area.
  • Ciragan Palace Hotel : Worth seeing on a trip to Istanbul especially if you are already next door at the Four Seasons . Snag the center table overlooking the swimming pool & order a Turkish coffee (way too strong for me but true coffee lovers may enjoy it!) or Turkish tea (çay). OR skip having a drink & just walk around admiring the impressive hotel exterior! Inside the palace is lovely too and very popular for weddings. 

Bars And Hangouts 

  • Mikla Restaurant : This is considered to be the best fine dining restaurant in Istanbul and is run by the famous Chef Mehmet Gürs. Personally, we didn’t have the best dinner here, but we LOVE the gorgeous views & excellent drink selection so it’s worth popping in for a drink if not for dinner! They are open every night at 6pm (closed on Sundays), so arrive when it opens to see the sunset colours in the sky. You can go enjoy outside to enjoy drinks on the terrace and just take amazing photos. 

Where To Shop In Istanbul

Istanbul has a great selection of Bazaars including the Grand Bazaar, but the city also has shopping streets and shopping malls that are often less crowded than the Bazaars.

  • Lily and Rose in Bebeksuper have cute swimwear and beach accessories. Their showroom is open Monday – Saturday from 10:00 until 18:30. 
  • Istinye Park is a shopping street with a large number of high-end shops. 
  • The Zorlu Center is a shopping center with several stores and I highly recommend checking out the Raffles Hotel Spa and browsing Eataly if you’ve never been to one before.

Pampering and visiting spas have been a big deal in Istanbul and Turkey for over 2000 years. It has turned into an art form, derived from the Romans and Byzantines, and has become an important part of Turkey’s heritage.

Istanbul has lots of spas and massage therapists. The traditional spas are called hammam, where women and men bathe separately. A Turkish hammam experience is a must-visit on any trip to Turkey or Istanbul. A few recommended spas are the following:

  • Les Ottomans Hotel Spa
  • Swissôtel Spa
  • Raffles Hotel Spa
  • Four Seasons Hotel at the Bosphorus Spa

Things To Do In Istanbul

Istanbul is divided into two by a waterway called the Bosphorus, this waterway separates the city and Asia and Europe. This divide gives the city unique and wonderful things to discover and explore.

Istanbul is a mixture of cultures with the modernity of the modern world, traditions of the Byzantium period, and the Ottoman Empire. To explore Istanbul in full visitors would need weeks or even months to explore everything the city has to offer. However, it is possible to see a large number of sites and get a feel of the city on a weekend or over a few days.

Visit The Hagia Sofia 

Hagia Sofia is one of the most beautiful and incredible buildings in the city. It has been used as a church for 916 years, a mosque for 482 years, and in 1935 was turned into a museum.

The building showcases features of both the Byzantium and Ottoman Empires with its dome-shaped roof and 40 arched windows. The museum showcases mosaics, calligraphy, tiles, Sultan’s lodge, and artifacts.

Shop At The Spice Market and Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar is an exciting shopping experience, with over 5,000 shops covering more than 60 streets. The Bazaar dates back to the 15th century when it was an important trading centre in the city with traders arriving to sell products from Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Now the market is home to traders who sell everything and there are mosaics, hammams, cafes, jewelry stalls, souvenir stalls, and everything else you can imagine.

Have A Drink At A Rooftop Bar

Istanbul has several rooftop bars with beautiful views over the city and beyond. Many rooftop bars and restaurants have panoramic views and are a great place to relax after exploring the city. 

Some of the best rooftop bars in Istanbul include the previously mentioned Mikla, 16ROOF, and 5. Kat.

Visit The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmet Camii Mosque is one of the most iconic sites in the city and was built between 1609 and 1616. The mosque is open to the public but as it is also still a functioning mosque, visitors can enter but they have to adhere to the rules.

Long pants should be worn by men and women should also cover their shoulders and head (head coverings are available at the entrance), shoes can be placed in a bag provided in the entrance. The mosque is closed for non-worshippers five times a day for prayers, these usually last 90 minutes or so. The Blue Mosque is currently open but unfortunately under construction. 

Take A Tour Of The Fener & Balat Neighborhoods

The Fener and Balat neighbourhoods of Istanbul were previously the Greek Orthodox and Jewish neighbourhoods of the city. Today the areas are known for their beautiful old colourful houses, hidden churches, and other beautiful buildings.

You can book a walking tour around the area which will take you to the best spots.

Catch A Ferry Ride Along The Bosphorus

The Bosphorus divides the city into Europe and Asia and visitors can enjoy a ferry along the river. Take the ferry from Beşiktaş or Ortaköy, you can hop on and off at any stop. Alternatively, visitors can do a boat tour of the city or charter a private cruise . 

Visit Kadıköy On The Asian Side

Kadıköy is a neighbourhood located on the Asian side of Istanbul and it can be reached by ferry. The neighbourhood is home to trendy cafes, bars, shops, galleries, and the seaside is beautiful.

Don’t miss the Moda Sahil Parkı ve Yürüyüş Yolu district with sea views, designer shops, coastal cafes, and teahouses (you’ll feel like you’re in a different city). 

Go To The Top Of The Galata Tower

The Galata Tower is nine stories high with beautiful panoramic views, a restaurant, and even a nightclub. During the weekdays it’s quite peaceful in the morning or midday, but if you go around sunset time expect the lines to be very long.

An alternative location with a great view is the Georges Hotel Galata rooftop bar, a nice alternative & super close.

Visit The Topkapı Palace

Topkapı Palace or the Seraglio is a large museum dating back to the 14th century when it was the home or workplace of sultans, courtiers, concubines, and eunuchs until the 19th century.

The museum showcases the palace’s pavilions, jewelry filled Treasury, hundreds of rooms, and gives an insight into what life was like there. Visitors should aim to go early in the morning as it gets super crowded throughout the day. 

Stroll Along The Bosphorus

Visitors can walk from the Bebek neighbourhood to Ortaköy Mosque. This walk is  4km (2.4 miles) each way and is very safe. Take your time walking and you will be stopping many times to take photos along the way, especially of the colourful homes in Arnavutköy neighbourhood.

Related Posts: For more information, read our 5 Incredible Places To Visit In Istanbul and Istanbul’s Best Golden Hour Spots articles!

Day Trip To Princes’ Islands

Princes’ Islands are a collection of nine small islands that can be accessed by ferry from the city, with journies varying between 50 minutes and 100 minutes. Taking the first ferry over to the islands will allow ample time for exploring.

Four of the nine islands are open to the public and a small number of hotels are located on them. Büyükada is the largest of the islands, with Burgazada, Heybeliada, and Kınalıada being smaller.

Motorized vehicles are banned on all the islands and many locals visit the Princes’ Islands for peace and quiet away from the thriving city. Bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, and walking are great ways to explore the islands’ pine forests, Victorian cottages, and narrow streets.

To make planning easier, you can book a full day tour to Princes’ Island from Istanbul which includes transportation and lunch.

Instanbul Wrap Up

All in all, Istanbul is an exciting city that offers an abundance of sites and attractions to its visitors. If you enjoy history and learning all about a city and its past along with the thriving modernity of its future you will love Istanbul. A city on the border of two continents and filled with enchanting places to explore.

This guide is composed of tips from an Istanbul local and  Travel Girls Getaways  alumni Alexandria D’Agostino  @atravelistasguide , who has lived for many years in the city.

We hope that this article has helped inspire you to visit Istanbul. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.

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The Backpacker’s Complete Guide to Istanbul, Turkey | 2024

Where does one even begin with Istanbul? This sprawling metropolis of over 16 million people is unlike any other city I’ve ever been to before. If the world had to choose a single capital city, I truly think Istanbul would be a strong candidate. It is the crossroads where Europe meets Asia, and it shows in its diverse cultures, rich history, cuisine, and more. No matter what name it went by at the time, Istanbul has maintained a significant presence in global history for thousands of years. It is seriously one of the most fascinating places one could ever visit.

I had fallen in love with Istanbul over the years without ever setting foot in the city. Through books, video games, movies, and more, Istanbul has effortlessly captivated my imagination ever since I was a kid. Whether I was trying to invade Constantinople as Attila the Hun or playing as the Byzantines on Age of Empires II, Istanbul was entrenched into my life long before I even wanted to travel. Those years of buildup and expectation building still could not prepare me for how much I fell in love with Istanbul.

So much so that I’m typing this out from my new apartment on Istiklal Street, the chaotic heart of Istanbul. Istanbul can truly be an overwhelming city for first-timers, and each day here has been a learning experience. Don’t worry, though. I got y’all covered.

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And hey, if this post helps you out, show some love and support for the blog and help keep my adventures going by  buying me a beer ! My adventures are entirely self-funded, so any show of support is greatly appreciated. It allows me to keep providing free travel guides and creating travel content to help you all travel the world.

Table of Contents

Things to know before going to istanbul, how to get to istanbul, where to stay in istanbul, the best things to do in istanbul, nightlife in istanbul, miscellaneous tips for istanbul, is istanbul safe to visit.

Like most cities of its size, Istanbul has its fair share of issues, but I found it overall to be pretty safe. Just keep your wits about you and you should be totally fine. Of course, there are some dodgy neighborhoods, but if you avoid them at night or altogether, you should be totally fine. As always, keep an eye out for pickpockets and always keep track of your valuables on public transportation. Turkish people are generally very welcoming and hospitable to travelers, at least in my experience. Respect the cultural norms and keep an open mind and open heart, and Istanbul will respond with love and hospitality.

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Currency and money

The currency of Turkey is the Turkish lira. I’m not even going to bother looking up the current exchange rate because it is volatile and will likely change by the time I close out of the page. When I got to Turkey in September 2021, it was 8 lira to the dollar. By the time I left in December, it was 19 lira to the dollar. As of January 2024, it is a whopping 30 lira to the dollar.

There are tons of ATMs and money exchanges all over Istanbul, and the rates are typically fair. However, they’ll be less advantageous if you’re in tourist hotspots like the Grand Bazaar or Sultanahmet in general. The ones on Istiklal Street were reliable and close to the official exchange rate. Withdrawing money from ATMs is also pretty straightforward and you should have no issues finding one in the city.

Language Barrier

The main language of Turkey is Turkish, but in Istanbul, there’s a big melting pot of people. With so many countries represented, English becomes the common denominator. English is widely spoken. If the guy doesn’t speak English, they’ll hop on Google translate and speak into their phone and have the app translate it right then and there. It’s actually quite handy, and Turkey is the only place I’ve been to where people do this often.

As an English-speaker, you shouldn’t have any issues in Istanbul. The main tourist areas cater to English speakers. It’s also the language of the traveler. I’ve sat down with a group of a dozen people living in Istanbul from all over the world and despite English being none of our first languages, that’s what we’d have the conversation in. Don’t stress about a language barrier.

If you plan on staying in Turkey or Istanbul for a while, then a SIM card might be a good investment. I’ve found them to be quite expensive, so I started using the eSIM app called Airalo. The plans there are very affordable, with a 3 gigabyte data plan being about $8. Use code ELIJAH933 to get $3 off your first eSIM.

Travel Insurance

As always, before you go, make sure to have good travel insurance handy. I use  SafetyWing  to keep me covered throughout my travels. They cover Turkey among the 190+ countries included in their coverage.

Istanbul might be one of the most well-connected cities in the world. It is literally the crossroads where Asia meets Europe, and getting to and from Istanbul shouldn’t be an issue. I’ve found Istanbul to be one of the most affordable cities to fly to. Turkish Airlines is one of my favorite airlines, and you’ll often find good deals to and from Istanbul from major cities around the world. Flying is the best way to get to Istanbul, even if you’re already in Turkey. Even if you only book a few days in advance, it shouldn’t be too hard to find an affordable flight. Pegasus Airlines is a budget airline in Turkey that I’ve used several times without any major headaches.

Istanbul has two airports. Sabiha Gokcen (SAW) and the new Istanbul Airport (IST). Both are connected to the center of Istanbul by buses and taxis, although I personally prefer Sabiha Gokcen. Once you arrive in Sabiha Gokcen, you can use the Havabus to get to Taksim Square for 27 Turkish Lira, or about $3 USD as of November 2021. Havaist is the bus that services the new Istanbul Airport. Regardless of which airport you fly into, it shouldn’t be too difficult or expensive to get to the touristic centers of Istanbul.

Istanbul is a massive city. There are a ton of different neighborhoods to fit your taste. It can be overwhelming trying to narrow it down. Here’s a quick rundown of which neighborhoods I’d recommend, although you can read my more comprehensive guide to Istanbul’s neighborhoods .


For first-timers to Istanbul, this is probably where you should stay. It’s where most of Istanbul’s major attractions are. Being more touristy, the cost of living here is a bit higher but thankfully, hostels are still quite cheap. There are dozens of hostels in Sultanahmet. A dorm bed should cost around $10-15, and you can likely find private rooms for about $20-30 USD. I’d recommend Cheers Hostel .

My personal favorite neighborhood in Istanbul is the area by Galata Tower. It is trendy, walkable, and home to many cute restaurants, cafes, and vintage stores. If you plan on staying longer-term in Istanbul and have more money to spend, finding a place in Galata is a good idea. Hostel Le Banc is a fantastic hostel right next to all the action. Beytul Galata is an affordable and chic hotel that had no business only being $35 a night for its location and comfort.

One of Istanbul’s fastest-growing neighborhoods, Beyoglu is where I chose to settle down for a month. I got an apartment just steps away from Istiklal Street, the busiest in all of Turkey. It was one of the most balanced neighborhoods for a traveler looking to stay long-term. Beyoglu is still pretty affordable and well-connected to the rest of Istanbul by public transport. Istiklal Street has endless options for dining and shopping. The alleyways close to Istiklal are lined with plenty of bars and clubs.

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On the Asian side, you’ll find one of Istanbul’s liveliest and trendiest neighborhoods. Speak to any local and they’ll gush on about how Kadikoy is the spot for dining, nightlife, and shopping. The scene here is young and international. If you plan on staying in Istanbul long-term, Kadikoy is an excellent neighborhood.

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Cihangir is one of my favorite neighborhoods for coffee and breakfast. It is a lot quieter, especially before the afternoon when life in Istanbul really starts picking up. Roaming aimlessly will take you to a plethora of cute cafes, street art, and good views of the Bosphorus River and Istanbul. Cuppa and Valerie Coffee Company are two of my favorite cafes in Istanbul. Jumba Hostel is a great spot right next to the action of Cihangir.

Istanbul is one of the most culturally and historically significant cities in the world. I remember being a kid playing history games on my computer and falling in love with Istanbul, or Constantinople, Byzantium, or whatever the city was called at the time. I had an emotional moment when I first laid eyes on the Hagia Sophia for the first time. Don’t judge me.

Istanbul is a city with seemingly endless things to do. Whether you want to knock out the sights, explore cute neighborhoods, cafe-hop, or party hard, Istanbul is truly a treasure trove of things to do.

Topkapi Palace

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Of all the touristy things to do in Istanbul, this one was my favorite. Topkapi Palace is vast, with many parts to it that could keep you busy for an entire day. The architecture here stunning, but the real beauty lies within. One could spend hours just gazing at the patterns on the ceilings and walls. The palace doubles as a museum, with entire buildings dedicated to religious artifacts, weapons, jewelry, and other things. The library was my favorite section of the palace grounds. If you have the museum card, make sure to visit the Harem Apartments and the 1700 year old Hagia Irene. Topkapi Palace alone honestly makes the museum card worth it.

National Archaeological Museum

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Right next to Topkapi Palace, you’ll find the National Archaeological Museum. With how modern Istanbul feels, it’s easy to forget that this is a city with history dating back thousands of years. The archaeological museum has a great collection of artifacts from Istanbul’s storied past. Set aside a few hours for a visit to truly immerse yourself in the history of Istanbul.

Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts

istanbul travel guide blog

Right in the heart of Sultanahmet’s historic center, you’ll find the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts. It’s part of Istanbul’s Museum Pass, so we decided to pay it a visit while we were in the area. It turned out to be one of the best surprises of our time in Istanbul.

Hagia Sophia

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How can you not visit Istanbul without visiting its most iconic attraction? Ever since I was a kid playing video games set in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia has captivated my imagination. Seeing it in person for the first time was a beautiful moment, and I was as giddy as my seven year old self playing Age of Empires. It’s free to enter, and as marvelous on the inside as it is on the outside.

Blue Mosque

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Right across from the Hagia Sophia, you’ll find the Blue Mosque. A staple to Istanbul’s unique skyline, this mosque is one of the most beautiful and grandiose in the city. It’s free to enter, and open to anyone outside of prayer hours.

Grand Bazaar

istanbul travel guide blog

While specializing mostly in tourist fare these days, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is still a can’t-miss destination. It’s one of those destinations that can transport you back in time to the days when this was hub for artisans and merchants for hundreds of years.

Dolmabahce Palace

istanbul travel guide blog

Talk about opulence. This palace in Besiktas is a can’t-miss while you are in Istanbul. It’s further away from the other tourist attractions of Sultanahmet, but it’s worth making the trek over. It is one of the most extravagant displays of wealth that you’ll find anywhere. The ceremonial hall might be the most beautiful room that I’ve seen anywhere. It costs 150 lira to enter as of November 2021, but I think it is worth it.

Galata Tower

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Most of my time in Istanbul was spent living in the Galata area. The Galata Tower became very close to my heart, mostly because it was the main landmark guiding me on my drunk walks home. Once I got close to the tower, I knew I was home. It’s beautiful on the outside, but going inside and climbing to the top will give you some unforgettable views of Istanbul.

Galata Bridge

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Sure, it’s just a bridge, but I never tired of walking up and down this bridge. The fishermen lining the bridge, the seagulls going wild, and don’t even get me started on the views at golden hour. I fell in love with Istanbul all over again every time I crossed this bridge. There are plenty of restaurants lining this bridge, so stop by for a meal or a glass of wine, or just take a stroll and take in all of the epic views.

Sulemaniye Mosque

istanbul travel guide blog

While Istanbul is home to many mosques, this one is arguably the most beautiful. You’ll inevitably visit the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, but don’t miss out on Sulemaniye Mosque. The view from up here is absolutely incredible, to go along with its beautiful exterior and interior.

Bosphorus River Cruise

istanbul travel guide blog

No trip to Istanbul is complete without exploring the city by sea. A Bosphorus River Cruise can be as cheap as 30 Lira ($3), although if you want a full experience with dinner at sunset, it can run you a little bit more. I’d recommend the company Turyol that sells tickets right from Eminonu Pier. The ride lasts about an hour and a half, and for $3, you really can’t go wrong.

Ataturk Kultur Merkezi (Ataturk Cultural Center)

istanbul travel guide blog

One of my favorite hang out spots in Istanbul was the Ataturk Kultur Merkezi , right off of Taksim Square. It’s home to a lot of cultural displays, as well as a huge library that became my favorite work spot in Istanbul. It’s home to an opera house, a number of coffee shops, and plenty of cultural and historical displays. It’s also a beautiful building to just walk through.

Of course, this list barely scratches the surface. Istanbul has dozens of museums, palaces, and vast parks to explore. A day trip over to Prince’s Islands is a must. Roam through Yildiz Park and stick around for sunset. Peep into one of the many modern art museums. Catch a film at one of the indie cinemas. Go shopping, from fancy mega-malls like the Zorlu center, to one of many quirky thrift shops throughout the city. Heck, just hop on the metro to anywhere and wander through any of Istanbul’s many neighborhoods. The options in Istanbul are limitless. If you find yourself bored in Istanbul, you are the problem.

Alright, let’s get to the good stuff. While I adore the history and culture of Istanbul, I love a good party, if you couldn’t tell by the blog name. My first week in Istanbul was an absolutely wild ride. It took me to underground raves to electronic festivals in the forests. I don’t think I went to bed before 4 AM that entire first week.

This is where I spent most of my time in Istanbul. If you’re just looking to get drunk and dance, Beyoglu has an excellent concentration of bars within walking distance with each other. It’s perfect for independent bar hopping or organized bar crawls. My personal favorite spot in Beyoglu was Gizli Bahce, a cozy and often crowded bar playing funky electronic beats across their two dance floors. For pre-gaming, I’d recommend Ispanak bar. If you want to get down to Turkish music, check out Eskici. More tourist-friendly music and fare would be found at Ritim, Backstreet, or Yuri Gagarin. Kastel is a popular spot for electronic shows, although it’ll usually cost some money to get in. Roxy is another personal favorite of mine just off of Taksim Square, and a few minutes walk away in Cihangir is the boujee rooftop bar, Rika.

Unfortunately, I can’t speak too much about the nightlife scene in other neighborhoods. Besiktas is one hell of a place to party, but I’m not familiar enough to really recommend the best spots. Vogue and Joker No. 19 are two spots that are popular among my local friends. You could just walk through the trendy Akaretler neighborhood of Besiktas and finding a number of poppin’ bars, restaurants, and clubs. As one of the main centers of Istanbul, you can’t go wrong with choosing Besiktas for a party.

Kadikoy is another lively neighborhood with a very youthful party scene. Just go bar-hopping, and you’re certain to find some great spots. It’s on the Asian side, though, so if you’re staying on the European side, it might be a trek finding your way home late at night.

Of course, the best parties can be found even further outside the tourist hubs. Internationally-renowned DJs often come to Istanbul for shows, so if you’re ready to rave, keep an eye out for who might be passing through. Klein Phonix and Vibe Bomonti are two of my favorite spots to frequent for a good electronic rave. You’ll find big shows and concerts at stadiums and arenas as well.

istanbul travel guide blog

Public Transport in Istanbul – Istanbul Kart

Istanbul is a big city. While I was fine walking mostly everywhere, it did help having the public transportation card. The Istanbulkart allows you on the ferries, trams, buses, and metros all in one card. Rides are pretty affordable, too. I think you can get anywhere for pretty around 5 lira, or 50 cents. The card itself will cost you about 13 lira, and then you can load it up with cash and use it to your heart’s desire. I definitely recommend getting one of these so you can ferry over to the Asian side or take the tram to and from Sultanahmet.

Don’t use Uber or taxis, use BiTaksi

The most frustrating thing about Istanbul was how ordering an Uber or negotiating with a taxi was constantly an ordeal. Taxis would criminally overcharge you. I thought I could avoid this by using Uber, but the drivers there also ignored the set price by the app. They’d message you, ask where you are going, and then regardless of your answer, they’ll state a ridiculous price. The locals use the app BiTaksi. The prices there are cheaper and the drivers tend to stick to the rate listed on the app. Don’t take taxis or Ubers unless it’s a last resort. Avoid the headache and frustration.

Museum Pass

If you’re only in Istanbul for a short while, I recommend capitalizing on the Museum Pass . This allows you into 13 museums throughout Istanbul at a hugely discounted price. Topkapi Palace, Galata Tower, the National Archaeological Museum, and the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts alone makes the pass beyond worth it. If you want to save a lot of money and add a lot of culture to your Istanbul experience, get the museum pass.

Buy Me A Beer!

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One thought on “ the backpacker’s complete guide to istanbul, turkey | 2024 ”.

Wow! I never knew Istanbul was such a cool city. Really looking forward to visiting it someday! Thanks for the guide. This was super helpful.

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Home » Middle East » Turkey » Istanbul

Istanbul Travel Guide – Visit Cheaply in 2024!

Istanbul should be on the top of everyone’s travel bucket list. This is one of the most fascinating, authentic, and thrilling places that I have ever visited over the course of my traveling career and I get excited every time I think about returning here. But if we’re being honest right now, Istanbul is not always an easy city to visit. It’s big, hectic, and hard to crack into sometimes. Some people can visit Istanbul without ever having really experienced anything there aside from some popular tourist attractions and the way-to-touristy Grand Bazaar.

With this Istanbul travel guide, it is my goal to make the city more accessible and easier to visit. We’ll talk about where to go, what to see, where to stay, and much, much more. Istanbul deserves a bit more attention than some other cities out there but the extra effort is doubly rewarded.

So join me as I revisit this amazing place and walk through all of its twisting alleyways and historic neighborhoods. By the time we’re finished here, you should know exactly what to do when you travel to Istanbul yourself.

How Much Does Visiting Istanbul Cost?

Backpacker accommodation in istanbul, what to do in istanbul, a 3-day sample itinerary for istanbul, istanbul travel guide – extra tips and tricks, eating in istanbul – the best food and restaurants, some final thoughts from this istanbul travel guide….

By Western standards, Istanbul is a pretty budget-friendly place. Accommodation in Istanbul is about half of what you’d find in most major European cities, food ranges from cheap to dirt cheap, and getting around is always affordable with public transport. Visiting Istanbul on a budget should be no problem, even for those who are more budget-conscious.

A lower, backpacker daily budget for Istanbul will be around $25-$30/day. This will get you a dorm bed, groceries, beer money, and some extra cash to visit some attractions around the city.

Views from Süleymaniye mosque istanbul turkey

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Refer below for a brief breakdown of what to expect when planning a trip to Istanbul:

  • Lodging – Hostels in Istanbul are cheap – a good one should cost around $10-$15/night. If you have a little extra to spend, Airbnbs in Istanbul are still affordable and, from my experience, very comfortable to stay in.
  • Transportation – Public transport in Istanbul is also cheap. Prices range depending on the type of transit you are taking and the distance, but you can expect to pay around $1/trip. Riding public transport may take a while though (it’s particularly inefficient here). Taxis are better for getting around Istanbul but are more expensive. 2020 rates are 0.5 euro per km + start rates.
  • Food – Depends on how you want to live. If you want to eat at upscale restaurants in Istanbul, expenses add up quickly. If you want to save money on food, there are many ways. Street kebabs are always cheap and grocery stores/markets are ubiquitous. Budget visitors to Turkey often plumb for street meat.
  • Drinking – Booze is a bit more expensive in Istanbul relative to food. Beer can be found for as low as $2 but it’s more likely to be sold for standard Western prices i.e. $5 for a glass of beer or wine, $7 for a cocktail, etc.

Average Costs of a Trip to Istanbul

Here’s a breakdown of individual costs when formulating a daily budget in Istanbul:

Hostel Dormitory: $10-$15

Basic hotel room for two: $60-$80

Airbnb/temp apartment: $40-$60

Average cost of public transport: $1-$2/ride

City-Airport transfer: $2-$30

Doner Kebab: $1-$2

Beer at a bar: $2-$3

Coffee: $2-$3

Bottle of wine from the market: $10

Dinner for two: $10-$20

Istanbul Travel Guide – Budget Tips

  • Eat doner kebabs: They only cost a couple of dollars on the street.
  • VISIT ISTANBUL NOW : As of January 2020, the Turkish economy is in bad shape and the value of the lira is very low. You’ll get a great exchange rate if you have dollars or euros.
  • Cook your own food: It’s backpacking 101! Cooking at the hostel or apartment is always cheaper than going out for a full meal. Rice and vegetables are your best friends as a backpacker.
  • Haggle, haggle, HAGGLE : Any price that a shop owner tells you in the bazaars is about double what it actually should be. Never ever accept the first price when bartering for something – start at a third and work your way up. If you don’t know when it’s ok to barter, it’s usually done when prices aren’t listed. If you have to ask the seller how much something is, you’re bartering already.
  • Don’t sleep in Sultanahmet or near Taksim Square: For the best prices on accommodation, stay in the more outer districts, like Fener or Kadikoy. There are great Airbnb options in Istanbul that will keep the costs low as well.
  • Account for airport transfer expenses : Unless you want to spend an hour or two on the bus, you’ll most likely have to take a taxi from the airport. They aren’t cheap.
  • If you want to drink, pre-fade at your place first : Paying full price at the bar is never the cheapest option. Get a buzz on first before heading out. NOTE that as of 2018, Istanbul has banned drinking in public so be sure to FINISH your drinks before leaving.
  • Have a water bottle: Don’t waste money on plastic, bottled waters; carry your own and refill it in the fountains and the tap.

Why You Should Travel to Istanbul with a Water Bottle

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Right off the bat, I’m going to tell you that there is no ultra-convenient or perfect place to stay in Istanbul. The city is just too damn big, too damn busy, and too damn amazing to fit in a single neighborhood or district. Make no mistake: there are a lot of options when it comes to lodging in Istanbul.

Sultanahmet is probably the first area in Istanbul that everyone is going to look at for lodging. It hosts most of the city’s most iconic landmarks, like the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace, and is not too far away from the city center. Staying in Sultanahmet will be pricey though.

If you want to stay somewhere more traditional and local, consider Fener and neighboring Balat . They’re both listed on UNESCO and are practically open-air museums. The tall and narrow apartments that define the neighborhood are really cool to stay in as well.

istanbul fener neighborhood greek college

One of my favorite places to stay in Istanbul is Galata . It’s slightly better connected to the rest of the city, has some great cafes nearby, and is pretty too. Istiklal Street is very close by as well.

If you really want to experience a different side of Istanbul, consider staying across the Bosphorus in the Kadikoy area. You will see a fraction of the tourists and will get to enjoy what many are calling “the new hot neighborhood in Istanbul.”

The Best Places to Stay in Istanbul

Are you wondering  which is the best part of Istanbul to stay in?  Well, let me give you a few suggestions.

The Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey with fountains in front.


Sultanahmet is the historic and cultural heart of Istanbul. It’s the oldest part of the city and is surrounded by bodies of water to the north, east and south, and old city walls to the west.

Beyoglu, Istanbul

Located north of the Sultanahmet district, Beyoglu is one of the liveliest districts in Istanbul and our top recommendation for where to stay for those on a budget. Home to the popular pedestrianized Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue), this district attracts locals and tourists day and night.

Two men fish from a bridge over the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey with a large mosque in the background.

Galata is a neighbourhood located north of the Golden Horn. Although technically part of the Beyoglu district, this neighbourhood has a distinct feel and flair.

A street vendor selling grilled corn/ street food in Istanbul, Turkey

Karaköy is a small district situated at the mouth of the Golden Horn. Once one of the city’s most important ports, this area was left to deteriorate for decades.

Colourful lamps inside the alleys of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey

Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar is a colourful and chaotic district located in the centre of Istanbul. Built around the centuries-old Grand and Spice Bazaars, this area is where you’ll find a wide variety of vendors, shops and boutiques. Grand Bazaar is our top recommendation of where to stay in Istanbul for families.

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No Istanbul travel guide would be complete without talking about the must-do things in the city ! Here are some of my favorite:

1. Wonder at the Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia is one of the single most impressive structures in the world – a wondrous achievement of human and religious endeavors. Once a basilica during the Byzantine era turned mosque when the Ottomans came, the Hagia Sophia is at the center of many people’s hearts. It is not to be missed.

backpacking istanbul hagi sophia

2. Have a night out in Beyoglu

This is ground zero for the best nightlife in Istanbul. Whether you like raucous nightclubs, chill cafes, or hidden pubs in alleyways, there’s something for everyone in Beyoglu.

3. Explore the Asian side of Istanbul

The Asian side of Istanbul, the Anatolian side, could be considered a completely different city to visit. Vastly more local, way less chaos (except for rush hour traffic), and not without its own charms. This is where people go to discover the real Istanbul. Kadikoy and Moda are the most interesting neighborhoods in the area.

kadikoy coolest neighborhoods in istanbul

4. Go to a real Turkish bath (if you dare)

It’s not for everyone but Turkish baths certainly an interesting experience. More contortion and joint-cracking than relaxation and soothing at times, Turkish hammams are not for the faint-hearted. If you can make it through one though, you may just feel a bit younger (or a bit violated). Note that Turkish hammams are always separated by gender.

5. Get lost in history

Istanbul has changed hands more than a few times. First, it was a Greek settlement, then it was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, and after that, it was conquered by the Ottomans. This city has seen more than enough history over the course of its existence and nowadays it is practically an ark unto itself. Be sure to explore local heritage sites like the Chora Museum, the Greek Orthodox College, Rumeli Fortress and everything in between.

Chora Church

6. Enjoy the cafe culture of Galata

The best part about staying in Galata was the mornings. I could wake up, walk outside and within 100 square meters, there were a dozen awesome cafes. A long morning spent sampling Turkish pastries is time well spent.

7. Shop til you drop

A lot of people spend a weekend in Istanbul just so they can go shopping. This city appeals to just about every kind of shopper imaginable: trinketry, upscale, souvenir shopping, fashion; if it exists, you can probably find it in Istanbul.

girl at the grand bazaar istanbul

8. Discover the many cool neighborhoods of Istanbul

Istanbul is not lacking for neighborhoods. There are at least 36 different districts in Istanbul and each of those has between 15-25 mahalle or neighborhoods in themselves. That’s a lot.

Whilst you may not get to see them all, I still suggest doing a little exploring. Go for a venture in the historic Balat neighborhood of Fatih or the up and coming Karakoy in Begolyu. You never know what you might find.

9. Watch the fishermen at Galata Bridge

This is one of those ultra-touristy things to do in Istanbul that is also super endearing. There’s just something about watching local fishermen stand there and wait potentially all day long for a catch. It’s one of the few tranquil spaces in the city and a nice way to break from the chaos.

bosphorous fishermen istanbul travel guide

10. Walk along the Bosphorus

Bosphorus is one of the defining aspects of Istanbul. For natives, it is a source of prosperity, greater well-being, and pride. For tourists, it’s a great way to get to know the city. Take a walk along the Bosphorus, visiting the many sites and districts along the way, and you will learn more about Istanbul than in any museum or textbook.

Three days in Istanbul should be the bare minimum when you visit; there’s so much to do here that you’ll already be limited on time. To help you use your time most wisely, here is a sample itinerary for y’all to enjoy!

Day 1 in Istanbul: Sultanahmet

You’ve probably just arrived and could potentially be jet-lagged. The best way to beat the lag I say is to just hit the ground running!

On the first day of our Istanbul trip, we’re going to be getting the touristy stuff out of the way first. That means heading straight for the Old City or Sultanahmet where most of Istanbul’s top attractions are.

Sultanahmet ttd Ibiza

Morning: After checking into your hotel in Istanbul, get a daypack ready  (pack a light lunch) and head to the nearest cafe. You’ll need a good breakfast and a stiff Turkish coffee for what we have in-store today.

Early-Afternoon: Start off with a leisurely stroll through Topkapi Palace. It’s mostly open-air and you won’t be stuck inside stuffy rooms too much. Find a nice place to sit when you’re ready and have that snack you packed.

Late-Afternoon: Next, make for the Hagia Sophia. This is, without question, the most beautiful landmark in Istanbul. Afterwards, head across the square to the Blue Mosque (note prayer times).

Evening: Head west towards the Grand Bazaar, stopping by the Basilica Cistern if you have time. I wouldn’t spend too much time in the Grand Bazaar itself – it’s a bit of a tourist trap. Just stop for a snack and a glass of mint tea. Our ultimate goal is the Suleymaniye Mosque where we will get to see the sunset.

Night: Time to find some food. If you stay in Sultanahmet, you will pay more money for worse food. There are much better selections across the Golden Horn around Galata and Ortokoy. If you’re feeling adventurous, try dropping by the local neighborhood of Fener.

UPDATE: The “ famous hidden viewpoint of Istanbul ” is currently closed as the roof is being renovated. There is a super cozy cafe in the building though that is probably my favorite in the city.

Day 2 in Istanbul: New Istanbul

Going to be another long day folks! Today we are sticking to the northern side of the Golden Horn, which is the “newer” part of town.

The iconic Galata Tower istanbul turkey

Morning: Grab a coffee and pastry in the Galata district. The medieval, Genovese tower is the most striking (and unmissable attraction) but the local cafes are just as noteworthy. They’re all super quaint and quite good.

Early-Afternoon: Head north and make for Istiklal Street. This is one of the main throughways in the city and is lined with shops and opulent arcades, like the Çiçek Pasaji. If you’re hungry, duck into one of the alleys for an early lunch – these alleys are packed with restaurants and bars.

Late-Afternoon: Keeping walking until you’ve reached Taksim Square and then keep going. Taksim Square is the official center of the city but doesn’t offer too much in the way of attractions. Instead, make for the Dolmabahçe Palace. You can pay to enter the palace if you like (the antechamber is amazing) or see the gate and mosque from the outside for free.

Evening: Find the nearest tram stop and head north towards Ortakoy. The local mosque is quite famous for its Baroque design and the neighborhood itself is well-known for its trendy bars and restaurants. This would be a great place to have dinner and some drinks.

Night: If you’re in the mood for partying, I’d say stick around Ortakoy or head back to the alleys of Istiklal Street. Otherwise, the cafes of Galata make for a relatively relaxing evening. Stay out as long as you want

Why are there so many cats in Istanbul? Some claim that it’s because a heroic cat saved the Prophet Muhammad’s life . Others say that it is because old Ottoman architecture was prone to infestation , so felines were introduced to hunt rats, pests, etc. Either way, cats are much loved in this city and are regular citizens in the eyes of the locals.

Day 3 in Istanbul: The Asian Side

To be honest, this part of Istanbul deserves its own itinerary. One could easily spend another couple of days here on top of what we’ve already talked about but, alas, for the sake of brevity, we can only talk about it in a day’s span.

camlica hill best view in istanbul

Morning: There are two ways to travel across the Bosphorus: by bridge or by ferry. The ferry is the preferable choice. There are lots of ferry terminals in Sultanahmet and Karakoy – make sure you grab a ferry to Kadikoy on the Asian side. Also, be on the lookout for the iconic Maiden’s Tower in the Bosphorus.

Early-Afternoon: Kadikoy is one of the most popular districts in Istanbul at the moment. When you depart the ferry (assuming you got on the one to Kadikoy) you will be closest to the Moda neighborhood. There are lots of parks here as well as some good cafes to get you going. The views of Sultanahmet are also excellent.

Late-Afternoon: I’d recommend making a detour to Beylerbeyi Palace to spend some time here and along the Bosphorus. It will require you to use a taxi though as public transport is very bad in this part of the city. If this seems like a hassle, keep exploring Kadikoy. Go for a walk on Baghdad Avenue and grab some lunch in one of the many shady European cafes.

Evening: I highly recommend venturing out to Camlica Hill to catch the sunset as this park offers, without a doubt, the best views of Istanbul. There are also many places to go for walks or hikes in Istanbul in Kadikoy, this is just one of them!

Night: Grab some dinner and drinks in Kadikoy and then head back to your hotel in Istanbul when ready. Tomorrow we’re leaving 🙁

Want some more ideas? Check out this alternative itinerary for Istanbul!

Day Trips from Istanbul

As if Istanbul wasn’t big enough, there’s, even more, to do outside the city! If you’re spending more than 3 days in Istanbul, consider adding on one of these day trips from Istanbul :

bursa best day trips from istanbul

  • The Princes’ Islands – A popular day trip for those looking to escape the noise of the city. Beaches, bike rides, and charming coastal towns are all in abundance. Büyükada is the largest and most frequented island. Ferries to the island leave frequently from Kabatas Terminal in Istanbul.
  • Edirne – One of Turkey’s stranger yet most respected sports is the ancient art of oil wrestling , which is exactly what it sounds like. One of the most important oil wrestling tournaments in Turkey is held in Edirne in late-June. If you’re backpacking in Istanbul around then, you shouldn’t pass this up. Only the slipperiest will survive to be crowned champion!
  • Bursa – This is a great spot if you’re looking for sparser crowds and some more outdoor activities. Bursa, which was the original capital of the Ottoman Empire, has many notable attractions, like the Grand Mosque, the Green Mosque, and the very cool 600-year-old Inkaya tree. Don’t skip on eating at the Darüzziyafe either. Skiers should also know that nearby Uludag is considered the best ski resort in Turkey.
  • Troy – Although it would be a very long trip from Istanbul, it is still possible to see the old ruins of Troy in a day. I will say right now that the ruins are not nearly as epic as some of Turkey’s other archaeological sites (or the movie for that matter), but they’re still humbling if you’re into the classics. The actual ruins are located in Tevfikiye near Canakkale.

Learn more about what to expect when visiting Istanbul by reading the following sections!

Best Time of Year to Visit Istanbul

The weather in Istanbul really throws me for a loop every time I visit. For some reason or another, I’m just never prepared for it. When I expect it to be pleasant, it’s humid as hell and hot. When I hope that it’s going to be balmy, it rains sideways and the wind comes howling down from the Black Sea.

That being said, there is no real bad time to be in Istanbul. The weather is surprising, yes, but I wouldn’t call it extreme except in the summer.

getting around istanbul with the ferry

Istanbul is subject to four distinct seasons:

  • Summers in Istanbul can be notoriously hot. Humidity can be oppressive and there seem to be few places of respite. Ask a local where you can cool off and they’ll probably point you to a pile of baking-hot boulders on the edge of the Bosphorus.
  • Autumn is a very nice time of year to visit Istanbul. Temps are moderate although the rain does start to pick up a bit. I’d say that October is probably the best month of the year to be here.
  • Winters in Istanbul are surprisingly frigid. Snow is not uncommon during this time of the year and the wind from the Bosphorus can really go to the bone. Also, Istanbul receives more rain than infamously grey cities like London and Brussels, which is not something that many people were aware of I think. Thankfully, nearly every hawker sells umbrellas.
  • Springtime is a decent time to travel to Istanbul. The weather is pleasant again, albeit foggy at times. It can still rain quite a bit and snow can even occur in March. Also, take into consideration Ramadan. Though the city is generally secular, there are still plenty of Muslims in Istanbul that observes it.

Getting In and Out of Istanbul

I don’t think that I’ve ever visited a city with so many airports. At one point in time, there were three airports in Istanbul. Recently, one was closed so now there are only two in use: Sabiha and Istanbul International. FYI – you can take a transit tour from Istanbul airport if you have a layover there.

Sabiha is the oldest airport in Istanbul and probably the most frustrating to use. It’s located clear on the other side of the river on the edge of the Anatolian side of the city. It will take you at least an hour to get here from Istanbul proper by car and that is if the traffic is ok. There are direct buses to and from Sabiha but they will take even longer than a private transfer. Also, the airport just looks like a dystopian nightmare.

Note that if you’re flying low-cost domestically, chances are you’ll use Sabiha.

Istanbul International is the newest airport in town and was subject to quite a lot of media hype. It is what you’d expect from a modern airport: cavernous, sterile, and very commercial. If you’re commuting through this airport, be aware that it may take a lot of time to walk from gate to gate.

turkish airlines leaving istanbul

Getting to Istanbul International from the city isn’t much more pleasant than Sabiha. Buses and taxis are still the only options and commute times are going to be about the same: 45 minutes by car, 90 minutes by bus. (Oh how I miss the glory days of Ataturk Airport…)

For those who have flown into Istanbul internationally in the past, chances are you probably used the old airport, Ataturk. Ataturk was a nice airport and was relatively easy to get to, being only 20 or so minutes away from Sultanahmet. Alas, it is now completely closed down. Rest in peace Ataturk.

How to Get Around Istanbul

Istanbul is absolutely enormous. With over 15 million people , it is the most populous city in continental Europe and one of the top three in terms of land area. Getting around Istanbul will be a challenge but, with some savvy, you’ll still be able to see most of the top attractions.

There’s actually quite a lot of public transport in Istanbul. There are copious buses, a metro system, ferries across the Bosphorus, and street trams which are somewhat iconic of the city. If you get a good grasp on how these work, Istanbul will be at your beck and call.

The problem is that public transport is a bit cryptic at first. Signage is poor and routes are usually written in Turkish. Luckily, most transit is available to see on Google Maps. If I were you, I’d be sure to have a SIM card and to be connected as much as possible when trying to navigate.

people and tram in istanbul

To save some cash, I’d suggest buying an Istanbulkart. The way they’re set up is a little confusing (ticket prices go down the more you use it) but if you’re going to spend more than two days in Istanbul, you’ll end up saving money with one of these.

Due to its size, I highly recommend picking one part of Istanbul and sticking to it. You’d have to spend at least a week in Istanbul to see the entire city, both the European and Asian sides. Doing so in any less time would be nothing short of a herculean feat.

At the end of the day, taking a taxi is still the easiest way to get around. The local taxi app is called BiTaksi . My experiences with BiTaksi are mixed but they’re still much better than Uber. Uber in Istanbul is horrendous and overpriced.

Safety in Istanbul

Istanbul is a very large and very dynamic city. Life is accelerated, the streets are jam-packed with people, and everyone is just trying to get by. I like to say that, in Istanbul, chaos is served in the morning like a stiff cup of coffee and by that I mean it’s a necessary part of starting the day.

It is important to keep your wits about you when backpacking in Istanbul. Pickpockets will be active, scammers will be everywhere, and violence is not unheard of. To go into detail about each and every potential pitfall in the city would take a bit of time to thoroughly explain, so I’ll instead direct you to our Istanbul safety article and give the following advice:

Common sense and attentiveness are the surest ways to avoid trouble, no matter where you are. The easiest way to get out of a bad situation is to avoid it altogether. If shit looks sketch, then it probably is. Be cautious and aware of what’s going on around and trust your gut.

nighttime safety in istanbul

Be particularly cautious of scammers in Istanbul. Seriously, there are some very clever people in this city and they are very good at getting money out of unsuspecting tourists. The old “shoe shiner drops his brush and placates you with a sad story” is one of the oldest in the books. To avoid scams, keep an eye for overly-friendly people and situations that seem slightly “off.”

On a more political note, Istanbul and Turkey are often the recipients of bad press. Reports of corruption, economic collapse, and extremism are all normal it seems these days. It is important to remember that being a victim of something like terrorism is extremely rare. In reality, you’re more likely to be a victim of the petty crime mentioned earlier.

Travel Insurance for Istanbul

Traveling without insurance would be risky so do consider getting good backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure.

I have been using World Nomads for some time now and made a few claims over the years. They’re easy to use, professional and relatively affordable. They may also let you buy or extend a policy once you’ve started your trip and are already abroad which is super handy.

If there’s one insurance company I trust, it’s World Nomads.

ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing .

They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.

istanbul travel guide blog

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Tips for Saving Money on Accommodation in Istanbul

Sometimes you need your own roof above your head – we know the feeling. Other times, you’re doing everything you can save a nickel and dime.

If you’re trying to cut the costs of travel when backpacking Istanbul, then maybe it’s time to stay somewhere besides a hostel or apartment. If you need to save money, try one of these:

Couchsurf! – Couchsurfing is the best way to save on cash when it comes to accommodation since most of the time you’re crashing for free. Staying with a local host is also a great chance to experience a more authentic side of the city and to visit hidden Istanbul.

Problem is Couchsurfing is really popular (duh, it’s free) and demand often outstrips supply. Hosts are picky as well so you’ll need to impress them with an eye-catching message. Definitely try Couchsurfing but be ready to be rejected.

fireplace in cafe of istanbul

Tap into your backpacker network – You never know when you have a friend in a foreign city! If you’ve traveled a lot, you may have met someone from Istanbul or know someone who knows someone.

Reach out to people! Ask to stay with people for a night or two in exchange for cooking dinner or a bottle of wine. If you don’t know anyone in the city, ask your friends if they do – travelers understand the struggle and are usually more helpful than you think.

Camping – Urban camping is a growing trend in many cities. These campsites are comfortable, sociable, safe, and cheap. They are often located on the outskirts of town, which means they are quieter too. Research to see if Istanbul has any and be sure to bring your own tent too!

Some Extra Free Things to Do in Istanbul

Looking to visit Istanbul on a budget? Consider one of these free activities in the city and save some cash!

Spice Market in istanbul

  • Certain mosques – Some of the finest mosques in Istanbul cost nothing to visit. The Blue Mosque, Zeyrek Camii, and Suleymaniye Mosque are all examples. You can enter some of these even if you aren’t a Muslim. Just be sure to visit outside of prayer hours.
  • The bazaars – While I still think that the Grand Bazaar is a bit touristy, it is still a good way to kill time. You certainly won’t be lacking for stimulation or shop owners trying to win your attention. The Egyptian Bazaar is a good alternative (but still busy) and there’s an open-air market at Ortakoy on Sundays.
  • Free museums – Some of the most prestigious museums in Istanbul offer free admission either on certain days or are always free regardless of the day of the week! Be sure to check out the official websites of the Elgiz Museum, Istanbul Modern, Dogancay, and Pera Museum to learn about free entry.
  • The old walls of Constantinople – History buffs and Age of Empire fanatics will be happy to hear that some of the old Theodosian Walls still stand in Istanbul. There’s a good 500 meter stretch of wall near the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus that you can walk on if you like.
  • Zülfaris Synagogue – Or the Quincentennial Foundation Museum of Turkish Jews is free to enter for the public.
  • Free walking tours of Istanbul – A good stroll is all it takes to become acquainted with a neighborhood; Istanbul has lots to choose from as well! Fener and Balat are popular areas to explore and one should definitely consider walking along the Bosphorus as well, particularly the bit between Ortokoy and Rumeli.

Books to Read Before Visiting Istanbul

If you need a little extra info to supplement our Istanbul travel guide, try reading one of these books on the city!

  • The Bastard of Istanbul – An American-Armenian seeks to learn about her past and ends up living in Istanbul. Revelations of horrific events in the past will eventually reveal themselves.
  • The Architect’s Apprentice – An exceptional animal tamer joins the inner Ottoman courts and takes an apprenticeship under the Sultan’s top architect.
  • Istanbul: Memories and the City – From the immensely influential Turkish writer, Orhan Pamuk, this is a love letter to the city that raised him.
  • The Time Regulation Institute – A surreal and somewhat dystopian commentary on the bureaucratic state of modern Turkey. Told from the perspective of Hayri Irdal as he interacts with the various characters that work at the Time Regulation Institute.
  • The Janissary Tree – The first novel in Jason Goodwin’s Investigator Yashim series. This is Sherlock Holmes in Ottoman Istanbul.

The dining scene in Istanbul can be hit and miss depending on your food preferences. If you like grilled meats and lots of grains, you’ll be in your element. If you like lighter fare and/or you are a vegetarian, you will probably struggle in Istanbul.

The overwhelming majority of restaurants in Istanbul serve the best of Turkish food . This means kebabs , mezze , hearty vegetables, dolmas , pastries; things that make you want to crawl into a ball and fall into a food coma. In particular, carnivores will very much enjoy visiting Istanbul as just about everything is either roasted or grilled over an open fire.

If you don’t care for Turkish food, it’s going to be rough. Though there are some very good international restaurants in Istanbul, they are few and far in-between. Most of them are around the newer parts of town, around Taksim and Galata. DON’T stay in Sultanahmet if you want something other than Turkish food.

turkish doner kebab

When visiting a Turkish restaurant, you should expect a typical European experience. You’re shown to a table, a waiter takes your order, food comes, etc, etc. Tipping is usually expected in Turkey, especially in finer venues. 5-10% should be fine.

If you’re backpacking in Istanbul on a budget, skip the restaurants. Instead, head to a food cart or a local lokanta , which is kind of like a blue-collar tavern with less drinking. Simit is a popular grab-n-go breakfast item and balik-ekmek (fish sandwich) is a local favorite. Who could pass up on ordering one of the most legendary dirtbag dishes either: the doner .

Nightlife in Istanbul

Istanbul is not Medina; it is not a bastion of religious conservatism that completely shuns the sins of the flesh. No, Istanbul loves to party.

You can find all of the usual suspects in Istanbul. Beer is common and the local favorite is Efes. Raki (an anis-based liqueur) is the official spirit of Turkey and is often served after dinner with some ice. Turkish wine ain’t too shabby either and ranges from fruity, red Karasakiz to floral, white Narince .

The epicenter of Istanbul nightlife is Beyoglu. Clubs, DJ sets, and live music venues all pump out some serious soundwaves here, the aftershocks of which are usually felt long into the morning. Most of these joints are hidden in the alleyways adjoining Istiklal Street.

nightlife in istanbul

The alleyways of Beyoglu can be really fun to wander around at night. Each has its own crowd, which makes them feel like little neighborhoods unto themselves. After a few drinks, it can be very easy to get lost in these though.

Generally speaking, the closer you get to Taksim Square, the more upscale the bars become. Further along, Ortakoy is also quite well known for its glamorous bars and clubs.

I personally enjoyed the nighttime vibes around Galata Tower. There were mostly lowkey cafes around this area, which was a nice respite after hectic days of exploring Istanbul. Note that the establishments directly next to the Galata Tower are busier and more touristy. You have to walk a bit to find diamonds-in-the rough, like Smyrna Art Cafe.

If you want to get high, then hash is relatively easy to find. Don’t buy it yourself – enlist the help of a local you trust. Averages prices are $5-$10 for a gram.

Visiting Istanbul may not always be easy, but is still easy to love this city. This is one of the most dynamic, storied, and thrilling cities in Europe to visit. I’ve been there several times and I’m always finding something new to do there on top of visiting superlatives like the Hagia Sophia.

Istanbul can be a bit of a mess at times; with its dynamism also comes chaos, speed, and a general sense of stupor. Those backpacking in Istanbul for the first time may feel a little lost in the beginning, but with this guide in hand, the city will be much more accessible. Istanbul is one of my favorite cities in the world, a feeling that I hope wasn’t lost over the course of the article, and I want others to experience it as I do.

The Blue Mosque

Istanbul is just the beginning. Turkey is an amazing country and deserves to be explored as well. Once you’ve wrapped up the Turkish capital, be sure to make plans to see the likes of Cappadocia, the Turquoise Coast, and Mt Ararat. You won’t regret it

Before wrapping up this Istanbul travel guide, there are a few more matters that I want to discuss regarding responsibility and potentially staying in Istanbul long term. Please take a moment to consider these things.

Volunteering in Istanbul

Long term travel is awesome. Giving back is awesome too. For backpackers looking to travel long-term on a budget in Istanbul whilst making a real impact on local communities look no further than Worldpackers . Worldpackers is an excellent platform  connecting travelers with meaningful volunteer positions throughout the world.

In exchange for a few hours of work each day, your room and board are covered.

Backpackers can spend long periods of time volunteering in an awesome place without spending any money. Meaningful life and travel experiences are rooted in stepping out of your comfort zone and into the world of a purposeful project.

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Worldpackers opens the doors for work opportunities in hostels, homestays, NGOs, and eco-projects around the world. We’ve tried and approved them ourselves – check out our Worldpackers in-depth review here.

If you’re ready to create a life-changing travel experience and give back to the community, join the Worldpacker community now. As a Broke Backpacker reader, you’ll get a special discount of $10. Just use the discount code BROKEBACKPACKER and your membership is discounted from $49 a year to only $39.

istanbul travel guide blog

Worldpackers: connecting travellers with  meaningful travel experiences.

Make Money Online While Backpacking in Istanbul

Traveling in Austria long-term? Keen to make some cash when you are not exploring the country?

Teaching English online is a great way to earn a consistent income—from anywhere in the world with a good internet connection.

Depending on your qualifications (or your motivation to obtain qualifications like a TEFL certificate) you can teach English remotely from your laptop, save some cash for your next adventure, and make a positive impact on the world by improving another person’s language skills!

It’s a win-win! Check out this detailed article for everything you need to know to start  teaching English online .

hipster area of istanbul bike

In addition to giving you the qualifications to teach English online,  TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on  teaching English abroad .

Broke Backpacker readers get a 50% discount on TEFL courses with  MyTEFL (simply enter the code PACK50), to find out more, please read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.

Whether you are keen to teach English online or looking to take your teaching game a step further by finding a job teaching English in a foreign country, getting your TEFL certificate is absolutely a step in the right direction.

Being a Responsible Traveler in Istanbul

Reduce your plastic footprint:  Perhaps the best thing you can do for our planet is to make sure you do NOT add to the plastic problem all over the world. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill or in the ocean. Instead, pack a  tough travel water bottle .

Go and watch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix – it’ll change how you view the plastic problem in the world; you need to understand what we are up against. If you think it doesn’t matter, get off my fucking site.

Don’t pick up single-use plastic bags, you’re a backpacker – take your daypack if you need to go to the shop or run errands.

Bear in mind, that many animal products in countries you travel through will not be ethically farmed and won’t be of the highest quality. I’m a carnivore but when I’m on the road, I only eat chicken. Mass-farming of cows etc leads to the rainforest being cut down – which is obviously a huge problem.

whirling dervish istanbul

Need more guidance? – Check out our post on  how to be a responsible backpacker.

Visiting Istanbul will bring you ample opportunities to participate in debauchery, and it is very important to have fun, let loose, and get a bit wild at times. Most trips I have been on across the world have included at least a few mornings where I wake up knowing I went too far.

But there are some things that will put you in the category of a straight-up jackass if you do them. Being super loud and obnoxious in a tiny hostel at 3 AM is a classic rookie mistake. Everyone in the hostel will hate you when you wake them up. Show your fellow travelers respect whilst traveling in Istanbul and anywhere else for that matter!

Istanbul is a beautiful place that has touched countless people, so let’s not mistreat it. It clearly inspired the makers of this video, which, not gonna lie, has made me cry (only) a few times.

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istanbul travel guide blog

Hello, Ralph. You put interesting information in this article.

But I had a bad experience in Istanbul and I don’t recommend a trip to this city.

I landed on the night of 10/17/2022 at Istanbul Airport (IST). Before the flight, I purchased a transfer service through Booking.com for the transfer from the airport to the hotel, for 32 pounds sterling.

Upon arrival at the airport, I did not meet the driver at the agreed location (exit 13) and spoke with a driver who was there. I showed him the name and phone number of the person who was supposed to pick me up. He called then and on the other end of the line someone impersonated the driver who was supposed to pick me up, saying that there was a mistake and that I should make the ride with the one I had found. A price of 3590.00 Turkish Lira was placed and payment would be accepted by credit card. As I was very tired, it was late at night and I didn’t know the rate of the Turkish lira, I accepted it. On leaving the airport, the local called a colleague to accompany the trip.

On the way, they stopped at the first ATM and I was forced to withdraw the money. At that moment, I saw that it was a coup and that my life was in danger. Upon arriving at the hotel, I took a photo of the license plate and asked the receptionists for help. I couldn’t sleep that night. The next morning I went to the tourist police station. I told the policeman what had happened and he only said that he would contact the owner of the vehicle and talk to him about returning the money.

On the night of 10/19/2022, a representative of the vehicle owner went to the hotel and the hotel manager brokered the contact and negotiation. The two, representative and manager, said it would only fit me 85.00 euros as there would be fees to cover. I paid the equivalent of 225.00 euros for the criminal race and received only 85 euros at the end. No policial report was registered. I was coerced and robbed. This is all completely absurd. Crime and impunity prevail there. Uber doesn’t work in the city and the hotel manager said there is a big mafia in car transport at Istanbul airport.

I hired a guide for a walking tour of the historic center, but he didn’t show up. I paid for a laundry at the hotel to deliver clean and ironed clothes but they only delivered clean ones. They always try to overcharge you for anything. It’s really annoying that you have to keep checking and confirming things all the time. You cannot trust.

People are not friendly and polite like in other places. The food is not that attractive and delicious.

Anyway… What would have been a few days of tour and resting has become a very negative experience.

Tourism is done with transparency, honesty and trust. I left Istanbul sad and very disappointed. I don’t recommend this city and Turkey to anyone. There are certainly better options.

Things like this can happen anywhere and are not specific to Turkey, however this is a good reminder to travellers of things to look out for.

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I’ve Been to Istanbul Every Year Since 2014 — This Time I Brought My 1-Year-Old

Turkish tapas, donkey-milk skin care, and vintage caftans..

istanbul travel guide blog

Everyone knows that person who spends weeks sniffing around travel blogs, going deep into Tripadvisor rabbit holes, collecting Google docs from friends of friends, and creating  A Beautiful Mind– style spreadsheets to come up with the best  vacations /itineraries possible. In this recurring series, we find those people who’ve done all the work for you and have them walk us through a particularly wonderful, especially well-thought-out vacation they took that you can actually steal.

Host of the Naked Beauty podcast and @ nakedbeautyplanet and creator marketing manager at Instagram Brooke DeVard has been traveling back and forth to Turkey since 2014 — first on her own, and then with her now-husband Umut Ozaydinli, who grew up there. “I love going both as a tourist and with someone who lives there,” she says. “It’s not one of those cities where if you don’t know the right people it can be challenging to navigate.” For Ozaydinli, Istanbul matches New York’s energy and pace, but what DeVard sees as its biggest draw is that it otherwise resists comparison to other cities: “If you travel a lot, some cities start to seem very similar. I think Istanbul is so special because it’s a unique combination of old-world and new that really feels distinctly its own.” This summer, she returned to Istanbul with her husband and new permanent plus-one, 13-month-old son Mavi, for whom it was the first trip abroad. Her priorities when she’s traveling (and, frankly, when she’s home in New York) are the same: “I love food, beauty treatments, and shopping, so they are always top of my list to experience wherever I am.”

We often stay in Kanlica, where my husband’s family lives. Their house is right on the Bosphorus, so you wake up to this amazing view of the water. Kanlica is the Asian side — it’s the quieter and more residential side of Istanbul — and it’s connected to the European side by bridge. If you want an area that feels much less busy and low-key, there are some hotels on the Asian side or you can book an Airbnb. But it is farther away from many of the attractions, so just be prepared to spend more time in traffic or on water taxis (which I’m obsessed with, anyway). If we’re staying on the European side, we like to stay at Soho House in Beyoglu or the Four Seasons. At Soho House, you’re really just in the thick of it, with tons of art galleries, restaurants, and shopping walking distance from the hotel, which also has a beautiful pool on their rooftop. If you’re going in the summertime, that’s a nice place to pop up to for a drink. For a luxury experience, I love the Four Seasons, which has gorgeous views of the water.

Soho House Istanbul

8 a.m.: Breakfast before anything else

We always start with a traditional Turkish breakfast, which includes simit bread — The best! Like a bagel, but way better — white cheeses, fruits, eggs, jams, and maybe even sucuk (Turkish sausage). Most hotels and restaurants will serve Turkish breakfast in the morning (the Four Seasons has an amazing one), but Migros, a grocery store with locations throughout the city, is a good one-stop shop to get everything if you want to make your own. Or there’s a fancier version of Migros called Macrocenter. I really like visiting grocery stores when I’m traveling abroad.

istanbul travel guide blog

9 a.m.: Start in Old Town

I believe in doing the tourist attractions first and then relaxing on the back end. We started by going to the old town center and visiting the architectural marvel that is the Hagia Sophia . I like going as early as possible because it’s less crowded and it’s easier to get through it all. It is a Muslim country, so when I’m in the historic areas of Istanbul, I tend to cover up more. But all across Istanbul when you go to tourist places and you’re in a tank top, they usually have little shawls at the entrance that you can just drape over your shoulders.

istanbul travel guide blog

10 a.m.: Stop at Topkapi Palace

A five-minute walk away is Topkapi Palace , where you can easily spend three or four hours. If you want a guide, you can find English-speaking ones on the grounds. There’s a separate ticketing kiosk to visit the palace’s harem quarters, and I recommend paying a few dollars extra to do that. You’ll see rare artifacts, like the Spoonmaker’s Diamond (the fourth-largest diamond in the world at 86 carats), and it’s an amazing way to learn how the sultans of the Ottoman Empire lived. I’m African American and I had no idea that there were Black eunuchs that played this big role in the sultans’ life. There’s a small community of Afro Turks, Black Turkish people, that can trace their lineage back to these people working in the palace with the sultan.

istanbul travel guide blog

3 p.m.: A late lunch and spice shopping

Topkapi Palace does have a nice outdoor restaurant, but we took a ten-minute taxi or tram ride to the spice market instead. There, you can have a late lunch at the famous Pandeli restaurant (Rüstempaşa Mah), which has been there since the early 1900s and serves incredible Turkish food. Start with piyaz, a dish of beans and onions, and köfta (meatballs); these were the original two dishes on the very first menu of the restaurant. You can also order the hünkar begendi, translated as “sultan’s delight”; a divine slow-cooked lamb served on charred eggplant purée; döner kebab; and, for dessert, the classic kazandibi, a milk pudding with minced chicken … which sounds weird, but is actually delicious. After our meal, we wandered around the spice market before it closed, where I love loading up on fragrant teas and lots of dried jasmine flowers.

7 p.m.: Walk the Galata Bridge at sunset

istanbul travel guide blog

We were tired after all of the day’s adventuring, so we strolled over the famous Galata Bridge taking in the scenery and watching the fishermen, then took a ferry back to where we were staying in Kanlica, which is the best and most accessible kind of boat tour. It’s under $1 per person, and while people use it to commute, you get the most beautiful views, especially at sunset. If you have any stamina left, you could also visit the Galata Tower, one of the oldest towers in the world with its own showstopping views of Istanbul.

10 a.m.: Get subterranean

The Basilica Cistern is entirely underground, and it’s really one of the most fascinating sites in the world. It’s definitely cooler down there, so plan your outfit accordingly. The Cistern shows how water traveled through the city in the Byzantine era. There’s mood lighting and classical music (they even have concerts there sometimes), so the overall vibe is surprisingly kinda romantic. We never get a guide, just wander around ourselves.

12 pm: Fuel up with kebabs

We stopped at Şeyhmuz Kebap for kebabs, which, if you’re a meat eater or love Anthony Bourdain–style local spots, you have to definitely get. It’s from the city of Mardin, and it’s a combination of lamb or beef that’s put on this spit and roasted and there are different ways it’s served: adana kebab, which is spicy, or sarma beyti kebab. I really like the Şeyhmuz kebap with pistachio; it’s basically almost like a flat meatball with pistachios and is usually served with grilled peppers, tomatoes, onion, and fresh parsley, and sometimes with rice or pita. Or sarma beyti is also amazing; that’s kebab wrapped in pita bread with yogurt and red sauce on top.

istanbul travel guide blog

1 p.m.: Buy vintage caftans and argan-oil soap at the Grand Bazaar

I never miss a chance to go to the Grand Bazaar; if you like shopping, it’s a must. There are 4,000-plus shops, so you could spend ten hours there and still not see everything. The experience requires focus, planning, and some negotiating skills, but that’s all part of the fun. Over the years, there’s been more and more counterfeit stuff; you walk in and it’s like Off-White and Gucci, Balenciaga, and Bottega, even that Prada headband that Amanda Gorman wore at the inauguration. For shoppers that are impatient, they may enter the Grand Bazaar, see all the counterfeit stuff, and be like, There’s nothing really here for me . I always just veer away from the main area and head to the outskirts. My favorite things to shop for are vintage caftans, Turkish towels, rose water (it’s used in a lot of beauty treatments there), and natural soaps at a specific place called Kash. I got argan-oil soap, goat’s milk soap, and even pistachio. On this trip, I also got really into donkey’s milk, which is a big thing there; it’s very rich and hydrating and great for people with eczema.

istanbul travel guide blog

6 p.m.: Sunset rooftop drinks and dinner

We showed up early for our dinner reservation at Neolokal to get drinks on the rooftop, which has panoramic views of all of Istanbul and an incredible bar. Neolokal has been voted the best restaurant in Istanbul, and it has a set menu so you don’t have to think about what to order. We had beef cooked in duck juice with various yogurts that I’m still fantasizing about.

9 a.m.: Meander around the waterfront

We took a water taxi to Ortakoy, an area along the water, where we really enjoyed taking Mavi in the stroller for a walk; I think he appreciated the view. The literal translation of Ortakoy is the “middle village,” and it’s a cute area full of shops, restaurants, cafés (we love House Café there), and a gorgeous mosque that creates the quintessential Istanbul photo backdrop. We did a family photo there.

istanbul travel guide blog

11 a.m.: Get in a little more shopping

We walked to the nearby Nisantasi neighborhood; it’s a very chic area, and if you love shopping, you can spend a day exploring here. I start at Vakko , which is kind of like their Barneys, and then make my way up and down the streets popping into little shops. I discovered a new store there on this visit called Gizia, a great shop with only Turkish designers.

1 p.m.: Wine and people-watch

We paused to grab lunch at Foxy Nisantasi ; order the eggplant with molasses and a glass of local wine, and then just sit outside and people-watch while you eat.

istanbul travel guide blog

3 p.m.: Sweat it out at the hammam

Turkish bath culture is huge, and I always do one day at the hammam when we’re in Istanbul. We went to the hammam at the Ritz-Carlton this time, which isn’t the most traditional place to do it, but it was wonderful. You’re still on the marble slab with the warm water, and they exfoliate your whole body with that kese mitt and soap you down and follow up with an oil treatment. The marble treatment rooms at the Ritz are beautiful and because they’re used to tourists, they will let you take a photo covered in bubbles before the final massage. You can also book a couples room there if you’re with your boo so you can get scrubbed down and bathed together.

istanbul travel guide blog

7 p.m.: Have an epic meal

We brought a change of clothes for dinner along with us to the spa, so afterward, we set off to have one of the best meals of our life at Mikla . The tasting menu is phenomenal and is all about traditional Ottoman cuisine in newly imagined ways. We had the most delicious braised lamb and their take on manti, which are traditional spiced-meat dumplings.

9 a.m.: Walk and coffee

istanbul travel guide blog

We took a long walk (about an hour) from Kanlica to Balat, which is this very cool, creative neighborhood. There are coffee shops everywhere in Istanbul, and they open early and stay open until like 11 p.m., but a lot of people go to Balat just to drink coffee. Turkish coffee is so strong and very thick. I can’t really drink it without having a mild seizure … it’s just too much for me. But if you like strong coffee, then it’s a literal dream. What I love is that you can have a piece of Turkish delight with it, a sweet square of sugary gelatin that offsets the taste if it’s too intense for you.

11 a.m.: Instagram ops and glassmakers

Everything is super-bright in Balat, with all the houses painted different colors (green, yellow, blue), and there are cobblestone streets. It’s fun and vibrant. All the colors means there will be many people taking Instagram pictures; there were literally lines to take pictures! We found some lovely shops specializing in glass objects, like these really pretty delicate straws. We didn’t end up buying any because I was worried they would break in transit. Then we meandered over to nearby Fener to visit a historic school sometimes called the Red Castle, the oldest Greek Orthodox school in Istanbul, and the beautiful Church of St. George.

istanbul travel guide blog

12 p.m.: A moment for mezes

We stopped for lunch at Agora Meyhanesi , a famous Greek tavern that’s over 100 years old. They don’t have a proper menu, but the best move is to get mezes and share a piece of fish.

3 p.m.: Watch the whirling dervishes

We ended the day in Taksim Square with a whirling dervish show. The dervishes are religious people, but more on the mystical side, who sing and dance and wear these tall hats and outfits that twirl as they move. The skirts they wear as they spin create this amazing illusion, and watching it feels almost meditative. It’s one of the coolest cultural experiences I’ve had, and it’s so specific to this region. I’ve really never seen anything like it.

istanbul travel guide blog

8 p.m.: Try Turkish tapas

On our way back to Kanlica, we stopped in Bebek for a late dinner. There’s a whole genre of restaurants in Turkey called meyhane , which just means “wine house,” and they all specialize in a version of small plates. It’s almost like tapas, and it’s all meant to be shared with the table. The meyhane place we went to, and loved, was Sisko Perihan , which has a very fun vibe and great food; we had great kokorec (a type of intestines) on toast, all of the small dips with white cheese, and kofte.

Brooke’s Istanbul Packing List

Nanushka Jule Hat

It’s foldable, so it’s easy to roll up in your bag. Mine has little ties so you don’t have to worry about the wind blowing it off. It’s also chic and goes with everything.

[Editor’s note: While this hat doesn’t have ties, it’s similar in style to the one Brooke has.]

Ami Colé Lip Treatment Oil

The ultimate travel lip gloss. It hydrates and actually lasts, and it looks great for daytime and night.

Prada fanny pack

Prada Nylon Belt Bag

My No. 1 travel bag so I can roam hands-free and in crowded places. I don’t have to worry about my bag being open or accessible.

[Editor’s note: This bag is a little smaller than the one Brooke has , but it’s currently the only Prada belt bag in stock.]

Hand sanitizer

Ona Organics Hand Sanitizer

The scent — it has cedarwood, vetiver, and ylang-ylang — is just divine, but it also thoroughly sanitizes your hands, which is important when you’re scouring through items at someplace like the Grand Bazaar.

[Editor’s note: This hand sanitizer is currently sold out, but we also like Megababe’s hand sanitizer , which, like Ona’s, is made with plant-based alcohol and contains scented oils — in this case, bergamot and orange — to leave your hands smelling fresh.]

Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40

I’m never without it. It’s invisible, so it’s so easy to apply it in the back of a car or walking down the street and not worry that I look like Casper the Ghost.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments , rolling luggage , pillows for side sleepers , natural anxiety remedies , and bath towels . We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

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Istanbul Travel Guide

Katie Nadworny is an Istanbul-based writer who specializes in stories at the intersection of culture and politics in Turkey, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. She has lived in Turkey for nearly a decade and has traveled extensively around the region.

istanbul travel guide blog

There is nowhere in the world quite like Istanbul. Spread across two continents, Istanbul is a city of layers and contrasts. With historical sights like the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace brushing up against buzzing bars and lively cafes, with Ottoman-era mosques a short walk from contemporary art museums and galleries, with traditional carpet shops around the corner from trendy boutiques, Istanbul is a city of old and new coexisting. The city never stops moving.

Istanbul is the cultural capital of the country, with a plethora of independent galleries and inventive restaurants, as well as its transit hub, with flights going all over Turkey and all over the world. Each neighborhood has its own distinct identity and vibe, and it's easy to spend weeks in Istanbul without ever seeing everything. But that is what makes it so fascinating—there will always be something calling you back for more. So order a cup of Turkish coffee and a piece of pistachio baklava, and get ready to delve into this fascinating metropolis.

Turkey's time zone is GMT+3 year-round, and is also called TRT (Turkey Time). Turkey does not do daylight savings.

Best Time to Go

Spring (April-May) and autumn (September-October) are the perfect times to visit Istanbul, when the weather is bright and mild. During the month of April is the city-wide Tulip Festival, when the parks and green spaces in the city are bedazzled with the colorful bulbs. In the summer, the city becomes sticky and very hot, and most residents flee to the beaches in the south as soon as they can, but the streets are alive all night when the air cools off a little. Winter is gray and rainy, showing Istanbul at its most moody and evocative.

Things to Know

The main language in Istanbul is Turkish, though with a large international presence in the city, don't be surprised to hear chatter in English or Arabic or Farsi as you explore. Turkish people are generally quite helpful, even if you don't speak any Turkish, and shop owners (especially in Sultanahmet, the historic center) will often invite you to sit down and share a çay, a tiny tulip-shaped cup of strong black tea. Personal space is often a luxury in this crowded city, so don't be surprised if you feel someone is standing too close to you as you wait for a bus or in a line—it's normal here.

Don't mistake the water that bisects the city for a river. The Bosphorus Strait connects the Sea of Marmara (and, by extension, the Mediterranean) with the Black Sea, and is therefore a major global shipping route. It's not unusual to see massive container ships floating by your commuter ferry.

While Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, the capital city is actually Ankara, in central Anatolia. But the palaces that dot the Bosphorus, left over from Istanbul's status as the capital of the Ottoman Empire, might make you think otherwise. The politicians might do their business in Ankara, but Istanbul feels like the center of the world.

Currency: Turkish Lira (TL)

(Check the current exchange rate )

Language: Turkish I don't speak Turkish: Türkçe bilmiyorum. I'm lost: Kayboldum Can I have…?: …alabilirmiyim? Where is…?: ... nerede?

Calling Code: +90

Capital City: Ankara

How to Get Around

Intricate interlocking transportations—both official and informal—make it easy to navigate around Istanbul. There are multiple metro lines with clear signage and modern cars that connect to an above-ground tram line and two funiculars. The Marmaray, a cross-continent metro line that passes under the Bosphorus Strait, connects the metro system on the European and Asian sides of the city, and has recently expanded to run all the way into the suburbs on both sides of the city. Otherwise, the best way to cross from Europe to Asia and back is by ferry, with multiple ferry lines running between stations on a regular schedule all throughout the day.

The gaps are filled by city buses, which are paid for by the same IstanbulKart that gets you onto the metro, Marmaray, and ferries. And if there is no bus that runs to your destination, there might be a dolmuş , a yellow van that runs on a fixed route but stops whenever a passenger requests it and leaves whenever the van is full. There are also light blue minibuses that run on various routes throughout the city. Dolmuş and minibuses are paid in cash, with the price depending on the distance you go.

Taxis are plentiful, especially around touristed areas. Apps like BiTaksi can be useful to call taxis directly, and hotels are also usually happy to order a taxi if you can't flag one down.

Best Hotels

Ciragan palace kempinski.

Address: Ciragan Caddesi 32 34349 Istanbul Phone: +90 212 326 4646 Website

Housed in an ornate former Ottoman palace on the shores of the Bosphorus Strait, the Ciragan Palace is the ultimate luxurious hotel in Istanbul. The Ciragan boasts an outdoor infinity pool, an exquisite spa with a Turkish hamam, and high-end restaurants. If you want to experience Istanbul like Ottoman royalty, the Ciragan is the place to do it.

Corinne Hotel

Address: Kuloğlu Mah., Turnacıbaşı Caddesi 41 34433 Beyoğlu/İstanbul Phone: +90 212 293 94 94 Website

Located in the heart of Beyoğlu, Istanbul's nightlife and entertainment district, the Corinne Hotel is an ideal base to experience the energy of the city. The boutique hotel is in a lovingly restored late-Ottoman neoclassical building, with trendy and contemporary amenities alongside a winding marble staircase. Don't miss out on its rooftop terrace, the perfect place to sip a cocktail and watch Istanbul sparkle below.

Sirkeci Mansion

Address: Taya Hatun Sokak 5 34120 Sirkeci/Istanbul Phone: +90 212 528 43 44 Website

Nestled in the heart of Sultanahmet, Sirkeci Mansion is walking distance from the Hagia Sophia, Gulhane Park, and Topkapi Palace. The hotel contains 32 spacious rooms, a spa, and an on-site restaurant. Relax at the hotel's Turkish hamam, or head up to the hotel's rooftop, with its sweeping views of the old city.

Pera Palace Hotel

Address: Mesrutiyet Caddesi 52 34430 Tepebasi/Istanbul Phone: +90 212 377 4000 Website

Modern luxury and Turkish history entwine at the Pera Palace hotel, a grand Art Nouveau beauty that was built for travelers on the Orient Express and over the years has hosted illustrious guests that include Agatha Christie, Ernest Hemingway, and Queen Elizabeth II. The Pera Palace is located close to Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul's main thoroughfare. The five-star hotel has 115 rooms, multiple restaurants and bars, and a fully-equipped spa and fitness center.

The Bank Hotel

Address: Azapkapı, Bankalar Caddesi 5/1 34421 Beyoğlu/İstanbul Phone: +90 212 283 00 55 Website

Located in a reappropriated late-Ottoman-era bank in the Karakoy neighborhood, The Bank Hotel is a trendy boutique hotel located between the historic peninsula and the nightlife of Istiklal Caddesi. The eclectic design mixes the modern and the historic bones of the building throughout the hotel's 62 rooms. The restaurant on the rooftop offers splendid views of the city.

Splendid Palace Hotel

Address: Büyükada-nizam, Yirmiüç Nisan Caddesi 39 34970 Adalar/İstanbul Phone: +90 216 382 69 50 Website

This striking hotel on Istanbul's biggest island is full of early Republic charm, somehow both modern and nostalgically vintage. A highlight is the outdoor pool, where it's easy to while away the day in the sunshine. The 60 rooms and 9 suites are bright and breezy, perfect for an island escape in the middle of the city.

Best Restaurants

Address: The Marmara Pera Meşrutiyet Caddesi 15 34430 Beyoğlu/İstanbul Phone: +90 212 293 5656 Website

The creation of lauded Turkish-Scandinavian chef Mehmet Gurs, Mikla has long had a reputation as one of the best restaurants in Istanbul thanks to its creative twist on traditional cuisine. Located on the roof of the Marmara Pera Hotel, the views are as exquisite as the food. Try the tasting menu to get a sense of the scope of Mikla's creative culinary creations. Reservation is recommended. Indoor and outdoor dining is available.

Ciya Sofrasi

Address: Caferağa Mah. Güneşlibahçe Sokak 43 34710 Kadıköy/Istanbul, Phone: +90 216 330 3190 Website

This unassuming restaurant in the heart of the Kadikoy neighborhood's market street belies its reputation as an Istanbul powerhouse. With cuisine drawn from various regions across Anatolia, especially its diverse southeast region, the menu is constantly shifting and incorporating seasonal produce. In the summertime, try the cherry kebab; in the springtime, don't miss the lamb stewed with erik , Turkish sour plums. Indoor and outdoor dining is available.

Address: Azapkapı, Gümrük Han, Fermeneciler Caddesi 40/A 34420 Beyoğlu/İstanbul Phone: +90 212 244 97 76 Website

This seemingly ramshackle restaurant comes alive at night, glittering with strings of lights and lanterns. Perched right at the edge of the water in the Karakoy district, this is an evocative place to have the Turkish meyhane experience, with small plates of meze dotting the table and rakı (an anise liquor) flowing all night. Make sure to try the atom , thick yogurt mixed with hot dried peppers, and the catch of the day. Reservation is recommended, especially on weekends, and most dining is outdoors.

Address: Mesrutiyet Caddesi 107/F 34430 Beyoglu/Istanbul Phone: +90 212 243 2633 Website

This cozy bistro in the Pera neighborhood, walking distance from Istiklal Caddesi, combines Turkish, Persian, and Middle Eastern influences in its inventive cuisine. Make sure to try the dudi Persian rice speckled with ruby-red barberries. Reservation recommended, only indoor dining.

Things to Do

Hagia sophia.

Address: Ayasofya Meydanı 1 34122 Fatih/İstanbul Phone: +90212 522 17 50 Website

The Hagia Sophia is a building that has held many identities: from a Byzantine church to an Ottoman mosque to a secular museum, and now back to a mosque again. Visitors will need to respect the rules of the mosques in Turkey and dress appropriately , but there is no longer a fee to experience the ultimate palimpsest of a building. While some of the famous mosaics and frescoes are covered, many are still visible.

Topkapi Palace

Address: Cankurtaran Mah. 4122 Fatih/Istanbul Phone: +90 212 512 04 80 Website

Construction on Topkapi Palace began in 1453, when the Ottomans took Constantinople, and was the primary seat of imperial power for nearly four hundred years. The Harem requires an additional ticket, but it's worth it, with its magnificent blue-tiled walls and chambers.

Galata Tower

Address: Bereketzade, Galata kulesi 34421 Beyoğlu/İstanbul Phone: +90 212 245 4141 Website

Built by the Genoese in the 14th century, Galata Tower is an iconic part of the Istanbul skyline. Climb to the top for some of the best views of the city—especially at sunset.

Suleymaniye Mosque

Address: Süleymaniye Mah, Prof. Sıddık Sami Onar Caddesi 1 34116 Fatih/İstanbul Website

Suleymaniye Mosque is considered Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan's most splendid Istanbul mosque, and the architect himself is buried in a tomb on the site. With its intricate tiles, massive dome, and sweeping view of the city from its courtyard, Suleymaniye is a gem among Istanbul's imperial mosques.

Kilic Ali Pasa Hamam

Address: Kemankeş Mah. Hamam Sokak 1 34425 Tophane Karaköy/İstanbul Phone: +90 212 393 80 10 Website

The full hamam , or Turkish bath, experience is particularly luxurious at the Kili Ali Pasa Hamam. Sweat out on a marble slab in the elegantly restored historic building, and get scrubbed squeaky clean.

Best Shopping

Grand bazaar.

Address: Beyazıt, Kalpakçılar Cd. 22 34126 Fatih/İstanbul Phone: +90 212 519 12 48

Istanbul's Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, encompassing an entire buzzing hive of artisans and merchants spread across 60 streets and 4000 shops. Come for traditional Turkish carpets, gold and silver jewelry, leather goods, and more—and make sure to sit, share a tea, and haggle.

Spice Bazaar (Egyptian Bazaar)

Address: Rüstem Paşa, Erzak Ambarı Sokak 92 34116 Fatih/İstanbul Phone: +90 212 513 65 97

Built in the 17th century, this fragrant covered market brims over with spices, from tangy sumac to smokey urfa pepper to Turkish saffron. Vendors also sell Turkish delight, ceramics, and other non-spice items.

Arasta Bazaar

Address: Kabasakal Caddesi 34122 Fatih/İstanbul

This market street in the heart of the Sultanahmet neighborhood historically housed shops whose rent helped pay for the maintenance of the nearby Blue Mosque. Now, vendors sell hand-woven pestamel (Turkish towels), ceramics, carpets, and more.

Souq Dukkan

Address: Büyükdere Caddesi 185 34330 Şişli/İstanbul Phone: +90 555 030 82 32 Website

Souq Dukkan began as an artisan's bazaar in the trendy Karakoy neighborhood before recently relocating to Kanyon in Levent. Featuring the work of local designers, creators, and artists, Souq Dukkan is the place to find unique Turkish items from some of the city's most creative minds.

Neighborhoods to Know

Sultanahmet : Seemingly every block in this neighborhood has something historical poking out. The central square is dominated by the twinned Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, and the streets hold other imperial Ottoman-era mosques, Byzantine cisterns, and the remains of a hippodrome. This is the main place visitors to Istanbul come, and with good reason—the layered empires that dominated Istanbul have all left their mark right here.

Kadıkӧy : Located on Istanbul's Asian shore, Kadıkӧy is the neighborhood of artists and creatives. Bright colorful murals decorate the walls of buildings, while the streets brim with vibrant bars, sleek third-wave coffee shops, trendy boutiques, and al fresco dining. Kadıkӧy has a long stretch of seaside that is filled on summer nights with locals enjoying a beer at sunset. Only a picturesque ferry ride away from the city center, Kadıkӧy is the neighborhood to visit to see how Istanbul's cool kids live.

Cihangir : This trendy neighborhood, just a few blocks from Taksim Square, is the place to see and be seen. With cutting-edge boutiques, moody bistros, colorful bars slinging cocktails, and stylish cafes, Cihangir has long been the scene where hip Turks and foreigners mingle.

Beşiktaş : Located on the European Bosphorus shore just a short walk from Dolmabahçe Palace, Beşiktaş is a rowdy neighborhood famed for its passionate support of the local football team and its plethora of pubs. Explore the rollicking side streets spilling over with people enjoying the night time energy.

Karakoy : Formerly a forlorn strip of shipping warehouses and camping shops, the Karakoy neighborhood has blossomed in the last decade into a colorful strip of restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries. One building houses five of Istanbul's premier private galleries, while mere steps away is the splendid Kılıc Ali Paşa Mosque and its luxurious hammam.

Nişantaşı : For luxury and high-end experiences, Istanbul's elite come to upscale Nişantaşı. Here's where you can find haute couture boutiques, luxury brands like Prada and Louis Vuitton, and elegant restaurants. Just nearby is Maçka Park, one of the few parks in central Istanbul and an ideal place to stroll.

The Princes Islands : The Princes Islands, called Adalar in Turkish, are nine islands in the sea of Marmara, with four open to the public. Cars are not allowed on the islands, so it's best to get around by bicycle, by foot, or by horse-drawn carriage. With its charming white wooden houses and lush bougainvillea, the islands are an escape from the city within the city. The four islands (Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada, and Kınalıada) can be reached by regular ferries from the mainland.

Balat : The twinned neighborhoods of Fener and Balat, historically home to large Greek and Jewish populations, are some of the most picturesque in Istanbul, with colorful wooden houses lining hilly cobblestone streets. Balat has erupted in recent years, easily claiming its place as one of Istanbul's most interesting up-and-coming neighborhoods. Explore the antique shops that dot the area or stop at one of the many cafes and new restaurants that line the streets.

Winter: Istanbul winters are gray and constantly rainy, with weather hovering around 45°-50°F. While it's not ideal weather, the city is evocative and somehow cozy, with vendors selling roasted chestnuts on the street corners and steaming tulip-shaped cups of tea on offer at every restaurant.

Spring: In the springtime, the sun comes out and the weather warms up to a comfortable 65°-70°F. Flowers bloom all over the city, from fragrant jasmine to hot pink petals bursting from Judas trees. The early end of spring can still be a little chilly, but everyone still sits outside to soak in the sun.

Summer: The long, sticky, crowded days of Istanbul's summer usually have temperatures around 85°F with 70% humidity. The saving grace is the water that surrounds the city—the breeze off the Bosphorus on a transcontinental ferry ride or a swim in the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul's islands takes the edge off the muggy heat. And the endless summer nights, often spent sitting around a long meyhane table sipping a cold glass of anise-flavored raki , make it all worth it.

Fall: Autumn in Istanbul is warm and comfortable. The humidity comes down, as does the temperature, lingering around a comfortable 65°F in the early autumn and slipping around to 60°F in the later part. This is the best time to come to Istanbul.

Apps to Download

BiTaksi: Local taxi-hailing app iOs | Android

Uber: International taxi-hailing app iOs | Android

Trafi: Live traffic updates iOs | Android

Moovit: Transportation schedule aggregator iOs | Android

Related Articles

Best of Istanbul: Our Travel Guide & Tips

Speechless. Overwhelming. Exciting. These impressions of Istanbul are forever lasting and it is probably the most memorable city we have ever explored. Despite harbouring a tinge of skepticism before our trip, it wasn’t long before we fell in love with the city of Istanbul.

If you happen to be planning a city trip to Istanbul , then you’ve landed on the right page. In this article, you’ll find out what you can expect from the largest city in Turkey. We will share with you the most beautiful sights and of course our personal tips for your trip to this fascinating city situated on the Bosphorus.

1. Istanbul: Our Experiences & What to Expect

2. sights and activities in istanbul, 3. the most beautiful lookout points in istanbul, 4. food an drinks in istanbul: our tips, 5. our hotel recommendations for istanbul.

Istanbul Tipps

This much we can tell you right away: Istanbul is a city you absolutely must see for yourself. The pulsating vibes of the Metropolis is hard to put into words – this city exudes life like no other.

At the same time, Istanbul is so unique and unlike any other city. It is literally a collision of two worlds – the European continent meets the Asian continent and creates a fusion, that is Istanbul. What’s so fascinating is that Istanbul is the only Metropolis in the world that encompasses two continents. This Turkish city is divided into two parts. There are two sides, two continents, two cultures. It is this contradiction that makes Istanbul one of the most intriguing cities we have ever been to.

Is Istanbul safe?

Unfortunately, Istanbul isn’t all beautiful. By that, we think back to the terrorist attacks in 2016 and 2017, which led to a massive slump in tourism. On top of all that, they also have a tense political situation.

Nevertheless, reducing Istanbul to terror and the coup attempt would never do justice to the city. In the end, Istanbul is a great city that really impressed us and is one we will surely return to again.

Currently, there are no travel warnings for Istanbul as far as the British Foreign Ministry is concerned. Up-to date information can be found under the following link: Travel information Turkey .

How much time should I plan for Istanbul?

If you want to explore Istanbul as stress-free as possible, we recommend you to stay about 5 nights. That way, you will have enough time to visit all the main sights and also to make a trip to the Asian side of Istanbul. Of course, more time is always better. No doubt, you will still be discovering new corners of Istanbul even if you stay longer.

Do not worry if your time is tight: even on a weekend you can visit the highlights of Istanbul, as most of the sights are very close together.

Our Tip: Travel Guide for Istanbul

We can recommend the Istanbul Travel Guide by Lonely Planet, which was published in 2017, therefore making it still very relevant and up-to date. We really like the concise design of the Lonely Planet Travel Guide and they have done a great job with the information about Istanbul. You definitely can’t go wrong with this guide.

You can view and buy the travel guide here: Lonely Planet Istanbul Travel Guide (Edition May 2017)

Istanbul Tipps Blog

Many sights in Istanbul can be reached quite easily by foot. You are best to start off directly in the historic quarter of Sultanahmet in the Fatih district. Here you will find all the main tourist attractions in the Old Centre of Istanbul, including the world famous Hagia Sophia.

Once you cross the Galata Bridge, you will reach the other side of the Golden Horn in the Beyoglu district – the modern side of Istanbul. Here, the focus is no longer on the sightseeing, but more on the Turkish lifestyle. Nevertheless, there are some places worth seeing here as well.

Hagia Sophia

Once the largest church in the world, it then became a mosque, and now museum: The Hagia Sophia is probably the most important landmark and one of the absolute highlights in Istanbul. Visiting the world-famous building is certainly a must on a trip to Istanbul.

Important Note – just so that you are not disappointed: some of the interior parts of the Hagia Sophia have been under scaffold for years now (or even decades). It seems like the Hagia Sophia may be under permanent, ongoing restoration.

Our tip: Hagia Sophia is one of Istanbul’s most visited attractions, so it may be that there is a waiting line at the entrance (especially in high season). Depending on the time of day and the season you visit, we would therefore recommend that you buy your ticket in advance.

You can buy your ticket online here: Guided Tour of Hagia Sophia

Information about visiting the Hagia Sophia:

Admission: 60 Turkish Lira Location: Sultanahmet in the Fatih district Getting there: you can take the Tram line 1 to the Sultanahmet Station

Hagia Sophia

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque)

Directly opposite the Hagia Sophia is the largest and undoubtedly most impressive mosque in all of Istanbul: the Blue Mosque. It is most noticeably unique for its six minarets.

As visitors of a different faith, you are allowed enter the mosque for free – but only outside the prayer times. Shoes must be taken off at the entrance, and women are also required to cover their hair with a cloth and to cover their clothing if it is considered too tight.

Information about visiting the Blue Mosque

Admission: Free Location: Sultanahmet in the Fatih district Getting there: you can take the Tram line 1 to the Sultanahmet Station.

Sultan Ahmed Moschee

Topkapi Palace

The third highlight in Sultanahmet is the aristocratic Topkapi Palace. It is located north of Hagia Sophia. The Topkapi Palace was once the residential and governing seat of the Sultans – today it is one of the most important sights of Istanbul and a museum exhibition showcasing the historic rule of the Ottoman Empire.

The palace consists of several buildings with countless rooms from high nobility and a large spacious garden park. Make sure you don’t miss the highlight of the Topkapi Palace: the Harem. You have to pay extra for this, but the 35 Lira is well worth it.

Information about visiting the Topkapi Palace

Admission: 60 Turkish Lira (+ 35 Turkish Lira for the Harem) Location: Sultanahmet in the Fatih District Getting there: you can take the Tram line 1 to the Sultanahmet or Gülhane Station.

Grand Bazaar

Not far from Sultanahmet, you will reach a fascinating indoor labyrinth with all kinds of goods down every lane. The Grand Bazaar reportedly attracts up to half a million people every day.

Whether the statistic is accurate or not, it is obvious that the Grand Bazaar lives up to its name. You can buy everything here, from leather and textile goods to jewellery, souvenirs and sweets. As is the case with most markets, bartering is essential. It’s not uncommon to push the offered prices down by as much as 50 percent.

Information about the visit of the Grand Bazaar

Location: In the Fatih district, west of Sultanahmet Getting there: you can take the Tram line 1 to the Station Beyazit; or you can walk from Hagia Sophia and it should only take you about 15mins.

Basar Istanbul

Galata Bridge

The Galata Bridge crosses the Golden Horn and connects the historic city centre (Sultanahmet or Fatih) with modern Istanbul (Beyoglu) – the bridge is two-storeys high: the upper section is where traffic flows, while the bottom section is home to numerous restaurants.

The Galata Bridge is an integral part of Istanbul. There is always so much going on here, no matter the time of day. We could have spent forever watching the fishermen on the bridge. Another thing that really impressed us was the view of the city centre. From the Galata Bridge you have a spectacular view towards Sultanahmet, including the Süleymaniye Mosque and the Rüstem Pasha Mosque on one side, and the New Mosque on the other.

Location: North of Sulanahmet; connects the two districts Fatih and Beyoglu Getting there: you can take the Tram line 1 to the Eminönü Station

Galatabrücke Fischer

Beyoglu: Istiklal Caddesi and Taksim Square

In the modern district of Beyoglu, you will find the city’s most famous shopping street lane: the Istiklal Caddesi. It stretches from the south -near the Galata Tower (more on that later) – all the way to the famous Taksim Square in the north.

Right in the middle of the pedestrian zone, you’ll see the red, historic tram make its way through the crowds. Unlike other shopping streets, the Istiklal Caddesi is buzzing all day and all evening long. When night falls, the crowds retreat into the nearby bars and restaurants.

Location: In the Beyoglu district Getting there: you can take the Metro to Taksim, from there you can walk along the Istiklal Caddesi towards the south.

Taksim Platz

Crossing the Bosphorus by Boat

The Bosphorus separates the European side of Istanbul from the Asian side. We can highly recommend a boat trip across the strait, as Istanbul is so stunning from the water. No wonder every guide tells you that a boat trip across the Bosphorus is one of the biggest highlights.

There are countless providers offering both short and long boat trips. However, we chose to go with what we think is the cheapest option. You also get a stunning view of Istanbul from the ferry as you commute between the European and Asian continents.  

Ferries to Kadiköy (on the Asian side) depart from both the Eminönü Ferry Terminal (on the south end of the Galata Bridge) and the Kadiköy (at the north end of the Galata Bridge).

Bosporus Überfahrt

Asian side of Istanbul

Even if it’s just for an hour or two, a trip to the Asian continent is a must on an Istanbul city break, especially when it’s so close! Only 20 minutes by ferry to be exact.

A good starting point to explore the Asian city of Istanbul is Kadiköy. Suddenly all those international brands that you just saw at Istiklal Caddesi are but foreign words. The city is the same, but the atmosphere on the Asian side is definitely something else – that much we can promise you.

Getting to Kadiköy:

Our recommendation: You can take the ferry from either the ferry terminal Eminönü (at the south end of the Galata bridge) or Karaköy (at the north end of the Galata bridge).

Asiatische Seite Istanbul

Galata Tower

Probably the best panoramic view of Istanbul is up by the small viewing platform on the Galata Tower. Unfortunately, the tower is far from a secret. Therefore, expect to wait up to 30 minutes or even more.

Nevertheless, it is still worth the visit! The 360 ​​degree view is simply spectacular and the viewing terrace itself is fairly easy to reach. There is a lift that takes you almost to the top, so you only have to walk the last two floors.

However, the viewing platform is very narrow, so it can be a bit tight up there. Our thoughts: although the rush is usually the worse just before sunset, the light is just simply so beautiful.

Information about visiting the Galata Tower

Admission: 35 Turkish Lira Location: In the Galata area of the Beyoglu district. Getting there: you can take the Metro to the Sishane Station

Galataturm Ausblick

360 Istanbul

The name already says it all: From the terrace of the 360 Istanbul restaurant, you have a spectacular view over the city. Since the prices are quite high, we would recommend just coming by for a cocktail.

Location: At the Istiklal Caddesi in Beyoglu Getting there: you can take the Metro to the Sishane Station

Rooftop Bar Istanbul

In Istanbul and Turkey in general, there is great emphasis placed on food – something we love to hear! The most important meal here is dinner and people usually meet with their family and friends no earlier than 8pm.

What we didn’t fancy so much is that the food culture is incredibly meat heavy and it can be quite difficult for vegetarians to find creative dishes. Nevertheless, Turkish cuisine is delicious.

Bakery Hafiz Mustafa: Baklava & Other Turkish Sweets

If you want to taste Turkish sweets, then there’s no way you can pass by the bakery Hafiz Mustafa. Supposedly they make the best baklava in all of Istanbul. Even though we are personally not the biggest fans of this sticky sweet dessert – we will admit that the baklava was good.

Due to the large selection, making a decision is really hard. However, you can try and sample all sorts of Turkish sweets, including the baklava in all its many variations. They now have several branches in Istanbul (including one near the Galata Bridge in the south and one in Sultanahmet).

Baklava Istanbul Tipps

Nevizade Sokak

The bars and restaurants of this vibrant area in Beyoglu is where half the population of Istanbul meet up in the evenings for beers. Nevizade Sokak is actually the name of a particular street, but it is used mostly to refer to this particular quarter.

If you can, you should try find a seat right on the street, order an “Efes” (the most famous Turkish beer) and enjoy the vibrant nightlife of Istanbul.

Location: Northwest of the Istiklal Caddesi in Beyoglu (parallel to it)

Nevizade Istanbul

More tips for dining in Istanbul

Privato Café: Cozy café near the Galata Tower. Great breakfast and a good selection of vegetarian options. Mandabatmaz: “The place to be” if you want to try Turkish coffee. You have to try: a Simit (sesame ring) at Galata Bridge and then take the ferry to Kadiköy. You cannot get a more authentic feeling in Istanbul!

The choice between staying close to the historic centre (Sultanahmet) or staying in Beyoglu on the other side of the Galata Bridge – is a matter of personal preference.

In the historic centre (Sultanahmet), you have the advantage of being able to reach the main attractions by foot. While Sulanahmet is pretty touristic, Beyoglu offers a much more authentic atmosphere.

Option 1: Staying in the Historic Centre (Sultanahmet)

We can highly recommend the Hotel Miniature . The location could hardly be more central with the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque just a short 5 minutes walk away.

The entire hotel is very nicely decorated, especially the cozy wooden panels and decor. One of the highlights is definitely the small roof terrace. All in all highly recommended!

You can view and book the hotel here: Hotel Miniature

Option 2: Stay overnight in Beyoglu

On the Beyoglu side, we can recommend the very chic and modern Hotel DeCamondo Galata . It is located in the south of Beyoglu near the Galata Bridge. From the rooftop terrace, you get a great view of the Bosphorus.

The rooms are very immaculately decorated. The surrounding neighbourhood is also very nice with several restaurants within walking distance. Plus, you can get to the historic centre very quickly with the tram – just so you know!

You can view and book the rooms here: Hotel DeCamondo Galata

Istanbul Sehenswürdigkeiten

Disclaimer: Affiliate Links

This blog article contains our personal recommendations in the form of so-called affiliate links. If you book or buy something through these links, we will receive a small commission. For you, this does not change the price at all. A million thanks from the both of us!

Have you been to Istanbul before? How did you like it? Do you have any further tips for sights or restaurants? We look forward to reading your experiences!

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3 responses.

Hey kathi, Thank you for your post. It is very helpful. My husband and I just moved to Istanbul. We fell in love with the city and looking forward to discovering every corner of it. I got so many valuable information in your post

Hi Fay, thank you for your comment & sorry for our late reply. :) Oh yes, Istanbul is amazing. We definitely want to come back. Safe travels, Kathi & Romeo

Fay – are you still in Istanbul? My friends and I are traveling there in May and if you have any further recommendations please let me know!

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Welcome to Istanbeautiful, your practical city and medi guide to Istanbul, Turkey…

Find things to do in Istanbul, days out, attractions and sightseeing in Istanbul, what’s on, Istanbul festivals and events, tours, restaurants and hotels in Istanbul. Plan your trip to Istanbul with useful traveler information.

We are a team and fellows of Istanbul locals, expats and world travelers. We aim to provide the very up-to-date and quality information and advice for your trip to our city Istanbul. We try to do our best to keep our website up-to-date with all the tourist information. Our motto is  “Your Go-See-Do-Heal Advisor” . We try to do our best to provide you the best advice on the city’s top sights and sounds, with the very best tourist , medical and health services from the trusted companies and providers.

Things to Do in Istanbul (2024 Essential Attractions Insider Guide)

Places to see in istanbul (2024 essential sights insider guide), istanbul dining guide 2024: what to eat best places + advice, istanbul shopping guide 2024: what to buy best areas to shop, nightlife in istanbul: 2024 guide with hot spots, districts, clubs.

Augusta, Antonina, Nova Roma, Byzantion, Byzantium, Constantinople and finally Istanbul…  These exciting names reminds the mysterious and enchanting past of the city. Istanbul can be considered as the combination of the old and modern city, as well as Islamic and Mediterranean mixture of cultures in a captivating atmosphere. There are only few cities in the world that can be so delightful to experience and enjoy as Istanbul.

Istanbul offers an unforgettable experience for its travelers, with its colorful daily city life and dynamic nightlife. The beautiful silhouette of the city combines historical sites and monuments such as Roman aqueducts, Byzantine churches, Venetian towers, Ottoman palaces from the Byzantine, Ottoman and Turkish periods. And the skyline covers monumental minarets with skyscrapers and plazas. And especially the  Historical Peninsula  and the  Bosphorus  will make you deeply fall in love with the city…

Most Popular Now in Istanbul

33 Things to do this spring in Istanbul in 2024: Spring Adventures

15 must do day trips from istanbul in 2024, best cappadocia day tours from istanbul (2024 prices with tips), top best istanbul city walking tours – insider guide + faqs, whirling dervishes show istanbul (2024 sema guide with tickets), bosphorus cruise istanbul: top 10 best boat tours in 2024.

Top Istanbul Discount Cards & Passes

Istanbul Tourist Pass® Review: Is It Worth It? Insider Tips

Istanbul welcome card (why buy how to’s fares & insider tips), istanbul e-pass (worth it how to’s fares, insider tips).

Must Do & See

Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque Istanbul: Ayasofya 2024 Tickets

Topkapi palace museum (2024 tickets with guru advice guide), basilica cistern museum istanbul: 2024 skip the line tickets + tips, dolmabahce palace museum istanbul (2024 tickets, skip the lines), bosphorus dinner cruise istanbul: 2024 best dinner cruises.

First-time Visitors

One Day in Istanbul: Local Expert Help with No Regrets

3 days in istanbul: an ideal itinerary with local expert help, where to stay in istanbul for a first time visit an insider’s guide 2024, istanbul on a budget: top 13 money saving tips on your trip, 15 best ways to experience istanbul like a local, 101 free things to do in istanbul + insider advice, neighborhoods areas & districts.

See more of Istanbul with our guides to Istanbul’s popular districts, neighborhoods and areas. Experience and explore Istanbul just like a local, with hidden gems, favorite haunts, and top tips from our expert local ( TR ) guides.

Explore Sultanahmet (2024 Guide with Top Things to Do & See)

Explore taksim (guide with top things to do & see + advice), explore galata, karakoy & tophane (top things to do & see + advice), explore fener & balat (top things to do, sights, how to get), explore besiktas (guide with top things to do & see + advice).

Food & Drink

Top Best Rooftop Restaurants & Bars in Istanbul (Insider Guide)

Top 15 best restaurants in istanbul (insider guide advice), top best bars in istanbul (insider guide advice), michelin starred restaurants in istanbul to experience.

Hotels in Istanbul

Top Rated Best Hotels in Sultanahmet, Istanbul: 2024 Advice

Yotel istanbul airport (ist) hotel (where, fares, booking info).

Practical Istanbul

Are you visiting Istanbul for the first time? You can find out all the top tips and recommendations to arrange your first trip to Istanbul easy, good planned, fun and safe. You can read our guides here for Istanbul’s top attractions, sights, travel tips, and more things to do.

HAVAIST New Istanbul Airport Shuttles/Buses (Routes, Price + Advice)

How much does it cost to visit istanbul (average daily costs), how to get istanbulkart how to obtain-load credit, istanbul city card, istanbul public ferries (timetables, prices, best ferry rides + advice), new istanbul airport (ist) metro line m11: stations, advice.

Medical Tourism

Use our guides to find out the medical and health tourism opportunities in Istanbul including hair transplant, cosmetic and aesthetic operations, rhinoplasty, Botox & dermal fillers, bariatric surgery, laser eye surgery, full medical check-ups, dental implants and many more.

Hair Transplant in Turkey, Istanbul: 2024 Best Clinics Guide + FAQs

Rhinoplasty in turkey, istanbul: top 10 best surgeons + faqs, dental implants in turkey, istanbul: best dental clinics 2024, prices, latest articles areas & districts, maintaining your hair after transplant (guidelines + tips), all about hair loss (alopecia) – causes, treatments & prevention, best hair transplant in dubai, uae for 2024: top clinics + cost, hair transplant in kosovo: top best clinics in 2024 + cost, hair transplant in albania: top best clinics in 2024 + cost, best hair transplant in mexico for 2024: top clinics + cost.

More Istanbul Trip Ideas for you…

Planning your Istanbul trip? Whether you’re looking for things to do in Istanbul such as attractions, sights, festivals and events, key traveler information to make your Istanbul visit run smoothly, you’ll find everything you need for your Istanbul travel on istanbeautiful.com. Make sure to discover Istanbul’s diverse neighborhoods, from tranquil suburbs to central areas full of shopping, entertainment and dining options, as well as property options in the city.

Discover the best day trips from Istanbul or try one of the best Istanbul tours. If you’re here as a family, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Istanbul with kids. Whether you’re looking for the best weekend breaks in Istanbul or planning a longer holiday in Istanbul, you can be sure you’ll find all the information you need.

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Turkey, Istanbul . Topkapi Palace, the Harem

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This magical meeting place straddling two continents has more top-notch attractions than it has minarets (and that's a lot).

Best Time to Visit

Best things to do, leave the planning to a local expert.

Experience the real Istanbul. Let a local expert handle the planning for you.


Must-see attractions.

Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque in Istanbul, Türkiye. Built between 532 and 537AD by Roman Emperor Justinian I as the Christian Cathedral of Constantinople.

Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque


Right in the heart of İstanbul’s historic center, this sacred Byzantine building remains an important symbol of power.

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey

Topkapı Palace

Topkapı is the subject of more colourful stories than most of the world's museums put together. Libidinous sultans, ambitious courtiers, beautiful…

Chora Church

Kariye Mosque

İstanbul has more than its fair share of Byzantine monuments, but few are as drop-dead gorgeous as this mosaic- and fresco-laden church. Nestled in the…

Suleymaniye Mosque

Süleymaniye Mosque

The Süleymaniye crowns one of İstanbul's seven hills and dominates the Golden Horn, providing a landmark for the entire city. Though it's not the largest…

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

This subterranean structure was commissioned by Emperor Justinian and built in 532. The largest surviving Byzantine cistern in İstanbul, it was…

Blue Mosque.

Blue Mosque

İstanbul's most photogenic building was the grand project of Sultan Ahmet I (r 1603–17), whose tomb is located on the north side of the site facing…

Entrance To Bazaar

Grand Bazaar

The colourful and chaotic Grand Bazaar is the heart of İstanbul's Old City and has been so for centuries. Starting as a small vaulted bedesten (warehouse)…

Pera Museum

Pera Museum

There's plenty to see at this impressive museum, but its major draw is undoubtedly the 2nd-floor exhibition of paintings featuring Turkish Orientalist…

Top picks from our travel experts

14 must-do things on your trip to istanbul.

Pierre Loti Café

Pierre Loti Café

Many visitors head to this hilltop cafe after visiting the Eyüp Sultan Mosque. Named for the famous French novelist who is said to have come here for…

Turkey, Istanbul Modern, Turkeys premier modern art gallery showcasing contemporary international art and photography.

İstanbul Modern

This lavishly funded and innovative museum has an extensive collection of Turkish art and also stages a constantly changing and uniformly excellent…

SALT Beyoğlu

SALT Beyoğlu

With a brief to explore critical and timely issues in visual and material culture, the İstiklal branch of the SALT cultural centre is one of the city's…

Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı

Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı

It took seven years to develop a conservation plan for this 1580 Mimar Sinan–designed building and complete the meticulous restoration. Fortunately, the…

Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı

Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı

This meticulously restored twin hamam dating to 1556 offers the most luxurious traditional bath experience in the Old City. Designed by Mimar Sinan, it…

Exterior of Dolmabahce Palace Selamlik Building.

Dolmabahçe Palace

The Bosphorus Suburbs

These days it’s fashionable for architects and critics influenced by the less-is-more aesthetic of Bauhaus masters to sneer at buildings such as…

Beşiktaş Çarşı

Beşiktaş Çarşı

The beating heart of Beşiktaş, this bustling backstreet area packed with shops, restaurants, bars, cafes – and the neighbourhood’s youthful crowd – is…


Barış Manço House

One of the pioneering musicians who mixed rock sounds with traditional Turkish folk music to establish the Anatolian rock genre in the 1960s and 1970s,…

İstiklal Caddesi

İstiklal Caddesi

Once called the Grand Rue de Pera but renamed İstiklal (Independence) in the early years of the Republic, Beyoğlu's premier boulevard is a perfect…

500px Photo ID: 155850215 - This stall was single handedly responsible for killing my waistline.You cannot travel to this fantastic city without sampling these fantastic sweets!

Kadıköy Produce Market

An aromatic, colourful and alluring showcase of the best fresh produce in the city, the Kadıköy Pazarı is foodie central for locals and is becoming an…

Meshur Dondurmacı Ali Usta

Meshur Dondurmacı Ali Usta

Weekend and summer-night saunters down Moda Caddesi wouldn't be the same without a cone of the dondurma (ice cream) produced by the five brothers who…

The Yapı Kredi Kültür Sanat building on İstiklal Caddei

Yapı Kredi Kültür Sanat

Towering over Galatasaray Sq, this sleek cultural centre affiliated with a major Turkish bank stages art exhibitions, hosts classical-music concerts, and…

Spice Bazaar

Spice Bazaar

Vividly coloured spices are displayed alongside jewel-like lokum (Turkish delight) at this Ottoman-era marketplace, providing eye candy for the thousands…

The 25 best things to do in Istanbul that don't cost a thing

Hünkâr Kasrı

Hünkâr Kasrı

Built over a grand archway attached to the New Mosque, this small kasrı (pavilion) or mahfili (loge) dates from the same period and functioned as a…

Fatih district during sunset with Valens' Aquaduct in background (top right).

Aqueduct of Valens

Rising majestically over the traffic on busy Atatürk Bulvarı, this limestone aqueduct is one of the city's most distinctive landmarks. Commissioned by…

Maçka Park entrance

Nişantaşi, Bomonti & Harbiye

On a sunny weekend afternoon, you’ll find this slender green oasis in central İstanbul full of picnicking families, canoodling couples and slackline…


The Byzantine emperors loved nothing more than an afternoon at the chariot races, and this rectangular arena alongside Sultanahmet Park was their venue of…

Turkish Hamam Culture Museum

Turkish Hamam Culture Museum

Constructed by order of the mother of Selim I and one of the wives of Beyazıt II, this now-decommissioned early-16th-century hamam is one of the largest…

SALT Galata

SALT Galata

The descriptor 'cultural centre' is used a lot in İstanbul, but is often a misnomer. Here at SALT Galata it really does apply. Housed in a magnificent…

İstanbul Arastırmaları Enstitüsü

İstanbul Arastırmaları Enstitüsü

Associated with the nearby Pera Museum, this institution incorporates a publicly accessible research library focusing on the cultural and social history…

Beyazıt State Library

Beyazıt State Library

Occupying the former imaret (soup kitchen) and kervansaray (caravanserai) of the Beyazıt Mosque's külliye, this library has recently been the subject of a…


The only remaining built section of the Hippodrome hints at how monumental the arena was. The level of galleries that once topped this section was damaged…

Gülhane Park

Gülhane Park

Gülhane Park was once part of the grounds of Topkapı Palace, accessible only to the royal court. These days crowds of locals come here to picnic under the…

Buying from a vendor at the Feriköy Organic Market

Feriköy Organic Market

Established in 2006 as Turkey’s first ‘100% ecological bazaar’, this bustling Saturday market is still going strong, with hundreds of colourful stalls…

Church of St Stephen of the Bulgars

Church of St Stephen of the Bulgars

Known as the 'Iron Church', this distinctive Gothic Revival–style building on the Golden Horn has an extremely beautiful interior, with its gilded iron…

Koç Centre exterior

Koç University Research Centre for Anatolian Civilizations

With a wealth of scholarly knowledge and archival photos to draw on, the exhibitions regularly staged on the ground floor of this university-affiliated…


Occupying a former tobacco warehouse, this alternative space is operated by Anadolu Kültür (www.anadolukultur.org), a not-for-profit organisation that…

The Eyup Sultan Mosque in Istanbul

Eyüp Sultan Mosque

This important complex marks the supposed burial place of Ebu Eyüp el-Ensari, a friend of the Prophet who fell in battle outside the walls of…

Rüstem Paşa Mosque

Rüstem Paşa Mosque

Nestled in the middle of the busy Tahtakale shopping district, this diminutive mosque is a gem. Dating from 1560, it was designed by Sinan for Rüstem Paşa…

Aşiyan Museum

Aşiyan Museum

It’s quite a hike up to this small house-museum, named after the Turkish word for ‘bird’s nest’, but the stunning Bosphorus views may well inspire you to…

Women's Bazaar

Women's Bazaar

Though it's a wonderful spot to observe local life, the vibrant Women's Bazaar isn't for the faint-hearted. Freshly slaughtered sheep carcasses swing in…

Akbank Art Centre

Akbank Art Centre

Turkey's big banks and philanthropic trusts vie to be seen as the greatest sponsor of the arts. İstiklal is a showcase for their generosity, and with this…

Yıldız Park

Yıldız Park

This large and leafy retreat is alive with birds, picnicking families and young couples strolling hand in hand. The best time to visit is in April, when…

Wednesday Market

Wednesday Market

This busy weekly market sells food, clothing and household goods. It's held in the streets behind and to the north of Fatih Mosque.

Planning Tools

Expert guidance to help you plan your trip.

Best Neighborhoods

Explore the distinct neighborhoods of Istanbul with this guide to what to expect in each one.

Take a break from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul with a day trip to nearby beaches, forests and sleepy towns.


Istanbul's scale and traffic jams can be daunting to travelers but the city's compact center and transport options make it a breeze if you're in the know.

Free Things to Do

From mosques and markets to art galleries and monuments, some of Istanbul's best sites don't cost a thing.

Plan with a local

Experience the real Turkey

Let a local expert craft your dream trip.

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Istanbul and beyond

Turkish delight shop, Istiklal Caddesi.

Wanderlust Chloe

Istanbul Travel Blogs

These are all of my travel blogs about istanbul. .

From taking a food tour of the city, to visiting the mosques and the market, find out the best places to travel to in my Istanbul travel blogs and travel guides.

Happy exploring!

How To Get From Istanbul To Cappadocia

Cappadocia hot air balloon tour

Want to travel from Istanbul to Cappadocia – one of the most unique places in Turkey? Find out how to travel to the region by car, bus and plane.

If you’re planning a holiday to Turkey, I’d recommend starting in Istanbul, then travelling to Cappadocia for a few days, and finishing with a little bit of beach time in somewhere like Alanya or Antalya.

The Perfect 24 Hours In Istanbul, Turkey

Wanderlust Chloe Istanbul

Eating fish sandwiches on Galata Bridge and haggling in the Grand Bazaar… most guide books will describe these as unmissable experiences. But there’s plenty more to Istanbul. Here is my guide to the perfect 24 hours in an incredible city!

The colourful revolution of istanbul’s rainbow steps.

Wanderlust Chloe Rainbow Steps Istanbul 06

There’s a beautiful story behind Istanbul’s Rainbow Steps, guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Some pre-trip research on Istanbul in Turkey, brought up some very colourful photos on Instagram. They were of the so-called ‘Rainbow Steps’ linking the arty districts of Findikli and Cihangir.

They reminded me of the Lapa Steps in Rio… another magical set of stairs that brought tourists to an otherwise overlooked area.

So, what’s the story? Are they highlighting LGBT issues? Something political? Or are they just a bit of fun?

In 2013, retired forestry engineer Huseyin Cetinel spent four days and around £500 transforming the huge staircase, from concrete grey, to beautiful rainbow colours. It was a kind of guerrilla street art project. No one expected it, but everyone fell in love with it.

A Food Tour of Istanbul, Turkey

Views of Istanbul from the Bosphorus ferry

From tasty kebabs and mint tea, to honey, fish sandwiches and pickles, a food tour of Istanbul is a perfect way to get to know this special Turkish city. Find out what to expect, what delicious Turkish foods you might get to sample, plus some useful info to plan your visit. 

Review: point hotel taksim, istanbul, turkey.

Wanderlust Chloe Point Hotel Taksim12

Time to check out the Point Hotel Taksim in Istanbul, Turkey.

With only a few days in Istanbul, the dilemma is whether to stay in the old town close to landmarks such as The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar, or stay in the modern town, in the heart of the shopping, dining and nightlife district. I opted for the latter, and enjoyed 4 nights at the Point Hotel Taksim

It prides itself on being an affordable 4 star hotel, within walking distance of Taksim Square – one of the best areas to stay in Istanbul . The name? Well it’s a triangular building, with the entrance being at a point. It boasts a 9 th floor restaurant (where breakfast is served) with panoramic views of the city. There is a spa, gym and swimming pool in the basement, and a Japanese sushi restaurant and bar on the ground floor. It provided the perfect base for a city break.

While there, I stayed in three different rooms, on different floors (I’ll get into why in a moment!) They were all clean, modern, with nice touches such as the gift of an evil eye bead (evil eye is a symbol of protection in Turkey), a pillow menu, a book with 101 Ways To Sleep Happily, a CD of lullabies to encourage better rest, and an arrival gift of a fruit bowl and a bottle of Turkish red wine.

Nomadic Notes

Travel blog and weekly travel newsletter

Istanbul Travel Notes

July 5, 2014 By James Clark

Travel Notes > Turkey > Istanbul Travel Notes

Istanbul Travel Guide


Istanbul hotels – Search for discount hotels in Istanbul with lowest rates guaranteed.

Istanbul Car Rental – Compare car rental offers with free cancellation in Istanbul. Find the cheapest prices from rentals including Hertz, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Alamo, and Sixt.

Travel Guides

Time Out Istanbul – Tips on venues, events, restaurants, concerts, shops and nightlife.

Great Istanbul – History, sight, photos of Istanbul.

Istanbul For 91 Days – Jürgen and Mike, from Germany and the USA, live in a city once every three months (about 91 days). This is their Istanbul experience.

How Istanbul became the global capital of the hair transplant “Transplant surgery has gotten extremely good—and extremely expensive. But in Turkey, a brand-new hairline (and a stay in a plush hotel) are available for a fraction of the cost of a stateside clinic. Our writer hopped a flight to go under the knife and find out if it was all too good to be true.”

Istanbul trip review from first time visitor and solo female traveller.

The best 24 hour stopover in Istanbul – Guide by Snap Happy Travel.

50 ways to experience Istanbul – By thatbackpacker.com.

Why I still love Istanbul and you should too – By mytravelingjoys.com.

The Istanbul Promenade: Istiklal Caddesi – By themadtraveler.com.

What It Costs: A Day of Travel in Istanbul – By Stephen Lioy at gomadnomad.com.

5 Must Visit Romantic Places of Istanbul – By traveljots.com.

7 unique experiences to have in Istanbul, Turkey – By geekyexplorer.com.

Istanbul Eats – Helps you find the best Istanbul eateries that you might not always find on your own.

Istanbul Food – The tastes of Istanbul from a local food expert’s point of view.

Books About Istanbul

1453: The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West by Roger Crowley. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 signaled a shift in history, and the end of the Byzantium Empire. 1453 is a readable and comprehensive account of the battle between Mehmed II, sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and Constantine XI, the 57th emperor of Byzantium.

Istanbul: The Imperial City by John Freely. Istanbul’s history is a catalogue of change, not least of name, yet it has managed to retain its own unique identity. John Freely captures the flavour of daily life as well as court ceremonial and intrigue. The book also includes a comprehensive gazetteer of all major monuments and museums. An in-depth study of this legendary city through its many different ages from its earliest foundation to the present day.

Istanbul Guide Books

Lonely Planet Istanbul (City Guide)

New Mosque - Istanbul

This is the New Mosque of Istanbul. Having been completed in 1665 it’s not that new anymore, but why quibble over details. The mosque is on the Golden Horn near the Galata Bridge. I love to come down here in and see all the “new” buildings glow in the afternoon sun.

Blue Mosque at dusk, Istanbul - Turkey

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque (better known as the Blue Mosque). If you are wondering why it doesn’t look that blue, it is named for the blue tiles on the interior walls.

Istanbul Photo Gallery – Photo gallery of my visits to Istanbul.

Old Istanbul – Collection of old Istanbul postcards.

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About James Clark

James Clark is the founder of Nomadic Notes. He has been a digital nomad since 2003, and Nomadic Notes features trip reports, train travel articles , and where to stay guides . He writes about transport and urban development at Future Southeast Asia . Subscribe to the weekly travel newsletter .

istanbul travel guide blog

About Nomadic Notes

Search nomadic notes, travel notes, travel resources, where to stay in…, travel newsletter.

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To East Asia: Visa-free travel from Ireland and Switzerland to China

Exploring i̇stanbul’s rich history: the historical peninsula, one city, three days: madrid, one city, three days: basel, everything you need to know about car rentals at the airport, türkiye’s gateway to tnrc: the new nicosia ercan international airport, all you need to know about the türkiye museum pass (müzekart), a recent favorite: mauritius, towards the heart of indonesia: yogyakarta, capital of the northern lights: tromso, i̇stanbul travel guide.

Our Istanbul section offers a distinctive perspective on the city, featuring unique content on Istanbul’s districts and neighborhoods. Discover the mosques, churches and other faith centers, street food and culinary culture, bazaars, museums, historical sites and more – on both sides of the Bosphorus.

İstanbul’s art-filled district: Places to visit in Kadıköy

İstanbul’s glorious heritage: topkapı palace museum, a precious jewel on the bosphorus: dolmabahçe palace, the heart of dersaadet (the gate of happiness): a memorable day in taksim, the towers of i̇stanbul and their remarkable stories, a gastronomic perspective on travel: türkiye’s michelin-starred restaurants, the colors of autumn beckon: the forests of i̇stanbul, 8 route close to i̇stanbul, the sky is the limit: turkish airlines, the official sponsor of the uefa champions league, another perspective: explore the local side of i̇stanbul, home to a prevailing sport: i̇stanbul’s skate parks, more from our blog, go forth into nature what camping essentials will you bring with you, exploring history and cuisine: bosnia herzegovina, what’s on in december: a guide to arts and culture in türkiye, spirit of the city: bingöl, spirit of the city: belgrade, going on holiday with your cat.

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ISTANBUL ON A BUDGET: Travel Guide & Itinerary

ISTANBUL ON A BUDGET: Travel Guide & Itinerary

By continuing to read this article, you agree to double check with the authorities or other concerned entities for the latest updates.

When I think of Istanbul, I think of my childhood.

This ancient city took up almost a chapter in our grade school textbook, and as someone who grew up fascinated with history, it certainly made an impression early on. I remember how I studied its days as Constantinople and its significance as a center of trade and cultural diffusion in the region. I remember sleepless nights of memorizing the important dates that marked the rise and fall of both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. I remember trying to wrap my head around the Silk Road and its role in Medieval Europe.

Back then, I had no idea I would be a traveler. I was raised thinking that travel is a luxury, something enjoyed only by the rich. But I remember making a deal with my young self that I would someday see the city, its landmarks, historic sites and relics depicted in our books.

As I stood by the fountain at the Sultan Ahmet Park in between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, I wallowed in a sense of accomplishment knowing that a bucket list item had been ticked.

Truly, it is one of the most fascinating cities in the world. She is one of those with a lot of soul, somebody who has been through a lot and has a globe of stories to tell.


Istanbul: What You Need to Know

Istanbul is the poster city of a borderless world. It is where Asia sits down with Europe by the Bosphorus for an enjoyable a cup of tea. It is where East meets West for a passionate endless dance. It is where the past mingles with the present to have a conversation about the future. It is a city drenched in a multitude of colors, and things are hardly black or white.

It is perhaps this strategic location that made Istanbul one of the greatest cities in centuries past. It’s no wonder that its biggest pull is its magnificent history, showcased in many of its tourist spots. The Sultanahmet area alone is brimming with awe-inspiring landmarks that boast incredible Byzantine and Ottoman architecture and unique cultural traditions.

istanbul travel guide blog

Today, contrary to popular belief, Istanbul is NOT the capital of Turkey. The distinction is now owned by Ankara. But although it is no longer the seat of power, it remains the cultural and economic center, and the most populous in the country, with almost 15 million residents.

Here’s more info about Istanbul:

  • Language : Turkish. It’s not as intimidating because they use the familiar Latin alphabet. English is also widely spoken, too.
  • Currency : Turkish Lira (TRY, TL, ₺). TL1 = USD 0.26, EUR 0.22, PHP13.35 (as of November 2017). Some establishments accept the euro, but it would be best to pay in lira because the euro rate is usually costlier. There are a lot of money changers around the city, often concentrated in the Grand Bazaar, Sultanahmet, and Taksim areas. The difference in rates isn’t much, to be honest, but feel free to compare. You can also withdraw from ATMs.
  • Modes of payment : Cash. Although some restaurants and hotels accept credit cards, public transportation and smaller establishments accept only cash.
  • Safety . Outside our textbooks, at least in this part of the world, we only hear about Istanbul in the news. Unfortunately, the city has suffered from a number of terrorist attacks over the past few years. (In fact, our first visit happened just a week after the Sultanahmet bombing in 2016.) Naturally, our followers who also dream of Istanbul are concerned about safety. We always get questions on whether or not it is safe to visit. Our answer has always been the same: Personally, these attacks don’t stop us from traveling to a city because fear is what they want to get out of it. (Our only exception is war zones.) However, that’s just us . We don’t want to encourage or discourage anyone. Listen to your embassy’s advisory at the time, and consider your insurance coverage. But ultimately, make that decision for yourself. But always be vigilant wherever you choose to travel.
  • Electricity Info : 220V, 50Hz. Socket Type F. It’s the socket that is indented into the wall and accepts plugs with two round prongs.

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When is the Best Time to Visit Istanbul?

Istanbul enjoys all the four seasons. Weather-wise, April to August is the perfect time to visit because it is during this period that the skies are usually clear and the city gets the least rainfall, with July being the driest. However, as soon as summer kicks in, the city gets packed with tourists. June-August is the peak season so expect the crowds to be big and the rates high.

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The autumn months of September to November are great too, The temperature is comfortable and the crowd manageable, but prepare for rain showers every now and then.

December to February is winter and off-peak. It is here that airfares and hotel rates go down, which is something you can take advantage of if you’re a budget traveler. Winter here is cold, yes, but not harsh. We were here in the first two weeks of February and we found the weather to be delightful. It drizzled a little but nothing major.

Because it stands in between two bodies of water, Istanbul is also pretty windy, which can sometimes intensify the cold.

How to Get a Turkish Visa

If you have a valid visa or residence permit from the US, UK, Ireland or any Schengen country, you may apply for a visa online (e-visa). It’s fast and easy.

More info here: Turkey Visa Online

Here are the requirements:

  • Valid passport that covers your travel period. (In PH case, your passport must also have at least 6-month validity.)
  • A return or onward ticket.
  • Proof of accommodation (hotel reservation).
  • Funds of at least USD 50 per day of your stay in Turkey.
  • Valid supporting visa

If you’re not holding a valid visa from any of the mentioned countries , you will have to apply for a physical sticker visa at the Turkish Embassy or consulate in your area. The application starts by filling out this form: Turkey Visa Application Form .

istanbul travel guide blog

How to Get to Istanbul

Istanbul is served by two airports: Istanbul Atatürk Airport in the European side and Sabiha Gökçen Airport in the Asian-Anatolian side. More flights fly in and out of Ataturk, as it is considered the city’s main gateway. It’s also much closer to the city center than Sabiha Gökçen.

If you’re traveling from outside Europe, there’s a big chance that the cheapest direct flights to Istanbul from your area are offered by Turkish Airlines , the country’s flag carrier. Turkish Airlines is connected to 120 countries, more than any other airline in the world.

  • From Manila , the cheapest nonstop flights are offered by Philippine Airlines (but this particular flight is also operated by Turkish Airlines). Regular year-round fares are at USD940 (PHP 48,000). It can still drop when there is a sale or promo. Qatar Airways also offers competitive rates at USD920 (PHP 47,000) but it has one stop in Doha, Qatar.
  • From Singapore , the cheapest option is to fly to Athens with Scoot and then transfer to Turkish Airlines to Istanbul. Combined fares are just at USD 580 (SGD 790). However, because you will be switching airlines in Greece, which is part of the Schengen area, there might be a need to get a Schengen visa, unless you’re holding a Singapore passport. Turkish Airlines offer the cheapest nonstop flights at USD 700 (SGD 950). Emirates and Qatar are also great choices at around USD 630 (SGD 860) with a stop in Dubai and Doha respectively.
  • From Jakarta , the best non-stop flight is offered by Garuda (operated by Turkish Airlines) at USD 1266. But the cheapest option is from Saudia at USD 850, but it involves a stop in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
  • From Hong Kong , the cheapest flights are offered by Aeroflot (with a stop in Moscow) at USD 515 (HKD 4020). But the best direct flights are with Turkish Airlines at USD 970 (HKD 7600).

If you want to be notified when there are cheaper flights to Istanbul, download the Traveloka app and set up the PRICE ALERT for Istanbul. The app will let you know when there is a sale or flights that fall within your preferred price range.

Download the app here

How to get from ataturk airport to istanbul city center.

Ataturk Airport is located 30-40 minutes from Istanbul’s city center, but like many big cities, traffic jams are common, so the journey can be longer. To get to the city center, you may take a cab, the bus, or the metro/subway.

  • By taxi . You’ll find the taxi queue right outside the Arrivals area. It’s the costliest option. The fare to Taksim is between 50-55 TL. To Sultanahmet, 65-70 TL. But if you’re a group of 4, this isn’t bad at all. Just be wary of taxi scams, which I will be discussing more of below.
  • By HAVABÜS (formerly called Havatas Bus). This is the Airport Shuttle Service, and one bus leaves the airport for Taksim Square every 30 minutes from 4am until 1am. Fare: 11TL. The bus terminates at Taksim Square. If your hotel is in Sultanahmet, you may take a cab to Sultanahmet, which should cost an additional 12 TL. Or you can walk and take the F1 Taksim-Kabataş funicular, then the T1 Kabataş-Bağcılar tram to Sultanahmet Station.
  • By Metro/Subway + Tram . From the Arrivals area, follow the signs to the metro station and take the M1A Yenikapı – Atatürk Airport Line . It’s operational from 6am to 12midnight. However, if your hotel is in Sultanahmet or Taksim area, you will have to switch to the tram/funicular line at Zeytinburnu or Aksaray station. (Check out the map below.) This option is great if you’re not carrying big bags. Otherwise, it can quite the hassle since it can get crowded at certain times and confusing at first.

During our visit, we used Uber a lot because we were a group so we would just split the cost. It ended up cheap and convenient. But that was before the service was banned by Turkish authorities late last year. I’m not sure if it’s operational now or if any of the alternatives are as reliable.

How to Get from Sabiha Gökçen Airport to Istanbul City Center

The Sabiha Gökçen Airport is located much farther into the Asian side. The journey can take up around 90 minutes.

  • By Taxi . Just because of the sheer distance, taxi rides are expensive. Fare can be as high as 115 TL to Taksim or 125-130 TL to Sultanahmet.
  • By HAVABÜS (Havataş Bus) . Operates from 4am to 1am. Fare to Taksim Square: 14 TL.

If your hotel is in Sultanahmet, you can take the HAVABÜS to Taksim and take a cab to Sultanahmet, which should cost an additional 12 TL. There is a cheaper way (metro/tram/ferry), but because you’re probably carrying heavy bags and you’re unfamiliar with the city yet, I suggest taking the cab.

Where to Stay in Istanbul

Before you pick a hotel or hostel, it is imperative that you know the city’s geography so you know you’re in the right area. Istanbul’s layout is interesting and unique, to say the least. The city straddles two continents. The Bosphorus Strait, connecting the Black Sea to the north and the Sea of Marmara to the south, cuts the city in half: one half in Europe, another in Asia. The European side is also almost divided by a major inlet called the Golden Horn. Confused? Here’s how it looks.

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Istanbul has a total of 39 districts. But for tourism purposes, let’s just focus on four key areas.

  • Asian side . Mostly residential. Because of the high cost of rent on the European side of the Bosphorus, many locals choose to stay here. While it is always a great idea to pay a visit, I do not recommend staying here to tourists because most places of interest are on the European half.
  • Sultanahmet . Often referred to as Old City, this is in a district called Fatih, south of the Golden Horn. Many of the city’s iconic structures and landmarks are here: Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and the Grand Bazaar, among others. There are a number of hotels and hostels here.
  • Beyoğlu (Galata) . Opposite Fatih, on the other side of the Golden Horn, is the district of Beyoğlu. Like Sultanahmet, it harbors many of the city’s tourist attractions including Taksim Square, İstiklal Caddesi, and the Galata Tower, dominating the area’s skyline. This area has the greatest concentration of accommodations.
  • New Istanbul and the Bosphorus . Further north are four more districts: Beşiktaş, Kağıthane, Şişli, and Sarıyer. This is where Istanbul gets modern and a little bit artsy. At the center of it is the city’s central business district, surrounded by some pretty bohemian neighborhoods. Although a bit far from the key attractions, there are several hotels and hostels scattered across the area.

Where to stay depends on your itinerary. If you’re planning to spend more time in the city’s historic core, then book a place in Fatih (Sultanahmet). If you dig the busyness of Galata, go for Beyoğlu. Or if you want a more modern vibe, stay in the New City.

But personally, if I return to Istanbul, I will definitely stay in the Sultanahmet area.

Best Budget Hotels in Istanbul

Sultanahmet Suites – Apartments is the top property according to reviews and ratings by online users. The apartments are located in Sultanahmet area, where most key tourist spots stand. There are single rooms, double rooms, and suites. Rooms are equipped with free wifi, private bathroom, air-conditioning, TV, kitchen amenities, and daily housekeeping.

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Check Rates & Availability

Other Top Budget Hotels in Istanbul :

Hotel La Villa Special Class . Check Rates & Availability . Istanbul Hotel Nomade . Check Rates & Availability . Star Holiday Hotel . Check Rates & Availability .

Best Istanbul Hostels

Antique Hostel & Guesthouse is the best-reviewed hostel in Traveloka, as scored by users. Backpackers can stay at their 4-bed or 6-bed dorms. Also available: single rooms, double rooms, twin rooms, and triple rooms, all with private bathrooms. Each booking comes with free wifi and free local calls.

istanbul travel guide blog

Other Top Hostels in Istanbul :

Sultan Hostel & Guesthouse . Check Rates & Availability . Taksim Green House Hostel . Check Rates & Availability . Cheers Hostel . Check Rates & Availability .

Photos above were provided by the resorts via Agoda.

Search for more: Istanbul Hotels

How to get around istanbul.

Traveling in a foreign city as big as Istanbul can be quite overwhelming at first. Traffic jams are increasingly becoming a problem. The city’s roads accommodate over 3 million private cars, on top of 17,000 taxis and 5000 buses. But it is easy to commute in Istanbul when you get the hang of it. You just need to be mindful.

Taking a cab is a good choice in many situations, especially in trying to reach places that are far from any metro or tram station. However, it comes with many disadvantages. First, it is much more expensive. Second, taxi-related scams are rampant in the city. You need to be aware with every modus operandi that they try to pull so you won’t fall victim to one (like we did, LOL). Here are some of them:

  • Not using the meter . Always insist on using the meter.
  • Using tampered meter . The cab we hired from Eminonu used a meter that moved a lot more quickly than usual. A cab ride from Sultanahmet to Beşiktaş should be just around 20 TL (at the time). Ours made it past 100 TL.
  • Charging night rates . There used to be higher rates for night travel, but that has been abolished.
  • Not giving exact change .
  • Taking a long detour . We were surprised that the taxi driver took the long way to get to our hotel in Beşiktaş. It was already our third day in the city and we were already familiar with the area. He used terrible traffic as an excuse. He then took us around, taking unnecessary turns.
  • Switching money . Some drivers would switch your bills when it’s time to pay. When you give him a 50TL note, he would claim that you had given him a 5TL note. They do it so fast you won’t even notice. Don’t fall for this.

To avoid any of this, do the following:

  • Always insist on using the meter.
  • Pretend you’ve been in Istanbul for quite a while. Scammers usually ask how long you have been in town.
  • If you’re coming from your hotel, ask the staff to get a cab for you.
  • Make sure you pay in smaller bills or coins.
  • When paying, double check your bills and say the amount per bill out loud when handing them to the driver.
  • Be familiar with the usual fares. How much is the taxi fare from Sultanahmet to other parts of Istanbul? Here: From Sultanahmet to Beşiktaş: 25TL From Sultanahmet to Galata Tower: not exceeding 20TL From Sultanahmet to Taksim Square: not exceeding 20TL From Sultanahmet to Atatürk Airport: 50-55 TL From Sultanahmet to Sahiba Gökçen Airport: 125-130TL

By Metro, Tram, Funicular, Ferry

I found taking the metro and tram in Istanbul to be a delightful experience. Except in rush hour, they are comfortable and not crowded. Istanbul’s rail network isn’t as intricate or complicated as, say, Tokyo or Seoul or Paris. It’s also easy to get used to. Here’s the city’s network map. Click on the image to enlarge:

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You also don’t need to memorize fare matrices. For example, Metro Istanbul charges a flat 5TL fare for every token or single-use ticket, regardless of your destination within their line.

But if you feel like you’ll be taking public transportation a lot, get an Istanbul Kart , an all around RFID card that you can use on the metro, buses, trams, funiculars, and more. This will give you significant discounts, almost 50%.

For example, as mentioned, the flat metro fare is 5TL but if you use Istanbul Kart, it is only 2.6TL . The transfer fares are even lower, only 1.85TL on the first transfer, 1.4TL on the second, and 0.9TL on succeeding transfers.

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  • How much is the Istanbul Kart? The card costs 10TL which already has a 4TL load (so the card itself is only 6TL).
  • Where can I buy Istanbul Kart? You’ll find card automated card machines at almost every metro, tram, ferry or metrobus station in the city. At the Ataturk airport, just go to the metro station and you’ll find ’em there.
  • Where can I use it? You can use it for your ride on any of the following: bus, metro, tram, funicular, teleferic, metrobus, HAVABUS, tunnel, double decker express, IDO ferry (IDO-IST, IDO-ADA1, IDO-ADA2), TURYOL Bosphorus Cruise, Dentur Bosphorus Cruise, Şehir Hatları ferry (ŞH-İST, ŞH-ADA), and TCDD trains.
  • How do I use it? Just hover the card on top of the reader upon entering the station.
  • How much should you load? Depends on your itinerary. But an initial 20TL should be okay. Just top up when necessary.

Places to Visit in Istanbul

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Sultanahmet Area

This neighborhood in Istanbul’s Fatih district is home to many of the city’s key historic structures including the following:

  • Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) . Istanbul’s most iconic structure, which is also a microcosm of the city. It was initially an Orthodox Christian cathedral from 537-1204, 1261-1453, under the Byzantine Empire; then converted into a Roman Catholic cathedral from 1204-1261, under the Latin Empire,; then made over into an imperial mosque during and after the Ottoman Empire (1453-1931). Today, it houses a museum (Ayasofya Müzesi). Entrance fee is 30TL. But you can also book a guided tour which includes the entrance pass, skip-the-line privilege, and an English speaking guide for only USD15. Opening hours: 15 April-25 October 09:00-19:00; 25 October-15 April 09:00- 17:00
  • Blue Mosque, (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) . This is a functioning mosque, which means that it closes during prayer time 5x a day. It is open at these times: 08:30am, 01:00pm, and 03:30pm. Admission Fee : FREE
  • Hippodrome of Constantinople (Sultanahmet Square) , where you can find the Obelisk of Thutmose III, the German Fountain, the Walled Obelisk, and the Serpent Column. Opening hours: All day Entrance fee: FREE
  • Basilica Cistern (Sunken Palace) . Opening hours: mid-April to September 9am-6:30pm; November to mid-April 9am-5:30pm Entrance fee: 10 TL
  • Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı) . One of the world’s oldest covered markets, which houses 61 streets and 3000 shops selling a wide array of products. Its construction began in 1455 right after the Ottomans had taken over the city. Nearest tram station: Beyazıt-Kapalıçarşı Entrance fee: FREE Opening hours: Mondays-Saturdays 08:30am-7pm
  • Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts Opening Hours: Mon-Sun, 9am-7pm (summer); 9am-5pm (winter) Entrance Fee: 25TL

To get to any of these sites, you can take the tram to Sultanahmet Station. You can visit all these on foot in one day.

We actually created a walking trail that will make a stop at all these, with more details and tips per site, including what to wear, what time to visit, and specific directions. Read: Sultanahmet DIY Walking Trail

However, you will appreciate these sites better if you join a guided tour , for a better understanding of their historical and cultural significance. Most 1-day walking tours in Istanbul focus on the Sultanahmet area and include a visit to most of the sites above. (Basilica Cistern and the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum are usually skipped.)

So yeah, if you can spend more on a guide, do so. Klook has a lot of options that include an English-speaking guide and hotel pick-up and drop-off.

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Topkapi Palace

Opening hours: October 26-April 15 9am-4:45pm; April 15 – October 26 9am – 6:45pm Entrance fee: 30 TL

From Hagia Sophia, there will be signs that will lead you to Topkapi Palace, one of the residences of the sultans during the Ottoman rule. Sultan Mehmed II, who took control of the city from the Byzantine, ordered its construction in 1459. Today, it is a vast museum complex, which may take quite some time if you want to explore most of it. Some of the most treasured artifacts inside are the cloak and sword of Muhammed, among other relics considered holy in Islam.

The most intriguing part of the palace for me was the Harem, a 400-room building which sheltered the sultan’s mother (the Valide Sultan or Queen Mother), the sultan’s wives and concubines, and the rest of his family.

This is also part of the Sultanahmet Area, but you might want to spend more time here. It’s one of those attractions that are better appreciated with a guide.

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Watch a Whirling Dervishes Ceremony

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See the mesmerizing Mevlevei Sema ceremony which features the whirling dervishes and learn more about their spiritual journey. This 800-year old dance is presented at HodjaPasha Culture Center, which is a restored 550-year-old Ottoman Turkish bath. The show lasts 30 mins to an hour.

Tickets here are always likely to sell out so book in advance online. Each booking comes with the ticket, a complimentary drink, and a program booklet.

Address : Hocapaşa Culture Center, Ankara Caddesi, Hocapaşa Hamam Sok No: 3.B Nearest Tram Station : Sirkeci Tram Stop


Bosphorus Cruise

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One of the most refreshing ways of enjoying Istanbul is by taking a boat cruise and seeing it from the Bosphorus. It’s a must for first-time visitors. To do it from Sultanahmet, you can walk or take the tram to Eminonu. From here, you need to hop onto a boat. You’ll be presented with a lot of options. Many will approach you and offer a seat on their boat even as you walk along the water. But ignore most of them. They’re waaaay overpriced.

The most reputable affordable cruises are by Sehir Hatları, which offers three types: Full Bosphorus Cruise, Short Circle Cruise, and Sunset/Moonlight Cruise.

  • Full Bosphorus Cruise . The whole shebang. This will take you from Eminonu all the way to Anadolu Kavağı, just on the edge of the Black Sea, revealing incredible sights along the way. The full roundtrip journey lasts around 6 hours. Roundtrip Fare: 25TL, adult; 12.5TL, kids under 12 One-way Fare: 15TL, adult; 6TL for kids Sailing Schedule: Check here
  • Short Circle Cruise . This will ferry you from Eminonu up to Istinye area, in the mid-part of the Bosphorus. Travel time is around 2 hours. Fare: 12TL, adult; 6TL children Sailing Schedule: Check here
  • Sunset/Moonlight Cruise . Not available year-round. Usually operational only during summer months (July/August). If you can, choose this one. This is basically the same as the Full Bosphorus Cruise, but the difference is in the timing. The boat leaves Eminonu before sunset, allowing you to see Istanbul bask in the golden light on the way north, but the cruise returns in the evening. You get to experience the Bosphorus in the day, during sunset, and at night! Fare: 20TL

Klook also offers a guided afternoon tour which also includes a cable car ride up to the Pierre Loti Coffee House for wonderful panoramic views.

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Traditional Turkish Bath (Hamam)

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Istanbul is famous for its traditional turkish bath called hamam. It involves scrubbing or peeling, washing, or soap massage. You’ll find several hamam places throughout the city, and they can either be self-service or traditional style, which involves an attendant. Self-service is cheaper, of course, but it’s not recommended for first-timers since they are unfamiliar with the process.

A 60-90 minute hamam usually costs around 100TL, but in the older, more well-known establishments, it can go as much as 180 TL (40 euro). You don’t need to bring anything because they will provide all toiletries, slippers, and wraps. Other more upscale places offer bath + massage packages that can cost 80 euro or higher.

GetYourGuide offers two hamam options. One of them is at the Çemberlitas Bath, an institution built in 1584. It’s located on Divanyolu Street, at the heart of Sultanahmet. Their traditional bath option involves a 15-minute soap massage. The shampoo, soap, and towel will be provided.


Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı)

Also called Egyptian Bazaar or Egyptian Market because it was built in the 1600s using Ottoman’s earnings in Egypt. It houses 80 shops selling spices, cheeses, and other products, but it’s most popular among tourists for Turkish delight (locally called lokum ), a delicacy made of starch and sugar.

Turkish Delights

Nearest tram station : Eminönü Entrance fee : FREE Opening hours : Mon-Sat 8am-6pm, Sun 8am-7pm

Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi)

A medieval Romanesque-style stone tower built in 1348. It allows a wonderful, not-to-be-missed 360-degree view of Istanbul. From here, you can see the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and Hagia Sophia, and witness the city transform into a blanket of lights at nightfall.

View of Galata Tower from Topkapi Palace

Nearest station : Karaköy Admission Fee : 25 TL Opening hours : 9am-8pm

Other Istanbul Tourist Spots:

  • Taksim Square , the city’s central park which is surrounded by notable restaurants, hotels, and shops. Nearest Station: Taksim
  • Dolmabahçe Palace , center of government of Ottoman Empire Istanbul from 1856 to 1887 and 1909 to 1922. Today it can be explored only via guided tour. Nearest Tram Station: Kabatas (+ 10-minute walk) Operating hours: Fri-Sun, Tue, Wed, 9am-4pm Entrance Fee: 30TL Guided Tour: Reserve a Slot Here
  • Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue) , a 1.4km pedestrian street flanked by shops, boutiques, art galleries, cafes, and food spots. Popular among tourists.
  • Chora Church (Kariye Museum) to see their mosaics. Nearest Station: Edirnekapi Operating Hours: Thursday-Tuesday, 9am-4:30pm Entrance Fee: 15TL
  • Museum of Turkish Calligraphy Art (Calligraphy Museum) Nearest tram station: Beyazıt-Kapalıçarşı Operating Hours: Tues-Saturday 9-4pm
  • Panorama 1453 History Museum , a historical gallery that depicts the fall of Constantinople after the conquest by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II. Nearest Station: Topkapi Operating hours: Daily 8am-5pm Entrance Fee: 5TL
  • Kizkulesi (Maiden’s Tower) is a tower at the entrance of the Bosphorus Strait, built in the 5th century BC by AAthenian general Alcibiades. It’s also called Maiden’s Tower because of a legend about a Byzantine emperor’s daughter who was destined, according to the prophecy, to die by snake bite. The emperor had the tower built to protect the princess, but a snake was able to get to her regardless.

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Sample Istanbul Itinerary & Breakdown of Expenses

Istanbul is one of the cheaper cities in Europe. You won’t need to pawn your house if you know your way around. The sample 3D/3N itinerary below focuses mostly on the historic core, but if you have more days, you can also explore the more modern side of this glorious city.

This itinerary assumes the following:

  • You are a group of two and that you are splitting the expenses .
  • You are staying in a double/twin room at a budget hotel in the Sultanahmet area so key attractions will be within walking distance, therefore saving on transportation. In this itinerary, I’m using Sultanahmet Suites, which has double rooms for less than USD22 per night. So that’s USD11 per person per night.
  • Your food allowance is 25TL per meal . Trust me, that’s a big overestimate. You can find a good doner kebab or a meal for less than 15TL, but it is better to go over than under when it comes to budget. You can be flexible with this. You may splurge and spend more than 25TL but make sure you make up for it by limiting your budget for the next meal. We also usually skip breakfast and just eat brunch/early lunch, but if you can find a hotel/hostel that serves free breakfast, that would be ideal.
  • You will be using an Istanbul Kart (as explained above).

As always, feel free to make changes to this itinerary to match your flight schedule and your personal preferences.

Pre-trip expenses Hotel booking – $33 ($22 x 3 nights divided by 2pax)

Day 1: ARRIVAL + SULTANAHMET 06:25am – Arrival at Ataturk Airport 07:30am – Take Havabus to Taksim Square, 11TL 08:20am – Taxi to Hotel, 6TL (12TL/2pax) 09:00am – Hotel check-in or baggage drop 09:30am – Get Istanbul Kart, 10TL + 20TL topup 09:50am – Topkapi Palace, 30TL 11:45am – Grab quick lunch, 25TL 12:45nn – Hagia Sophia, 30TL 02:15pm – Basilica Cistern, 10TL 03:00pm – Blue Mosque, FREE 04:00pm – Hippodrome, FREE 05:00pm – Grand Bazaar 07:00pm – Whirling Dervishes Show, 85TL 08:30pm – Dinner, 25TL 10:00pm – Back at hotel

Day 2: TAKSIM SQUARE & BEYOGLU 07:30am – Wake up 10:00am – Taksim Square 11:30am – Lunch, 25TL 01:00pm – İstiklal Caddesi 03:00pm – Dolmabahçe Palace, 30TL 05:00pm – Galata Tower sunset view, 25TL 08:00pm – Dinner, 25TL 09:30pm – Back to Hotel

Day 3: BOSPHORUS CRUISE 07:00am – Wake up 08:00am – Early hotel check out, leave bags 09:30am – Tram to Eminonu 10:35am – Start Şehir Hatları Full Bosphorus Cruise, 25TL 12:30pm – Lunch, 25TL 03:00pm – Continue cruise back to Eminonu 03:30pm – Spice Bazaar, Budget: 30TL 05:00pm – FREE TIME 07:00pm – Dinner, 25TL 09:00pm – Pick up bags at hotel 09:30pm – Taxi to Taksim, 6TL (12TL/2pax) 10:00pm – Havabus to Ataturk Airport, 11TL 11:00pm – Check in at Airport 02:35am – Flight out

This itinerary will set you back 670TL (USD 173, EUR 150, PHP 8900) excluding the airfare and visa fees.

You can still reduce cost by limiting your food expenses to 15-20 TL per meal or skipping the whirling dervishes show. If you do that, the total cost is down to 550 TL (USD 142, EUR 123, PHP 7300) .

Other Tips for the Poor Traveler

  • Get a 5-Day Museum Pass if you’re visiting numerous museums . The pass costs 85TL. It’s a good deal if, in addition to Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace, you plan on going to any of the following: Chora Museum, Fethiye Museum, Galata Mevlevi House Museum, İstanbul Archaeological Museums, İstanbul Mosaic Museum, Museum for the History of Science and Technology in Islam, Museum of Turkish and İslamic Arts, Rumeli Hisar Museum, and Yıldız Palace. Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace alone cost 30TL each, so museum rats will be able to save a lot with this pass.
  • Tipping is expected at restaurants and bars . Common practice is to 10% of the bill at upscale restaurants or 5% at cheaper ones. When riding taxis, no need to tip unless the driver helped you with your luggage. Locals usually just round off the fares.
  • Beware of scams . Aside from the taxi scams we mentioned above, there are a few more that you must be aware of. Some of these happen at restaurants and at key tourist sites. To explain it further, we have a separate post just for it. Read: Istanbul Scams

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Safe naman mag travel mag-isa sa Istanbul?

Yosh Dimen

Yep! Just beware of scams :)


Planning to go in April!post really helpful saving the link for future use

No prob! Enjoy Istanbul!


I got some points through your blog. Thank you very much


Hi. How can i stay connected to the internet when travelling to istanbul? Do i have to get a special simcard when i get there …etc? Thanks!


Im so grateful to see your site! It is so helpful in my travel plans. i will be going in December!


Sobrang comprehensive ng post na ito. Can’t wait for my first solo travel in Istanbul! (Claiming it. Yahu.)

Thanks, Cez! Yasss, claim it! :D


i have an approved e visa and us visa as my supporting docs. Do I need travel insurance? And what other supporting document do i need to provide upon arrival? Im travelling alone this November and its my first time in Europe. Need your assistance please

In our case, we weren’t required to submit insurance. Not sure if that’s still the case now.

Supporting documents are listed here: https://www.thepoortraveler.net/2017/11/turkish-visa-requirements-philippines/

Eric Wilson

No Doubt you write very well very informative everyone have keen interest in it. Istanbul is the most dashing destination where we can do almost everything. Thanks for the info

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Istanbul Travel Blog

An Insider's Guide to Istanbul

12 Best Places to Stay in Istanbul [Updated 2024]

17 December 2023 by Serhat Engul

You may be confused when you check the map to find the best places to stay in Istanbul . Because there are various accommodation options all over Istanbul. While luxury hotels and convention centers attract attention in some parts of Istanbul, there are budget-friendly boutique hotels in other places.

When considering where to stay in Istanbul , the first places that come to mind are; Beyoglu, Besiktas, Sultanahmet (Old City) and Kadikoy. In this article, we will cover these districts that host Istanbul’s tourist attractions.

Table of Contents

Best Places to Stay in Istanbul 2024

Best Places to Stay in Istanbul Map

Our article about best places to stay in Istanbul consists of 4 popular districts. However, I have reserved 12 titles to introduce the four big districts because some spots need to be focused on specifically.

For example, Karakoy, Galata, Cihangir and Taksim Square are the districts of Beyoglu and each of them should be focused on. Likewise, we will go into details for the districts of Fatih (Old City) such as Beyazit, Sultanahmet and Sirkeci.

Hotels to stay in Istanbul are divided into several categories. We will be listing the luxury hotels with Bosphorus view under the title of Besiktas . For boutique hotels close to historical monuments, you can look under the title of Old City . We will list 4 and 5 star centrally located hotels under the title of Beyoglu .

As a tour guide in Istanbul for 15 years, I have picked up my clients from most hotels I listed. In this way, I had the chance to get to know the hotels. I tried to use this experience to explain the best area to stay in Istanbul.

Staying in Taksim Area

Beyoglu is a district located at the crossroads of the city. It is possible to reach business and shopping areas such as Sisli, Mecidiyekoy and Levent from Taksim Square , the heart of Beyoglu. On the other hand, the most popular walking street of the city, Istiklal Street , is also located in Beyoglu.

There are historical artifacts in Beyoglu, such as the Galata Tower , dating back to the Byzantine period. Beyoglu district extends to the seaside through Karakoy and connects to the Historical Peninsula via Galata Bridge.

Located in the middle of the city’s most important touristic centers, Beyoglu is a place preferred by local and foreign tourists for accommodation. There are many 4 and 5 star hotels in and around Taksim Square.

The Marmara Hotel

The Marmara Hotel located in Taksim Square is among the places to stay in Beyoglu. The Marmara, one of the most popular 5-star hotels in the city, has become the symbol of Taksim. However, this is not the only hotel belonging to The Marmara Group in Beyoglu. There is also “The Marmara Pera” on Mesrutiyet Street .

Popular Restaurants

Speaking of The Marmara Pera Hotel, we should not miss Mikla, one of the best restaurants in Istanbul . Because Mikla, together with 360 Istanbul and Leb-i Derya, is one of the popular restaurants of Beyoglu. In this sense, we can say that Beyoglu district appeals to those who are fond of their taste buds.

Neighborhoods of Beyoglu

In the following few headings of the article, we will continue to review Beyoglu, one of the largest districts of Istanbul. The titles of Taksim Square, Cihangir, Pera, Galata and Karakoy actually cover the neighborhoods of Beyoglu district .

However, since each has its own atmosphere and accommodation style, it would be appropriate to examine these neighborhoods under separate headings. So let’s start digging deeper with Taksim Square.

2. Taksim Square

Best Area to Stay in Istanbul for Shopping

Taksim Square is one of the most central places to stay in Istanbul. The priority of the tourists visiting Istanbul is to easily reach the shopping areas and historical monuments. In this sense, we can say that the hotels around Taksim Square are perfect.

Best Places to Stay in Taksim

There are dozens of 4 and 5 star hotels in areas such as Lamartin Street, Siraselviler Street and Istiklal Street surrounding Taksim Square. The Marmara Hotel, Divan Hotel and Point Hotel are among the best places to stay in Taksim .

If you like high, scenic and luxurious hotels; Taksim Square is the best neighborhood to stay in Istanbul. However, if you prefer small boutique hotels, we will talk about them in Cihangir title below.

Taksim Square is the best area to stay in Istanbul for shopping in 2024. You can easily reach Istanbul’s shopping centers and streets from Taksim Square.

3. Cihangir

Cihangir became famous as a district where writers, directors and musicians lived for many years. Although the Moda neighborhood of Kadikoy has recently come to the fore in this regard, Cihangir is still popular.

There are many boutique hotels that emerged from the restoration of old apartments in Cihangir. Each of these hotels, adorned with a very stylish concept, has its own unique atmosphere. If you are someone who does not like 5-star hotels and is looking for a friendly atmosphere, you can take a look at the hotels of this district.

One of the places I can recommend for those who want to stay in Cihangir is Witt Hotel . This hotel, which has a very original decoration, is within walking distance of both Taksim Square and Karakoy.

Cihangir is also a district identified with the name of Nobel laureate writer Orhan Pamuk. The Museum of Innocence , an award-winning museum inspired by the author’s novel, is also located here.

If you stay in Cihangir, you will be close to many places for dinner and nightlife. With these features, Cihangir is the best area to stay in Istanbul for couples .

Pera was Istanbul’s fastest growing district in the last century of the Ottoman Empire. Today, the buildings on Mesrutiyet Street still carry the name “Pera”.

Beyoglu was more commonly known as Pera during the Ottoman period. The consulate buildings and hotels such as Pera Palace , which were opened here in the 1800s, changed the face of the district.

Orient Express

Passengers of the Orient Express departing from Paris and arriving at Sirkeci Train Station in Istanbul would also stay in Pera. At that time, Beyoglu’s heart was beating not in Taksim Square, but in Mesrutiyet Street and its surrounding.

Mesrutiyet Street

If you start walking on Mesrutiyet Street from the British Consulate, you can still trace that nostalgic period. On the way, you will see luxury hotels such as Rixos Pera, Pera Palace and Soho House. In addition, Pera Museum is also located on this street.

Bearing the traces of the past, Pera stands out among the best places to stay in Istanbul. Because it is very easy to reach Istiklal Street, which is parallel to Mesrutiyet Street. In addition, Asmali Mescit Alley, which connects the two streets, has great eating and drinking options and local taverns.

Galata is one of Beyoglu’s coolest neighborhoods. It is possible to rent beautiful flats with AirBNB in Galata, which has become increasingly popular in recent years.

Galata district, which consists of streets surrounding the Galata Tower, offers good opportunities to tourists. For example, Nardis Jazz Club, one of the best nightclubs in Istanbul , is located here. In addition, Sensus Wine Boutique, one of the best wine houses in the city, also serves here.

Shopping Streets

Serdar-i Ekrem Street and Galip Dede Street around Galata Tower stand out among the best shopping streets in Istanbul. Because in these streets, various gift shops, art galleries and boutique hotels have opened in recent years.

Best Places to Stay in Galata

Galata Anemon, Bankerhan Hotel and Manesol Galata are among the best places to stay in Galata . If you stay in one of these hotels, you will be staying just walking distance to Galata Tower.

Karakoy has become the fastest growing district in Istanbul in recent years. Because Karakoy serves as a bridge between the Historical Peninsula and Beyoglu. Moreover, Karakoy also hosts Istanbul Cruise Port (Galataport).

It is possible to reach many touristic spots of Istanbul from Karakoy in a very short time. For example, you can walk to the Istanbul Modern Art Museum . In addition, Dolmabahce Palace is very close too.

Galata Bridge

From Karakoy, you can go to Galata Tower and Istiklal Street, or to the Historical Peninsula in the opposite direction. As you cross the Galata Bridge , you find yourself in Old City and right next to the Spice Bazaar . Of course, from this point on, it is very easy to go to the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet.

It is also possible to have fun and shop without leaving Karakoy. You can shop for clothing at the outlet stores in Karakoy. It is possible to find brands such as North Face, Columbia and Jack Wolfskin at discounted prices.

Restaurants with Bosphorus View

It is also possible to have a dinner overlooking the Golden Horn and Bosphorus in Karakoy. Because restaurants with Bosphorus view such as Murver and Mukellef are located here. The restaurants in Galataport also offer delicious food and an equally beautiful view.

Best Places to Stay in Karakoy

10 Karakoy Istanbul, The House Hotel Karakoy and Novotel are the best places to stay in Karakoy . All three of these hotels are very close to the historical monuments, restaurants and shopping areas I have mentioned above.

With all these features, Karakoy stands out as the best area to stay in Istanbul for tourists . With Galataport coming into service at full capacity, it seems that the food and accommodation options in the district will increase.

7. Istanbul Old City (Fatih)

Istanbul Old City (aka Fatih) carries traces of Istanbul’s Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods. For this reason, the most visited historical artifacts and museums of Istanbul are located here.

The Historical Peninsula, known as “Fatih” in the local language, offers rich options for local food and cheap shopping. Because there are traditional shopping places such as the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar, as well as nice shopping malls of Istanbul such as Historia and Olivium.

Turkish Street Food

The Historical Peninsula stands out especially as it represents the Turkish street food in Istanbul. Street food tours, which have become very popular with tourists in recent years, focus on local restaurants in Eminonu (near Spice Bazaar).

Neighborhoods of Old City

We will continue to talk about accommodation options in Istanbul Old City, also known as Historical Peninsula or Fatih, in the following three titles: Sirkeci, Sultanahmet and Beyazit.

Sirkeci (and Eminonu) has a very special place in Istanbul’s history. In the 19th century, Orient Express , which traveled between Paris and Istanbul, used to come to Sirkeci Railway Station . Wealthy tourists from Europe contributed to the development of the neighborhood.

Local Restaurants

Sirkeci, a popular destination for both local and foreign tourists, has Istanbul’s best dessert shops and centuries-old local restaurants . You can also find the best kokorec and doner shops in Istanbul in the back streets of Eminonu.

Sirkeci is in a position that connects the seaside of the Old City (Eminonu) and the Sultanahmet districts. Therefore, it is crowded during the day. In addition, most of the people coming from the Asian Side with Marmaray get off in Sirkeci.

With all these features, Eminonu on the seafront surrounding Spice Bazaar and Sirkeci, a large square in the district, are the best area to stay in Istanbul Old City. These districts are in a better position than Sultanahmet with their proximity to restaurants and public transportation vehicles.

Best Places to Stay in Sirkeci

Sirkeci Konak, Neorion and Yasmak Sultan stand out among the best places to stay in Sirkeci . The best option for luxury accommodation is the Legacy Ottoman Hotel in Eminonu. This historical building is my favorite as an insider.

9. Sultanahmet

Sultanahmet , along with Taksim Square, is the most popular area to stay in Istanbul. Of course, the biggest reason for this is that Istanbul’s most important historical monuments are located here.

In the Sultanahmet district, it is possible to see the legacy of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires that ruled in Istanbul. City’s most important tourist attractions such as Hagia Sophia , Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace are located here.

Ottoman Palace Cuisine

There are also restaurants in Sultanahmet that represent traditional Turkish cuisine very well. Of course, the most famous of these for locals is Sultanahmet Koftecisi. However, in addition to this, there are two famous places such as Deraliye Restaurant and Matbah Restaurant. In these two restaurants, you can experience the flavors of the Ottoman palace cuisine .

Best Places to Stay in Sultanahmet

Small and stylish boutique hotels are among the best places to stay in Sultanahmet . Amira Hotel, Sura Hotel, Empress Zoe Hotel and Levni Hotel stand out among the most popular hotels of recent years. Those who want luxury accommodation can choose the Four Seasons Hotel.

Sultanahmet is the best area to stay in Istanbul for sightseeing in 2024. In addition, its being closed to traffic and being a safe neighborhood makes it the most suitable place for first time visitors.

10. Beyazit

Beyazit (and Laleli) attract attention with their hotels with large family suites. There are generally small boutique hotels in districts of the Historic Peninsula such as Sirkeci and Sultanahmet. However, if you want to stay close to Sultanahmet and still have large rooms like in Beyoglu and Besiktas, you can choose hotels in Beyazit and Laleli neighborhoods.

Grand Bazaar

Located in Beyazit, the Grand Bazaar is the district’s most important tourist attraction. Covering 67 streets and more than 3000 shops, the Grand Bazaar is a paradise for those who love shopping. You can also shop like locals on Mahmutpasa Street next to the Grand Bazaar.

Doner Kebab

There are also small surprises for those who are fond of their taste buds in the district. As an example, we can count Donerci Sahin Usta, one of the best doner kebab restaurants in Istanbul.

Best Places to Stay in Beyazit

DoubleTree by Hilton Istanbul Old Town, Crowne Plaza Istanbul Old City and Holiday Inn Istanbul Old City are the best places to stay in Beyazit . These hotels have large rooms and are the best places to stay in Istanbul with family.

11. Besiktas

Besiktas is the place where the most beautiful hotels on the Bosphorus are located. If you want to watch the unique view of the Bosphorus from your room, you can choose the hotels in Besiktas and Ortakoy.

The beauty of Besiktas did not go unnoticed by the Ottoman sultans. As a result, they built magnificent buildings such as Dolmabahce Palace, Yildiz Palace and Ciragan Palace in this district. Ciragan Palace serves today as a hotel under the Kempinski group.

Best Nightclubs

Besiktas district has everything a tourist visiting Istanbul could look for. Because the city’s best nightclubs are located in Ortakoy. Besiktas is also a place that offers very rich options for eating and drinking. Because Vogue, Nusr-et and Sunset Grill & Bar are located within the borders of this district.

Of course, you don’t have to go to these luxurious restaurants to have a meal in Besiktas. Because there is also a famous doner kebab restaurant like Karadeniz Doner (Asim Usta) in the Besiktas Fish Market. In addition, there are many fish restaurants and taverns.

Best Places to Stay in Besiktas

Shangri-la Bosphorus Istanbul, Conrad Istanbul Bosphorus, Four Seasons Hotel Bosphorus and Ciragan Palace Kempinski are the best places to stay in Besiktas . These hotels I mentioned are also among the most luxurious hotels in Istanbul.

Besiktas is the best area to stay in Istanbul for nightlife in 2024. Because the areas with the best nightclubs in Istanbul such as Sisli, Taksim and Ortakoy are within a few minutes of taxi drive to Besiktas.

12. Kadikoy

Kadikoy stands out as the best area to stay on the Asian Side of Istanbul. Kadikoy, which is spread over a very wide area, is the kind of place that can meet every need of tourists like the previous Besiktas.

For example, Kadikoy Fish Market is one of the indispensable stops of food tours. Because Ciya Restaurant, one of the best Turkish restaurants in Istanbul, is located here. In addition, there are also wonderful places where you can taste traditional delicacies such as kokorec, doner and lahmacun.

Boutique Coffee Shops

Kadikoy also has Istanbul’s best boutique coffee shops (especially in Moda). There is also Asuman, one of the most popular patisseries of recent years. Also, if you want to have a great Turkish breakfast in Istanbul , you can choose Moda Teras in this neighborhood.

Nightlife in Istanbul

Kadikoy has also become the center of nightlife in Istanbul in recent years. Especially around Kadife Sokak, there are bars that represent a wide variety of music genres. There are many options for those who like Rock, Jazz, Blues and House music.

Best Places to Stay in Kadikoy

DoubleTree by Hilton Istanbul Moda and Wyndham Grand Istanbul Kalamis are among the best places to stay in Kadikoy . If you want to have cheap accommodation, you can choose Khalkedon Hotel right next to fish market area.

Kadikoy is one of the most convenient and peaceful districts to live in Istanbul. It is quite safe compared to other places, but despite this, it is a place with a lively nightlife. For this reason, Kadikoy is the best area to stay in Istanbul for solo travelers .

About Serhat Engul

Hello, I'm Serhat Engul. I am a licensed tour guide living in Istanbul. I designed this blog to give general information to visitors to Istanbul. If you want to go on a private guided tour of Istanbul with me, you can check my references from the ABOUT section and write to me via the CONTACT page.

Reader Interactions

3 October 2018 at 14:22

Çok güzel anlatmışsınız . Bizim açımızdan ülkemizi çok başarılı tanıtıyorsunuz. Teşekkür ederim . 🙂

3 October 2018 at 14:33

Teşekkürler Ali Bey. İyi çalışmalar.

28 August 2019 at 15:45

Başarılı bir çalışma olmuş gerçekten. Türkçe bilmeyen ziyaretçiler için rehber niteliğinde diyebilirim.

28 August 2019 at 17:35

Teşekkürler Hakan bey.

3 January 2021 at 18:52

Bu gibi çalışmaları görünce seviyorum. Benimde ülkemizi tanıtma amaçlı böyle bir sosyal sorumluluk projem var. Sizi örnek alacağım. Teşekkürler.

3 January 2021 at 19:42

Merhaba Ali, yorum için teşekkürler ve iyi çalışmalar.

18 March 2021 at 08:42

Yenilerinde Bursa da bekliyoruz Serhat bey 🙂

18 March 2021 at 18:24

Merhaba Taha Bey, zamanla ekleyemeyi düşünüyorum. Teşekkürler. 🙂

5 April 2021 at 05:05

HI Serhat How are you? How is your english. My wife and I are thinking about coming to Turkey from May 14- 25 this year. Flying to Istanbul from San Francisco. Maybe staying in Istanbul for a few day and wanted to know if you might be available. I am an artist with a love for anthropology , art, culture, history/

6 April 2021 at 18:58

Hi Richard, thank you for introducing yourself. It seems that history, culture and travel are our common interests. I hope your trip to Istanbul will be enjoyable. If there is anything I can help with, I will do my best. Greetings, Serhat.

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Istanbul Travel Guide: What to Do and See in Istanbul Turkey

istanbul travel guide blog

Picture of Ibrahim Uzun on Unsplash

General Information About Istanbul

Istanbul (from Turkish, "to listen") is a transcontinental city, located in Europe and Asia between the Sea of ​​Marmara (Propontis) and the Black Sea. It is the most populous city in Turkey and the economic capital of the country. It has more than 15 million inhabitants, which makes it one of the most populous cities in Europe and even in the world.

The city of Istanbul is extremely cosmopolitan. In its streets and buildings, you can see different architectural styles and colors that reflect the mixture of cultures that coexist there. This will lead you to imagine ancient times and multiple places, such as European or Middle Eastern capitals.

Without a doubt, in this place, you will be amazed by the silhouettes of the mosques with their minarets that emerge in all directions, the seagulls crossing the photos, the bustle that emanates from the bazaars, the color of the Turkish delight in the windows, the smell of kebabs, the Valente aqueduct and the cars that pass over its arches and old walls.

Location of Istanbul

Bellow, we show you where Istanbul is located:

Map of Istanbul in  Google Maps

The History of Istanbul

Istanbul has a rich history dating back thousands of years. Originally called Byzantium, the city was founded by the Greek colonist Byzas in the 7th century BC. It later became the capital of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire and was renamed Constantinople.

The city was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1453 and served as the capital of the Ottoman Empire until its fall in 1923. During this time, Istanbul became an important cultural, economic, and political center, with many buildings and some of the most important monuments.

Today, Istanbul is a major city in Turkey and continues to be a cultural and economic center in the region.

Main Istanbul Attractions

The beauty of Istanbul is made up of the geographical features that shape the Bosphorus Strait (also known as the Strait of Istanbul) and the Golden Horn that links bridges and ships.

In this city, we recommend that you visit Hagia Sophia, an old Orthodox basilica converted into a mosque; In front of this building is the Blue Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in Istanbul, characterized by its blue mosaics.

Other Istanbul's major attractions include the Sultanahmet and Süleymaniye Mosques, Topkapi Palace, the Galata Tower, and the Hippodrome of Constantinople, a former sports and social center of the Byzantine Empire.

Greca offers travel and vacation packages to Istanbul from Latin America, the United States, Canada, Singapore, the Philippines, Australia, and many other countries around the world. If you want to know more about our proposals, click here .

Activities To Do in Istanbul

Istanbul offers wonderful attractions and things to do for all types of travelers, be it for those who enjoy a pure adrenaline holiday, those who enjoy relaxing and contemplating the most beautiful landscapes, or the curious, lovers of history and history. culture.

Here we mention some of the most entertaining activities that you can carry out in this wonderful city.

Historic Day in Sultanahmet

For those who are true history enthusiasts and want to see the most iconic, important and significant places in the city, we recommend you to visit and appreciate the Sultanahmet neighborhood.

This is the best way to make the most of the sights, sounds, and scents of this wonderful city. Sultanahmet is home to all of Istanbul's most visited historical and tourist sites such as Sultanahmet Square (Hippodrome), Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Istanbul Archeology Museums, and Turkish Art Museum and Islamic meet here.

Bosphorus Cruise

The Bosphorus Cruise is one of the most popular and fantastic forms of entertainment that you can enjoy during your visit to Istanbul.

Typical Bosphorus cruises start a little east of the famous Galata Bridge and continue to Anadolu Kavagi, which is the entrance of the Bosphorus to the Black Sea, making numerous tourist stops along your adventure.

Istanbul by Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus

The Big Bus Istanbul tour is one of the cheapest ways to explore the popular areas of the city.

This extraordinary double-decker bus offers service to 19 stops and at least 46 attractions (28 landmarks, 15 attractions and 3 shopping venues) on two lines. In turn, it has pre-recorded informative commentary that is available in 8 languages.

Mystic Night at the Whirling Dervishes Show

The spectacle or ceremony of the whirling dervishes (sema, in Turkish) is one of the most visited attractions in Istanbul by tourists. It is because this ceremony is a very unusual event for tourists and when they find out about it, most of them try to watch this one hour spectacle and witness the miracle of whirling dervishes.

Visit the Charming Museums of Istanbulbul

If yours is culture and art, this guide is for you. The best of historical heritage, culture and modern art can be found in this wonderful city that has more than 80 museums and many art galleries exhibiting all culture, art and history; including painting, sculpture, photography and more.

The Istanbul Archeology Museums, the Hagia Sophia Museum, the Topkapi Palace Museum, the Istanbul Modern Museum, the Rahmi Koc Transportation Museum, and the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art are just a few of the places that will leave you breathless. open mouth

Fun Day at Istanbul Theme Parks

The Turkish city offers great theme parks ranging from big attractions to aquariums, dolphinariums, theme museums and more.

Amusement and theme parks are not only places to have fun, but also excellent places for learning and developing your children's imagination. We recommend you to visit Istanbul, Aquarium Sea Life Istanbul and Istanbul LEGOLAND Discovery Center.

Enjoy the Best Views of Istanbul

You will find many excellent places and vantage points from which you can enjoy a panoramic view of Istanbul, from historical places such as towers, mosques and palaces, to rooftop terraces, groves and hills that will leave you speechless.

Enjoy the Istanbul Shopping Scene

The diversity of traditional and modern products that Istanbul has to offer in the historical bazaars of Ottoman origin and in the modern shopping centers make the city a center of attraction for shoppers.

The world famous Grand Bazaar (Kapalicarsi) is one of the largest historical shopping centers in the world, with more than 4,000 stores.

The Egyptian Spice Bazaar (Misir Carsisi) is also very popular. Your gaze will not reach you to enjoy the colours, smells and flavors of so many different spices, nuts, basketry, jewelry, curtains and haberdashery.

What to Eat and Drink in Istanbul

Istanbul is known for its diverse and delicious cuisine, which is influenced by its location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, so in its dishes you will find the perfect communion between East and West.

One of its most traditional preparations, which we definitely recommend you order if you go to a restaurant, is the typical Meze, a variety of small dishes such as hummus, aubergine puree and stuffed vine leaves.

So we also invite you to try Kofta, some seasoned beef or lamb meatballs that are a true delight, or Doner kebab, a type of shawarma made with marinated meat cooked on a vertical spit.

Also, a great option is the Turkish pizza with several ingredients, you will see that it is very different from the Italian version of this dish, and without a doubt the Black Sea-style fish dishes.

To accompany your meals, especially those seafood recipes, we invite you to try Raki, a very typical anise liqueur from the area.

And if desserts are your downfall, we recommend trying Lokum, also known as Turkish Delight, a confection made of sugar, starch, and various flavors, or the famous Baklava, a sweet pastry made with layers of phyllo dough and honey or syrup.

You can find many street vendors, food carts, cafes, and restaurants offering traditional and international food options in Istanbul, so your eating budget is highly adaptable to your needs and expectations.

Transfer to Istanbul

How to get to the city of istanbul.

The most common way to get to Istanbul is by plane, unless you are taking a Greek Islands cruise or an Italy tour that combines their itineraries with this city.

Istanbul has two international airports, called Istanbul International Airport or Havalimani Airport (located 35 km from the city) and Sabiha Gökçen (50 km from the city). The first airport is the most chosen by large airlines and tourists.

How to Go From Istanbul International Airport to the Center?

Istanbul International Airport is about a 35-minute drive from the city center. To move from one place to another, you can take a taxi or private transfer. You can also take the public bus, although this option is more complicated since it can take up to almost 2 and a half hours to travel.

Of course the most comfortable option is to book a private transfer with Greca, with expert drivers who know the city like the back of their hand.

How to Move in Istanbul?

To move within Istanbul you can choose between different options (taxi, private transfer, public bus, tram, metro). In turn, the schedules of public transport in the Turkish city are usually punctual and work correctly.

In the event that you decide to use public transport in Istanbul, we recommend that you have the Istanbulkart card, a wallet-card to move around the city.

With it you will get discounts on each trip and transfers will be cheaper. You can buy it at the most important metro and bus stations, where you will also find machines to debit money digitally.

What Is the Best Time to Visit Istanbul?

Istanbul is a city of extremes. In summer it can be very hot and crowded with tourists, while in winter the winds are strong and it can snow. The ideal seasons to visit it are spring (April-June) and autumn (September-November).

In these mild months, the terraces of cafeterias and restaurants are full of life and the city exudes a very happy atmosphere.

Keep national holidays and religious holidays in mind when planning your trip, as accommodation and transportation across the country can be more expensive or more crowded. To learn more about public holidays in Turkey, you can click here.

What to Give If You Travel to Istanbul

If you are planning to travel to Istanbul and you are one of those who like to bring a gift to loved ones who are waiting around, you should know that in Istanbul you will find great options to satisfy different tastes.

A good option to carry a little piece of Turkey in your suitcase is to give a Turkish lamp, a practical object and at the same time full of the exoticism of this mystical land.

Also, we recommend the famous Turkish eye amulet, known for its protective properties against envy.

And if you want a very sophisticated gift, keep in mind Turkish silver and gold jewelry, known worldwide for its high quality, or perfumes, whose fragrances meet the most demanding standards.

Finally, very good alternatives are handmade ceramic products and rugs, or spices and Turkish tea that will bring the essence of Turkish cuisine to any kitchen.

Some Turkish Traditions You Will Find in Istanbul

The turkish bath.

This tradition consists of a type of bath that is taken in facilities that date back to Roman antiquity. These bathrooms are places of socialization, where people go to clean themselves, relax and share with others.

To carry out this cleaning method, hot water and cold water are used. In turn, dead skin from the body is removed from an exfoliation that is performed by rubbing the skin with plenty of soap.

Finally, in these places massages are performed on request, especially in those more touristy. And would you take a Turkish bath?

The Turkish Coffee Ceremony

Coffee in Turkey is a very serious thing, as you will notice when you arrive in Istanbul that both its preparation and its consumption are orchestrated by a series of rituals.

This is so because beyond being a drink, almost always consumed after breakfast (because it is very strong and it is necessary to have something in the stomach before drinking it), Coffee implies a language in itself, with a great symbology that unfolds in moments of socialization.

In fact, Turkish coffee is prepared in very different ways depending on the occasion, so you will find that it tastes very different at a wedding than for an event with less festive connotations.

Even in the past, and sometimes today, when asking for a woman's hand in marriage, the bride-to-be was judged on her ability to make coffee.

Today coffee shops in Turkey are meeting places where men gather to drink coffee, play card games or backgammon, discuss politics and generally socialize.

So now you know, every conversation goes better with a coffee in hand!

The Spiritual Ceremony of the Derchives

The rite performed by the Dervishes consists of going round and round to reach a state of ecstasy and thus achieve contact with Allah, and then offer this connection to humanity. This rite is called Sema and its execution involves a series of steps.

At the beginning, a group of musicians and the Dervishes and the Seyh arrive, who are dressed in black to represent death, and a prayer to Muhammad is performed. Then the drums sound and then the flute, and the Dervishes and the Seyh begin a kind of dance in which their clothing and the way they carry their bodies change.

Towards the end of the ceremony, everyone wears white, symbolizing purity after having killed the ego and being reborn, and a joint prayer is held to achieve salvation. Without a doubt, it is a religious experience that deserves to be seen.

The requirements to enter Istanbul are to have a visa with 90 days of issuance or for specific purposes.

The Turkish lira is the official currency of all of Turkey, which is equivalent to about USD 0.05. There is no maximum limit of money to take to Istanbul.

According to different travel portals, the total cost per person to stay and do activities in Istanbul is around USD 90 per day.

The best areas to stay in Istanbul, in our opinion, are on the European side of the city. Sultanahmet is the site most chosen by tourists, since most of the tourist attractions are located around it. Other areas that many travelers go to are Eminönü, Galata, and the neighborhoods near Taksim Square.

If you are planning your trip to Istanbul, we recommend that you make reservations for accommodation in the city about 5 months in advance. This will allow you to consider different hotel and room options, as well as save approximately 30% of money.

If you want to know the main attractions of Istanbul, 3 to 5 days are enough. However, you can choose to stay a few more days to explore the city in complete peace and visit places not so frequented by travelers, such as the Mehmet and Mahmut mausoleums.

According to the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, traveling to Istanbul is safe for tourists. Being a city highly visited every year, security levels in Istanbul are very high. Its main sites of interest are guarded by police and military.

To know the costs of travel packages and excursions in Istanbul with Greca, click here .

To book your trip to Istanbul, you can contact one of Greca's sales representatives or contact us through our official website, completing the form for your site and date of interest.

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