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Home » Middle East » Turkey » Istanbul

Is Istanbul SAFE to Visit? (2023 • Insider Tips)

It was Constantinople, now it’s Istanbul. Before that, it was Byzantium. This world city has been a lot of things and you can see this in the richness of its culture. Incredible sights can be found all over this liberal urban sprawl that straddles Europe and Asia. Oh, and the food is just as unbelievable.

But in recent years there’s been some trouble with terrorism. High profile attacks, like one on the airport in 2016, and the constant threat of violence make it a bit concerning. Couple that news with seemingly endless tourist scamming and we get why you’d ask, “ Is Istanbul safe for tourists ?”

Don’t worry. We have created a huge insider’s guide on the best things to do to stay safe in Istanbul.  We’re all about smart travel and believe you should be able to go anywhere you want as long as you’re equipped with some great tips on staying safe. And we’ve got a lot of those.

So if you’ve got reservations about backpacking in Istanbul because of the terrorist threat, or you’re concerned since it’s your first solo travel adventure, or whatever – don’t sweat it! We understand. Our guide to staying safe in Istanbul is here for you.

is istanbul safe to visit view of the city near sunset

There is no such thing as a perfect safety guide, and this article is no different. The question of “Is Istanbul Safe?” will ALWAYS have a different answer depending on the parties involved. But this article is written for savvy travellers from the perspective of savvy travellers.

The information present in this safety guide was accurate at the time of writing, however, the world is a changeable place, now more than ever. Between the pandemic, ever-worsening cultural division, and a click-hungry media, it can be hard to maintain what is truth and what is sensationalism.

Here, you will find safety knowledge and advice for travelling Istanbul. It won’t be down to the wire cutting edge info on the most current events, but it is layered in the expertise of veteran travellers. If you use our guide, do your own research, and practise common sense, you will have a safe trip to Istanbul.

If you see any outdated information in this guide, we would really appreciate it if you could reach out in the comments below. We strive to provide the most relevant travel information on the web and always appreciate input from our readers (nicely, please!). Otherwise, thanks for your ear and stay safe!

It’s a wild world out there. But it’s pretty damn special too. 🙂

Updated January 2023

Is Istanbul Safe to Visit Right Now?

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Most backpackers to Turkey pass through its capital. Istanbul is definitely an awesome destination. There are plenty of things that are drawing you to this world city. History, food, and culture are just a few of the city’s appeals. It’s often cited as the crossroads between Europe and Asia.

Unfortunately, safety in Istanbul has been a concern in recent years. Sharing a border with Syria doesn’t help matters. Though Istanbul is 900 miles away from all that turmoil, there is the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks.

Karakoy ttd Istanbul

That said,  Istanbul is pretty safe.  The situation has calmed down. You may see authorities stopping people to check IDs, but that just means that security is heightened. Being vigilant and monitoring media reports is what the UK government recommends .

It’s a fairly liberal city. People stay out late and there’s a decent nightlife scene going on here. It’s fun and people are friendly.

But like most cities in the world, being aware of your surroundings will help you stay safe. Pickpockets, street beggars, and scams are less likely to affect an alert traveler.

But overall? Yes, Istanbul is safe.

Where to Stay in Turkey

When choosing where you’ll be staying in Istanbul, a bit of research and caution is essential. You don’t want to end up in a sketchy area and ruin your trip. To help you out, we’ve listed the safest areas to visit in Istanbul below.

  • Sultanahmet : 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. This district is the best place to stay in Istanbul if you’re visiting the city for the first time as many attractions are within walking distance.
  • Karaköy : Today, Karaköy is one of the city’s most hip and stylish Istanbul locations. Here you’ll find an array of vendors and stylish restaurants as well as independent shops. With its own fair share of historic and cultural attractions, this is also where you’ll find some of the most amazing views of Istanbul.
  • Galata : In recent years, Galata has emerged as one of the coolest Istanbul locations. It’s in Galata where you will find the city’s hottest nightlife scene. From trendy bars and stylish clubs to relaxed pubs and funky cafes, this neighborhood has it all.

Places to Avoid in Istanbul

Is Istanbul dangerous ?!

Nope, but we recommend you avoid these unsafe places during your visit:

  • Tarlabasi : Long considered Istanbul’s most dangerous neighborhood, Tarlabasi is extremely poor and crime rates are high. Even though it’s only a few blocks away from the much-loved Istiklal Street, tourists never actually end up in Tarlabasi.
  • Dolapdere : A bit north of Tarlabasi you’ll find Dolapdere, which is another impoverished neighborhood. Far from being one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world, you’ll still want to avoid the area unless you know a local resident.

Quick side note : It’s important to know that all of the places we’ve just listed CAN be visited. They just have a higher crime rate than others, but those crimes are usually not targeted toward tourists. 

Istanbul 2

There may be a bit of a terrorist threat in Istanbul, but in general, when it comes to safety in Istanbul you’ll be fine. It’s super ready for tourists. And you’ll be even finer if you travel smartly, use your street smarts and common sense to make sure you avoid potentially dodgy situations. But since you can never over-prepare, here are a few tips for keeping safe in Istanbul.

  • Keep your belongs close to you in tourist areas  – this is where pickpockets operate
  • Walk around in groups if you go out at night  – just a normal city tip for almost any city.
  • Watch out for ‘street children’  – near the Süleymaniye Mosque they’ve been known to surround and pickpocket unsuspecting tourists, so keep an eye out.
  • Try to dress like a local  – some areas are more European, others are not. Try to be aware of where you’re visiting. But mainly everything’s quite open-minded.
  • AVOID taxi scams  – these are a BIG thing (more on that later).
  • Be wary of strangers  – the classic is “Would you like a drink my friend…?” One thing leads to another, you’ve got a HUGE bill and your new “friend” has scarpered.
  • Don’t get a shoeshine  – you might think it’s free, it’s not. If you DO want one, definitely agree on a price beforehand. Otherwise, it will cost you, arguments ensue, a crowd can develop. Best to just NOT.
  • Use a reputable tour agency  – in Turkey, these need a license. Check the TURSAB website.
  • Don’t use the ‘ok’ sign?  – this means you are calling someone homosexual. This won’t go down well with Turkish men especially
  • Be careful if you want to buy a Turkish rug  – there are many fakes. Research needed
  • Same goes for gold coins  – fakes galore. Do your homework.
  • Negotiate prices in lira  – unless you want to pay a hefty price. Plus you’re in Turkey, you shouldn’t be using US Dollars or Euros ANYWAY.
  • Carry small denominations  – want to pay a small amount? Have small amounts to pay with. People can be ‘forgetful’ with change!
  • Don’t agree on the first price for ANYTHING  – it’s inflated, every single time. Taxis, souvenirs, whatever. Offer half and go from there.
  • Never accept food or drink from a stranger -it’s been known to be laced with a sedative. Then when you’re passed out, you get robbed
  • Learn to say NO  – there are a lot of scams in Istanbul. The best way to avoid getting into any bad situation is to just say “no”. Have a sense of humor and walk away.

On the whole, Istanbul is safe. And at the end of the day, the best way to avoid getting into any unsafe situation is mainly to just  watch out for strangers.  Scams are rife in Istanbul and exercising simple stranger danger (why wouldn’t you!?) and not believing everything at face value is bound to keep you safe and sound.

Solo Travel in Istanbul

No doubt, Istanbul is safe to travel alone. This is a city that is very, very used to tourists visiting. Perhaps a little too used to tourists…

By which we mean, making money off tourists through scams is pretty rife. As a solo traveler, wandering around tourist sights by yourself, you’ll be more of a target. Single males especially . So here are some top tips to help you stay safe as a solo traveler in Istanbul.

  • If something doesn’t feel right, like if someone starts talking to you out of the blue and being overfriendly, offering to take you somewhere “recommended”, just walk away. Don’t worry about not being polite about it.  It’s properly rife  and many fall for it since the set-ups can be pretty convincing. The general rule of thumb: don’t talk to strangers (at least when it doesn’t make sense to strike up a conversation).
  • Since solo travelers are often targeted for scams, get some travel buddies! The best way to do this is by staying at a well-reviewed, well-situated, social hostel in Istanbul. This will also be a good chance to swap travel tips, stories, make actual friends , and rid yourself of the solo traveling blues. (It can get lonely!)
  • But with all that said, don’t be afraid to shop. It can be  a lot of fun!  Just keep your budget in mind, know not to take the first price as the actual price, haggle your heart out and go for it.
  • Learn some Turkish.  You’ll get mad respect for it. Plus it will help you get rid of people, get around, just open up the city to you – if only a little bit.
  • Don’t tell people the exact address of where you’re staying. Not only is this kinda risky anyway, but this may also just bring the scams right to your doorstep!
  • Walking around by yourself at night is a mixed bag. Keep an eye on what other people are doing around you. If there are a lot of people out, including families, being out after dark in this area is fine. If it’s empty and sketchy looking, it probably IS sketchy.
  • Get yourself a pre-paid sim . You can get these at the airport. You’ll never get too lost, you’ll get to keep up to date with people at home, and they’ll know where you are too.
  • Since scammers seem to be everywhere in Istanbul, look like you know where you’re going at all times.  Looking lost is the best way to get the wrong sort of attention, and Turkish authorities aren’t able to do much for thefts.

Female Travel safety in Istanbul

You’ll be happy to know that it’s safe for solo female travelers in Istanbul. As opposed to Turkey as a whole, Istanbul is pretty liberal and you’ll be basically free to do what you want when you want.

But at the end of the day, traveling solo as a female always comes with its own unique challenges . But this shouldn’t stop you from enjoying what the city has to offer. Here are a few personal safety tips and tricks below:

  • Istanbul is as much a European city as it is an Asian one and as a result, the dress code is pretty casual. Women here wear pretty much what they want to wear. You won’t have to worry about  covering up  – shorts are fine, for example. Some women do cover up and dress modestly, and some women wear short skirts and show their shoulders. It’s about how comfortable you feel , as much as it is dependent on where you are. Visiting a mosque? Dress conservatively. Keeping an eye on how locals are dressing is a good gauge of what’s ok and what isn’t.
  • Avoid going out by yourself late at night. It can be a bit intimidating with men in certain areas like  Istiklal Avenue  or in  Taksim . You may not actually be threatened but it can feel scary.
  • Stay in a good hostel or hotel, especially one where you might be able to make friends in common areas or on tours. It’s a good idea for  staying safe in numbers , plus it’s always nice to share your experiences with someone else.
  • On that note, if you feel like hitting the town, go with a group of people. And whilst you’re out,  don’t get crazy drunk . Getting tipsy is fine, but you don’t want your senses completely gone. Also, accepting drinks from strangers is a hard no.
  • Understand that the culture IS different . As a woman, you might receive attention from men that feels quite hassle-y, and sometimes it is. Anything from “you’re beautiful” to practically offering marriage (seriously, this is an actual thing) is normal. Most men are polite  and will stop hassling if you politely decline any advances. If it continues, make a fuss and head to a busy area and/or alert nearby  tourist police.
  • Basically, be careful of men who are overly forward and want your number, etc. They are most likely after your money.
  • Catcalling is par for the course. It’s annoying and can be upsetting, but try to ignore it. This is basically  part of being a woman in Istanbul . Sad but true.
  • Be confident, keep your wits about you and pretty much try not to look like an easy target. Having maps on your phone, planning routes, and getting acquainted with your local area are all good ideas.

But all said and done, Istanbul is safe for solo female travelers. You might feel intimidated, uncomfortable, and upset that people may try to scam you, but many female travelers visit Istanbul and have a great time. So will you!

Being a pretty well-trodden tourist city, Istanbul is totally safe for families. There might be some practical problems, it might be a bit stressful, but there’s nothing to stop you from visiting with your family.

In fact, Turkey as a whole is focusing on  attracting family travelers,  which makes Istanbul a more family-oriented place.

Family travel in Istanbul

Finding yourself a good place to stay that’s close to the main sights that you want to see is a good place to start. Make sure the reviews are good and that it genuinely does have all the facilities you need for your family. There are some pretty epic, family-friendly Airbnbs in Istanbul to choose from.

Breastfeeding in public isn’t normal, so it’s better to do it somewhere private to avoid unwanted attention.

Make sure you  agree on a meeting place  if you go to a busy area and get split up. Some sort of landmark that you can all spot will help you find each other again if you get split up.

Other than that, Istanbul is a society that  loves children! Having your children with you may even help to defuse potentially tense situations with market stallholders and shopkeepers as well as touts and hecklers.

As Istanbul’s traffic is insane, you definitely do NOT want to drive here. There’s really no need to anyway.

Public Transportation in Istanbul

Not only is the public transportation system in Istanbul  very comprehensive , but public transport in Istanbul is safe. Great news.

First things first, get yourself an  Istanbul Kart . This is a contactless card that will make traveling around Istanbul super easy . You can use it all over the city on public transport. And there are loads of different types of public transport in Istanbul.

  • Trams : Trams are quick and cheap. There are five different networks.
  • Metro : Our firm favorite. There are two systems, which connects large portions of the city.
  • Funicular : It goes uphill (obviously) and is pretty fun.
  • Ferries : Because it’s coastal, and  spans two continents . Also pretty fun!

Buses  are another story though. There are 400 different routes making it pretty confusing. It’s not very quick since they have to contend with Istanbul’s awful traffic. They get very crowded which makes pickpocketing easy. try to avoid them if you can.

In a city that seems to run rife with scams, taxi drivers are heavy offenders. Everything from simply not putting the meter on (in which case, tell them to put it on ) to taking you a massively long way around to rack up the cost.

Top tip: download the BiTaksi  app which will estimate how much your fare should cost. Good grounds for haggling! You can even book a taxi through the app.

Cycling in Istanbul is not the easiest, but it does have a vibrant and loyal number of cyclists. If you really want to get a feel for the city on two wheels, do so in a park or other bicycle-friendly locale.

Pickpocketing is the most common type of crime you’ll encounter in Istanbul. Unfortunately, it’s all too common these days and is absolutely something to prepare for. Areas of particular concern include popular tourist hotspots like Taksim Square, The Grand Bazaar, Sultanahmet, and The Spice Bazaar.

Use a money belt or other hidden compartment for your wallet and phone. We’d also recommend leaving hard-to-replace valuables in your hotel room.

Terrorist attacks are a legitimate concern when visiting Istanbul. In November 2022, 6 were killed and dozens more were injured in a Taksim Square explosion . While events like these are rare, they do happen. Avoid crowded, touristy areas when and where you can.

Getting Insured BEFORE Visiting Istanbul

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.

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SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!

Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.

Here are some quick answers to common questions about safety in Istanbul.

What should I avoid in Istanbul?

These are the things you should avoid in Istanbul: – Don’t disrespect the culture or religion – Don’t give the ok sign (this is very offensive) – Avoid shoe shining stalls – Don’t be afraid of haggling

Is Istanbul safe at night?

Yes, it is safe to walk around the streets in Istanbul at night. While it’s still safer during the day, you’ll be unlikely to wander into a sketchy area. We’d recommend sticking with a friend or a group, just to add some extra safety to your nightly stroll.

Is Istanbul airport safe?

Absolutely! The new Istanbul Airport is one of the nicest places in the world to transit through. It was recently completed at the end of 2019 and is super safe, modern and secure.

What are dangerous areas in Istanbul?

While Istanbul is a safe city, there are areas to avoid such as the Tarlabasi neighborhood which is the most dangerous part of the city. Even locals try to avoid it. It’s unlikely that you’ll end up in there as a tourist, but if you do, make sure you get out!

Can you drink the water in Istanbul?

Nope. While it’s fine to brush your teeth with it, Istanbul’s tap water is not safe to drink. Many locals have filtered jugs that they frequently replace.

You can totally visit Istanbul, see the sights, even as a solo female traveler, eat the food, even live there – safely, too!

Honestly, though, Istanbul is  known for its scams.  This is what’s going to be instantly noticeable in tourist areas and especially the Old Town.

Don’t get a shoe shine and basically just follow the simple advice that you’ve heard since you were 3 years old: don’t talk to strangers. There are a lot of savvy scammers in Istanbul, so it pays (literally) to be savvy yourself.

Explore Istanbul, eat the food, get wrapped up in the history and culture of the streets. You’ll be fine!

Istanbul 4

Disclaimer: Safety conditions change all over the world on a daily basis. We do our best to advise but this info may already be out of date. Do your own research. Enjoy your travels!

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And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links . That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!

Nina Az

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should i visit istanbul

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Insider Advice: Kickstart your Istanbul adventure with the Istanbul E-Pass or Istanbul Tourist Pass . These passes provide free access to around 70+ top attractions, tours and essential local services in the city with around 70% savings .

A quick look at Istanbul’s features 

  • more than 8,500 years of history,
  • capital of 3 glorious empires, the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires,
  • a magical composition of two continents, two Worlds, the East and the West,
  • Islamic and Mediterranean mixture of cultures in a captivating atmosphere,
  • population of more than 15 million,
  • one of world’s main air traffic hubs with 2 international airports,
  • 5th most visited city in the world,
  • 2010 European Capital of Culture,
  • 2012 European Capital of Sport,
  • one of world’s leading congress destination,
  • connecting 2 continents; Europe and Asia,
  • more than 75 museums,
  • more than 100 lively shopping malls, and 4 historic bazaars,
  • 5 imperial palaces, and many summer palaces, pavilions and mansions,
  • huge transportation network of metro, subway, tram, buses, ferries, sea-buses, etc,
  • 4 seasons throughout the year.

Top 11 reasons to visit Istanbul

Istanbul is a diverse and fantastic metropolis with some of the world’s best attractions, sights and activities. Tourists are flocking to experience this magical city full of contrasts for themselves, making it the 5th most popular tourist destination in the world. If you are still unsure about booking a trip to this vibrant city, check out these 11 reasons why you should visit Istanbul.

1. To enjoy the Top 10 Istanbul Attractions

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You can’t fail to be excited with the unique experiences and attractions of Istanbul. Discover the historical sights of the city that has been capital to 3 great empires; enjoy the stunning views of the city; examine some of the world’s most precious treasures at the Topkapi Palace or enjoy the art art the numerous museums. Continue reading…

2. To witness the amazing landmarks

The beautiful silhouette of Istanbul combines historical sites and monuments such as Roman aqueducts, Byzantine churches, Venetian towers, Ottoman palaces from the Byzantine, Ottoman and Turkish periods.

should i visit istanbul

And the skyline covers monumental minarets with skyscrapers and plazas. And especially the Historical Peninsula and the Bosphorus will cheer up your hearts. Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Maiden’s Tower, Dolmabahce Palace, Grand Bazaar and Galata Tower are some of the most visited historical sites in the city.

No Regrets Booking Advice

3. to experience the lively metropolis life.

should i visit istanbul

Istanbul is one of the most lively metropolises in the world that offers variety of intercontinental events, international film, music and theater festivals, international biennials, and more than 80 museums and many art galleries showcase all the culture, arts and history; including painting, sculpture, photography and many more.

4. To admire the Hagia Sophia

Istanbul’s, as well as the World’s one of most visited sights. Formerly church and mosque, now a museum. First built in 325 AD, collapsed 2 times and rebuilt 3 times. Built in the year 532 AD, as the world’s largest place of worship.

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Converted to a mosque after Ottoman Empire’s conquest of Istanbul in 1453. Converted to a museum in 1935, and finally converted to mosque in July 2020. Declared as one of the world’s greatest architectural works. Accepted as the 8th wonder of the world. Hagia Sophia is one of the most visually breath taking monuments you’ll find in Europe.

5. To admire the unique Bosphorus

Istanbul has a unique beauty with the Bosphorus (Bogazici) , a 19 miles long strait running across the city, and separating the two continents, Asia and Europe, as well as Marmara and Black Sea. Bosphorus is one of the world’s most beautiful and charming natural formations and will definitely cheer up your hearts.

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You can explore the Bosphorus by cruising along and visiting the shores of both continents lined up with summer palaces, mansions, fortresses, groves, parks and gardens, by motorboats, yachts and public ferries. A unique experience.

We Highly Recommend These Fantastic Night-time Activities

6. to enjoy the stunning views.

There are plenty of great places and viewpoints that you can enjoy a panoramic view of Istanbul, from historic places like towers, mosques and palaces, to rooftop terraces to groves and hilltops.

should i visit istanbul

7. To taste the authentic Turkish cuisine

The richness of the Turkish cuisine will let you experience and enjoy new flavors, from exquisite pastry choices to delicious meat, fish and vegetable specialties. The gastronomy of Turkey reflects a remarkable culinary synthesis that comes from its cultural heritage. The traditional Turkish cuisine is really worth a taste. Travelers may choose from a wide range of  Turkish kebabs ,  mezes (starters)  and dishes that are mostly based on meat. Also Turkish sweets such as  baklava  and  Turkish delight  are worldwide famous.

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Istanbul also offers wide range of world cuisine such as Mediterranean, Japanese, Italian, French, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Portuguese and Thai food.

8. To enjoy the vibrant nightlife

The nightlife in Istanbul is one of the best in the world with lively clubs by the Bosphorus, and lively neighborhoods like Taksim and Kadikoy. Istanbul can also considered to be the city that never sleeps .

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With its numerous little bars, pubs, cafes, and restaurants, you can easily spend the night bouncing from one venue to the next in Istanbul. You can enjoy the city’s dining, wining, shopping, music and entertainment scene throughout the year of its variety of lively events, concerts, festivals, art exhibitions and more.

9. To enjoy the shopping scene

The shopping variety of the city ranging from traditional and modern products makes Istanbul an attraction center for shopping lovers. As being a very big metropolis, travelers can easily find almost every world brand in the shopping malls and the districts of Istanbul.

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From popular outdoor markets, bazaars, carpet & kilim workshops, copper working shops, antique and handicraft shops, to designer shops, traditional shops, modern department stores and very big shopping centers; Istanbul has everything for every budget and style.

should i visit istanbul

The Grand Bazaar definitely will be a unique experience and a shopping adventure for you. A series of covered streets feature over 4,000 merchants, all selling their products and wares. You can find anything here from spices, dried fruits, basketry, drapery, haberdashery, boots and slippers to gold and silver jewelry.

10. To experience traditional Turkish Bath

should i visit istanbul

This will is one of the one time experiences on your Istanbul visit. With a Turkish bath, also called Hammam, you can enjoy an authentic experience, relax your muscles, refresh your body.

Book Historical Turkish Bath Experience

11. To choose from a wide range of accommodations

It is important to find of quality and budget accommodation for every one, when looking for a holiday or travel destination. With almost 112,000 bed capacity, and over 222 five & four-star hotels, a range of deluxe hotels situated in the Bosphorus shore and the historical peninsula, as well as suitable lofts near the city center, this is definitely something that is on offer in Istanbul.

should i visit istanbul

No matter how much or you want to spend, you can always find something that is perfect for your needs.

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Is Istanbul worth visiting?

9 Reasons Why Istanbul is Worth Visiting At Least Once

Is Istanbul worth visiting? You bet it is! Often overlooked in favor of the southern beach resorts or the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, Turkey’s biggest city might not be in the travel brochures that much, but it’s one darn enthralling place. That’s what this guide aims to show, by running through nine amazing aspects of this fizzing, throbbing megacity…

The only city in the world to straddle two continents, Istanbul combines all the intrigue of Asia with the cosmopolitan nature of Europe. It’s a vibrant melting pot of cultures, architectural styles, and cuisines, cut through by the wide waters of the famous Bosphorus Strait. There’s a rich history dating back to the 7th century BC, along with mystical mosques and Ottoman-era castles. Tempted yet?

The big sites and landmarks aside, every bustling street and every nook and cranny of the great bazaars here also ooze with character and charm. You can come to people watch with a coffee and a shisha pipe, taste kebap from hole-in-the-wall vendors, and party the night away in Karaköy neighborhood if that’s your sort of thing. We don’t think it’s even possible to get bored!

Table of Contents

Explore two continents for the price of one!

Istanbul city

One of the main draws of visiting Istanbul is the opportunity to visit two continents in a single trip. The European side of the town is where you’ll find the most well-known sights, including the Blue Mosque, the sprawling Topkapi Palace , and – of course – the iconic Hagia Sophia . It’s also where you’ll find historic neighborhoods such as Balat, a Jewish Quarter offering brightly painted houses, hip cafés, and a bohemian atmosphere, or Fatih, the ancient heart of erstwhile Byzantium.

The Asian side of the city is much quieter. It’s made up of more residential neighborhoods but also has something of an up-and-coming vibe. Kadıköy, for example, is a relaxed district with a popular fish and produce market and lots of laid-back restaurants, making it great for food-lovers . The ferry crossing in itself is a reason to visit the Asian side, because those who make the trip across the Bosphorus will be following in the footsteps of emperors. They also get rewarded with wonderful views of the city’s skyline. Other bonuses to the Asian side: Moda has some quirky museums, while there are even a few small beaches in Caddebostan.

Delve into the fascinating history

Palace in Istanbul

The fabric of Istanbul has been woven by many different empires, religions, and civilizations since its foundation several millennia ago. From the coming of the Roman Empire to the ages of Byzantine rule and then the rise of the Ottomans, a real layer cake of enthralling periods and epochs has played out in these parts, and treasures have been left in their wake.

Check out the incredible Byzantine Basilica Cistern, an ancient underground structure that once delivered water to the city. Imposing stone columns were salvaged from temples to be used for its construction, while an eye-catching medusa statue adds to the eerie atmosphere.

Above ground, you’ll find the impressive Topkapi Palace, once home to Sultans and their wives. It features a gilded treasury of jewels, as well as the secretive harem, a secluded space with its own Turkish bath where the emperor’s women would reside. Of course, you can’t miss the Blue Mosque, Istanbul’s star attraction. Also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, this hallowed site is a vision of domes and spires and minarets, with a breathtaking interior lined with iridescent tiles.

Breathtaking beauty and buildings

buildings in Istanbul

Connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara while dividing the city in two, the Bosphorus Strait lends an unusual element of natural beauty to this urban jungle. Taking a boat tour on the water itself is the best way to appreciate some of the incredible sights of Istanbul, including the dazzling architecture of the Ottoman mansions and palaces which line the steep banks. You’ll also be able to spy out the medieval Maiden’s Tower, an unusual lighthouse in the middle of the waterway. (As the legend goes, a Sultan kept his daughter here after a prophecy predicted her death.)

Inside the city, the gorgeous architecture continues. You’ll find a unique blend of oriental and arabesque styles at the Grand Bazaar, with its vaulted domes and silk merchants. Elsewhere, there are ornamental mosques and synagogues. You can also visit the Galata Tower to get the best panoramic views of the city, or simply head to one of the many rooftop bars and restaurants (more on those later).

Basically, there’s striking sights and buildings around almost every street corner in old Istanbul!

Traditional Turkish hammam s

Blue mosque in Istanbul

Spa enthusiasts are in for a real treat in Istanbul. This megalopolis is famed all around the world for its centuries-old bathing tradition and wellness facilities known as hammams. A hammam is a public bath featuring a steamy, marble-clad room where you can be attended to by a masseur who uses warm water, soap, and salts to provide a vigorous exfoliating treatment. The facilities are usually split into separate areas for men and women. You will typically have some time before and after the treatment to relax and unwind, too.

The Mihrimah Sultan Hammam was built by Mimar Sinan in the mid-1500s and offers classic, domed Ottoman architecture to enjoy while you unwind. Luxury-lovers should check out the Hürrem Sultan Hammam , which was also built during the Ottoman times but under the orders of the Sultan himself! Those are just two – there are thousands on offer across the city.

Bustling bazaars 

Gift shop in Istanbul

Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar hardly needs an introduction. Known for being one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the whole world, it’s an explosion of color and chaos, home to around 4,000 shops, along with a mosque, post office, and police station. Yep, it’s practically a city in itself!

It’s the ideal place to shop for authentic souvenirs. There’s all sorts on offer here, from hand-loomed carpets to stained-glass lanterns to floral-painted ceramics and filigreed shisha pipes. You can also pick up a cotton peştemal, which is a traditional striped and fringed towel used in the Turkish hammam (you’ll need it when you head to the spa).

Meanwhile, foodies should look no further than the nearby Spice Bazaar, which is an aromatic alternative to its larger neighbor. Go there to get a taste for Turkish cuisine and the rich paprika and cardamom that’s used throughout. Visitors can sample the many fragrant herbs and products there, not to mention the local sweet delicacies of Turkish Delight and sticky baklava, an authentic pastry smothered in honey and nuts.

Spectacular rooftops 

Panoramic view in Istanbul

With a cacophony of scents, sounds, and sights pulling you from pillar to post, there’s no question that the streets of Istanbul can be a touch overwhelming at times. Thankfully, there’s an escape on offer: The rooftops.

Head up to the urban canopy and you’ll find spectacular views, excellent bars, and a breath of fresh air. Some of the best options have now been converted into sophisticated cocktail venues. Try the Banyan for uninterrupted views of the Bosphorus Strait, Vogue for elegant cocktails and an extensive cigar menu, or 5.KAT for a more authentic afternoon drink setting.

Those who love a photo opportunity could also check out the various rooftops across the city where the owners have set up colorful rugs and carpets. They’ll charge a small fee for taking a picture but it’s real Instagram fodder sort of stuff. Alternatively, Kubbe Istanbul is a great little establishment with an Instagram-worthy rooftop where you can sip Turkish tea, lounge on colorful embroidered cushions, and watch the seagulls swoop and dive above the Old Town. We go back there whenever we’re in town.

Vibrant gastronomy 

Turkish food cart in Istanbul

Istanbul’s multicultural past means it now boasts a diverse and delicious local kitchen. You’ll find everything from tempting street food to Michelin-star fine dining, with something to suit all tastes and budgets in between. The overarching theme of the food here is a collision of east and west – think the freshness of Greek food mixed with the exoticism and spiciness of Middle Eastern cooking.

A traditional mezze is the perfect thing to start with. It’s made up of lots of different small plates, like Turkey’s answer to Spanish tapas. There are all sorts on the menu in mezze eateries, from beyaz peynir (white cheese, sometimes in honey) to kalamar tava (salty calamari, often grilled), along with olives, walnut pastes, aubergine salads – the list goes on and on.

Street-food specialties include simit, which is a type of bagel, and of course the quintessential kebab, which are sold from holes in the wall all over the metropolis. Other dishes you might want to consider sampling include mantı , often hailed as the Turkish ravioli, consisting of small filled dumplings served with yogurt, garlic, and tomato sauce, and the Arab pastry known as künefe , which contains unsalted cheese and is served warm and smothered in syrup.

Neighborhood explorations

Cityscape in Istanbul

Istanbul is a city of such epic proportions that it often feels more like 20 cities mushed into one. Mhmm…there are many faces to this 15-million-strong town. In one area you’ll get those urban NYC vibes and the slick feel of a global business district. In the next you’ll be lost in stacks of Berber rugs and East Asian spices amid plumes of shisha smoke and haggling hawkers.

There’s WAY too many to get through in a single guide, but here’s a quick glance at some of the most enthralling neighborhoods out there and what they offer:

  • Beyoğlu – Medieval Christian sites and Genovese landmarks like the Galata Tower give this one a Euro feel, and Istiklal Avenue that carves through its center is one of the most vibrant tourist shopping strips in the city.
  • Sultanahmet – Sightseers can’t miss this one. The Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, the Hagia Sophia – they all make their home here.
  • Kadıköy – Get stuck into the Asian side with this epic whirlwind of cafés and bazaars.
  • Ortaköy – Seeking luxury? Look no further than the five-star hotel resorts that line the Bosphorus in this affluent area.
  • Balat – An old Armenian neighborhood with handsome streets set on steep hills, this one can look more San Fran than Turkey sometimes. There are Byzantine churches and a frenetic flea market to get through.

It’s a gateway to Turkey

city view in Bodrum

Something in the region of 16 million people visit Turkey every year and most won’t even go near the sprawling megalopolis of Istanbul. Most stick to the resorts of the iconic Turquoise Coast, which spans several hundred miles of some of the Aegean’s most wonderful shoreline. But you don’t actually have to choose between the historic sights of the town and the pearly blue waters of the Med. You can do both, and plenty more besides.

Yep, Istanbul is one of the great gateways to Turkey as a whole. It’s a transport hub from where it’s possible to venture to all corners of the nation. Some of the easiest places to hit would be the Black Sea beaches of Ağva to the northeast, which are often a lot quieter than their compadres on the Mediterranean. Resorts like Izmir and Bodrum are also only a single day’s bus ride away, or you could rent your own car and add in stops to UNESCO-tagged Ephesus before hitting the sands.

We also think it’s worth looking east from Istanbul. The temptation of the old Hippie Trail is still strong. It’s a route that will take you across the wild Caucuses all the way to New Delhi and it begins right here, with a train connection that runs through the dusty mountains of Cappadocia to untrodden parts of Asia Minor. Who’s feeling adventurous?

How many days do you need in Istanbul?

We recommended spending at least 3-5 days in Istanbul. This will give you enough time to see the main sights without feeling too rushed or overwhelmed. If you choose to spend a week in Istanbul, you will also have time for enticing day trips to places like the car-free Princes Islands in the Sea of Marmara, known for its elegant horse-drawn carriages, or the enchanting Belgrad Forest, for a sense of wilderness and a little adventure.

Is Istanbul good for tourism?

Istanbul has been popular with tourists for centuries. It’s just got so much to see, from the old palaces of the Ottoman sultans to the enthralling mosques that rise in the middle of the old center. On top of that, Istanbul has a wild nightlife side for younger travelers, backed up by a fantastically authentic gastronomy – mezze, anyone?

What is Istanbul famous for?

Istanbul is famous for its rich history and culture. Once named Constantinople, many of the city’s most famous landmarks were built during the Golden Golden Age of Byzantium, such as the Hagia Sophia. This impressive feat of architecture was formerly a church but later became a mosque – a great illustration of the city’s colorful and transformative past. Istanbul is also known for its hipster cafes, buzzy nightlife, and location between Europe and Asia.

should i visit istanbul

Reece is the creator and editor of Travel Snippet. He has visited more than 38 countries over a 10-year period. His travels have taken him through the majestic mountains of Italy, into the cities of central Europe, across the islands of Indonesia, and to the beaches of Thailand, where he is currently living. He is passionate about travel and shares his expertise by providing the best travel tips and tricks to help you plan your next adventure.

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Reasons to Visit Istanbul

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Istanbul has it all. From physical reminders of past empires to the sights and sounds of a modern city as experienced through its up-and-coming neighbourhoods, the reasons to visit Turkey ’s largest metropolis are aplenty.

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Istanbul , home to more than 14m people, is wonderfully dynamic. Spanning both Europe and Asia and surrounded by the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, the scale and topography of the city – once home to the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires – are fitting of its richly diverse past.

Historical sights dot Istanbul – picture palaces adorned with mosaics and frescoes and beautiful mosques piercing the skyline. In the vibrant neighbourhoods, a variety of cafés, bars, boutique shops and rooftop restaurants line the streets, and most areas have colourful bazaars. These are just some of the reasons why this fascinating city should be on your must-visit list.

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Spectacular Bosphorus views

Istanbul’s most defining feature is the Bosphorus Strait , which divides the European and Asian sides of the city. Visitors can go on a public boat tour or rent a private boat to experience some of the most awe-inspiring views of the metropolis. Sights to see include Ottoman waterfront mansions, the 15 July Martyrs Bridge, the fishing village of Anadolu Kavağı and palaces from the Byzantine era. What you see depends on the route you take (short or full cruise) and your budget.

should i visit istanbul

Historical sights spread across the city

Ottoman palaces, Byzantine castle fortresses and Roman-era obelisks are just a small part of the historical sites you’ll find in Istanbul. Some examples of this grandeur include the Hagia Sofia Museum , an architectural masterpiece that once served as a Byzantine church and then an Ottoman mosque, and the 17th-century Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque for its illustrious interior tile decorations, grey cascading domes and six minarets. While there are countless galleries, museums and religious sites to explore, you’re just as likely to find yourself entranced by one of the many old and dignified alleyways in the city left untouched by modernity.

The diversity

Napoleon reportedly once said, “If the world was only one country, Istanbul would be its capital.” In so many ways, travellers throughout the ages have agreed with this sentiment. Istanbul has always been a rich mosaic of people, religions and cultures. The tired East meets West label used to describe the city might be better replaced by “Everything meets everything else”. Synagogues rub shoulders with churches and mosques. Walking the streets is an exercise in parsing out what language you might be hearing at any given time, and diasporas from Georgia, Armenia, Syria, Egypt, Korea, the Philippines and dozens of other countries continue to add to the colourful fabric of the city.

The amazing food

Istanbul is a hub of gastronomical experimentation, and chefs here are known for creating superb new dishes out of traditional Turkish recipes. Spend the day tasting street-food classics such as simit (the country’s ubiquitous, sesame-encrusted bagel), midye dolma (mussels mixed with seasoned rice and lemon juice served in half of their original shell) and doner meat stuffed in a wrap. These are available across the city.

A heartier lunch might include something such as imam bayıldı , a roasted and stuffed eggplant dish. Try it at Karaköy Lokantası (an upscale restaurant offering excellent traditional Turkish cuisine in the Karaköy neighbourhood) or Kırkpınar Lokantası (a quality open buffet restaurant with branches all over the city). At night, hit the upscale restaurants that reimagine these traditional meals. Barbounia does a fantastic job of putting spins on classic Aegean and Anatolian recipes by adding new elements to these dishes. The additions are simple yet rewarding.

should i visit istanbul

Some of the most exciting neighbourhoods on two continents

Balat, Karaköy, Kadıköy – these neighbourhoods give insight into Istanbul’s past and the changes over the years that have resulted in the burst of new cafés, restaurants, bars and more.

Balat is the city’s historic Jewish Quarter filled with rows of colourful houses, and where you can find the Ahrida Synagogue, one of the oldest in Istanbul. Built into the hills next to the Golden Horn, new cafés and restaurants have found a place in the rundown buildings in the area. After the earthquake of 1894, a majority of the Jewish community left Balat and took most of the wealth with them, leaving the neighbourhood in a state of despair. However, the urban transformation (supported by Unesco) has revitalised the economics of the area and made it safer and cleaner in a way that makes residents happy.

Karaköy , another European neighbourhood, offers a mix of old and new in the same stretch. Boutique hotels, old cathedrals and pop-up stores can be found in every corner. The seaside neighbourhood is one of the most popular nightlife spots in the city, and you can go for drinks under the vines and lighting that criss-cross from one building to the next, creating a romantic setting.

On the Asian side, Kadıköy is both unpretentious and growing. Besides being famous for its bustling produce and fish market, the area has seen more and more restaurants and bars that have opened up for business. Despite the growth, the vibe is far more laid-back than most European neighbourhoods, mostly because many people don’t take the ferry over to the other side. Go for a walk or have a picnic at the Kadıköy-Moda waterside park for incredible views of the city.

The bazaars (grand and otherwise)

Bazaars are a huge part of Istanbul’s identity, and the labyrinthine Grand Bazaar is one of the world’s largest at more than 30,000sqm (323,000sqft). Visitors can spend hours bargaining for decorative tiles, handwoven rugs, antiques and more. The nearby Spice Bazaar is almost as massive and offers an incredible array of spices, herbs and tea. While on a smaller scale, most neighbourhoods in Istanbul operate their own weekly food market as well, selling fresh produce from the countryside, cheeses, and fish from the nearby seas.

The rooftop bars

With so much to see in Istanbul, almost any rooftop bar or restaurant you visit is likely to have satisfying city views. The bar called 5 Kat – in the heart of the touristy Taksim-Cihangir area – offers some of the best panoramas of both continents, along with excellent service, food and drinks. Alexandra Cocktail Bar does a great job with cocktails – which is not always something you find in the city – and looks over the iconic Bosphorus. The bar and the neighbourhood, in general, offer a more laid-back vibe, making it the perfect spot to step away from the crowds. The area also has plenty of small backstreets lined with cafés and restaurants to get lost in once you’re done with your drink.

should i visit istanbul

Ramadan in the city

The holy month of fasting during Ramadan (or Ramazan in Turkish) is one of the most enchanting times to visit the city. Although it’s somewhat quiet during the day, the city comes alive after sunset. Each night, local municipalities arrange iftar dinners where thousands of worshippers come together to break their daily fast at sundown, and public spaces near the mosques become picnic grounds for feasting post-prayer time. Experience the best of hospitality during this month, with that sense of community and togetherness extending to anyone who takes a seat at the table.

The daily getaways

Day trips in and around Istanbul are great if you’re looking to escape the tourist crowds, especially during the summer months when temperatures are soaring. Take the time to explore the small towns and beaches up on the Black Sea, the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara or Belgrad Forest (north of the city). Pack some food, bring a speaker and enjoy a different side of Istanbul.

The street cats

The 2016 documentary Kedi (Turkish for “cat”) shows how important these animals are to Istanbul’s identity. Thousands of cats roam the streets of Istanbul and are collectively cared for by neighbourhood residents, making them one of the city’s success stories.

Cats are thought to have arrived on ships docked in Istanbul (Constantinople) during the Ottoman Empire. These ships had cats to deal with rats and other small pests, and they ended up thriving in the city. Some people think this is due to the influence of Islam (the dominant religion of the country) and its affinity for cats, which was derived from an apocryphal story in which the Prophet Muhammed cut away a part of his tunic so as not to disturb a cat that was sleeping on it.

should i visit istanbul

Turkish baths

Turkish baths , or hammams, have played an important role in life in Istanbul since Roman times. These institutions served as social centres for men and women to interact (separately) and take a break from the whirlwind of everyday life. Today, visitors include both enthusiastic visitors and nostalgic residents who are keen to experience the cleansing rituals offered here – expect a steam room, an intensive scrub and a trip to the cool room to rehydrate and relax.

The rituals can differ depending on the bathhouse you visit and how much money you’re willing to spend. Istanbul’s best hammams include architectural masterpieces dating back to the 16th century, such as the classic Ottoman-era Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam, to the more simple baths like Çinili Hamamı, built in 1640 and popular among residents for staying true to the traditional experience. This article is an updated version of a story created by Feride Yalav .

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Istanbul Travel Tips: 27 Essential things to know before visiting Istanbul

Planning a trip to Istanbul isn’t that straightforward as there are quite a few things you need to know before visiting Istanbul.

You might be wondering whether you need a visa, what are the best places to stay, how to get around the city, how to save money, or what are the common scams to watch out for.

All your questions will be answered in this blog post where I’ll share my top Istanbul travel tips for first-time visitors and things I wished I’d known before visiting.

So without further ado, here are 27 essential travel tips for Istanbul.

blue mosque surrounded by green vegetation | Istanbul travel tips

*** This article may contain affiliate links, meaning each time you click through and make a purchase, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you which helps a lot in keeping this website running. Thank you for your support 🙂

Read more about Turkey:

  • How to spend 4 days in Istanbul
  • Top 20 free attractions in Istanbul
  • 16 Best photography spots in Istanbul
  • How to spend 7 days in Turkey
  • Best ways to get from Istanbul to Ephesus
  • How to book a Turkey car rental

Table of Contents

Istanbul Travel Tips for planning your trip

1. you need at least 3 or 4 days in istanbul.

Istanbul is a huge city with so many things to do. This is why you need a minimum of 3 or 4 days for a proper introduction to the city and to hit all the main tourist attractions.

If you need help planning your itinerary, make sure to read my guide on how to spend 4 days in Istanbul .

Related post: Istanbul itinerary for 4 days

2. Book your hotel in advance

One of the most important Istanbul travel tips is to book your hotel in advance, especially if you’re visiting during the peak season (June to August).

Most of the nicer hotels are usually sold out several weeks or even months in advance. Booking in advance also means that you’ll benefit from cheaper rates.

Some of the best places to stay in Istanbul include Tomtom Suites , World House Boutique Hotel , and Hostel Le Banc .

people walking around taksim square in istanbul | things to know before visiting Istanbul

3. Booking.com is banned in Turkey

If you use booking.com to book your accommodation, I highly recommend doing so before you land in the country since it’s banned in Turkey.

Although you can still access the website to manage your bookings, you won’t be able to book a Turkish hotel while you’re in Turkey.

If you want to book hotels on booking.com while you’re in Turkey, I recommend getting a VPN. Alternatively, you can download the Opera browser on your phone and use their free integrated VPN.

4. Stay outside of Sultanahmet if you want a quiet night’s sleep

Sultanahmet is the most popular place to stay in Istanbul since this is where all the main tourist attractions are located.

But what you probably don’t know is that it can be very loud at night and also quite expensive compared to other neighborhoods.

I learned this the hard way during my recent trip to Istanbul. The hotel I initially stayed at was located along a street flanked by rows of restaurants that kept playing music until 2 a.m!

If you absolutely want to stay in Sultanahmet, Camelot Apartment is located on a rather quiet street, not too far from the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.

Otherwise, I recommend staying in either Beyoglu or Karakoy if you want some peace and quiet.

view of the city and bridge from galata tower in Istanbul tips for tourists

5. You probably need a visa to visit Turkey

One of the most important travel tips for Istanbul is to check whether you need a visa or not. You can do so on the official website here .

There are also third-party websites where you can apply for a visa but these are usually more expensive as they charge an additional fee on top of the visa fee.

Most travelers, including US citizens, need to apply for an e-visa. The visa is valid for a period of 30 to 90 days, depending on your nationality.

UK citizens, for example, are exempt from a visa while others can get a visa for free.

When applying for an e-visa on the official website , click on “new application” and then select your country.

The cost of the e-visa and duration of stay will depend on the country you’re from.

After completing the application process, it can take a few minutes up to 24 hours before the visa is sent by email.

6. When to visit Istanbul

The best time to visit Istanbul will depend on what you want out of your trip. Below is a quick overview of the different seasons and what to expect for each.

Spring :  April to May – Mild temperature, fewer crowds, and cheaper prices. The annual tulip festival takes place in April.

Summer : June to August – Very hot and humid with temperatures rising above 30 degrees Celsius. Huge crowds, hotel and tour prices are much higher.

Fall/autumn : September to November – The temperature starts to drop, fewer crowds, and cheaper hotel rates.

Winter : December to March – Cold weather with the occasional snowfall but it’s considerably less cold than other European destinations.

Istanbul Travel Tips to skip the crowds

7. buy the istanbul museum pass.

The Istanbul Museum Pass gives you access to 10 museums in Istanbul like the Galata Tower, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Irene, Istanbul Archeological museum, and more.

The pass is valid for 5 consecutive days and is perfect for those who want to visit a lot of museums, and at the same time, skip the long ticket lines.

Another option is to buy an Istanbul E-Pass which includes skip-the-line tickets and guided tours for over 40 attractions in Istanbul. The pass is available for 2, 3, 5, or 7 days and is perfect for those who want to see as many attractions as possible while saving money.


Note : I only recommend buying the museum pass under certain circumstances. For instance, if you’re planning to visit 5 museums and the total cost of the individual tickets exceeds the cost of the museum pass, then it makes more sense to get the museum pass.

Otherwise, if you’re visiting one or two museums only, you’re better off buying individual tickets. Just remember that the pass can only be used once at each attraction.

people queuing in front of Topkapi palace Istanbul Turkey

8. Buy attraction tickets online

For those who don’t plan to purchase the Istanbul Museum Pass or Istanbul E-Pass but still want to avoid the long ticket lines, then I recommend booking your attraction tickets online.

You can book tickets to most museums and attractions on the Government website here .

9. Plan your visit outside of the peak season

The peak season in Istanbul, and Turkey in general, is during the summer months of June to August and thus attracts hordes of tourists.

Popular attractions like the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are absolutely packed with tourists during this time of the year.

If you can only come to Istanbul during the peak season, I highly recommend visiting these attractions early in the morning, at least before 8 a.m to avoid the long lines.

As more tourists visit Istanbul in summer, hotel rates also increase considerably as well as tour prices.

Another thing to note is that there are also more crowds during popular Turkish holidays like Kurban Bayrami and Ramadan Bayrami. The date changes every year so make sure to do a quick Google search before your trip.

So, if you want to avoid the crowds and get cheaper prices, I recommend visiting during the shoulder season – April/May or September/October.

chandeliers inside hagia sophia mosque istanbul

Istanbul Travel Tips for getting around

10. the bus is the best and cheapest way to get from the airport to the city center.

Istanbul has two airports – Istanbul Airport (IST) on the European side and Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW) on the Asian side.

One of the best Istanbul tips for tourists, more specifically for those traveling on a budget, is to take the Havaist bus (from Istanbul Airport) or Havabus (from Sabiha Gokcen Airport).

It’s definitely the best and cheapest way to get from the airport to the city center. Plus, the buses are very spacious and comfortable.

The bus operates 24/7 and the journey from the airport to the city center takes on average 1-2 hours, depending on where you’re staying. You can buy tickets online or directly at the airport.

If you don’t want to take the bus or are traveling with a group, then I recommend booking a private airport transfer .

11. Download apps like BiTaksi or Uber

If you don’t want to take the bus, be sure to download ride-sharing apps like Uber or BiTaksi. The fares will be much cheaper than regular taxis, plus you can see beforehand how much the journey costs, thus avoiding getting ripped off.

12. Buy an Istanbul Kart

If you’re planning to get around a lot by public transportation, it’s a good idea to buy an Istanbul kart. It costs about 60 TL and you can top up with the amount needed.

The main reason why I recommend getting the Istanbul kart is that the fares are much cheaper with the card (about 50% cheaper) compared to buying a single ticket. You’ll also save time by not having to buy tickets every single time.

A single fare with the Istanbul Kart costs about 10 TL and the good news is that the fare gets cheaper the more you use the card.

The card can be used by up to 5 people, so there’s no need to buy individual cards for each traveler in your group.

You can buy the Istanbul kart at the airport or at most metro stations in the city center and use it on the bus, metro, tram, and ferry.

Alternatively, you can buy this Istanbul transport card that’s pre-loaded with up to 20 rides. You can either pick it up at the airport or have it delivered to your hotel.

Another thing to know before visiting Istanbul is that you can also use the Istanbul Kart to pay for public toilets around the city and inside the metro stations. The toilet fee is about 2 TL.

people walking around a red historic tram on taksim square Istanbul

13. Traffic in Istanbul can be very hectic

One thing to know about Istanbul is that the traffic can be very hectic. One of the most important travel tips for Istanbul is to avoid taking the bus during peak hours, especially in the afternoon.

For instance, I once took the bus at around 5 p.m from Ortakoy to Beyoglu, and what was supposed to be a 40-minute journey ended up lasting 1.5 hours!

The traffic was so bad that I even had to get off the bus and walk back to my hotel. I’m pretty sure I arrived before the bus!

So do yourself a favor by taking the metro instead if you don’t want to get stuck in traffic during peak hours.

14. Don’t rent a car in Istanbul

As mentioned above, traffic can be very hectic which is why it’s not recommended to rent a car in Istanbul unless you plan to leave the city and start a road trip around the country.

Public transportation in Istanbul is cheap, convenient, and reliable so there’s no point in spending extra cash on car rental.

Istanbul Travel Tips to help you save money

15. there are many free things to do in istanbul.

For those traveling on a budget, you’ll be pleased to know that there are many free things to do in Istanbul. Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and all other Istanbul mosques are completely free to visit.

Visiting the Grand Bazaar (which is an experience in itself) or exploring the local neighborhoods like Balat, Fener, and Kadikoy also doesn’t cost a cent.

Make sure to read my guide to 20 things to do in Istanbul for free for more things to do.

the blue domes and minarets of camlica mosque istanbul

Related post: What to do in Istanbul for free

16. Take the local ferry instead of a Bosphorus tour

One of the most popular things to do is to take a Bosphorus tour. It costs anywhere from €10 for a 90-minute sightseeing tour up to €55 for a luxury sunset cruise including dinner .

But if you’re on a budget, you can just hop on the local ferry from Europe to Asia. A single ticket costs only about 10 TL which is a bargain.

One thing to note is that the ferry ride will be shorter but you’ll still be able to admire some of the major landmarks in the city.

boats cruising along the bosphorus strait with mosques in the backdrop

17. You can use toilets at the mosques for free

If you need to use the toilet, you can simply go to any mosque and use the toilets there for free. They are generally well-maintained and clean.

Otherwise, you can use the public toilets at the metro stations or around the city for about 2 TL. As mentioned above, you can pay the toilet fee with your Istanbul Kart if you don’t have any small change.

Travel Tips for Istanbul for a safe trip

18. take note of emergency phone numbers.

Travel is sometimes unpredictable which is why it’s always a good idea to have local emergency phone numbers on hand. Below are some of the most important ones:

Police: 155

Ambulance: 112

19. Safety in Istanbul

Istanbul is a relatively safe destination even for solo female travelers. I traveled to Istanbul solo and from my personal experience, I didn’t feel unsafe while walking alone nor did I receive any unwanted attention.

Security is pretty tight with lots of police officers especially around Sultanahmet and Taksim so you don’t have to worry about safety issues.

That said, petty crimes like pickpocketing sometimes happen, so always be aware of your surroundings and avoid flashing any expensive objects.

You should also watch out for scams which brings me to my next tip for visiting Istanbul.

a street along a local neighborhood in Istanbul

20. Watch out for common scams

Like in most big cities, you need to be aware of common scams that mainly target tourists.

The most popular one is the shoe shiner. The person will pretend to drop his brush and when you pick it up, he will then proceed to shine your shoes which obviously isn’t free.

There’s also another scam where someone will approach you and invite you for a drink. You’ll then end up being forced to pay an exorbitant bill.

In order to prepare yourself before your trip, I recommend reading  this article  about the most common scams in Istanbul.

Other Helpful Istanbul Tips for Tourists

21. buy a local sim card.

The best way to stay connected, especially if you need to use Google Maps to navigate the city, is to buy a local sim card.

There are three major internet providers in Turkey, namely Turkcell, Vodafone, and Turk Telekom. All three are quite similar but it is said that Turkcell has the best coverage.

I recommend buying your sim card when you get to the city center since those at the airport are slightly more expensive.

I bought a Turkcell tourist sim card which came with 20 GB of data and 200 minutes of local call, valid for 30 days. You just need to bring your passport and it takes only a few minutes for the sim card to be activated.

Alternatively, you can buy a pocket wifi (with unlimited internet valid for 14 days) and have it delivered directly to your hotel. It’s slightly more expensive but can connect up to 10 mobile phones at a time.

Note : If you need internet as soon as you land in Turkey, you can use the airport wifi for free. Just input your local phone number and after receiving a one-time password, you’ll be able to connect to the wifi.

22. There are lots of steep hills

One thing to know about Istanbul is that it’s also known as the “City on the Seven Hills” so don’t be surprised if you come across a lot of steep hills.

The streets along Beyoglu, Balat, and Galata Tower are among the steepest in Istanbul and you’ll be sweating buckets if you’re not dressed in light clothing. Make sure to also carry plenty of water and to wear comfy shoes.

cars parked along a steep hill in istanbul

23. Mosque Etiquette

Although you can wear any type of clothes you like in Türkiye, you need to dress more conservatively when visiting the mosques.

For women, this means covering their shoulders and knees and wearing a head scarf. Men, on the other hand, need to wear long pants.

You also need to take off your shoes before entering the mosques.

24. Check prayer times before visiting mosques

One thing to know before visiting Istanbul is that you can only visit the mosques outside of prayer times. Make sure to check the prayer times on this website before visiting.

25. Learn some basic Turkish words

Although most Turkish people can speak English, I always do my best to learn a few basic words and phrases in the local language when traveling to a new country.

A little goes a long way and I can guarantee that you’ll put a smile on the Turkish people’s faces if you at least try to speak a few words in the local language.

Below are some useful Turkish words to know:

Hello : Merhaba

Thank you : Teşekkür ederim or Teşekkürler

Please : Lütfen

Excuse me : Afedersiniz (I’ve also heard people say “pardon”)

How much : Ne kadar

bird's eye view of boats along the bosphorus istanbul

26. Drinking tap water in Istanbul

Although it’s considered safe to drink tap water in Istanbul, most locals might tell you the opposite due to the old rusty pipes and water tanks.

I did drink the tap water during my first few days in Istanbul and while it didn’t make me sick, I didn’t really like the taste.

If you don’t want to drink tap water, I recommend buying the 5 L water bottles. They are much cheaper and you can also reduce your plastic consumption since you won’t need to buy multiple water bottles.

27. Plug type

The plugs and sockets in Turkey are of type C and F with a voltage of 220 V and a frequency of 50 Hz. You’ll probably need a travel adapter if you’re coming from a non-European country.

There you have it – 27 important things to know before traveling to Istanbul. If you have any additional Istanbul travel tips to share, please comment below.

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Steph is an outdoor enthusiast who’s always down for adventure. When she's not traveling abroad, you’ll either find her exploring her own backyard or researching her next trip. She writes adventure travel guides featuring waterfalls, mountains, and beaches and shares her tips on how to travel on a budget without compromising on comfort and experience.

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Great post! I got enough details and info for my upcoming trip to Istanbul

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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


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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Sofia Adventures

50 Essential Istanbul Travel Tips for Your First Visit to the ‘Bul

50 Essential Istanbul Travel Tips for Your First Visit to the ‘Bul

I adore Istanbul. Turkey was the third country I ever visited (after Mexico and Italy), and I keep returning over and over. But it’s a complicated city for first-time visitors to grapple with. It’s compact yet sprawling. It’s inexpensive yet luxurious. Even though I’m a dog person, I love that it’s a cat city. Istanbul is, to put it succinctly, complex.

So to make it easier for you, we’ve compiled our top fifty Istanbul travel tips. We cover everything from Istanbul safety to cuisine to mosque etiquette. Our hope is that you have as smooth a first trip to Istanbul as possible, so that you, too, want to return over and over again.

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Going to visit Istanbul? Be sure to check out our Istanbul travel blog for 50 incredible Istanbul tips. If it's your first time in Istanbul (or your 5th!) we guarantee you'll find some useful Istanbul advice and recommendations to improve your trip. From the best things to do in Istanbul to avoiding scams in Istanbul to how to haggle in Istanbul markets and what to eat in Istanbul, this post covers all your bases.

Essential Istanbul Travel Tips

I’ve tried to put these in a somewhat logical order, but when writing about a topic this big, things can get out of hand. Basically, I’ve tried to cover every piece of Istanbul travel advice I’d want to tell someone if they’d never set foot in the country before, and I hope the order makes as much sense as can be expected. 

Don’t Show Up without a Visa

Turkey - Istanbul - Sofia to Istanbul Train Turkish Border Crossing

Once upon a time (in 2011), many visitors could show up to Attaturk airport sans visa, pay approximately $20 USD, and voila, they’d get a (pretty cool looking) visa stamp put in their passports.

Well, those days are long gone. Today, visitors from most countries need to apply for an eVisa on their website before getting here. 

We cover this process more in-depth in our guide to planning a trip to Turkey , but don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Where to Stay in Istanbul?

Turkey - Istanbul - Accommodations

You are supposed to have your accommodation information with you when you arrive in Turkey, and the border police may or may not ask you for it when you get here. If they do ask you for it, make sure to have it printed out or downloaded in your phone, since you may not have internet access when you first get here. 

On my last trip to Istanbul from Sofia , I was asked AND our international roaming plans weren’t working. This was at 4 AM. #nightmare  

So, do show up to Istanbul with accommodations prepared. But where to stay?

Turkey - Istanbul - Hammamhane

First, you need to decide which neighborhood in Istanbul you want to stay in. Many first-time visitors to Istanbul stay in Sultanahmet, but I prefer getting out to Beyoglu for a less touristy visit. 

If you want to dig into all our Istanbul neighborhood recommendations, we an entire Istanbul neighborhood hotel guide.  However, if you don’t want to dig through all of that, here are our top three picks (one for each budget category):

  • Budget:  A room in a hostel, usually $5-12 USD per night for a dorm bed or under $40 for a double.
  • Mid-range:  Around $40-80
  • Luxury : Around $100 per night or more

Budget:  For a great budget-friendly hotel, you can stay in single or double rooms at the  Dreamers B&B . Colorful and cozy, the B&B boasts a fabulous location in Beyoglu, less than a kilometer from Taksim Square. You can explore all of Beyoglu from here, and then head to Sultanahmet when you’re ready to see the old city. 

>> Check the pricing, reviews, and availability here. <<

Mid-Range:  For an affordable, yet trendy boutique hotel, we recommend  Peradays . It’s perfect for all Istanbul visitors, from first-timers to Istanbul veterans. The lofted rooms are generously large, so you can spread out and relax after a long day of sightseeing. They also have two cats that live here, Pera and Daisy, which you’ll be happy to greet after counting cats all day when out in the city. 

Luxury:  Istanbul has no shortage of fabulous hotels, but we love   Hammamhane , a boutique apartment-hotel that was originally a hammam, and the sister hotel of Peradays. Built in a historic hammam (Turkish bath), the suites are spacious and luxurious. Located in the heart of Cukurcuma, the antique district, Hammamhane is within walking distance to art galleries, design stores, antique shops, and chic cafés. 

Still can’t decide? Check out our guide to the  best Istanbul neighborhoods and hotels.

When is the Best Time to Visit Istanbul?

Turkey - Istanbul - Hagia Sophia - Canva

My favorite time to visit Istanbul is in May and June when it’s not too hot yet. In May, you even get to avoid the summer vacation crowds (meaning there are way fewer kids and families visiting). 

If you want to avoid crowds, I love visiting Istanbul in winter.  Here’s an overview of Istanbul weather in January to help you get an idea of what to expect if you come in winter. 

Istanbul is such a great city that I’m confident you’ll have a great time no matter when you come. The only times I would try to avoid it is July and August when the heat is simply sweltering. 

What to Pack for Istanbul

Greece - Crete - Heraklion - Old Venetian Harbor Luggage

We are in the process of creating packing lists to help you know what to pack for Turkey, but here are the top five things you do not want to leave at home:

1. A Lonely Planet guidebook , to help you plan when on the ground. We recommend the updated Lonely Planet Turkey .

2. An unlocked smartphone , so you can buy a cheap SIM card and use apps like Uber and Google Maps. If you don’t have an unlocked phone and it costs too much to get it online, you can buy a cheap but decent one online, like this unlocked Samsung .

3. An extra swimsuit so you can enjoy Turkey’s hammams and beaches without having to put a wet one back on. We like this cute but affordable one-piece .

4. Motion sickness pills for windy roads, Istanbul traffic, ferries, hot air balloon rides, etc. We recommend something natural that uses ginger rather than chemicals to avoid drowsiness, like these motion sickness pills .

5. Sunscreen (if you’re bringing checked luggage) . Sunscreen and other cosmetics can be expensive in Turkey compared to back home. You can bring these ones in checked luggage, or if you are packing carry-on only, I love having a solid sunscreen stick that doesn’t cut into my liquid allowance.

Istanbul Airports

Turkey - Istanbul - Leaving Ataturk Airport Stephanie

Istanbul airports are confusing, and since a new airport just opened this year, the information on most websites is also horribly out of date. 

The airport code IST used to mean Attaturk Airport,  but now is being routed to Istanbul New Airport. This airport is fifty kilometers from the city center. This takes about an hour to go by car, but I would never leave for an airport in Istanbul less than four hours before take off. Anxious flyers should leave five hours early. Between traffic and insane security protocols, flying out of Istanbul can be a real nightmare.

Here’s an overview of the public transportation options to get from IST to the city center. I personally prefer to use Uber since it’s much faster than the bus (and not too expensive). 

The other airport, Sabiha Gokcen International Airport, is SAW. It’s also fifty kilometers from the city center. Here’s an overview of public transportation options to and from SAW. 

If you prefer the peace of mind that comes with pre-booking an airport transfer, they are relatively inexpensive in Istanbul. We strongly recommend pre-booking your transfer with a reputable transfer company. This one has nearly a thousand reviews with an average of 4.5 stars out of 5. Book here now.

Istanbul Bus Stations

Turkey - Istanbul - Istanbul Train Station

I always plan to take a bus from Istanbul back to Sofia, and then I always cave and decide I’d rather pay the money for a one hour flight than spend the day on the bus. Therefore, I’ve avoided dealing with the bus stations in Istanbul for my last four trips.

If you do decide to use the buses, here’s a great overview of the different stations and which cities they service. 

Istanbul Train Stations

Turkey - Istanbul - Stephanie Train from Sofia to Istanbul

When I took the train from Sofia to Istanbul , we got out at Halkili station and then transferred to a free shuttle for the last hour into the city. 

Trains are a great way to get around Turkey or to travel to nearby Greece and Bulgaria. Until we have more train trips documented, check out the always knowledgable train website  The Man in Seat 61  for information about train travel in Turkey.

Istanbul Taxis

Turkey - Istanbul - Istanbul Taxi

Istanbul taxis have a bad reputation. Luckily, when I’ve needed to get in a yellow cab, I’ve never had an issue. However, you should always be on your toes. 

When using taxis in Istanbul, make sure that the meter is turned on. Always ask ahead of time for the meter. If it’s not on by the time the trip starts, ask again. If the driver refuses, get out of the taxi.

If you’re stressed that the taxi is going out of its way, you can run Google maps on your phone to keep an eye on it (just make sure your phone is on silent so the driving directions don’t get read aloud). Sometimes you’ll realize that Istanbul’s streets really are just that byzantine and there’s no better route. This is great for peace of mind. 

Carry small bills if you’ll be using taxis. Pay as close the fare as possible without needing change. Most drivers will give you change, but others might give you a problem hoping you’ll just give them a tip.

You do not need to tip a taxi driver in Istanbul. Just round up to the nearest lira. 

If you use a taxi from an airport, get one in the official taxi stand line. Never get in a random taxi or go with someone who just grabs your bags or tries to get your attention. 

Remember that taxis in Istanbul are relatively inexpensive compared to most of Europe, so if you do get ripped off a bit keep in mind that the actual value of the scam is probably not very much. 

Uber & Taxi Apps

Turkey - Istanbul - Arriving at Ataturk Airport

If the thought of taxis in Istanbul is giving you anxiety, then use Uber instead. The lowest car level is Uber black, but they are priced insanely well. 

You’ll need internet access to get an Uber, so either make sure you have a sim card, and international plan, or find some wifi. 

My only piece of advice for using Ubers in Istanbul: google whether the company is still operating in Istanbul a few days before your trip.

Why? Well, the government is constantly threatening to shut down Uber because the powerful taxi lobby hates them. While they haven’t been successful yet, just make sure they still are there. I found out that Uber left Athens the hard way. 

Get to Know Your Turkish Lira

should i visit istanbul

If you’re coming from a country that uses the USD, GBP, or the Euro, you’ll love the Turkish Lira. Political volatility has hurt the Turkish economy, and thus the Lira has nearly crashed in the last few years.

Double check the exchange rate before your trip, just in case the currency starts to recover.  Listed rates are as of July 2019.

Currency Code:  TRY

Exchange Rate:  1 TRY = 0.16 EUR / 0.18 USD / 0.14 GBP / 0.23 CAD

Most Common Banknotes:  5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200

Most Common Coins:  1, 5Kr, 10Kr, 25Kr, 50Kr

Can I Use My Euros:  Sometimes you can use Euros in Istanbul. If prices are listed in Euros, you can bet the exchange rate is inflated. It’s always better to pay in Lira.

If you’ll be visiting other Balkan countries during your trip, check out our Balkan currency guide .

Tipping in Istanbul 

Turkey - Istanbul - Mikla - Turkish Wine Turkish Food

Tipping is not as common in Istanbul as in the US, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Keep in mind that most of the time, you will not be able to put a tip on a credit card. You need access to small amounts of cash for tips.

Here are the tipping guidelines for different situations:

Restaurants & Bars: tip 5-10%

Taxis: Round up to the nearest Lira

Hammans (Turkish Baths): 10-20%

Housekeeping: 5-10 Lira

Delivery Food: 5-10%

Tour Guides: 20-30 Lira per day per group

Belly Dancers: 5-50 Lira

Salons & Barbers: 15-20%

Using Credit Cards in Istanbul

Credit Card

You will be able to use credit cards at many restaurants, hotels, and other spots in Istanbul that cater to tourists. However, credit card usage is not universal. 

As with the rest of the Balkans, a good rule of thumb is to always ask ahead of time. Between places that don’t take cards, the occasional card reader error, and needing to leave a tip, you’ll always need to have some cash on you. 

Note that American Express is not accepted in most of Europe or Asia, and that includes Istanbul. 

Wifi in Istanbul

Turkey - Istanbul - Hagia Sophia - Collab

I’ve always been able to find decent wifi in Istanbul. Most Istanbul hotels will have free wifi, but double check before you book anything. 

If it’s critical that you be able to check in to wifi during meals, it’s cool to ask restaurants if they have wifi before sitting down (most will). Besides restaurants, it’s common to find wifi at cafes, bars, and even in some public transportation spots. 

Be careful when using public wifi. It’s a good idea to protect your information with a VPN or DNS. I use Smart DNS Proxy which lets me watch that sweet HULU and HBO from anywhere in the world and alerts me if there’s a security issue on my internet connection. 

Censored Internet

Canva - Google Search Engine on Macbook Pro

You may be surprised to find out that you can’t access Wikipedia, certain hotel sites, or most porn sites. While these are unlikely to ruin your trip, it can make Turkey a difficult place to do online work from. I was trying to write some articles for National Geographic while I was there last year, and I couldn’t access sites I needed to double check place name spellings.

Of course, the issue of Internet Freedom in Turkey (or lack thereof) affects locals much more than it will affect you, but it’s still good to know ahead of time.

You also may choose to refrain from being critical of the government online in your social media posts while you are in the country.

Getting a Sim Card

Canva - Back view of a woman taking photo with a smartphone

We are in the process of writing our own guide to getting a sim card in Istanbul (similar to our Serbia sim card and Bulgaria sim card guides). Until we have a full write-up, here are some quick tips.

The main companies for pre-paid tourist sims in Istanbul are Turkcell and Vodafone. Turkcell is supposed to be a bit cheaper, but keep in mind that prices fluctuate.

For a little less than 100 Lira (about $18 USD), you can get a sim with 3 GB of data and 500 local calling minutes. This makes sim card prices in Turkey more expensive than Greece, let alone other Balkan countries. However, if you’re a data fiend, then you need the data. 

Smoking Cigarettes

Canva - Woman Holding Cigarette Sitting on Stairs

Smoking is banned inside restaurants and bars. There are typically designated outdoor smoking sections available. There may be separate smoking sections in some places inside, but it’s not common like it is in Greece. 

This is great news for people who want to avoid secondhand smoke. For smokers, the weather in Istanbul is nice so much of the year that you can sit outside much of the year.

There are some places where people will ignore the laws and smoke inside anyway (though still less frequent than in Greece). I would not personally risk breaking the law in Turkey, but it’s up to you. 

Many hotels have smoking accommodations – check before you book if this is crucial for you to enjoy your trip. 


Since Turkey is not in the EU, prescription and medication rules here are different than you may be used to if you come from an EU country. We found that most of what we wanted was available easily, but some things were not. You may be able to get alternatives pretty easy for situations where pharmacies don’t stock a particular brand name that you want.

Pharmacies in Sultanahmet are more expensive than pharmacies in the rest of the city. 

If you plan to buy medications that are cheaper in Turkey than back home, start looking as soon as you get to Istanbul. Since pharmacies are small and owner-operated, you may need to visit a few to find everything you’re looking for. 

Food & Dietary Restrictions

Turkey - Meze Turkish Food - Pixabay

Istanbul is a great place to eat if you are vegan or vegetarian. There are so many restaurant options available, so you can still enjoy a great foodie vacation without cutting corners. Use this vegetarian and vegan guide to Istanbul from one of my favorite local websites. 

If you are traveling to Istanbul and are concerned about how your food allergies will be handled, you’ll be happy to know that most of the restaurants in the busiest parts of the city have servers who speak excellent English. It should not be difficult for you to communicate your food allergy while in the city.

Don’t Drink the Water

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When I first went to Istanbul in 2011, we were told to avoid the tap water at all costs. Technically the water is now clean enough to drink, but it still has a funky taste that I would avoid. So while you don’t need to freak out and brush your teeth with bottled water, skip drinking directly from the tap.

Get to Know Your Turkish Coffee

Turkey - Istanbul - Turkish Coffee

Turkish coffee is made by a special brewing process that uses unfiltered coffee grounds. The result? It’s thicker than you may be used to back home (unless you’re from the rest of the Balkans, where this Turkish coffee might just go by another name).

It’s delicious, but you may find it to be an acquired taste. No trip to Istanbul is complete without at least having one cup (or five).

Turkish Wine

Turkey - Istanbul - Local Wine Turkish Food

While Turkey is one of the oldest wine regions in the world, it’s modern wine culture is actually intimately tied to modern Turkish democracy. Kemal Attaturk actually established the country’s first commercial winery in the 1920s. 

Turkish wine doesn’t get exported widely, so make sure to ask your server for recommendations to pair with your meals.

Alcohol Prices

Turkey - Istanbul - Raki - Canva

You will probably find that your money goes very far in Istanbul. That is, until happy hour. The reason? Alcohol prices in Turkey are shockingly high compared to other Istanbul prices.

The reason prices are so high is that the government has put a heavy sin tax on alcohol. Prices for beer and raki have increased over 600% since Erdoğan came to power in 2003. According to Politico:

Erdoğan has made no secret of his disdain for drinking, once declaring that “whoever drinks alcohol is an alcoholic.” On top of taxes, the AKP has introduced restrictions on alcohol sales. Since 2013, shops are banned from selling booze after 10 p.m. and no alcohol may be sold within 100 meters of a mosque. Advertising of alcohol — just like cigarettes — is prohibited, and alcohol and tobacco products are often blurred out on Turkish television.

Turkey - Istanbul - Turkish Souvenirs

While Turkish is the official language, there are multiple minority languages spoken in Turkey as well. If you want to pick up a few Turkish phrases before your trip, we have a section in our Turkey trip planner with about a dozen phrases that will come in handy while you’re here. 

If you don’t speak Turkish, you’ll be happy to know that you’ll find most people in service and tourism working in Istanbul speak excellent English. When in doubt, have a sim card and Google translate on your phone.

The Turkish Alphabet

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The Turkish alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet, but it incorporates diacritical marks to change the traditional pronunciations of certain letters. In addition, the letters Q, V, and W are only used in loan words and when typing foreign names.

Use this Turkish alphabet explainer to learn the pronunciation of letters in Turkey. 

Safety in Istanbul

Turkey - Istanbul - Blue Mosque - Pixabay

Istanbul, like most major European cities, is mostly safe. Much of the danger associated with the government is aimed at locals, and tourists will rarely be affected.

Like all major cities, you need to be aware of the possibility of terrorism. However, statistically, its unlikely for an incident to happen during your trip. You can check the US State Department website for current advisory warnings.

The real risks for tourist are the same things that can happen in any major city: pickpockets, tourist scams, etc. You should use the same common sense that you use in any large city.

Read:  Is Istanbul Safe? 13 Tips to Stay Safe in Istanbul

Common Tourist Scams

Serbia - Gardos - Backpack

Tourist scams happen wherever tourists gather. So pay extra attention to your surroundings whenever you’re in the major tourist sites.

One major scam is for people to invite you for a drink. Don’t have a drink with a stranger or take a recommendation for a restaurant or bar from someone on the street. When you get there, they will either rob you or overcharge you.

Another scam is for someone to just start guiding you around without asking you if you want a tour guide. Then they guilt you into paying for the tour. Avoid talking to strangers and don’t go anywhere with anyone you don’t know.

Beware of shoe shiners guilting you into getting a shoe shine. They’ve targeted you because you are an obvious foreigner, and they will overcharge you.

Always check that your bill only includes the dishes you ordered. Most restaurants would not pull a scam and overcharge you, but a few scrupulous ones will. 

Finally, avoid pickpockets by keeping your stuff put away. Never leave your bag unattended (I like to sit with a chair leg through one of the loops on my bag). I also use bags with anti-theft features to help make sure I’m a less desirable target.

Politics…Don’t Talk About (Until You Get Home)

Turkey - Istanbul - Pixabay

Turkey is the only place in the Balkans where you have to deal with this issue, but it is an important one. Follow this advice from the US State Department to avoid becoming an unwitting target. 

Participation in demonstrations not explicitly approved by the Government of Turkey, as well as criticism of the government, including on social media, can result in arrest.

What to Do in an Emergency

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If you have an emergency, notify emergency services. Keep these numbers handy just in case:

Ambulance : 112  Police : 155 Fire : 110  Tourism Police : (0212) 5274503 

Electrical Outlets

European Outlets

Turkey uses type F electrical outlets (also typically compatible with type C and E). This is the same as the rest of continental Europe.

Squat Toilets

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I saw my first squat toilet in Istanbul (though it would be far from my last squat toilet). In Istanbul, most stalls in women’s bathrooms will be western-style flush toilets, but there will sometimes be squat toilets as an option in one of the stalls. 

You most likely will not need to use one unless you travel out into rural Turkey. 

Don’t Call it Constantinople

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Constantinople fell in the 15th century. At this point, if you’re walking around calling the city Constantinople and refusing to call it Istanbul, you’re probably a jerk.

Learn a Bit of Turkish History Before You Get Here

Turkey - Istanbul - Whirling Dervish Show - Canva

The history of Istanbul goes back to Emperor Constantine (though technically it was a Greek city even before that). If you want to brush up on the city’s history before you come, you can check out these podcasts:

  • The History of Rome Podcast  
  • The History of Byzantium Podcast
  • Ottoman History Podcast

Enjoy the Call to Prayer

Turkey - Istanbul - Ortakoy Mosque at Sunset - Canva

If this is the first Muslim-majority city that you’ll be visiting, get ready for a treat! Listening to the call to prayer is one of the most beautiful experiences you can have anywhere in the world. Even non-Muslims can appreciate the beauty and tradition of this moment.

The call to prayer, known as the ezan , happens five times a day. The sound you’re hearing comes from the speakers in the minarets of the city’s various mosques. 

Respecting Islam

Turkey - Istanbul - Blue Mosque

Turkey is a secular Islamic country, and the vast majority of Turks are Muslims. Whether they are believers or not, practicing Muslims or not, this is a part of the cultural heritage of almost everyone you meet.

If you can’t be respectful of Islam by adhering to the few (extremely minor) ways to show respect, then just stay home. Don’t come and be an ugly tourist. This would include asking people blunt questions about why Islam has various rules, etc.

The only people you should ask about Islamic practices are tour guides on education tours about Islam or museum guides. It’s not a local’s job to teach you about religion. They’re just trying to live their lives. 

This guide from Passion Passport offers a great overview of how to be respectful of Islam in Istanbul. 

Visiting Mosques

Turkey - Istanbul - Ortakoy Mosque

You absolutely need to visit some mosques during your time in Istanbul. To do this properly, you’ll need to adhere to a few simple rules.

1. Only visit when it’s not prayer time . If you see that a prayer service is going on wait until it is over. Don’t try to visit on Friday nights. 

2. Take your shoes off . At most mosques, you will leave your shoes outside, but at the Blue Mosque, you’ll carry them with you in a plastic bag.

3. Men should wear pants rather than shorts. Remove any hats before entering.

 4. Women should also be covered up . Wear clothes that go past the elbow and should be covered in either pants or a long skirt. If it’s hot out, you can just bring leggings and a jacket to put on before you enter. Most mosques will have cover-ups for tourists outside.

5. Women’s hair should be completely covered . I like to bring my own scarf, but most mosques in Istanbul will have headscarves that you can borrow for your visit. 

Get Out of Sultanahmet

Turkey - Istanbul - Colorful Houses - Canva Purchase

Don’t spend every minute in Sultanahmet. In fact, I think it’s best to spend most of your trip outside of this congested (expensive area). I’d rather come to visit the sites for a day or two, and then I spend the rest of my trip in the cool parts of Beyoglu and in Kadikoy.

Be Considerate of the Restoration Work

Turkey - Istanbul - Hagia Sofia

Yes, the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque are under restoration right now. In all likelihood, these two ancient buildings will be under some kind of restoration for the rest of time. Don’t complain about it. Instead, be grateful to every restoration project that happened in the past that allowed you to be lucky enough to see these sacred places.

How to Haggle at the Bazaars

Turkey - Istanbul - Turkish Spices - Pixabay

Don’t accept any listed price when in the Grand Bazaar – the whole point is to haggle! Don’t worry about what they quote you. I like to go by this advice:

I pay absolutely no attention to what the first asking price is. I decide how much I am willing to spend, and then I offer 50% less than what my final offer will be. If my offer is rejected out of hand, then I know that there is no point in spending any time with the salesperson. If he moves his price in my direction, I will start to move up in 5% to 10% intervals. If we never reach an agreement about price, I simply say I am sorry but I cannot spend anything above my final offer. I either ask to see something less expensive or I start to walk away. Almost always the salesperson will call me back and we find something in the neighborhood of the price I have already pre-determined in my head. For us, the secret is not to become so caught up in the game that you feel you have to “win” by offering prices that are higher than what you originally decide to spend. If you cannot get your price, keep walking and looking. You will likely find something similar on the next street and a salesperson who will deal with you more equitably. It is a poor strategy to overly praise what you are thinking of purchasing, and certainly a mistake to let the salesperson see that you really want what you are attempting to purchase. Make them believe that you are only semi-interested in the product.

I also like to keep small amounts of cash in different pockets. That way I can get my cash out and show that I literally can’t pay more than I’m offering, and they can take it or leave it. 

Turkish Bath Etiquette

Turkey - Istanbul - Turkish Bath Hammam

When in Turkey, you must go to a Turkish bath! Called hammams, they’re everywhere. In fact, you could go to a new one every day of your trip and not run out of places to relax.

A few things to know before your first hammam trip:

1. Men and Women have separate facilities (or different hours). There are no co-ed Turkish baths.

2. You’ll be given a towel to cover yourself. Men typically only wear a towel. Women are also typically given a pair of underwear. 

3. If you don’t want to wear the underwear you’re given (or go naked), you can wear your own underwear. Plain black will blend in the best. Plus size women might want to just bring a pair of plain black underwear just to be safe in case the one-size-fits-all pair they give you is a bit snug.

4. Expect the women’s side to be staffed with women and the men’s side to be staffed by men.

5. Expect to tip 10-20% at the end of your visit. You will need to tip this in cash. 

6. Some hammams take credit cards (though not for the tip), but not all do. Call ahead if this will be critical.

Don’t Eat Lunch at Topkapi Palace

Turkey - Istanbul - View from the Cafeteria at Topkapi Palace

I’ve traveled to over sixty countries, and the costs of a simple lunch at Topkapi Palace shocked me to my very core. The views from the courtyard are stunning, so it’s worth coming by. But don’t show up famished needing a meal! 

Spend Some Time on the Water

Turkey - Istanbul - Fisherman in Bebek

Whether you walk on the Bosphorus, take a cruise in the city at night,  hire a private yacht, or go swimming, do not go to Istanbul and not spend at least some time on the water! The city is blessed with some of the most beautiful coastlines anywhere in the world.

If you get stuck in Sultanahmet and don’t get out, you’ll miss how beautiful the Bosphorus and Golden Horn truly are. 

Don’t Forget to See Europe & Asia

Turkey - Istanbul - Bosphorus Bridge - Canva

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m super guilty of this. There’s so much to do on the European side of Istanbul that I get caught up and forget to make it to Asia. But what’s the fun of being in a city that straddles two continents if you don’t take advantage?

There are some great things to do on the Asian side of Istanbul , so make sure you have time to enjoy them!

Don’t Miss the Sunsets

Turkey - Istanbul - Blue Mosque at Sunset - Canva

Sunset in the Balkans are epic (my theory is that this is the only benefit to the teensy bit of extra smog we have in the region). If you can, try to be somewhere to take advantage of the great sunsets (or sunrises) the city has to offer. 

Istanbul Shopping

Turkey - Istanbul - Turkish Souvenirs

I think Istanbul is one of the best shopping cities in the world, and I don’t just mean the Grand Bazaar!

I always come back with extra bags of art, Turkish delight, and too many boxes of tea. If you want to know what’s special to buy in Istanbul, check out our Turkish souvenir and Istanbul shopping guide.  

Give Yourself Some Free Time

should i visit istanbul

I personally think most travelers cram way too much into their days. While in Istanbul give yourself some time to slow down and appreciate the atmosphere.

Sip your tea slowly, have a coffee, enjoy a long mezze, and stroll aimlessly down the city’s streets. You’ll get just as much enjoyment from people watching in Istanbul as you will trying to hit every single “must-see” museum.

Wear Comfy Shoes

Turkey - Istanbul - Beyoğlu Street Sign

If you plan on hitting all of the best things to do in Istanbul, prepared to have tired feet at the end of the day! While you may be jealous of how (ridiculously) fashionable people are in Istanbul, you’ll be happier if you’re wearing shoes that can keep up with your tour schedule. 

Istanbul & Cappadocia – Not as Close as You Might Like

Turkey - Canva - Cappadocia - Best Places to Visit in Turkey

A lot of travelers want to combine a trip to Istanbul and Cappadocia, but they’re not exactly near each other. We don’t suggest doing Cappadocia as a day trip from Istanbul. If you do want to combine these two Turkish hotspots, check out our guide to  how to get from Istanbul to Cappadocia  and  our suggested Cappadocia itinerary.

Only have time for one of these cities? Check out  Istanbul or Cappadocia: Which Turkish Destination Is Right For You?

Don’t Feel like You Need to Hear a Spiel about Carpets 

Turkey - Istanbul - Grand Bazaar - Pixabay

If you’re in a situation where someone starts a sales pitch, you don’t have to listen to it. While I personally find salespeople in Israel and Jordan much pushier than in Turkey, Istanbul might be a shock if you’ve never been to this part of the world before. 

If your tour guide takes you to a carpet store or other shop, they would get a commission. You do not need to stay and hear the pitch or buy anything. You can extricate yourself from the situation politely, but don’t feel you need to stay. 

Enroll in the STEP Program

Turkey - Istanbul - Galata Tower Stephanie

If you’re an American and you are concerned about the possibility of terrorism or political unrest while in Turkey, you can enroll in the State Department’s STEP Program . This lets the government know your travel plans, and they will also email you to alert you if anything happens on the ground.

To be honest, I don’t use it when I go to Turkey (though I probably should) since I feel pretty safe there. I have used it while traveling in Tunisia during protests, and I appreciated the up-to-date emails with what to look out for and areas to stay away from.

There is a similar program for  Canadians . If you are a citizen of another country, check with your government to see if they provide these services. 

Don’t Forget about Travel Insurance!

Turkey - Istanbul - View from Mikla

It’s always a good idea to travel to Turkey or anywhere in Europe with a valid  travel insurance  policy. Istanbul is a very safe place to travel, but accidents or theft can easily ruin your trip if you don’t have the travel insurance coverage to recover the losses. Recently my aunt fell on a train in France and needed surgery, but luckily her travel insurance covered the costs in full. Thank goodness!

For travel insurance, I use  World Nomads .  I’ve been a happy customer of theirs for almost three years, and I’ve never had an issue when making a claim. I’m happy to refer them to anyone I meet.

>> Get a travel insurance quote for your trip here. <<

More Istanbul Travel Resources

Turkey - Istanbul - Stephanie Ortakoy Mosque

We have a ton of resources to help you plan your trip to Istanbul! We’re working on our massive  things to do post in Istanbul and our Istanbul safety tips , plus you can check out our  guide to the best Instagram spots around Istanbul,  our favorite  Istanbul neighborhoods and where to stay , and tips for  shopping in Istanbul .

If you will be visiting in winter, we have a special  winter in Istanbul  guide plus an overview of Istanbul weather in January.

If you want to be in the city for just a few days (four or less), check out our  Istanbul city break guide , which breaks down the best of the city so you won’t miss anything!

For more general Turkey information, check out this guide to  planning a trip to Turkey (including visa information)  and this guide to other  beautiful places to visit in Turkey . You can also check out our  Balkan currency guide , which explains how the Turkish lira works and guidelines for tipping in Istanbul.

We have tons more Turkey and Balkans resources, and we publish new content nearly daily. Bookmark our  Turkey  and  Balkans  travel pages so you can find any new resources that come out before your trip!

Pin these Istanbul Travel Tips for Your Trip!

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Stephanie has been living in and traveling around the Balkans for the past three years. She’s written for National Geographic Online , appeared on CNN Arabic and in the New York Times , and ridden more Balkan buses than is good for a person.

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should i visit istanbul

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14 must-do things on your trip to Istanbul

Nov 1, 2021 • 8 min read

Turkey, Istanbul . Topkapi Palace, the Harem

Get ready to add even more to your Istanbul itinerary: here are the top things to do in the city © Atlantide Phototravel / Getty Images

We’ve all heard the descriptions of Istanbul being a bridge between Europe and Asia, a place where East meets West and where cultures have coexisted for centuries. But not everyone is aware of its endlessly fascinating contradictions.

Here are the top things to do in Istanbul to experience the city’s different stories and faces.

Exterior view of Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) surrounded by trees in Istanbul, Turkey

Marvel at the Aya Sofya

History resonates when you visit the majestic Byzantine basilica of Aya Sofya . Built by order of the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century, its soaring dome, huge nave and glittering gold mosaics contribute to its reputation as one of the world's most beautiful buildings, and its fascinating history as church, mosque and museum make it the city's most revealing time capsule. Looted by marauding Crusaders in the 13th century, stormed by Ottoman invaders during the Conquest in 1453 and visited by millions of tourists after being converted into a museum in 1935, it is one of Turkey's greatest treasures.

Since its reconsecration as a mosque in summer 2020 , the Aya Sofya is closed to non-worshippers during the five daily prayer times, women must cover their heads and all visitors must take off their shoes to enter the inner narthex. Most of the building’s ancient marble floor has been covered by carpets, some of its mosaics are shielded by retractable screens and the upper gallery is inaccessible, but its historic grandeur remains breathtaking.

Woman walking by the ornate tiled interior of Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Experience the extravagance of Topkapı Palace

The secrets of the seraglio will be revealed during your visit to the opulent Ottoman Topkapı Palace complex occupying the promontory of Istanbul's Old City. A series of mad, sad and downright bad sultans lived here with their concubines and courtiers between 1465 and 1830, and extravagant relics of their centuries of folly, intrigue, excess, patronage, diplomacy and war are everywhere you look. Highlights include the huge Harem, impressive Imperial Council Chamber, object-laden Imperial Treasury and picturesque Marble Terrace.

Uncover the secrets of Topkapı Palace

Young woman looks at lights at a market stall in the Bazaar District of Istanbul, Turkey

Lose yourself in Istanbul's Bazaar District

The chaotic and colorful Grand Bazaar is the best-known shopping destination on Istanbul's historic peninsula, but it certainly isn't the only one. After exploring its labyrinthine lanes and hidden caravanserais, follow the steady stream of local shoppers heading downhill into the busy shopping precinct of Tahtakale, which has at its hub the seductively scented Spice Bazaar . From there, head back up toward the Blue Mosque and its attached arasta (an arcade-style Ottoman bazaar that typically featured practitioners of a single trade), where you may well find a lasting memento of your trip.

Ride Istanbul’s ferries

Climbing aboard one of the city's famous flotilla of ferries is the quintessential Istanbul experience. The trip between Asia and Europe on a commuter ferry is hard to beat, but the Bosphorus tourist ferries that travel the great strait from Eminönü toward the mouth of the Black Sea are even better, offering passengers views of palaces, parks and ornate timber mansions on both the Asian and European shores. It doesn't matter whether you opt for a long or short cruise: either is sure to be memorable.

Istanbul ferries will now run during the night at weekends

Nostalgic tramway on the main pedestrian street of Istiklal Caddesi at night in Istanbul, Turkey

Revel in Istanbul's nightlife

Though Istanbul’s nightlife scene has suffered some setbacks, you can’t keep a good party town down. For a traditional night out, head to one of the Beyoğlu district’s meyhanes, tavern-like restaurants serving meze and fish where sing-alongs of classic songs flow with each new round of rakı, an anise-flavored liquor. Lively crowds of young beer-drinkers fill the pubs of the Beşiktaş Çarşı and central Kadıköy, while a swankier set sips cocktails near the Bosphorus in the bars and cafes of Bebek and Arnavutköy. For the full Istanbul experience, top off the evening by joining your fellow revelers in lining up for some late-night street food.

Get acquainted with Turkish contemporary art

Anchored by high-profile cultural institutions like Istanbul Modern , Pera Museum , SALT Beyoğlu and Yapı Kredi Kültür Sanat , the Beyoğlu district has long been a hub for art-lovers, with galleries and museums scattered on and around İstiklal Caddesi , and increasingly in the adjacent Karaköy, Tophane and Dolapdere neighborhoods as well. Well-established commercial galleries in stately apartment buildings also cluster among the chic boutiques of the Nişantaşı neighborhood, while hip Kadıköy has an up-and-coming independent art scene of its own.

Inside a traditional hamam bathhouse in Istanbul, Turkey

Surrender to the steam in a bath house

In life, there aren't too many opportunities to wander seminaked through a 16th-century Ottoman monument. But Istanbul's world-famous hamams offer just that: the chance to immerse yourself in history, architecture, warm water and soap suds all at the same time. A hamam treatment makes for a relaxing finale to a day spent pounding the city's pavements and gives a fascinating insight into the life and customs of Ottoman society. You can surrender to the steam at baths on both sides of the Galata Bridge: the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı in Tophane and the Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı in Sultanahmet are particularly stunning and luxurious.

Istanbul's bathhouses: a step-by-step guide

Hang out with the cool kids in Kadıköy

Riding a ferry across the Bosphorus is one of Istanbul’s great pleasures and the Asian-side neighborhood of Kadıköy is becoming a destination in itself, with hip cafes, bars, restaurants and boutiques frequented by a lively young crowd. Peruse the colorful produce market , hunt for street-art murals in the backstreets, visit the museum-home of Turkish rock giant Barış Manço or stroll the waterfront with an ice cream in hand. The sunset views from the shoreline are among the most spectacular in the city.

Skewers of meat on a grill in Istanbul, Turkey

Sample the flavors of Istanbul

More than anything else, Istanbullus love to eat, and food is much more than mere fuel. Instead, it’s a celebration of community. Meals unfurl with great ceremony – they are joyful, boisterous and almost inevitably communal. The national cuisine has been refined over centuries and is treated more reverently than any museum collection in the country. That’s not to say it’s fussy, because what differentiates Turkish food from other national noshes is its rustic and honest base. The small meze dishes you’ll eat will be simple, the kebaps austere, the salads unstructured and the seafood unsauced. Flavors will explode in your mouth because ingredients are used in season.

Top 5 Istanbul cooking courses and food tours

Admire the architecture of Süleymaniye Mosque

Commissioned by the Ottoman sultan Süleyman I, known as “the Magnificent,” this 16th-century mosque has a fittingly grand perch atop one of the old city’s seven hills. The view from here is one of the finest in Istanbul, looking out over domes and rooftops to the confluence of the Bosphorus and Golden Horn waterways and beyond. With its elegant symmetry and soaring interior, the mosque itself is considered among the masterpieces of the great architect Mimar Sinan. The complex around it is inviting and serene, with tall trees, a grassy lawn and a rose-studded cemetery.

Lights illuminate the columns and arches of the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey

Go underground at the Basilica Cistern

When the Byzantine emperors decided to build something, they certainly didn't cut corners. The extraordinary subterranean Basilica Cistern , located opposite Aya Sofya, features a wildly atmospheric forest of columns (336 to be exact), vaulted brick ceilings, mysterious carved Medusa-head capitals and ghostly patrols of carp. A testament to the ambitious town planning and engineering expertise of the Byzantines, the cistern has played a starring role in innumerable motion pictures (remember From Russia with Love ?) and is now one of the city's best-loved tourist attractions.

Go tile-mad at the Blue Mosque

Officially named the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, after the early 17th-century Ottoman ruler Ahmed I, the Blue Mosque gets its better-known moniker from the color of the tens of thousands of İznik tiles that adorn its interior. With its enormous courtyard, grand prayer hall and six minarets (an unprecedented number for a mosque when it was constructed) this is a building made to impress – and to rival the Aya Sofya, which sits directly opposite across a landscaped square.

Beautiful fountain and gardens in front of Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul, Turkey

Ogle the opulence of Dolmabahçe Palace

Weighing in at nearly 10,000 pounds, the crystal chandelier hanging over the Ceremonial Hall of Dolmabahçe Palace exemplifies the opulence of this royal residence commissioned in the mid-19th century by Sultan Abdül Mecit I. It’s a glorious mishmash of styles and materials, with ceilings gilded with thousands of pounds of gold, marble floors, crystal bannisters and bearskin rugs. The Bosphorus views are just as dazzling as the decor.

Let your feet be your guide

Istanbul’s marvelous sights could keep a visitor busy for months, but it’s worth taking some time to explore its myriad neighborhoods as well. Though the city is sprawling, its central districts are walkable and reward wandering, with lively street life and distinct identities. Follow the film crews and Instagram influencers through shabby-chic Fener and Balat’s historical lanes ; sip black tea with a Golden Horn view at the Pierre Loti Café , perched above the leafy cemeteries and holy tomb complexes or Eyüp; or watch fishermen cast their lines from the Bosphorus village of Arnavutköy.

You might also like: A hotel in Istanbul has the world's first baklava butler The best shops you can only find in Istanbul Local's guide to Istanbul

This article was first published February 2011 and updated November 2021

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The adventurous feet

Istanbul travel tips: 18 Things to know before traveling to Istanbul

Planning to travel to Istanbul for the first time? Here are the best Istanbul travel tips you need to know to enjoy this incredible Turkish city.

Traveling to Istanbul for the first time? It is exciting to be going to this incredible city that is full of wonders and partially a Unesco World Heritage site.

Having been to Istanbul for the first time myself and making a number of mistakes, I have enough knowledge to write a detailed guide of all the Istanbul travel tips using my personal and general experiences so that you are not as green as I was when you reach this Turkish megapolis city.

best things to do in istanbul

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Istanbul is a big and fascinating city and a dream destination for many travelers.  With so much history and modern sides to it, it is the only city in the world that lies on 2 continents – Asia and Europe.

Istanbul is one of the major touristic cities in the world receiving over 39 million tourists every year (as of 2018 figures). With all those tourists on the go, it might be overwhelming for first-time visitors to figure out how best they can enjoy the city.

Please note that this post is not about the things to do , places to see in Istanbul , or even places to stay but rather travel tips for Istanbul for first-time visitors

If your trip to Istanbul is also the first time you’re taking a flight, read this post to get all the must-know tips for first-time flyers .

Before You Go, Here Are Some Quick Practical Tips for Planning Your Trip to Istanbul

–  Book your accommodation in advance. For the best stay, I suggest staying at Royal Suites Sultanahmet (9.0/10) if you’re on a budget, Meroddi Galata Mansion (8.7/10) if you’re on a mid-range budget, or the Galataport Hotel (8.6/10) for a luxurious stay. If you’d rather book an apartment, this is the apartment rental I recommend. –  Don’t miss out on popular tours and activities in Istanbul. Some of my favorites are; the Whirling Dervishes Show , this 3-hour Bosphorus cruise dinner , this Hagia Sophia guided tour , and this Topkapi palace guided tour . –  Don’t forget to take Travel Insurance.  Request a free quote from my favorite insurance, World Nomads . –  To get the most out of your visit, I recommend buying this Istanbul pass . It will give you free access to popular attractions in the city, free public transportation, and a cruise on the Bosphorus. –  Plan your trip to Istanbul extensively with this Lonely Planet Istanbul guidebook .

General Istanbul travel tips

Arriving in istanbul.

tips for visiting istanbul

There are so many options for arriving in Istanbul. You can opt for a train, bus, flight or even a ship but of course, that will depend on where you’re coming from!

If you choose to travel to Istanbul by plane, you can check out the flight weekly deals with Skyscanner and book your flight with Expedia , the number one website with great flight deals.

Visa requirements

Just like traveling to any other place, you’ll need to obtain a visa if you’re coming from another country (though some nationalities don’t require one).

If you’re required to get a visa to enter Turkey, you can apply for an e-visa from the Turkish visa information website .

Related post: The ultimate guide to visiting Turkey

Experiences not to miss in Istanbul

While visiting Istanbul, there are some experiences you should not miss out on, whether you’re visiting for a week, a few days, or even a month.

Below are some that will make your Istanbul trip memorable.

Cruising the Bosphorus

Taking a Bosphorus cruise is one of the things to do in Istanbul at night

There is no trip to Istanbul that is complete without cruising the Bosphorus strait to explore both the European and Asian sides of this country.

Whether you book this afternoon Bosphorus cruise to be able to see how the sun shines on some of the popular attractions, this sunset cruise to see how the sun dips behind the same, or this dinner Bosphorus cruise with entertainment to watch the shimmering lights from those major landmarks of Istanbul, you’re bound to be treated to an amazing experience.

Watching the Whirling Dervishes Show

Watching a whirling dervish show is one of the best ways to spend a night in Istanbul

Spend some time being blown away by the whirling Dervish show as you watch this traditional dance that has been a part of Turkey’s culture and one of the most important heritage from the Islamic culture inspired by Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi (1207-1273).

There are a number of places where you can watch the Whirling Dervish Show in Istanbul but the one I highly recommend is at the HodjaPasha Culture Center .

You can always book your ticket on-site but to make sure you skip the long lines and have a guaranteed spot, you can book an onlıne ticket from here .

Travel tips for Istanbul for first-time visitors

1. don’t try to see everything in istanbul.

things to know before traveling to Istanbul

As I said earlier, Istanbul is massively huge and the idea that you’ll be able to see everything seems far-fetched.

Instead of running around the city from one place to another in a rush and eventually get overwhelmed, why not prioritize the places to visit by creating a proper Istanbul itinerary .

Istanbul offers a mix of history, culture, and modern, so decide which section you fancy the most or try to even mix it a little bit by visiting half of the historical part and the modern part. With that, you’ll be able to see a great deal of Istanbul.

You can also read my previous post that showcases some of the best things to do in Istanbul for an amazing time in the city.

2. Get yourself an Istanbul kart (Istanbul card).

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is one f the monuments in Europe

Like many major cities in the world, Istanbul revolutionized its public transportation by introducing an Istanbul Kart in 2009 also known as the Istanbul Card.

Public transportation in Istanbul is as good or nearly as good as private transportation – so you shouldn’t be afraid to use it.

The Istanbul card is used to pay for all public transportation around Istanbul whether buses, metros, or ship.

It costs a one-time fee of  10TL(Turkish Liras) and comes preloaded with 4TL.  After that, you keep loading credit on it to be able to use public transportation.

Most of the stations have a point where you can purchase or recharge your Istanbul card from.

And the advantage of using an Istanbul card is that you always get a discount on transportation and can be used by up to 5 people.

For example, if you use a bus in the morning (or any time) and a few hours later, you use it for the ship, the ship price will be discounted.

Unfortunately, if you don’t purchase an Istanbul card, it will be sometimes hard to use public buses, metro, or a ship.

However, you can still use the yellow taxis but I found the experience of using an Istanbul card very interesting and convenient.

Related post:  Things to do in Istanbul at night

3. Get the museum pass

things to see in istanbul

If you’re planning to visit different museums and archaeological sites, a museum pass will be very useful.

The museum pass can be obtained from any historical site that accepts them or even online.

It can also be used in selected museums and archeological sites around the country. If you only plan to visit one city in Turkey, you can opt for a regional museum pass instead of the nationwide one.

The advantage of getting the museum pass is that you save more money on entry fees and time as you don’t waste time in queues.

All you have to do is to swipe the pass in the machine, once accepted, you enter immediately without spending time lining up.

The museum pass costs 210TL, saving you some money for your next adventure making it one of the best ways to enjoy Istanbul on a budget .

If you’re planning to travel to Istanbul only, get yourself this Istanbul museum pass that costs 125TL and gives you one-time access to most museums and archaeological sites for 120 hours after the initial usage of the pass.

On top of the Museum pass, I’d recommend you to buy this Istanbul tourist pass . It also has the same advantages as the Museum pass but it can also be used in other major tourist sites, not just museums.

The Tourist pass can be easily bought online from here .

4. Download travel apps for visiting Istanbul

tips for traveling to istanbul

These apps are not only for people visiting Istanbul for the first time but even Istanbul frequent travelers that want to make their trip easier.

So before you go, download these apps to make traveling around Istanbul easier.

The grand bazaar app

Shopping at the Grand bazaar is one of the things to do in Istanbul at night

With over 4,000 shops and a total number of daily visitors between 250,000 to 400,000 people, the grand bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world.

With all that, it might be a bit difficult to navigate easily within the grand bazaar especially for first-time visitors.

But with the grand bazaar app, you’ll be able to navigate easily and fast. You can use the app to locate everything you need from an ATM, restaurants, restrooms to specific shops.

The advantage of this app is that it not only shows you the location of the place but also how to get there from your current location.

Even though yellow taxis are widely spread in Istanbul, sometimes it might be a little hard to get one when you urgently need it.

BiTaksi is a great app to order for a private taxi and it will be available in just a few minutes.

The best part is that with this app you’re able to see all the details of the driver from the license number, name to phone number and on top of that, you’ll be able to see how much the journey costs from the fare calculator that is incorporated within the app. “Think of BiTaksi as the uber version in Istanbul.”

This is another useful app that every first-time traveler to Istanbul should download.

Istanbul being a big city curated with traffic, it might be hard for a first-time traveler to get around easily using public transportation.

This is where the Trafi app comes in to show you all the available means of public transportation near your current location.

The app shows you all the schedules of public transit, how long the journey will take, and also the real-time traffic in that area for each particular mode of transport.

With these apps downloaded on your phone, you’re bound to have a fabulous stay in Istanbul.

Other great apps to download while visiting Istanbul include; Sesli Sozluk to easily translate words and sentences from/to English and Turkish, Yandex.maps for easy navigation around Istanbul, and Yemeksepeti for food delivery.

Related: Check out these free travel apps that might also be useful while traveling in Istanbul.

5. Get a prepaid Turkish sim card

istanbul tips for first time visitors

When you visit Istanbul for the first time, it will be much easier to buy a prepaid sim card that is if your phone is unlocked.

The most common service providers are Turkcell and Vodaphone. All these have a tourist sim card that comes loaded with the internet, calling minutes, and text messages.

The amount of GBs, minutes, and texts depending on the package you choose.

The best sim card will depend on personal requirements, so I advise you to walk up to both shops, compare the packages and prices and choose the one that suits your needs.

Nevertheless, most people recommend using Turkcell as it seems to have the best packages and most 4G network coverage but Vodaphone is just right behind it.

6. Be aware of Istanbul’s traffic

Istanbul transport1

Traffic in Istanbul is chaotic and can be worse during peak hours that’s why it’s not surprising that it was named one of the worst cities in terms of traffic and congestion in Europe. 

So, for short distances where you can walk, do so, instead of spending unnecessary time in traffic. Just make sure you know where you’re headed by using some of the apps that I suggested above.

Furthermore, Turkey uses the right-hand traffic flow system, so be cautious if you come from a country that uses the left-hand traffic flow.

Since I come from Uganda which uses a left-hand traffic system, it took me time to get used to their system, and a few times I ended up looking in the wrong direction before crossing the roads.

7. Learn a few Turkish words before you go

Turkish people are friendly and welcoming and speaking a few of their words or even making an effort to construct a sentence in Turkish will bring you closer to their hearts.

During the time I visited Turkey, I knew a few words in Turkish, and every time I used them or tried to make a sentence, I’d see the Turks’ eyes light up more.

This shows them that you’re not just visiting the tourist sites but actually care about the people and their language.

Here are a few words and phrases you should learn before you go.

  • Hello: Merhabā (mehr-hah-bah)
  • Good Morning: Günaydın (gew-nahy-duhn)
  • Good evening:  iyi akşamlar
  • Please: Lütfen (lewt-fehn)
  • Thank you: Teşekkürler (te-shek-kewr-lehr)
  • Yes: Evet (eh-vet)No: Hayir (hah-yuhr)
  • How are you?  Nasılsınız? ( NAHS-suhl-suh-nuhz)
  • I’m fine, thank you. İyiyim, teşekkür ederim. (ee-YEE-yihm, tesh-ek-KEWR eh-dehr-eem)
  • Good night  İyi geceler (EE geh-jeh-LEHR)
  • I don’t understand: Anlamadım (an-la-ma-duhm)
  • Where is: Nerede (neh-reh-deh)What’s your name: Adınız ne (ah-duh-nuhz neh)

You can learn more Turkish words and phrases from here .

Related post: Fun facts about Turkey that you should know

8. Do not rent a car in Istanbul

best things to do in Istanbul

As you might have read earlier, Istanbul’s traffic is crazy to the point of being named one of the most trafficked cities in Europe and in the world.

As a first-time traveler, you don’t want to waste your precious time in traffic or trying to learn how to navigate the city, so it’s important not to rent a car while in Istanbul.

In the same regard, Istanbul’s public transportation is quite comfortable. Whether it is taking a train, Tram, a ship, or a yellow taxi, you’ll feel comfortable while transiting through Istanbul as the locals do.

Related: While traveling in Istanbul, make sure that you avoid making these Istanbul travel mistakes.

9. Book your accommodation on time

istanbul travel tips

Since Istanbul is a touristy place with millions of visitors, it is better to book your hotel in advance.

Here you’ll get the most value for your money and find a good place in the center of Istanbul.

Ready to book your accommodation in Istanbul? Book it from here with booking.com and choose the best hotel to suit your needs.

Note: Booking.com doesn’t work while in Turkey. So if you need to book accommodation with them, you should do it before entering the country.

Some of the hotels I recommend staying at in Istanbul include; Basileus Hotel Istanbul which is located in the heart of the Sultanahmet district, Cheers Hostel if you’re traveling on a budget, and Novotel Istanbul Bosphorus Hotel if you want to stay in the best location.

If you don’t see anything you like in the ones I’ve recommended, then you can check out more places to stay in Istanbul here .

10. Carry comfortable shoes you can easily walk with

things to do in Istanbul

Istanbul is very big – I can’t emphasize that enough! And to be able to see most of the things, you’ll need to walk or even take a train.

So taking comfortable shoes to walk around the city is a perfect idea. Actually, if you try to look at the locals in Istanbul, it is soo hard to even find a single person wearing high heels.

Most of them do wear sneakers or sports shoes as they are easy and comfortable to walk with.

Don’t have good walking shoes? Why not check on Amazon for the best walking shoes that are highly rated by previous buyers.

11. Is Istanbul tourist-friendly?

istanbul tourist attractions

Istanbul is one of the major tourist places in Europe receiving travelers from all over the world.

With major touristic sites like Hagia Sophia, the blue mosque, and the grand bazaar, Istanbul should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Even with so many things to do in Istanbul, first-time travelers still wonder whether Istanbul is tourist-friendly. The simple answer is yes!

Turkish people are always friendly and sometimes willing to go out of their way to offer help.

But even though it is tourist-friendly, there are a few people that target tourists to scam them. Read this post to find out all the Istanbul scams and how to avoid them.

12. How safe is Istanbul for tourists?

taking a free walking tour is one of the free things to do in Istanbul

Istanbul is generally safe for tourists even solo travelers. But like any other place, you just need to take care of yourself and your items.

Security is paramount whether you’re visiting Istanbul for the first time or a frequent traveler, so you just need to be aware of your surroundings and Istanbul will be very safe for you.

You can my previous post to get all the general tips on how to stay safe while traveling .

Related post: Is it safe to travel to Turkey now?

13. How many days are enough for Istanbul?

travel tips for istanbul

There is no specific rule on how many days you should spend in Istanbul. Actually, this should be decided by you depending on the time you have, your budget, and what you want to see in Istanbul.

But personally, I’d suggest spending at least 5 days in Istanbul to be able to experience the city a little more.

But if you have more time and money, why not go as far as a month because there is so much to see and experience that even after a month, you’ll still want more of this amazing city.

14. What is the best time to visit Istanbul?

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The best time to visit Istanbul still depends on you individually, whether you want to do summer activities or winter activities .

But as a first-time traveler to Istanbul, it is better to travel during either summer or, early fall or spring months to be able to enjoy Istanbul without worrying about wearing several coats and jackets to warm up.

However, since in most cases, the question of the best time to visit a certain place is based on weather, in summary, the best time to visit Istanbul would be in the spring and autumn months when the weather is ideal and the city is not crowded by the swarm of tourists like in summer.

To make it easier for you to decide on when to visit, here is an overview of Istanbul weather.

15. Places to visit in Istanbul

Watching the dancing fountain at the Sultanahmet park is one of the best ways to enjoy Istanbul nightlife

Istanbul is endowed with a number of incredible places to visit from the oldest church to the heart-throbbing museums that receive thousands of visitors on a daily basis.

And as a first-time traveler, here are some of the places not to miss in Istanbul include;

  • The Blue Mosque
  • Hagia Sophia
  • Topkapi Palace
  • Suleymaniye Mosque
  • The Grand Bazaar
  • Galata Tower
  • Cruise the Bosphorous to see both the European and Asian side of Istanbul
  • Taksim and so many others.
  • You can also check out my complete list of the best things to do in Istanbul .

16. What to wear in Istanbul

Traveling to Turkey on a budget? Here are the top free things to do in Istanbul #Turkey #Istanbul #freethingstodoinistanbul #bestplacestovisitinIstanbul

You’ve probably heard that you need to fully cover up (especially women) while traveling in Istanbul.

But I’d like to set the record straight that this is not ALL true. Yes, almost 95 percent of Turks are Moslems but they’re not very conservative.

This means that they do not mind so much about what you wear especially in big cities as long as you’re modest enough.

However, when visiting places of worship, you’ll need to cover your shoulders and legs! And no, you do not need to cover your head with a scarf.

So in summary, you can literally wear anything in Istanbul as long as your dress appropriately while visiting mosques. Clothes like summer dresses, tank tops, jeans, skirts, or shorts are totally wearable in Istanbul.

17. What to pack for Istanbul

istanbul travel tips

To enjoy Istanbul to the maximum, you need to have all the travel essentials. So here are some of the travel essentials not to leave behind when traveling to Istanbul.

  • A Travel scarf:   This scarf   is soft on the skin but also big enough to act as a blanket or a cover when you find yourself in places where you need to cover your hair. But if you need an anti-theft scarf,  this one  is a great choice and can keep a number of items with the phone inclusive.
  • A collapsible water bottle:  As a traveler, you shouldn’t leave a bottle behind when going to Istanbul. So pack  this collapsible water bottle  so that you can refill it every time it runs dry.
  • A money belt or Travel pouch:  Since there is a lot of street theft in Istanbul, especially in crowded places like the Grand Bazaar, I’d advise you to either carry  this money belt  or this travel pouch  to be able to keep your money safe.
  • A universal travel adapter : Since Istanbul might have different sockets compared to other countries, I’d advise you to buy a universal travel adapter so that you don’t keep changing for every country you go to. You can  buy one from here  if you don’t have it yet.
  •   A power Bank : One of the things you should never leave behind while traveling to Istanbul is the Powerbank! Phones have now become a great deal of our lives that we need to use them for so many important things. So take a power bank with you so that you don’t run out of battery.  This power bank   is small, light, and has the capability to charge your phone and other devices multiple times.
  •   Microfibre travel towel  – I always opt for  this microfibre travel towel   because it is super lightweight, easy to wash, and dries easily.
  •   First Aid kit : Regardless of where you’re traveling to, you’ll need to pack a First Aid kit for emergencies that might arise. Remember it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Just make sure that the one you pack has all the essentials and that it is small and light enough to fit in any kind of suitcase/ backpack.  This first aid kit   actually fits all the qualities mentioned above plus it is really cheap for what it offers.

18. Be aware of Istanbul travel scams

Istanbul scams and how to avoid them. #safetyinturkey #howtostaysafeinturkey #isitsafetotraveltoturkey

Like all major cities, Istanbul has its own share of scams targeting majorly tourists.

So as a first-time traveler to Instanbul, the best thing you can do to not get scammed is by researching the most common scams in Istanbul.

Some of the commons scams you should look out for include;

  • Being invited for a drink at a bar by a super friendly local that knows a nice place that has the best beers/whiskeys in town.
  • Someone offering you help at the Grand Bazaar. 
  •  Street robbery/ Pickpockets

Final Thoughts on the Best Istanbul Travel Tips

Now that you know everything you should know as a first-time traveler to Istanbul, it’s time to pack your bags and get ready to experience a trip of a lifetime.

Have you been to Istanbul yet? Do you have other travel tips for Istanbul that worked for you? Share with us by leaving them in the comment section.

NEVER TRAVEL TO ANYWHERE WITHOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE One of the biggest mistakes you’ll ever make when planning a trip is to forego Travel Insurance! You might think that it’s expensive, but when you think of how much it will save you when you lose your valuables or even get sick, then you’ll know that it’s  NOT  that expensive! There are many Travel Insurance companies out there, but I love  World Nomads ! They cover almost every single thing you might face/do while traveling, it is easy to request a quote, and if you ever need to claim, the claiming process is not a rat race! I’ve used World Nomads on all my trips, and I am confident and happy to recommend it to you! No worries if you’re not yet ready to book your trip, you can request a  free quote from World Nomads here  and see if it suits your personal needs!

More posts to help you plan your trip to Turkey:

  • Best places to visit in Turkey.
  • Things to do in Istanbul at night
  • How to enjoy Istanbul on a budget
  • Free things to do in Istanbul
  • Things to know before traveling to Turkey
  • Things to do in Marmaris, Turkey
  • Cool facts about Turkey
  • Is it safe to travel to Turkey?

Was this post on the best Istanbul travel tips helpful? Then please share it with others

Traveling to Istanbul for the first time? Here is everything you need to know before you go. |Travel tips for first time visitors to Istanbul |what is the best time to visit Istanbul| Is it safe to travel to Istanbul| what to know before visiting Istanbul |Istanbul travel tips |tips for traveling Istanbul |travel tips istanbul | istanbul travel advice |travel tips for istanbul |istanbul tips | things to know before going to istanbul #whattoknowbeforegoingtoistanbul #istanbultraveltips #theadventurosfeet

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amazing travel tips for those who want to visit turkey

Hey! Came here for other things but since you mentioned scams, I’ll share my experience. I arrived to Turkey to realise my apartment booked on booking.com doesn’t exist. Booking.com refunded me but still, it was very stressful arrival since it was midnight when I got there. Anyway, be aware of any accommodation that has a few reviews on both, booking.com or Airbnb, these are likely to be scam as I found many more similar offers with the same red flags once I realised I fell for the trap. Be safe people, Turks are friendly but not all of them 🙂

That’s really a complete and detailed guide about Istanbul. I will definitely benefit from your advices. Especially Istanbulkart advice.

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22 Must-Have Experiences in Istanbul, Turkey

Julie Last updated: July 23, 2023 Turkey 40 Comments

Istanbul Turkey Best Things To Do

Istanbul is one of the world’s great cities. There are so many wonderful reasons why you should visit this city. Istanbul is old, dating back thousands of years, and with that, there are many historical places to visit. Istanbul is gorgeous, with its assortment of mosques and their colorful tile work and dramatic architecture. Istanbul is charming; we met so many welcoming, friendly people here. And finally, Istanbul is home to the Hagia Sophia, an amazing architectural feat and one of the Wonders of the World.

If you have plans to visit Istanbul, you should know that there is a lot to see here. You can easily fill five days of your time in Istanbul. Hopefully, you have at least three days on your itinerary, but more time is ideal.

Either way, if you are like us, you will be dreaming about returning to Istanbul someday. It’s just that kind of city…it stays in your heart long after you leave.

Table of Contents

Best Things to Do in Istanbul

1. the hagia sophia.

If you only have time for one thing in Istanbul, it should be the Hagia Sophia.

This cathedral was constructed in 537 AD. For 900 years it was the seat of the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople. The Hagia Sophia was the single greatest architectural achievement of the Byzantine Empire. In 1453, when the Ottomans took over Constantinople, the Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque. It functioned as a museum until July 2020. Now, it is a mosque.

Hagia Sophia Istanbul | Best things to do in Istanbul

Hagia Sophia | Best Things to Do in Istanbul

Step inside this amazing wonder. The Hagia Sophia still retains the elements of Christian and Islamic religions. 

Allow about two hours to tour the entire building. You can purchase tickets in advance through GetYourGuide. The last time we checked, adult tickets were being offered on GetYourGuide for the same price as the official website and the GetYourGuide website was easier to use.

Inside the Hagia Sophia Istanbul

Inside the Hagia Sophia | Best Things to Do in Istanbul

2. The Blue Mosque

Walk across Sultanahmet Square to the Blue Mosque. Built in 1616, the Blue Mosque is famous for the intricate blue tile work the covers the interior of the building. It is free to enter, and if you have never been inside of a mosque before, this is a good one to start with. There are particular rules you must follow when entering a mosque, and because of the large numbers of tourists that visit the Blue Mosque everyday, the entrance procedures are well explained here.

On this walking tour, visit both the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque with a knowledgeable guide.

Blue Mosque Istanbul | Best things to do in Istanbul

Blue Mosque | Best Things to Do in Istanbul

Blue Mosque Interior Istanbul

3. The Grand Bazaar

For us, one of the highlights of Istanbul was shopping in the Grand Bazaar. Normally, shopping can be a drag for kids. But not in the Grand Bazaar. Even Tyler and Kara were excited about our return visits here. With its kaleidoscope of colorful lanterns, its friendly people, and its maze of hallways, the Grand Bazaar is a joy to explore.

LEARN MORE: Shopping in the Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar Istanbul | Best things to do in Istanbul

The Grand Bazaar | Best Things to Do in Istanbul

4. The Basilica Cistern

Descend underground Istanbul to one of the city’s ancient reservoirs. The Basilica Cistern is dark, chilly, and mysterious. See if you can find the two slightly creepy Medusa heads.

Basilica Cistern Istanbul | Best things to do in Istanbul

Basilica Cistern | Best Things to Do in Istanbul

5. The Chora Church (Kariye Museum)

The Chora Church is a Greek Orthodox Church famous for its frescoes and mosaics. These mosaics portray the life of Jesus Christ.

Chora Church Mosaic Istanbul

Chora Church | Best Things to Do in Istanbul

Website: Get updated hours and pricing on the official website.

6. The Galata Tower

The Galata Tower was built in the mid 14 th century and was used as a fire tower, barracks, and a dungeon. From the top of the tower you get one of the best views of Istanbul.

View from Galata Tower Istanbul

View from the Galata Tower | Best Things to Do in Istanbul

Walking Tour: On this walking tour, explore the neighborhood around the Galata Tour with a guide and climb the steps of the Galata Tower for one of the best views of Istanbul.

7. Topkapi Palace

The Topkapi Palace was the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire. This Palace was used for 400 years until Dolmabahce Palace was constructed in the mid 1800’s. One of the best places to visit in Topkapi Palace is the Harem, where the mother of the sultan, his wives, and his concubines lived.

Topkapi Palace is a beautiful spot in Istanbul. Room after room is covered in exquisite tile work. If you are here in the springtime, the gardens are filled with tulips and hyacinths. Plus, the views of Istanbul from here are amazing.

Topkapi Palace

Official website:  For updated hours, pricing, and the full schedule of closing dates,  click here. Skip-the-Line Tour:  If you want to take a guided tour of Topkapi Palace and skip the line,  here is a tour  that gets great reviews.

8. Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent

This mosque gets our vote for the most beautiful mosque in Istanbul. It was renovated in 2010, which accounts for its sparkling interior. This mosque is actually older than the Blue Mosque, but only by 60 years. It was built by the sultan Suleyman the Magnificent during the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire.

Suleyman Mosque

Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent | Best Things to Do in Istanbul

9. Eminonu Square

Eminonu is a very busy, slightly chaotic spot in Istanbul. This harbor area sits on the Golden Horn, a famous waterway that runs through the city. From Eminonu you can visit mosques, the Spice Market, famous restaurants, or catch a ferry that will shuttle you to any number of places in Istanbul. Take in the scene here. This is Istanbul in action, a hive of activity all day long.


Eminonu Square | Best Things to Do in Istanbul

10. Galata Bridge

This bridge spans the Golden Horn, joining the older sections of Istanbul with the more modern neighborhoods. A walk across this bridge is a must while in Istanbul.

Galata Bridge

11. Rustem Pasha Mosque

Rustem Pasha Mosque is a very small mosque that is famous for its Iznik tile work. It does not look like much on the outside, but it’s what is on the inside that counts, right? Well, the tile work in this mosque is some of the best in Istanbul.

Rustem Pasha Mosque | Best things to do in Istanbul

Rustem Pasha Mosque | Best Things to Do in Istanbul

12. Try Some New Foods

While in Istanbul, try some of the local foods. Kofte are meatballs made with lamb or beef. Pide is “Turkish pizza.” Meze are cold appetizers. Dolma are stuffed vine leaves or vegetables. Sis Kebabs, skewers of cooked meat, are delicious. Doner is a meat sandwich made from lamb, beef, or chicken. Turkish delight (lokum) and baklava are two delicious options for dessert.

This half day food tour, led by a local guide, includes a visit to both sides of the Bosphorus. Try Kurdish foods, learn how to smoke a water pipe, cross the Bosphorus by ferry, and more. 


13. Cruise the Bosphorus Strait

Istanbul is the only city to span two continents, Europe and Asia. The Bosphorus River divides these two continents. If you have the time, a cruise on the Bosphorus Strait is a great way to see more of this city.

The cruise leaves from Eminonu in the morning and travels north towards the Black Sea. Midday, have lunch in the small fishing village of Anadolu Kavagi. From Anadolu Kavagi, walk fifteen minutes uphill to the Yoros Castle. From here, you will have excellent views of the Black Sea.

By 5 pm you will arrive back at the Golden Horn in Istanbul. This is a low key day, a perfect day to put midway through your tour through the city. Most of the time you sit and watch Istanbul glide by as you cruise the Bosphorus.

Bosphorus River Cruise

Bosphorus Strait | Best Things to Do in Istanbul

Roros Castle

Yoros Castle | Best Things to Do in Istanbul

14. Take the Commuter Ferry

For the best, cheap experience in Istanbul, take the commuter ferry from Eminonu across the Bosphorus Strait to Kadikoy. This round trip excursion takes about an hour and when we did it, it cost just $1 per person.

If you don’t have time to do the full day Bosphorus Cruise, this journey on the commuter ferry is the perfect alternative. Mix in with the locals and enjoy the views back to the the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. If you are traveling with kids, bring some bread to feed the seagulls that follow the ferry. This is a great activity to do at sunset because the views back to the Sultanahmet District are amazing.

Istanbul Commuter Ferry

15. Ortakoy

Ortakoy is a trendy neighborhood in Istanbul. Stroll the shops, dine at one of the restaurants, and see the iconic Ortakoy Mosque.

16. Istiklal Street

Istiklal Street is a famous street in the New District of Istanbul. It is a pedestrian street that can get very crowded. This area definitely feels different than the rest of Istanbul. It is here that you will find Gap and Starbucks and Nike. But it is a beautiful street, especially with the tram that runs up and down the road.

Istiklal Street | Best things to do in Istanbul

Istiklal Street | Best Things to Do in Istanbul

17. The Spice Market

This is your place to buy Turkish Delight, fresh olives, figs, pistachios, and of course, spices.

Spice Market | Best things to do in Istanbul

18. The Neighborhoods of Fener and Balat

Leave behind the more popular tourist areas and stroll through the colorful neighborhoods of Fener and Balat. One of the best ways to visit these neighborhoods is with a local guide. This small group tour gets rave reviews and includes a ferry ride along the Golden Horn.


19. Walls of Constantinople

These giant walls were built in the 5 th century. They stretch for 3.5 miles from the Sea of Maramara to the Golden Horn. Designed to keep invaders out of Constantinople, these walls were only breached twice: first in the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and later by the Ottoman invasion in 1453.

While in Istanbul, you can walk a portion of these walls. From here, you are overlooking the neighborhoods of Fener and Balat, getting a unique perspective of the city.

Walls of Constantinople | Best things to do in Istanbul

View from the Walls of Constantinople | Best Things to Do in Istanbul

20. Eyup Sultan Mosque

This is a mosque much less visited by tourists than the other mosques on this list. Located in an area outside of the main touristic zone, when you are here, Istanbul really feels “authentic.” This is a beautiful area of the city. From the mosque, follow the walking trail uphill through the cemetery. It is a beautiful walk and from the top you get a great view of the Golden Horn and Istanbul.

Eyup Sultan Mosque | Best things to do in Istanbul

Eyup Sultan Mosque | Best Things to Do in Istanbul

Istanbul Cemetery

21. The Hippodrome

Built in the 4 th century AD, the Hippodrome was the site of chariot races.

In the Hippodrome are two obelisks. The Obelisk of Theodosius (the one with hieroglyphics in the photo below) is the ancient Egyptian obelisk of King Tuthmosis III. It was erected in the 15th century BC at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor . It was moved to Istanbul in the 4th century AD by Roman Emperor Theodosius I. 

The Walled Obelisk, the older looking of the two obelisks, is actually younger than the Egyptian obelisk. 

Hippodrome | Best things to do in Istanbul

The Hippodrome | Best Things to Do in Istanbul

22.  Meet the People

Istanbul is home to some of the friendliest people we have met while traveling. Are you visiting Turkey with kids? Your children will be treated like royalty. The warmth and friendliness of the Turkish people are one of the main reasons why we fell in love with this country.

Istanbul Friends | Best things to do in Istanbul

Istanbul Museum Pass

The Museum Pass is a card that covers your admission to several of the main museums in Istanbul. It is valid for 5 days and with this card you can skip the ticket lines. It costs 360 TL.

If you visit four of the main sites that are covered in the Museum Pass (Chora Church, Topkapi Palace and the Harem), your grand total is 264 TL. The Museum Pass offers no savings, although it does allow you to bypass the ticket lines. In my opinion, it is not worth it to purchase the Museum Pass, unless you plan on visiting more sites that we do not include in this article.

Click here to learn more about the Museum Pass. 

Tours of Istanbul

Where we stayed.

Hotel Uyan.  This small hotel is located within walking distance of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. We stayed in the Blue Mosque Corner Room, a room that is relatively large for a European hotel. We had plenty of room for our family of four. From the windows we could see the Blue Mosque and the top of the Hagia Sophia. Every morning we awoke to the sound of the muezzin from the Blue Mosque. The hotel has an upper deck with awesome views over Istanbul.

If you have questions about the best things to do in Istanbul, comment below! For those of you who have been to Istanbul, what was your favorite experience?

More Information for Your Trip to Turkey:

TURKEY ITINERARY: Learn how to plan your visit to Turkey with our 10 day Turkey Itinerary, which includes Istanbul, Cappadocia and Ephesus.

SELCUK & EPHESUS: In our guide to Selcuk , we cover the best things to do in Selcuk and how to plan your visit to Ephesus.

CAPPADOCIA: In our 3 Days in Cappadocia itinerary, learn how to plan your visit here, with daily itineraries, hotel and restaurant recommendations, and helpful tips. For short, thrilling hikes to do, read our Cappadocia Hiking Guide. And learn more about taking a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia, one of our favorite experiences in Turkey.

TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY: For more information about the camera gear we carry, check out our Travel Photography Gear Guide. And tips and tricks for taking great photos in our article How to Take Better Photos while Traveling.

Planning a trip to Turkey? Read all of our articles in our Turkey Travel Guide.

Istanbul Turkey Best Things To Do

Note: This post contains affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these affiliate links, we get paid a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Comments 40

Avatar for judi raphaeli

Since we will be in Istanbul a few days we would like to know if it is possible to go around ourselves or should we take tours? Are there tours available from hotels? which is the best hotel to stay in?

Avatar for Julie

We toured Istanbul independently (without a guide) and had a fantastic experience. We used the Rick Steves travel guide as our resource. But if you feel more comfortable with a guide, or feel like you’d get more out of your visit with a guide, there are lots of options to choose from. Cheers, Julie

Avatar for Frank Hladek

In “22 best things to do in Istanbul “ a day cruise of the Bosporus is highlighted but there is no link to this particular cruise. We’ll be visiting in Sept and thought this cruise sounded right up our alley but could not find it in the myriad of options. Would appreciate any help you could give us. Thanks,


It’s been about 10 years since we have visited Istanbul. I don’t recall which company we used at the time and you are right, there are a lot of cruise options. You can look at TripAdvisor for which companies currently get good reviews. Sorry I don’t have any more information than this at this time. Cheers, Julie

Avatar for Kelly

I love all of your guides! I have used many of your US National Parks itineraries and tips so thank you.. Do you recommend any audio guides or apps for audio tours for inside any of the sights in Istanbul? I’m headed there soon. Thanks

That’s very exciting that you will be traveling to Istanbul. I love that city. We had a Rick Steves guidebook and used his information during our visit. I found this audio guide for the Hagia Sophia on GetYourGuide that gets good reviews (it looks like you enter with a guide and then use an audio guide to tour the museum…I’m not sure if it is the Hagia Sophia’s audio guide or something offered by this tour company, but it gets good reviews). On GetYourGuide, there are also audio guides for the Bosphorus and other places in Istanbul. I hope you have a great trip! Cheers, Julie

Avatar for Albert Khamidullin

Bosphorus is not a river, it is sea a strait.

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22 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Istanbul

Written by Jess Lee Updated May 11, 2023 We may earn a commission from affiliate links ( )

Author Jess Lee has been a regular Istanbul visitor for twenty years and used to run tours in the city. She lives in Turkey.

Coveted by empires across the centuries, straddling both Europe and Asia, Istanbul is one of the world's great metropolises.

View over the Hagia Sophia Mosque and Istanbul

Founded around 1000 BCE, the colony of Byzantium grew into the Byzantine Empire's great capital of Constantinople and after the Ottoman conquest of the city, retained its glorious place as the heart of their empire.

The city (officially renamed Istanbul after the founding of the Turkish Republic) is liberally scattered with glorious remnants of its long and illustrious history, and the tourist attractions here will impress even the most monument-weary visitor.

As well as the big four (the Hagia Sophia Mosque, Topkapı Palace, the Blue Mosque, and Grand Bazaar), leave enough time to explore the other sights.

Although many of the most popular and best places to visit are located in, or near, the old city district of Sultanahmet, there is a dazzling array of other things to do throughout the farther reaches of the city.

Plan your trip with our list of the top attractions and things to do in Istanbul.

1. Admire the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) Mosque

2. explore topkapı palace (topkapı sarayı), 3. visit the blue mosque (sultan ahmet cami), 4. head underground at the basilica cistern (yerebatan sarnıçı), 5. stroll the hippodrome, 6. check out the collection in istanbul archaeology museum, 7. shop in the grand bazaar (kapalı çarşı), 8. admire the architecture of the süleymaniye mosque, 9. sample turkish produce in the spice bazaar (mısır çarşısı), 10. soak up the splendor of dolmabahçe palace, 11. see the frescoes of the chora church (kariye cami), 12. visit the museum of turkish and islamic arts (türk ve islam eserleri müzesi), 13. view the little aya sofya (küçük aya sofya), 14. admire the tilework of the rüstem paşa mosque, 15. walk the ramparts of yedikule fortress (yedikule hisarı), 16. climb up galata tower, 17. cruise the bosphorus strait, 18. take in the art at istanbul modern, 19. visit the historic fatih mosque, 20. view the pera museum's ottoman-era art, 21. stroll istiklal caddesi and taksim, 22. explore the district of üsküdar, tips and tours: how to make the most of your visit to istanbul, map of tourist attractions & things to do in istanbul, istanbul, turkey - climate chart.

Aya Sofya

Highlights: Ancient architecture, deep religious significance, and glittering mosaics

It's said that when the Byzantine Emperor Justinian entered his finished church for the first time in CE 536, he cried out " Glory to God that I have been judged worthy of such a work. Oh Solomon, I have outdone you! "

The Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya in Turkish) was the emperor's swaggering statement to the world of the wealth and technical ability of his empire.

Tradition maintained that the area surrounding the emperor's throne within the church was the official center of the world.

Through its conversion to a mosque, after the Ottoman armies conquered Constantinople, to its further conversion into a museum in the 20th century and its reconversion back into a working mosque in 2020, the Hagia Sophia has remained one of Istanbul's most cherished landmarks.

Address: Aya Sofya Meydanı, Sultanahmet

  • Read More: Exploring Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia): A Visitor's Guide

Topkapi Palace (Topkapi Sarayi)

Highlights: Ottoman-era finery, sumptuous tilework, and the Harem complex

First built by Mehmet the Conqueror in the 15th century, glorious Topkapı Palace , beside the Bosphorus, was where the sultans of the Ottoman Empire lived and ruled from.

The vast complex is a dazzling display of Islamic art, with opulent courtyards lined with intricate hand-painted tilework, linking a warren of sumptuously decorated rooms, all bounded by battlemented walls and towers.

Of the many highlights here, the most popular are the Harem complex (where the sultan's many concubines and children would spend their days); the Second Court , where you can walk through the vast palace kitchens and stand in awe at the dazzling interior of the Imperial Council Chamber; and the Third Court, which contained the sultan's private rooms.

The Third Court also displays an impressive collection of relics of the Prophet Muhammad in the Sacred Safekeeping Room and is home to the Imperial Treasury, where you're greeted with a cache of glittering gold objects and precious gems that will make your eyes water.

To fully see Topkapı Palace, you'll need at least half a day.

Address: Babihümayun Caddesi, Gülhane Park

Istanbul - Canon Gate Palace - Floor plan map

Highlight: Home to Istanbul's famed domed interior of Ottoman tilework

Sultan Ahmet I's grand architectural gift to his capital was this beautiful mosque, commonly known as the Blue Mosque today.

Built between 1609 and 1616, the mosque caused a furore throughout the Muslim world when it was finished, as it had six minarets (the same number as the Great Mosque of Mecca). A seventh minaret was eventually gifted to Mecca to stem the dissent.

The mosque gets its nickname from its interior decoration of tens of thousands of Iznik tiles.

The entire spatial and color effect of the interior makes the mosque one of the finest achievements of Ottoman architecture.

Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)

A great sightseeing joy of a trip to Istanbul is wandering amid the gardens sandwiched between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia to experience their dueling domes in twin glory.

Come at dusk for extra ambience, as the call to prayer echoes out.

Directly behind the Blue Mosque is the Arasta Bazaar; a great place for a shopping stop as the handicraft shops here sell high-quality souvenirs.

Even if you're not interested in a browse, head here to see the Great Palace Mosaic Museum , which is tucked between the Arasta Bazaar and the mosque.

This small museum displays the 250-square-meter fragment of mosaic pavement that was unearthed in the 1950s here. Excellent information panels explain the mosaic floor's recovery and subsequent rescue.

Istanbul - Blue Mosque - Floor plan map

Highlight: Walking amid this atmospheric, majestic, and columned Byzantine-era space

The Basilica Cistern is one of Istanbul's most surprising tourist attractions.

This huge, palace-like underground hall, supported by 336 columns in 12 rows, once stored the imperial water supply for the Byzantine emperors.

The project was begun by Constantine the Great but finished by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century.

Many of the columns used in construction were recycled from earlier classical structures and feature decorative carvings.

The most famous of these are the column bases known as the Medusa stones in the northwest corner with their Medusa head carvings.

A visit here is very atmospheric with the columns beautifully lit and the soft, steady trickle of water all around you.

Address: Yerebatan Caddesi, Sultanahmet


Highlights: Central park area holding relics from ancient Egypt and Greece.

The ancient Hippodrome was begun by Septimius Severus in CE 203 and completed by Constantine the Great in CE 330.

This was the center of Byzantine public life and the scene of splendid games and chariot races but also factional conflicts.

Today, there isn't much of the Hippodrome left to see, except for a small section of the gallery walls on the southern side, but the At Meydanı (park), which now stands on the site is home to a variety of monuments.

On the northwest side is a fountain, presented to the Ottoman sultan by the German Emperor William II in 1898.

Then, heading southwest are three ancient monuments: a 20-meter high Egyptian obelisk (from Heliopolis); the Serpent Column brought here from Delphi by Constantine; and a stone obelisk that originally was clad in gold-covered bronze plating until they were stolen by the soldiers of the 4th Crusade in 1204.

Istanbul Archaeology Museum

Highlights: Viewing the Sidon necropolis collection, Anatolian sarcophagi, and the Tiled Pavilion

Just a hop, skip, and jump away from Topkapı Palace, and easily visited afterwards, Istanbul Archaeology Museum brings together an array of artifacts from both Turkey and throughout the Middle East, which sweeps through the vast breadth of history of this region.

There are three separate sections in the museum complex, each of which are worthy of a visit.

The Museum of the Ancient Orient displays a collection focused on the Middle East's pre-Islamic art and heritage.

The main Archaeology Museum houses statuary and tombs, including the famed sarcophaguses from Sidon, Lebanon that were unearthed by Ottoman architect Osman Hamdi Bey. Also here, you'll find the Istanbul through the Ages exhibit room, which helps you visualize the city's vast and epic history.

The museum's third building is the Tiled Pavilion, built by Mehmet the Conqueror, which houses a wide range of ceramic art.

Address: Osman Hamdi Bey Yokusu Sokak, Gülhane Park

  • Read More: Exploring Istanbul's Archaeological Museum: A Visitor's Guide

Grand Bazaar (Kapali Çarsi)

Highlight: One of the world's great shopping experiences

For many visitors, sightseeing in Istanbul is as much about shopping as museums and monumental attractions, and the Grand Bazaar is where everyone comes.

This massive covered market is basically the world's first shopping mall, taking up a whole city quarter, surrounded by thick walls, between the Nuruosmanıye Mosque and Beyazıt Mosque.

The Beyazıt Mosque (built in 1498-1505) itself occupies the site of Theodosius I's Forum and has architecture inspired by the Hagia Sophia.

Entrance to the bazaar is through one of 11 gates from where a maze of vaulted-ceiling laneways, lined by shops and stalls selling every Turkish souvenir and handicraft you could imagine, cover the area.

The various trades are still mostly segregated into particular sections, which makes browsing easier.

Near the bazaar's Divanyolu Caddesi entrance is the Burned Column. This stump (still 40 meters high) of a porphyry column was set up by Constantine the Great in his forum. Until 1105, it bore a bronze statue of Constantine.

Address: Divanyolu Caddesi

Read More: Istanbul's Grand Bazaar: Things to Buy & Shopping Tips

Süleymaniye Mosque

Highlights: Ottoman mosque architecture at its finest and the tomb of Sultan Süleyman I

Sitting high on the hill above Sultanahmet district, the Süleymaniye Mosque is one of the most recognized landmarks of Istanbul.

It was built for Sultan Süleyman I (commonly known as Süleyman the Magnificent; reigned 1520-1566) by the famed Ottoman architect, Sinan, who is responsible for many of the feted Ottoman-era monuments in Turkey including the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne .

The Süleymaniye Mosque's interior, dominated by its soaring 53-meter-high dome is notable for its harmonious proportions and unity of design.

Outside in the tranquil garden area is an interesting Ottoman-era cemetery, which is also home to the türbes (tombs) of the Sultan Süleyman and his wife Haseki Hürrem Sultan (often commonly known outside of Turkey as Roxelana).

Address: Professor Sıdık Sami Onar Caddesi

Kulliye - Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent - Floor plan map

Highlights: One-stop-shop for Turkish flavors and sampling the country's famed sweet treats

The Spice Bazaar is the place to get your foodie fix of lokum (Turkish delight), dried fruit, nuts, herbs, and, of course, spices.

Much of the money that helped construct it came from the taxes the Ottoman government levied on Egyptian-made products, which is why its name in Turkish (Mısır Çarşısı) means "Egyptian Market."

The Spice Bazaar is one of Istanbul's most popular tourist attractions and at certain times of the day gets ridiculously crowded with huge tour groups from the docked cruise ships.

Try to come before 11am or after 4pm to dodge the crowds.

Just next door to the Spice Bazaar's main entrance is the stately Yeni Cami (New Mosque), which was begun in 1615 and finished in 1663 – that's "new" for Istanbul.

It is worthwhile taking a peek inside while you're sightseeing in the area, as the interior is richly decorated with tilework and liberal use of gold leaf.

Address: Yenicami Meydanı, Eminönü

Dolmabahçe Palace

Highlights: Extravagant palace interiors and manicured formal gardens

The sumptuous and ornate Dolmabahçe Palace shows the clear influence of European decoration and architecture on the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century.

Built by Sultan Abdülmecid I in 1854, it replaced Topkapı Palace as the main residence of the sultans.

Dolmabahçe Palace was also used as an official residence during the founding years of the Turkish Republic, and Atatürk (the founder of modern Turkey) died here in 1938.

The formal gardens are punctuated with fountains, ornamental basins, and blooming flower beds.

Inside, the interiors blend Rococo, Baroque, Neoclassical, and Ottoman elements with mammoth crystal chandeliers, liberal use of gold, French-style furnishings, and frescoed ceilings to create a dazzling Turkish Renaissance style of sheer splendor and pomp.

Location: Dolmabahçe Caddesi, Besiktas

Istanbul - Dolmabahçe Sarayi East Ground Floor - Floor plan map

Highlight: Home to a famed collection of late-Byzantine-era frescoes and mosaics

Chora means "country" in Greek, and this beautiful Church (originally called the Church of St. Saviour of Chora) lay just outside old Constantinople's city walls.

The first Chora Church was probably built here in the 5th century, but what you see now is the building's 6th reconstruction as it was destroyed completely in the 9th century and went through several facelifts from the 11th to 14th centuries.

The church was turned into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople and became a museum in 1945. In 2020, it reconverted into a working mosque.

The monument is rightly world-famous for its fabulously vibrant 14th-century mosaics, preserved almost intact in the two narthexes and fragmentarily in the nave, and the frescos along the walls and domes.

These incredible examples of Byzantine artistry cover a wide range of themes, from the genealogy of Christ to the New Testament stories.

Location: Kariye Cami Sokak, Edirnekapı

Kariye Camii - Floor plan map

Highlights: World-famous carpet collection; showcase of the wood, ceramic, and stone artistry of the Islamic empires

Housed in the palace of Ibrahim Paşa, who was Grand Vizier for Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts is a must-see attraction for anyone interested in Ottoman and Islamic art.

The carpet collection on display here is vast and is heralded by textile experts as the world's best.

This is a prime place to come have a peek at the dazzling array of styles of Turkish carpets (along with carpets from the Caucasus and Iran) across the centuries before setting out on a shopping mission to purchase your own floor piece.

There are also exquisite ceramics, calligraphy, and wood carving exhibits ranging in date from the 9th century CE to the 19th century.

Address: At Meydanı Caddesi, Sultanahmet

Little Aya Sofya (Küçük Aya Sofya)

Highlight: Serene church-turned-mosque amid Istanbul's historic core

Before Emperor Justinian built the Hagia Sofia (Aya Sofya) , he had to test out if the building would work structurally, so he built this miniature version first.

Its original name was the Church of Sergius and Bacchus, but the obvious architectural parallels with the Aya Sofya led to its long-held nickname becoming the building's official title.

During the Ottoman era, the church was converted into a mosque and it still functions as a working mosque today.

Although its proportions aren't as grandiose as others in Istanbul, the building has been beautifully restored and is well worth a visit.

The walk here, down narrow alleyways lined with tall Ottoman-era buildings – some lavishly restored and others creaking their way into dilapidation – is a tranquil respite from central Sultanahmet.

Take the time to have a glass of tea in the Little Aya Sofya's peaceful garden to sustain you for further sightseeing exploits.

Address: Küçük Aya Sofya Caddesi , Sultanahmet

Rüstem Pasa Mosque

Highlight: An interior of glorious and immaculately preserved ceramic tilework displays

Possibly the most perfectly pretty mosque in Istanbul, the Rüstem Paşa Mosque is home to the most stunningly preserved Iznik tile panels in the city.

Sure the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque) may get all the glory, but it's here – covering both the exterior courtyard walls and the mosque interior itself – that you'll find the best examples of these gorgeously intricate hand-painted tiles in blues, reds, and greens.

Even better, as it's less known, you're likely to be able to admire them up close without having to battle any crowds.

Finding the mosque adds to the fun as it's squirreled down a skinny lane lined with market stalls and always bustling with life, near the Spice Bazaar.

Address: Hasırcılar Caddesi, Eminönü

Yedikule Fortress (Yedikule Hisari)

Highlight: Take in the sea views while strolling this preserved section of the city's Byzantine walls

Although it's a bit of a schlep on the suburban train to get out to Yedikule (Castle of the Seven Towers), this commanding fortress is well worth it.

Built in the 5th century by the Emperor Theodosius II, the fortress made up the southern section of Constantinople's defensive walls.

The mammoth arch (blocked up in the late Byzantine period) was known as Porta Aurea (Golden Gate), with doors plated in gold.

When the Ottomans conquered the city, they used the fortress for defense, and later as a prison and execution place.

Yedikule has been restored in recent years, and you can climb up to the top of the battlements for superb views across the Sea of Marmara.

Address: Yedikule Sokak, Yedikule

Istanbul - Yedikule Castle of Seven Towers - Floor plan map

Highlights: Views of this landmark building from the surrounding narrow alleys, and vistas of the historic city center from the top

The Galata Tower , overlooking the Golden Horn, was built by the Genoese in the 14th century. Today it remains one of Istanbul's most recognizable landmarks.

Standing 52 meters tall, the tower was Istanbul's tallest building for centuries. The tower has been restored several times over the years due to being damaged by fire and storms.

Today the observation deck at the top story, and its restaurant, is one of the best places to visit in Istanbul for taking in the iconic skyline views of the central old city.

Be aware, though, that it's a super popular sight, so come early or be prepared to queue.

Address: Bereketzade, Beyoğlu

View of Rumeli Fortress from the Bosphorus

Highlights: Easygoing sightseeing and panoramic city views on one of the world's great straits

For many visitors, a trip to Istanbul isn't complete without hopping aboard a Bosphorus excursion ferry and cruising the city's famed waterway, which connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara.

Istanbul's most iconic views are all from the water, and the Bosphorus excursion ferries are all about sitting back, relaxing, and taking in the scenery.

The most famous ferry tour is the Long Bosphorus Tour, which heads from Eminönü ferry dock daily, all the way up the strait to the village and fortress at Anadolu Kavağı, near the northern mouth of the strait into the Black Sea.

Along the ferry cruise there are shoreside vistas of defensive fortresses, Ottoman-era palaces and mansions, and the Bosphorus' bridges.

The Long Bosphorus Tour takes two hours one-way, stops in Anadolu Kavağı for three hours, and then returns, so you need to set aside a full day of your itinerary if you want to do it.

There is also a Short Bosphorus Tour option that operates daily two-hour afternoon sailings from spring to fall. This return ferry cruise heads up the Bosphorus as far as Rumeli fortress before turning around.

Istanbul Modern

Highlights: Leading center for Turkish contemporary art plus trail-blazing temporary exhibitions

Proving that Istanbul isn't just about historic sightseeing, this thoroughly up-to-the-minute art gallery holds an extensive collection of Turkish modern art with an ever-changing calendar of exhibitions, hosting both local and international artists throughout the year.

This is by far the best place in town to get your finger on the pulse of Turkey's contemporary art scene.

As well as the galleries, the Istanbul Modern has a cinema that hosts a program of film viewings and a library.

The galleries are being temporarily hosted in a historic Beyoğlu building while they wait for the completion of this art museum's new permanent home in Karaköy.

Address: Mesrutiyet Caddesi, No:99, Beyoğlu

Fatih Mosque

Highlights: Historic Ottoman-era mosque and site of Sultan Mehmet II's Tomb

The district of Fatih is home to this important mosque, which sits on the hilltop site of the first mosque built in the city by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, who finally broke through Constantinople's walls, ending the Byzantine era.

The original 15th-century mosque was badly damaged by an earthquake and so was replaced with this grand and imposing building, replete with multiple domes and minarets, in the 18th century.

Being the site of the first of Istanbul's grand imperial mosques to be built, as well as being home to Sultan Mehmet's tomb, it's an important historic building and a popular pilgrimage site.

Location: Fevzi Pasa Caddesi, Fatih

Modern art at the Pera Museum

Highlights: Acclaimed collection of Orientalist art and world-class temporary art exhibitions

Istanbul's most famous art gallery is the lovely Pera Museum , which is where art-hounds head to view one of the finest collections of Ottoman-era art in the world.

In particular, the museum contains the well-known paintings of Ottoman artist Osman Hamdi Bey. While the collection also features many other artists who focused their work on the Ottoman world, both local and foreign.

As well as the Ottoman art, the Pera holds a renowned collection of Ottoman-era tile and ceramic work and a vast collection of artifacts from the Ottoman period, as well as pieces from earlier eras.

There's also a program of regularly changing exhibitions, which focus on both historic and contemporary art and often feature some of the international art world's biggest names.

Address: Mesrutiyet Caddesi, Tepebası

Tram on Istiklal Caddesi

Highlights: Cafe-hopping, a historic tram ride, 19th-century façades, and a dining hub

Pedestrianized Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Street) is a bustling modern shopping street with a wealth of restaurants and cafés.

The lower end of the street can be reached by taking the world's oldest underground railway (the Tünel, constructed in 1875) from near Galata Bridge. There is also a quaintly old-fashioned tramway that runs along its length right up to Taksim Square at the top of the hill.

From Taksim Square, busy Cumhuriyet Caddesi is lined with hotels, shops, restaurants, and high rises. On the east side of the road, just after the square, is Maçka Park, which is home to the interesting Military Museum.

The area around Istiklal Caddesi is home to many churches and old consulate buildings with ornate facades.

Also nearby is Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence . Pamuk is Turkey's most famous author and the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. This conceptual-art museum is based around the theme of his novel The Museum of Innocence and is a rather bizarre, kooky, and wonderfully atmospheric experience.

Address: Istiklal Caddesi

Kiz Kulesi, Maiden's Tower

Highlights : Hillside strolls with city views and historic lesser-seen Ottoman mosques

Istanbul's Asian shore is easily reached by ferry from Eminönü dock across the Bosphorus.

On an islet just off the Asiatic shore stands the 30-meter-high Kızkulesi (Maiden's Tower).

Üsküdar was traditionally known as Scutari and has some handsome old mosques, winding lanes, and weathered brown timber houses (particularly between the ferry dock and the large cemetery).

The town, known in antiquity as Chrysopolis, was one of the earliest Greek settlements on the Bosporus.

It was much more exposed to attack by foreign conquerors than Constantinople, with its defensive situation and strong walls, but it was able to draw economic advantage from its exposed situation – until 1800 it was the terminus of the caravan routes that brought the treasures of the East to Constantinople and onwards to Europe.

Of particular sightseeing interest here is the Atik Valide Mosque, which was designed by the famed Ottoman architect Sinan; and the Çinili Mosque, which contains some beautiful Iznik tilework.

  • Explore the Main Sights: If you have only a day or two set aside for sightseeing, take the Istanbul in One Day Sightseeing Tour . This walking tour will ensure you see the most important attractions, including the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Grand Bazaar, as well as others. This is a small group tour, limited to 14 people, and includes hotel pickup and drop-off, a traditional lunch, and admission to the sites.
  • Private Tours: With more time up your sleeve to see the city, and the option to fully customize what to do and what to see, the private Best of Istanbul Tour offers one-, two-, or three-day Istanbul itineraries with a tour guide.
  • Hop-On Hop-Off Tours: The Istanbul Hop-On Hop-Off BusForUs Tour uses a traditional double-decker bus, which stops at the major sites and allows you to tour the city at your own pace. It's also a great way to get familiar with the general layout of the city. Tickets are valid for one day.

The best time to visit Istanbul is, in general, from late spring to early fall — the months of May, June, July, August, and September.

July and August are peak tourism season and bring the hottest weather with long summer days heralding plenty of blue skies and sunshine — great for fitting in plenty of sightseeing. Average temperatures in the city during this period vary between 20 and 29 degrees Celsius. T-shirt weather carries into the evenings for these months, meaning you can slim down your packing requirements.

If you're planning to travel in May, June, or September instead (which are still considered high season in Istanbul), daytime temperatures are usually thoroughly pleasant. For some visitors, its slightly milder temperatures are preferable to July and August for sightseeing, but you will need to pack a warmer layer to throw on after the sun sets. And, remember to bring along an umbrella, as May and September in particular can bring up to eight or nine rainy days per month.

More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com


The Coast and More Historic Cities: After an Istanbul sojourn, why not hit Turkey's famed coastline, lapped by the waves of the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. Check out our articles on Bergama and the North Aegean , Fethiye , Antalya, and Kas for inspiration. Turkey has plenty of other historic cities to discover. Konya and Sanliurfa are two of the best and are city guides to these destinations can help you plan your time.

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The Blue Mosque in Istanbul

3 Days in Istanbul – Itinerary for First Time Visitors

Last Modified: May 18, 2023 //  by  Anda //   17 Comments

Some may argue that 3 days in Istanbul is hardly enough time to explore this great city in depth. And I agree. It’s impossible to exhaust all the dazzling array of things to do in Istanbul in just 72 hours. However, if you just want to see the main historical sites, this 3 days in Istanbul itinerary is just perfect for you.

Table of Contents

How to Spend 3 Days in Istanbul

Istanbul first impressions, istanbul itinerary day 1, istanbul itinerary day 2, istanbul itinerary – day 3, where to stay in istanbul for 3 days, getting around in istanbul, is istanbul safe to visit, a final note.

3 days may seem like very little time for a city like Istanbul. There is so much to see and do in this great city, that it may take months to explore every inch of it. Having said that, I don’t think there is a set amount of time that would be optimal for visiting the city.

Some people storm in and out of Istanbul in a day, others complain thirty days were insufficient. The length of your visit depends on your interests and what you really want to see in the city.

Street in Istanbul

We’ve spent a little over two weeks in Istanbul when we traveled to Turkey , and still can’t say we have exhausted it. Visiting Istanbul is not only about the main attractions, it’s also about the small things. Like walking the streets aimlessly. Or trying the food in Istanbul . Or simply play with the street cats (which by the way, are many!)

If you have only 3 days in Istanbul, you can still visit the major sites and go home in awe of this place. No matter how long or how short your visit will be, I’m sure you’ll like Istanbul.

Istanbul is not an easy place to sum up. With its impressive mosques, ornate palaces and tumultuous bazaars, Istanbul is undeniably a very unique city. An interesting mix of Oriental and Western civilization where the former tends to overshadow the latter. 

3 Days in Istanbul itinerary

The cosmopolitan modernity of Istanbul is more obvious in Beyoglu district, around Istiklal Caddesi street. This area is home to many foreign consulates and is very popular for its restaurants and nightlife.


Below is a suggested 3-day itinerary that you can follow if you want to see the main attractions in Istanbul. You may choose to see these sites in a different order, or even skip some of them.

First Day: Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, the Grand Bazaar, Old Wall of Constantinople Second Day : Topkapi Palace, Hagia Irene, Basilica Cistern, Suleymaniye Mosque, Chora Church Museum Third Day : Galata Bridge, Galata Tower, Taksim Square, Dolmabahçe Palace, Bosphorus Boat Tour

3 days in Istanbul - day 1 itinerary map

Hagia Sophia              

Hagia Sophia  is Istanbul’s most famous monument. What makes it unique is its troubled and unusual history. Hagia Sophia started as a Christian church built by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great in 325 AD.

Sadly, nothing remains today of the original church that burned down completely a hundred years later. Hagia Sophia went through many adversities before Emperor Justinian I built it in its present form in 537. 

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

The story says that after completing it, Justinian exclaimed: “Solomon, I have outdone thee!” And indeed, when seeing its grandeur, you can only agree that this is one of the most majestic churches ever built.

Hagia Sophia remained a functioning Christian church until 1453, when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople. Amazed by its beauty, Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror converted the church into his imperial mosque.

As the Islamic religion forbids the visual of human figures in mosques, he covered all the faces depicted in Hagia Sophia with plaster.

Inside view of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

Hagia Sophia remained a mosque until 1934 when, under the Turkish president Kemal Atatürk, was secularized and turned into the Ayasofya Museum .

The Blue Mosque        

Just opposite the Hagia Sofia is the Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. The Blue Mosque is the second most beautiful landmark in Istanbul. The mosque was built between 1609 – 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I.

The Sultan was determined to build a mosque that would surpass the Hagia Sophia (at the time the most respected mosque) and therefore he chose to build it opposite the Hagia Sophia. 

the Blue Mosque in Istanbul

When you first look at the Blue Mosque you may wonder why do they it called blue when it’s not blue? But once you get inside and see the intricate tile design in all shades of blue, you understand why. 

At first glance, the Blue Mosque can indeed rival with Hagia Sophia. The elegant curves and grandiose domes and minarets make for a beautiful silhouette. But if you compare the interiors, the Blue Mosque isn’t as spectacular as Hagia Sophia.  

Inside the Blue Mosque - best things to do in Istanbul

What sets the Blue Mosque apart are its six spearing minarets. The story says that Sultan Ahmed ordered a minaret made of gold. But the Turkish word for gold ( altin)  is very similar to number six ( alti), which confused the architect. He thought the sultan wanted six minarets and as such he built six, instead of just one made of gold.

Luckily, the Sultan liked the mistake as no other mosque in the world had six minarets. And so the architect didn’t have to pay with his dear life for this mistake.

The Blue Mosque at night

Note:  Since the Blue Mosque is a functioning place of worship, a dress code is imposed. Men should wear long trousers, but can wear short-sleeved shirts. Women should cover their arms, legs and head.

The Hippodrome of Constantinople

Right next to the Blue Mosque is the Hippodrome, a large open-air square known dominated by two Egyptian obelisks. The Hippodrome was the sporting and social center of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire. 

The construction of first Hippodrome dates back to the 3rd century and is attributed to the Emperor Septimius Severus. During the 4th century, Emperor Constantine the Great greatly enlarged the city. One of his major projects was the renovation of the Hippodrome.

Unfortunately, very little of this old structure remains today. Most of it was destroyed during the Crusades, in the early 13th century. The Hippodrome stopped being used and its spectacular monuments and art works were looted.

Egyptian Obelisk in Istanbul

Today, 4 prominent monuments tower the hippodrome. At one end is the modern German fountain. The fountain was a gift from the German government in 1900 to commemorate the visit of Emperor Kaiser Whillem II to Istanbul. The other monuments are much older. They include the obelisk of Egyptian (nearly 3,500 years old), the old serpent column (2,500 years old) and the walled obelisk (about 1,100 years old).

The Grand Bazaar

If there is one thing that best reflects the spirit of Istanbul, that is the Grand Bazaar! This place is one of the world’s largest and liveliest markets, stretching over an area of 61 streets. A maze of alleys in which you can loose yourself for hours!

From stores, booths, workshops, and warehouses, to cafés, restaurants and exchange offices, you can find almost everything here. There is even a mosque, a police station and a post office in the Grand Bazaar, so one could righteously consider this place  a city within a city . 

Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

Shopping at the Grand Bazaar is one of the best things to do in Istanbul. You can buy some of the best foods, deserts and spices here. The bazaar includes more than 4000 shops that attract hundreds of thousand of fascinated visitors every year.

The Grand Bazaar was founded over 500 years ago by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. The reason for concentrating the trade in one place was to provide security against theft. The gates were always closed at night and the bazaar was patrolled by guards paid by the merchants.

Bazaar’s merchants were organized in guilds. Being accepted in a guild was possible only by co-optation, as the son of a deceased member or after paying a large amount of money to a member who wanted to retire.

The bazaar has a long and tumultuous history. It has witnessed many historical incidents, survived earthquakes and fires but came back to life again and again. The 1980s restoration returned the place to its old glory.

the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is not only a shopping oasis, but also a very interesting cultural experience. A great opportunity to discover the people of Istanbul.

Old Wall of Constantinople

The Old Wall of Constantinople is a must-see in Istanbul. The Old Wall can be seen in different parts of the city. We saw these walls from the taxi, on the way to our hotel. Of course, we knew about them but weren’t sure we would have time to visit this part of town.

On our last day in Istanbul, we hired a taxi and came to explore them in more detail. I’m glad we did, because they are quite impressive! You can really understand the defense they provided once you get to see them.

The Old Wall of Constantinople in Istanbul

When you see these thick fortified walls and their towers you understand how Constantinople resisted the attacks for so many centuries. These walls have managed to keep out the crusaders, Bulgars, Turks, Russians and many others. The walls are now but a reminder of the greatness of Constantinople, but also of the Ottoman Empire.

3 days in Istanbul - day 2 itinerary map

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi palaces was the royal residence of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, one of the greatest Ottoman military leaders. He didn’t spare any expense for the construction and used the most expensive and rare materials he could find. Over the centuries, the sultans who followed added more pavilions to the palace. The final version measured 700,000 square meters and was home to 4000 people at some point.

Topkapi Palace was the official residence of the Ottoman sultans since Mehmet the Conqueror until the reign of Sultan Abdülmecid in 1853, who moved the court to the Dolmabahçe Palace. In 1924, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Topkapi became a museum. 

Topkapi Palace gate - 3 days in Istanbul

Arguably the most interesting part of the palace is the Harem, where the Sultan’s wives and their children lived. You can see how the Sultan family lived back in those days, and how the palace was a city within a city. 

View of the harem rooms at Topkapi Palace

There are very many other areas in the palace that are worth visiting, like the library, the museum and beautifully manicured gardens.

One of the things you shouldn’t miss when visiting the museum is the Spoonmaker’s Diamond.  This 86 carat diamond is the 5th biggest diamond of the world! The diamond  owes its name to a story that says that the fisherman who found it, swapped it at the market for three spoons, thinking it was glass.

Visiting Topkapi pavilion and gardens - things to do in Istanbul

The palace is definitely an interesting place to visit in Istanbul, although not my favorite one. The ticket line is huge no matter how early you arrive. Also, you have to pay extra to visit various sections of the palace. The good news is that except for the relics and jewelry, you can photograph almost everything else.

Hagia Irene (Eirene)      

Right outside Topkapi Palace you will find the beautiful church/museum of Hagia Irene (in translation the  Church of the Holy Peace) . This Greek Eastern Orthodox church dating back to the 4th century was the very first church built in Constantinople.

Despite the fact that the cross on top of the dome has been replaced by the crescent moon (the symbol of Islam) this church has never been converted into a mosque. 

Hagia Irene - Istanbul itinerary

When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, Hagia Irene ended up enclosed by the outer walls of Topkapi Palace. The Sultan’s troops used the church as an arsenal until 1826 and later as a warehouse for military equipment. In 1726, during the reign of Sultan Ahmet III, the church became the National Military Museum.

Inside Hagia Irene church - Istanbul itinerary

Today Hagia Irene serves mainly as a venue for classical music performances, due to its extraordinary acoustic and impressive atmosphere.

The Basilica Cistern      

The Basilica Cistern is an ancient water reservoir built during the 5th century on the site of what used to be a famous basilica. Also known as the  Sunken Cistern,  the reservoir was built for the purpose of supplying water for the Great Palace.

Basilica Cistern in Istanbul

The cistern’s roof is supported by 336 marble columns in Ionic and Corinthian styles. The columns that were recycled from an earlier pagan temple, made the cistern look a lot like a church. Hence the name  Basilica Cistern .

Among the columns there are two Medusa heads, one positioned upside down and the other tilted on the side. 

Medusa head in the Basilica Cistern

After fulfilling its function for many years, the cistern stopped being used and in time forgotten. In 1545 a Frenchman rediscovered the cistern after he began investigating the appearance of fresh fish in the wells of the houses above it.

Basilica Cistern is one of the hundreds of ancient cisterns hidden underneath the streets of Istanbul. Definitely the coolest spot in town during the hot summer months! 

Süleymaniye Mosque    

Although it’s the largest mosque and one of the best known landmarks of Istanbul, Süleymaniye Mosque is unfairly overshadowed by its famous sisters in Sultanahmet. The Mosque was built on the Third Hill on the Golden Horn at the order of Süleyman the Magnificent. It features four slender minarets and a large domed building in the style of Hagia Sophia.

Süleymaniye Mosque - 3 days in Istanbul

Süleymaniye Mosque suffered many perils, among which a ravaging fire in 1660 and an earthquake in 1766. During World War I the courtyard functioned as a weapons depot and when some of the ammunition ignited, the mosque suffered another fire. In 1956 the mosque underwent its last restoration.

Suleymaniya mosque - 3 days in Istanbul

The main entrance to the mosque is from Professor Sıddık Sami Onar Caddesi. The buildings on this side are home to the Süleymaniye Library and some popular street-side restaurants that used to be teahouses. To the right of the main entrance is the cemetery, home to the octagonal tombs of Süleyman and his wife.  

Suleymania mosque dome

Note: Since Süleymaniye is a functioning mosque, so there are dress requirements. Visitation is not possible during prayer times.   

Chora Church

Chances are you may have never heard of a church in Istanbul named Chora . Before traveling to Istanbul I had only read about it briefly in a magazine. But nothing you may read about Chora Church can prepare you for the revelation you’ll have when seeing it.

Although not as famous as its sister, Hagia Sophia, Chora Church is equally beautiful. And also like its sister, Chora Church suffered a crisis of identity, going from an Orthodox church, to a mosque and to a museum.

Chora Church - attractions in Istanbul

The church’s full name was the Church of the Holy Saviour in the Country  and it was built in the 4th century, as part of a monastery complex outside the city walls of Constantinople. Chora Church is one of the most beautiful examples of Byzantine architecture. But what sets it apart are the 50 fabulous mosaics dating back to the 14th century, most of which are still in excellent shape.     

should i visit istanbul

The exterior of the church is rather modest compared with Hagia Sophia or the Blue Mosque. But once you step inside you won’t believe the splendor that surrounds you! Part of the church displays mosaics with scenes from the New Testament and the early life of Christ, while another part features beautifully colored frescoes. 

Chora Church Museum in Istanbul

Chora Church is tucked away in the little-visited Edirnekapi District, which makes it difficult to reach. For more information on how to get to Chora Church , you can read my more detailed post about it.           

3 days in istanbul - Day 3 itinerary map

Galata Bridge

One of the most colorful places in Istanbul is Galata Bridge, which makes the connection between Beyoğlu and Eminönü. The bridge is constantly full of cars and pedestrians crossing in both directions.

The upper part of the bridge is a favorite spot for local fishermen trailing their lines into the waters below, surrounded by shrieking seagulls. Street vendors are also a fixture here selling everything, from fresh-baked simits (Turkish sesame pretzels) to Gucci replicas.

How to spend 3 days in Istanbul - walking Galata Bridge

On the lower level of the bridge there is a bunch of restaurants and cafes that serve drinks and food all day and night. Galata Bridge is a nice to stroll if you want to see the local color . Or you can stop and enjoy a beer while watching the ferries crossing to and from Eminönü and Karaköy.

Galata Tower      

One of the most recognizable landmarks of Istanbul is Galata Tower, a medieval stone tower located in Galata quarter. The cylindrical tower rises 66 meters high and provides a superb panoramic view of the city. The tower was built in 1384 as Christea Turris (Tower of Christ) and was used for many centuries as an observation tower for spotting fires.

Galata Tower

The access to Galata Tower is done by two elevators, but the lines are always long. We waited for a full hour! However, the view from the top was very rewarding.  

Taksim Square and Istiklal Caddesi

Start your 3rd day in Istanbul in Taksim Square, in the Beyoğlu district. This is the modern part of Istanbul, famous for its amazing restaurants and lively night clubs. From here you should make your way down İstiklal Caddesi, one of the most iconic and busiest streets in Istanbul.

This pedestrian avenue is the ideal place for shoppers, with famous Turkish and international brands at very affordable prices. There are countless places to shop around here, so walk around the many side streets lined up with small boutiques.

Istiklal Caddesi

On Istiklal Caddesi you’ll notice quite a different atmosphere from the one you experienced in Sultanahmet. The street is full of tourists, street performers and food vendors. The entire area is a maze of restaurants, bistros, bars, fish markets, spice shops, flower shops, and much more! Don’t miss the cute, vintage tram that goes from Tünel to Taksim Square!

Istiklal Caddesi street in Istanbul

We’ve been here during the day and also returned in the evening for dinner, at one of the restaurants. Food was excellent and the atmosphere quite romantic.

The Dolmabahçe Palace      

Dolmabahçe is Turkey’s biggest and most extravagant palace and Istanbul’s first European-style palace. The Palace was commissioned in 1843 by Sultan Abdulmecit I, as a cover up for the declining Ottoman Empire. Therefore, to impress the world, he decorated the building lavishly with tons of gold and a large collection of Baccarat crystal chandeliers. 

Dolmabahçe Palace - 3 days in Istanbul

The construction costed over five million Ottoman mecidiye gold coins, which would be the equivalent of around $1.8 billion dollars in today’s money.

Dolmabahçe Palace gate

The design is a mixture of Rococo, Neo-Classic and Baroque art. The palace stands on the European shore of the Bosphorus straight, in a beautiful garden. The visit will take you through the three main sections of the palace: the administrative apartments, the Ceremonial Hall, and Imperial Harem . 

Dolmabahçe Palace Ceremonial Hall

The most impressive part of the Palace is Ceremonial Hall, where all the important state and religious ceremonies took place. This hall is absolutely huge, spreading over 2.000 square meters of area and and a 36 meters high ceiling.

A huge Hereke carpet adorns the Ceremonial Hall and a 4,5 tons crystal chandelier adorns the ceiling. The chandelier was a gift from  Queen Victoria of United Kingdom. It’s not every day that you can see so much opulence in one place.

If you have time, stroll through the beautiful gardens which right on the shore of the Bosphorus.

READ NEXT: The Cheapest (Yet Beautiful) Countries to Visit in Europe

Bosphorus Tour

One of the most exciting things to do in Istanbul is watch the city’s waterfront. The best way to do that is sail along the Bosphorus straight. The Bosphorus commuter ferry is one option.

The ferry goes north from Istanbul, up the Bosphorus, almost into the Black Sea, then back again. Along the way it stops at the small ports along the coast, letting you get off at whichever one you care to visit.

How to spend 72 hours in Istanbul

The tour lasts about 6 hours, but you don’t need to stay on the boat the entire time. Just hop on the ferry at Terminal 3 in Eminönü and go as long as you have time. You can get off at any of the stops, and then get back on the next boat with the same ticket.

How to spend three days in Istanbul

There is also a shorter Bosphorus Cruise that lasts only two hours and goes from Eminönü to İstinye (and back). The cruise goes by a few small towns on the Asian side passing underneath both bridges in the meantime. The boat makes only one stop in Ortaköy to pick up more passengers.

This short cruise may be a better option if you only have 3 days in Istanbul. We took the long tour and stopped in one of the small villages across the bay to take a few pictures of Istanbul’s skyline.

Like in all my other European travel guides , I always recommend the most central location you can afford in a city. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be close to the tourist attractions, as well as have good restaurants, parks and shopping around. There are quite a few nice neighborhoods where you could rent a place for your 3-day stay in Istanbul.

Istanbul map

Sultanahmet is the historic district of Istanbul and the best area area to stay as a first time visitor. Most tourist attractions are located in Sultanahmet, so you can practically walk anywhere if you are in a decent physical condition.  There are also many great places to eat traditional Turkish food this district.

Beyoğlu is one of the good neighborhoods to stay on the European side of Istanbul. In Beyoğlu are some of the most popular areas of istanbul, like Taksim Square, Pera, Galata, the trendy Karakoy and the pedestrian Istiklal Caddesi, famous for its shops and fancy restaurants.

Şişli is an upscale neighborhoods where you’ll find the banks, businesses, and shopping malls in Istanbul. If you stay you will need to use public transportation to reach the attractions.

Staying on the the Asian side of the strait doesn’t seem like a good idea, especially when you only have a few days in Istanbul. Getting to the tourist sites from here presumes taking the ferry every day to cross the river.

Public transportation works great in Istanbul. It includes boats, subways, buses, trams and funiculars. We used mainly the tram and occasionally a cab. Taxis in Istanbul have a bad reputation of ripping people off, so one of the first things to check is if they use a meter.

To use all public transit in Istanbul you will need the magnetic card ( Istanbul Kart ). You find it in the small kiosks near all metro stations, piers, and also bus stations. Istanbul Kart is a prepaid and is rechargeable.

istanbul card valid on all means of transportation in Istanbul

   • How to Travel Between Ataturk Airport and the City Center

Ataturk airport is only 25 km away from the city center. The cheapest way to get to the city center is by shuttle bus (33 TL each way). The fastest and most convenient way is by taxi. (about 54 TL to Sultanahmet and 67 TL to Taksim Square).

There is also a metro line that will take you from the Ataturk Airport close to Taksim Square, but this is probably the least convenient way to travel from the airport if you’re traveling with luggage.

If you asked me this question before 2015, I would have wholeheartedly answered “yes”! But since Istanbul has been the scene of a failed military coup and some devastating terrorist attacks. In the years following the attack, the U.S. State Department was advising its citizens against traveling to Turkey.

However, the two-year state of emergency is now over and travelers are slowly returning to Istanbul. Would I return to Istanbul? I most likely would, but not with a light heart.

My advice to any traveler to this part of the world would be to exercise caution. While most visits to Istanbul go uneventful, you should always be alert to your surroundings and remain vigilant in crowded places.

Even before 2015, walking through Istanbul was a little intimidating for me. While I didn’t feel unsafe in most places we visited, there were some parts of the city where I would have never ventured alone. And some of these streets were right in the heart of Istanbul, on the tourist route. I must say however that most tourist areas seemed safe enough, although not all of them looked necessarily inviting.

You may feel overwhelmed by the amount of information contained in this post. If this 3 day itinerary seems too busy for you, remember you can always select what you what to see when you are in Istanbul.

We like to think of Istanbul as the one city in the world that encompasses two cultures: Western and Oriental. But in reality, its real heart lies in the division of the two that manage to coexist in an illusionary balance. The fascination of this place derives precisely form its diversity and energetic rhythm.

3 days in Istanbul


  • Useful Tips for Visiting Istanbul – All You Should Know for Having a Perfect Trip
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  • Where to Eat Excellent in Istanbul Without Getting Ripped Off

Anda is an award winning travel writer, avid globetrotter and passionate photographer. She is the voice behind "Travel Notes & Beyond," a collection of stories and travel impressions from her wanderings around the world. When she is not busy writing, traveling, or editing photographs, you can find her hiking in the foothills behind her house together with her husband and their dog.

View of the Danube from Esztergom Basilica

Reader Interactions

Roseanne Lorenzana

December 19, 2022 at 1:07 pm

This is a wonderful 3 day itinerary. Thank you for posting. If my accommodations were in the Old City, it seems that each day could be accomplished by walking … is my impression correct? Would this be safe to do as a solo female traveler – of course, with being alert to surroundings and vigilant? Thanks for the added information.

December 21, 2022 at 1:37 am

Istanbul is as safe as any other big city in the world, despite the fact that in the past couple of months there were a couple of incidents. But you had such unhappy occurrences in Paris as well, a few years ago. Of course, you’ll have to exercise caution and not walk alone in dark alleys or late at night. I’m sure you’ll have a lot of fun in Istanbul.

May 8, 2019 at 4:24 pm

I’ve never been to Istanbul but anyone I know that has been sings it’s praises highly. I guess it’s that mix of Asian and European influences. I’d love to go someday and I’ll use this itinerary and guide if I do. Great post, Anda!

Anda Galffy

May 8, 2019 at 11:17 pm

Thanks, Jill. Istanbul is definitely a must. You should go if you have a chance.

Manjulika Pramod

May 6, 2019 at 11:18 am

The palace looks great and ofcourse all other places. I have heard a lot about Turkey and I learned a lot through your post too. I would love to do the major attractions as well as walk on the streets aimlessly. I would keep a few extra days for exploring the restaurants, bistros, bars, fish markets, spice shops, flower shops and more.

May 6, 2019 at 9:36 am

Thank you for your very interesting tour around Istanbul, a place I haven’t visited however I certainly like the look of the architecture here it’s rather gorgeous. Some really pretty colours and certainly a history there.

Thanks for sharing and especially like the church photography in particular the Hagia Irene church and museum as it’s fairly subtle in design and you can really get an authentic feel of the history and charm.

May 6, 2019 at 3:20 am

I visited Istanbul a few years ago and must say was taken back with the amount of history and culture the city and country has to offer. A very detailed guide I must say with some of the highlights mentioned clearly like the blue Mosque and the souks. I loved the Topkapi museum which has so much of relics and artefacts. The culinary delights of this country are another thing I liked. Thanks for sharing a great post which will be very helpful for any first timer.

Shreya Saha

May 5, 2019 at 7:39 pm

This blog has all the information you need to plan visiting Istanbul. That’s a great and extensive list of places to visit there in three days and also I agree how important it is to choose the location of the accommodation when you are going there for just a few days to visit. I would love to check out all the places you have listed here and probably stay in sultanahmet so that I am close to the historical sites of the country. Thanks for the share.

May 5, 2019 at 9:12 am

I would love to visit Istanbul someday. My sister went there a couple of months ago and she said it was really wonderful. Your post made me want to visit it more. The details and structural design of the Blue Mosque are fascinating. I would love to see it up close. Thank you for sharing this itinerary. Saving this for future reference.

May 5, 2019 at 11:02 am

Hope you will, Clarice.

Sandy N Vyjay

May 5, 2019 at 8:03 am

This is a very interesting and informative post, especially for us as Istanbul appears high on our bucket list. It is a dream destination for us, an exotic place straight out of Arabian Nights. But there is so much to see and experience here. Places like the Blue Mosque are of course iconic, but the other mosques too are really exquisite. Your post is has a wealth of information that is going to be invaluable to the first time visitor.

May 5, 2019 at 8:44 am

Thank you, Sandy. If you decide to visit Istanbul, you should try to stay longer than just 3 days.

Nikki Godwin

May 5, 2019 at 7:29 am

I’ve heard a lot of great things about Istanbul and this itinerary just confirms that. It sounds like a really vibrant place to visit. I may have to consider a stopover there one day when I return from Tanzania (I currently live here and believe Turkish Airlines fly from here to London with a stop there). Thanks for such a comprehensive guide.

May 5, 2019 at 8:51 am

You are welcome, Nikki. Hope you’ll have a chance to visit this great city someday.

Sinjana Ghosh

May 4, 2019 at 12:21 pm

Wow this is absolutely beautiful. I have never seen so many beautiful mosques. The architecture is so brilliant, and I especially love the use of blues in the interiors. This is the perfect 3- day itinerary that I would love to follow when I visit Istanbul.

May 4, 2019 at 9:00 am

Oh my gosh those mosques are just gorgeous! Especially the Blue Mosque. I just love the intricate detail on the interior. I only wish that we preserved older historic buildings in the US the same way that they do in Europe.

Arnav Mathur

May 3, 2019 at 10:23 pm

This is such an amazing writeup Anda ! I had Istanbul on my radar ever since my friend explored this amazing city during her layover. But going through this write up in detail, has convinced me of one thing, that one day is definitely not enough even get a glimpse of Istanbul. I have Istanbul on the cards for this year, and I’ll make it a point to keep at least a week to explore.

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To Turkey We Go

Is Istanbul Safe to Visit in 2023? Guide to Staying Safe

Seren, a Turkish-American, has 23 years of experience traveling to and around Turkey and is now happy to help others learn more about Turkey.

a view of the galata tower in istanbul

Is Istanbul safe for tourists? Many travelers have this question before setting out to explore a big metropolitan city. Istanbul, a hub of diverse cultures nestled between Europe and Asia, is renowned for its ancient history, delicious foods, and much more.

But just because it’s so beautiful doesn’t mean that you can not care about safeguarding your personal safety. Thankfully, I’ve rarely felt unsafe in Istanbul and I’ve been there a lot over many years. But I owe a lot of that to following basic safety measures. Here’s a comprehensive guide to staying safe in the big city of Istanbul:

Safety Concerns in Istanbul

Avoid bad neighborhoods.

Some neighborhoods are rougher than others, so it’s important to stay aware of where you are. You won’t want to go anywhere near Tarlabaşı, Dolapdere, Gaziosmanpaşa, Laleli, Aksaray, Esenyurt, and Sultanbeyli – basically, just stick to the touristy, more suburban areas and you’ll be a lot safer.

If you’re a woman (especially traveling solo), this is even more important for you! These neighborhoods are more religiously conservative, so it’s important for a woman’s safety that you’re covered up as much as possible. If you don’t want to do that, just stay where other tourists are.

Safe Areas (And Where You Should Stay)

Some neighborhoods in Istanbul offer a lot of (safe) fun for tourists, so you’re going to want to take a note of these. Neighborhoods like Nisantasi, Beyoglu, Zincirlikuyu, Arnavutkoy, Bebek, and Karakoy are great on the European side. On the Asian side, neighborhoods like Kadikoy, Maltepe, Caddebostan, and Fenerbahce are great.

If you’re choosing between the European side or the Asian side, I’d recommend staying on the European side but doing day trips with taxis to the Asian side. That way, you’ll be much closer to the airport and get to experience both sides of Istanbul.

Warnings & Dangers in Istanbul

Transport & taxis risk.

In general, public transportation and taxis are safe for tourists and foreigners. According to locals, taxies on the European side have started to be ruder to tourists over the past few years. I’m not sure why, but that’s just the way it is. You’ll still be able to take a taxi places, but do a little research beforehand on how much taxi fares should cost. Also, illegal taxis do go around pretending to be legitimate – real ones always have a TAKSI/TAXI sign on top of their yellow car and the name of the taxi company with its phone number on the side of the car.

For your safety, always sit in the back seat of a taxi or Uber and if solo, sit right behind the driver. This prevents the driver from easily reaching back around and touching you. If riding in an Uber, please always double check that the license plate is correct – no matter how convincing the driver is, never get into a car without verifying it first!

When it comes to flying, Turkish Airlines is extremely safe . You can definitely feel at ease when flying domestically or internationally with Turkish Airlines – the incident rate in the airlines’ 89-year history is basically 0.

Risk: Low-to-Medium

Pickpockets, Scams, & Muggings Risk

It’s safe to say you can expect that there are pickpockets and muggers walking around the highly touristic areas of Istanbul. Did you know 16 million people visited Istanbul in 2022 ? With that many people flying in from literally every part of the world, you’re bound to attract thieves who target wealthy tourists.

One common scam or way of pressuring money from tourists is a group of 3 or 4 people will play some instruments and then a guy will walk up to people in the crowd and shove his trumpet in your face until you put cash into a hat. That happened one time when my family and I were walking down Istiklal Street several years ago. Nothing happened the most recent time I was on Istiklal Street.

To improve your safety against them, I’d recommend grabbing this anti-theft protected bag from Amazon here . I personally LOVE this brand for feeling safe while traveling!

Natural Disasters Risk

As you probably already know, southern Turkey experienced a 7.8 magnitude earthquake on February 6, 2023. That’s because, just like California and Japan, Turkey is on fault lines. Fault lines are where two of Earth’s tectonic plates meet.

turkey's fault lines

As you can see, Istanbul is very close to a fault line on the North Anatolian fault. And it’s not good news. According to Professor Celal Sengor of Istanbul Technical University , “If a major earthquake doesn’t happen in the next 20 years in Istanbul, then we would all be very surprised. That’s how close it is. It’s only a probability, but the probability is high.”

The odds of anything happening while you’re visiting the country for a week are super low – let’s be real. Aside from earthquakes, other natural disasters that happen outside of the main city are forest fires, floods, and landslides. That’s why there’s not much risk to you from natural disasters.

Terrorism Risk

Unfortunately, Istanbul has seen its fair share of terrorism. There have been 29 incidents since 1896, resulting in over 200 casualties. The most recent one was a bombing on November 2022 on Istiklal Street.

I’ve personally never witnessed a terrorist attack. Again, the likelihood of anything happening while you’re visiting the country for a week are super low. If you’re really worried about it, I’d recommend staying away from super touristic spots like Eminonu, Istiklal Street, and The Grand Bazaar as much as possible.

Female Solo Travelers Risk

If you’re a solo woman traveling to Istanbul, you should take extra precautions. Unfortunately, about 4 in 10 women have suffered physical and/or sexual violence by a romantic partner .That extends to the streets, meaning you should definitely dress more conservatively and try not attract attention to yourself. Always carry something that could turn into a weapon – just for extra protection and security.

Risk: Medium-to-High

What Istanbul is Like Today

Today, Istanbul is FULL of beauty, culture, and delicious food! When the weather”s sunny with blue skies it’s fun to walk the streets of the city and pop in and out of different shops and cafes. It’s also a ton of fun to visit the big, super modern shopping centers. You can grab a Shake Shack burger and then go see the latest James Bond movie. Or sit down for an Iskender Doner Kebab and then sip on Turkish tea for the night.

Istanbul is a blend of the old and the new in many ways. Young people continue to drive change forward. New skyscrapers go up next to centuries-old mosques. New fusion flavors pop up left and right. Istanbul is constantly changing! The options are endless.

Context Matters

Istanbul is a huge, metropolitan city.

That’s right, Istanbul is a humongous (try 16 million people), metropolitan city smack dab in the middle between Europe and Asia. Before Istanbul, there was Constantinople. And Constantinople was founded way back in 330 AD. That means there’s been over 1692 years for people to build out the city we now know today as Istanbul.

Just like New York City, Berlin, and Paris, Istanbul also has its fair share of negative city elements. It’s important to remember that it’s a huge city in a foreign country. It attracts all kinds of different people, some good and some bad, just like any other major city.

Terrorism is a threat in many major cities in Europe (and the U.S.)

Terrorism is also a threat in many major cities in the Western world – it’s not just Turkey and the Middle East. Unfortunately, there were 15 terrorist attacks in the E.U. in 2021 and 77 terrorist attacks and plots in the U.S. that same year. It’s our sad reality that terrorist attacks do happen every now and then around the world and are impossible to accurately predict. To avoid them as much as possible, avoid highly touristic destinations and big crowds.

Islamophobia is at an all-time high

In a Gallup survey, among Americans who reported no personal prejudice toward Muslims, one-third (36% to be exact) said they had an unfavorable opinion about Islam . In the United Kingdom, a survey found that about 42% of surveyed mosques or Islamic bodies in the UK have come under attack in the last three years. Also, the UK Home Office statistics shows 6,377 religious hate crimes occurred between March 2020 and 2021 with almost 50% of them aimed at the Muslim community in Britain.

That’s just a sample of what’s going on in a couple of Western countries. Go all over the world and it’s the same thing unfortunately. There’s islamophobia in South Korea , Australia , India , Brazil , and even Canada .

Turkey is a Muslim country

Since 1453, Istanbul has been a Muslim city. And for thousands of years, Turkey has been a Muslim country. So understandably, the culture is deeply rooted in the religion. In general, that means 99% of food is pork-free, women are unfortunately treated more like second-class citizens, and religious holidays are taken seriously.

As a tourist, you should just be aware of the cultural differences so that you don’t do anything that could get you in trouble. Also, please be respectful of the culture as you explore around. If you’re disrespectful, don’t assume nothing would ever happen to you.

Tips For Solo Travelers in Istanbul

1. enroll in your government’s safe traveling program.

A lot of countries, including the U.S., have free safe traveling programs designed to keep their citizens safe while traveling abroad. Before traveling to Turkey (or anywhere for that matter), I’d recommend signing up to your country’s program and making sure all of the details (like your emergency contacts) are correct. For easy access, here are resources for a few countries:

United States citizens: Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

Canadian citizens: Registration of Canadians Abroad

United Kingdom citizens: Travel Aware

Australian citizens: Smartraveller

2. Never leave your stuff unattended

Sometimes people think their bags will be fine if they want to take a photo somewhere but don’t want to take their stuff. Please don’t do this! Especially if you’re in a touristic spot. Because you can bet that there are some pickpockets going around looking for easy targets. To not even put yourself into a situation where your stuff could be stolen, I’d recommend adopting the mentality of ‘better safe than sorry’.

Always be able to track your bags! Grab one of these handy bag trackers here on Amazon or a budget-friendly 3-pack .

3. Limit the number of valuable belongings on you

Passport. Money. IDs. Credit cards. These are all valuable belongings that you should either leave locked up in your luggage at the hotel or very safely packed away in your bag/purse. When traveling, I only carry some cash, a credit card, and my driver’s license on me at all times. I use an awesome anti-theft bag , so I always feel like my valuable belongings are safe and sound.

4. Keep your money safe

Keeping your money safe is definitely easier said than done. If you prefer to travel with a lot of cash on hand, then you should take extra care to keep it all safe. That means not carrying all of it on you all of the time and either locking what you’re not going to carry in your luggage at the hotel or using the hotel’s lock box. It’s up to you, but I’d recommend keeping it in your luggage (it’s less conspicuous than a locked lock box).

On the other side, if you’re just carrying credit or debit cards around, that means keeping your wallet and bag safe. I’d recommend just using this anti-theft bag from Amazon to make it easy and give you peace of mind. That brand tends to use RFID-blocking technology , which blocks scammers from walking around and electronically getting your credit/debit card details.

5. Keep a hard copy of your card numbers, phone numbers, & passport information

It’s easy to ignore making a hard copy of your most important details (I mean, who has the time?!), but I promise it’s so important to do! Just in case your bag got stolen, what would you do? Imagine your phone’s gone, wallet’s gone, passport’s gone. That’s why this is so essential.

Write everything down on a post-it note or small piece of paper and then tuck it away in a secure pocket while you’re out and about. You’ll feel a lot better knowing your most precious information is safely tucked away and that you’ll never worry about who to call or what to do if the worst case were to happen. Fingers crossed nothing happens to you, but better safe than sorry!

6. Keep a hard copy of your country’s consulate & the Istanbul tourist police’s address and contact information

In addition to writing down your personal and financial details, I’d also recommend having your country’s local consulate and the Istanbul tourist police’s address and phone numbers written down for easy access. This is just in case your passport gets stolen or a crime is committed against you. The consulate should be your first contact because they’ll know exactly what to do as a citizen of your country. Here are important details for a few countries:

United States:

Poligon Mahallesi, Sariyer Caddesi No: 75

İstinye 34460 Sariyer- Istanbul / Türkiye

(+90) 212 335 9000

United Kingdom:

Meşrutiyet Caddesi No 42

Tepebaşı Beyoglu 34435 Istanbul / Türkiye

(+90) 212 334 6400

Büyükdere Caddesi No: 209, Tekfen Tower, 4.

Levent 34394 Istanbul / Türkiye

(+90) 212 385 9700

Suzer Plaza

Elmadag Askerocagi Caddesi No. 15,

Sisli 34367 Istanbul / Türkiye

(+90) 212 393 3300

The Istanbul Tourist Police:

(+90) 212 527 4503

There are 2 offices: one near Taksim Square and Beyoglu, and the other one is near Hagia Sophia mosque – both heavily touristic areas.

7. Always pay attention to your surroundings

Paying attention to your surroundings might seem obvious, but a lot of people don’t do it. This is especially important if it’s nighttime and/or you’re alone. No need to run everywhere or anything, but it’s a good idea to look around and behind you every so often. Because Istanbul has many streets, alleys, and dark spots, I’d recommend staying where there’s light, other people, and cars.

As a woman, never walk around with earphones in and/or scrolling or using your phone. Bad people are known to look for people doing these things because they’re easier targets. Wear comfortable sneakers and, if you’re a solo female traveler, I’d recommend carrying a whistle just in case. Also, the word for help in Turkish is yardim – good to know!

8. Don’t join any political events, protests, or rallies

Even if your friends pressure you, try to avoid any political events, protests, rallies, demonstrations, or parades (like an LGBTQ+ parade). These can be magnets for terrorists, violence, and theft. But if you’re absolutely determined to go, I’d recommend taking as many safety precautions as possible like studying a map of the area beforehand, having your phone and valuable documents safely tucked away, and deciding beforehand what to do in case one of your friends feels unsafe and wants to leave immediately.

Tips For Female Travelers in Istanbul

1. ignore sketchy men selling things on the street.

Walking around Istanbul, you’ll see lots of shopkeepers and sellers at stalls/tables. Majority of the time, they’re harmless good people just trying to peacefully sell their goods. If you’re in a crowded area like Kadikoy or Ortakoy, the sellers there are all good and used to tourists. However, if you find yourself in a random area or on a random street with men trying to sell you stuff, then that’s a no-go just to be on the safe side. I’d recommend not engaging with these sellers, no matter how real that fake Prada bag looks!

2. Only go out at night in a group & don’t separate

There’s definitely safety in numbers, especially for female travelers. If you’re traveling solo, try to make friends at your hostel (if you’re staying in one) or use Meetup to join gatherings with locals and expats. I used Meetup in Dublin, Ireland a couple of years ago and found some really nice people through it. Also, be sure to stay with the group wherever it goes until you’re ready to split and head back to your accommodation. Even then, stick to well-lit paths and where other people are to either walk back or get a taxi. Just in case you might get separated, I’d recommend saving two people’s phone numbers (that is, two people who are a part of your group) in your phone so you can find the group again.

3. Don’t make yourself an easy target

Not to scare you, but an easy target looks like a drunk young woman walking alone at night who’s on her phone. Please please don’t make yourself easy to mug/attack. Stay off your phone as much as possible, look behind you every so often, don’t seem drunk or intoxicated, and make sure there are other people around you at all times. If you ever end up in a bad situation, try to find an open shop – shop owners would help you. Most importantly, DO NOT get into a car without checking first that it’s the correct Uber or checking that it’s a legitimate taxi (see the section ‘Transport & Taxis Risk’ above for how to tell if a taxi is legitimate or not).

4. Don’t look like a tourist or stand out

What’s a tourist look like? Stereotypically, they wear bright colors, khaki shorts/pants, and travel-ready backpacks. Whenever I visit touristic areas in Istanbul, the tourists are pretty easy to spot. To blend into the locals, I’d recommend wearing soft or neutral colors and not wearing anything more revealing than a t-shirt and mid-thigh length shorts. You’ll also blend in by walking straight ahead and not stopping to look at everything, like a local would. At touristic places, it’s perfectly fine to stop and look at everything. But in neighborhoods and suburban areas, you’ll stay safer by not standing out as a tourist.

5. Always dress appropriately

If you didn’t guess already, dressing appropriately in Istanbul is way more important for women than it is for men. For women, don’t wear anything more revealing than a t-shirt and mid-thigh length shorts. Even dressed liked that you’ll get stares from men on the street. So if you don’t want to attract male attention (you don’t), I’d recommend carrying a light sweater around just in case you have to cover up to go into a mosque or have to walk in a more religiously conservative area.

Men and young children can wear shorts and a t-shirt without any worries. Men can even wear a sleeveless t-shirt and be fine. For female children between the ages of 7 and 18, I’d recommend they stick to a minimum of thigh-length shorts and a t-shirt. Also, don’t let them go off and do their own thing! Always keep them in your sights.

6. Don’t smile at men on the street (even just to be friendly)

In Istanbul, most men are highly religiously conservative. Don’t forget, Istanbul hosts millions of people from strict religious backgrounds (like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc.) so it’s not just Turkish men you need to be aware of.

Especially as a solo female traveler, absolutely DO NOT smile or stare at men on the street (even if you just want to be friendly). Us Americans, I know we have a tendency to smile at strangers and be friendly towards strangers, but this is something you should be actively aware of when walking around Istanbul. Turkish women don’t go around randomly smiling at strange men, so a smile from a woman can be considered as flirting or an invitation. You don’t want to put yourself in a situation where someone starts following you or tries to engage with you. Just in case that ever happens to you, seek safety in a nearby shop or restaurant, explain to them what’s going on, and stay there until you feel safe.

Tips For Family Travelers in Istanbul

1. never lose sight of your child(ren).

Children! You love ’em but they love to run around. If your kid likes to randomly walk away from you, then you should take extra precautionary measures before traveling to Istanbul. Things like packing them only bright colors (so they’re easier to spot from far away), this inconspicuous GPS tracker from Amazon , and maybe even creating incentives for your child to be rewarded with if they don’t wander off (like an hour of phone use or ice cream).

2. Give your child(ren) a GPS tracking bracelet

The best way to easily find your kids (if they ever went missing) is giving them this highly-rated GPS tracking bracelet before traveling. You can literally learn their exact location with this. I mean, imagine the relief knowing you can just locate them on your phone. Even if it didn’t work for some reason, I know $8 USD would be worth the extra safeguard.

PRO TIP: To make sure you can always find your child, I’d recommend purchasing a portable Wi-Fi device called VINN at a local Turkcell store because there’s no publicly available Wi-Fi in Istanbul. Keep it on whenever you and your family are out and about. As of publishing, a VINN costs about $77 USD. If your phone data still works in a foreign country, then you can just use that!

3. Avoid large crowds as much as possible

Would definitely recommend avoiding huge crowds as much as possible. It’s super easy to lose track of a small kid in a large crowd. That’s why that GPS bracelet is really useful!

If you’re visiting highly touristic spots, be sure to take extra precautions (especially if your kid tends to randomly walk away from you). There are lots of fun things for families to do in Istanbul that don’t involve crowds! Things like visiting Galata Tower, taking a boat tour of the Bosphorus ,  trying different foods, visiting malls/shopping centers, going on day tours , etc.

4. Bring lots of sanitizing wipes – these come in handy!

Especially with COVID-19, E. coli, and tuberculosis increasing around the world , it’s more important than ever to travel with an arsenal of sanitizing wipes. I promise, they’re worth it 100x over. You can wipe down your flight’s seats, sanitize your kids’ hands before snack time, sanitize door handles – you can literally clean anything that has a surface. Here are the wipes I specially recommend:

Zogics 800-Count Wipes

Purell Small Individual Packets of Wipes

Purell 20-Count Travel Pack of Wipes

A Feast For the Eyes: 7 Best Istanbul Restaurants With a View

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  • Travel Planning Guide

A Travel Price Comparison for Families, Couples, and Backpackers Istanbul vs. Nice for Food, Nightlife, Old Town, and Couples


  • Pros & Cons
  • Backpackers
  • Public Transit
  • Walkability
  • More time in Istanbul or Nice?
  • Which is Cheaper, Istanbul or Nice? (Travel Cost Comparison)

Which is Bigger, Istanbul or Nice?

  • When to Visit Istanbul or Nice?

Should you visit Istanbul or Nice?

Which is cheaper to visit which is more expensive for vacation.

If you're trying to decide where to visit between Istanbul or Nice, this travel comparison, which includes costs, can help. The overall cost of travel is usually a consideration when deciding where to go next, and the cost comparison down below can help you decide based on the average prices from other travelers along with your own travel budget.

Istanbul is a historic, diverse, and beautiful city. With plenty of activities and things to do, it's a huge city that draws plenty of visitors. The beauty of this spot is also one of the main reasons why visitors come. And you can't forget about the nightlife, food, and shopping.

Nice is a trendy, chic, and glamourous seaside destination. You'll find world class beauty here as well. This is an attractive and quaint destination worth visiting as well. It's also known for shopping, nightlife, and food.

Istanbul and Nice: Pros and Cons

  • Popular museums and historical sights
  • Active nightlife
  • Family-friendly
  • Good for couples and romance
  • Good for backpackers and budget travelers
  • Good for students
  • Big city activities
  • Impressive beauty
  • Nice resorts
  • Good scuba and snorkeling destination
  • Popular beach
  • Quaint atmosphere
  • Less popular with backpackers

Is there more to do in Istanbul or Nice?

Tourists will generally find more to do in Istanbul than Nice. It is bigger and it has more sights, attractions, and activities for travelers. Istanbul is very popular for its museums, historical sights, and big city activities, while Nice attracts visitors for its nightlife, resorts, scuba diving & snorkeling, beaches, impressive beauty, and quaint atmosphere. Istanbul is famous for its world class historical sights, stunning mosques, and dynamic energy. It is also well known for The Blue Mosque. Nice is famous for its beachfront setting in the French Riviera as well as its popularity with A-list celebrities.

How is Istanbul different from Nice?

Which is better for a holiday.

Let's take a look at the differences and similarities between Nice and Istanbul. Then, you can decide for yourself which place is better for your next trip.

Are the Museums and Historical Sights Better in Istanbul or Nice?

Istanbul is renowned for its sights and museums. However, Nice does not have museums and landmarks.

The museums, monuments, and landmarks in Istanbul are among the most recognizable in the world. With such a long and diverse religious and political history, it has many museums, mosques, churches, and archeological sites that you can visit. Some of the most famous sights include the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Sarayi, and the Blue Mosque.

Nice does not have museums and landmarks.

Is the Food Better in Istanbul or Nice? Which Destination has the Best Restaurants?

Picking the best cuisine and restaurants between Istanbul and Nice can be difficult as they are each first-rate in their own way.

Known for it's food and restaurant scene, Istanbul is always at the top of any foodie's travel list. From Turkish classics to sweet desserts, the city has it all. Popular dishes include Turkish style pizza, kebabs, and doner, which you'll find everywhere for affordable prices. You'll also find many tourist-centered restaurants in the touristy areas but if you get away from the main sights, you'll find more local options that let you sample high quality food for affordable prices.

Many restaurants in Nice have been singled out for their culinary prowess. The cuisine brings together fresh regional ingredients and mixes Provençal and Niçoise flavors. You'll find a lot of Italian influence as well. Fresh seafood is the thing to try while you're in town, but other local favorites include socca, Ratatouille, and Salade niçoise.

Is Istanbul or Nice Better for Nightlife?

Nice is an amazing seaside destination to visit for nightlife. Also, Istanbul is not as famous, but is still a good city to visit for nightlife and partying.

Nice has a colorful and one-of-a-kind nightlife scene. The city has some of the best nightlife on the Cote d'Azur. You'll find a number of nightclubs along the seaside as well a bars and pubs in the Old Town. Some of the best clubs are along Promenade des Anglais.

Istanbul has a lively atmosphere and nightlife is popular here. Dancing, dining, and partying have all become part of Istanbul's culture. Top nightclubs in the city include Reina, Sortie, and Supperclub. If you're looking for dance clubs and alcohol, your best bet is to head to the Beyoglu district.

Is Istanbul or Nice Better for Resorts?

Nice is an amazing seaside destination to visit for its resorts. However, Istanbul is not a resort destination.

Nice offers an unforgettable resort vacation. The city has boutique hotels as well high end luxury resorts. Popular options include Hyatt Regency Nice Palais de la Méditerranée, Hôtel Suisse, and AC Hotel by Marriott.

Istanbul is not a resort destination.

Is Istanbul or Nice Better for Scuba Diving and Snorkeling?

Nice is a nice place to visit for the nearby scuba diving and snorkeling. However, Istanbul is not a scuba or snorkeling destination.

Nice has a few areas where visitors often go scuba diving or snorkeling. There are some places where you can arrange a snorkeling or dive trip to explore the underwater setting.

Istanbul is not a scuba or snorkeling destination.

Is Istanbul or Nice Better for Beaches?

Nice is notable for its beaches. However, Istanbul is not a beach destination.

You'll have a great beach vacation in Nice. The city has about 4 miles of beach along its coastline and there are both public and private beaches available. La Réserve is a public beach with a laid back and fun vibe. Plage Beau Rivage is a private beach with many amenities, making it a favorite for visitors. Blue Beach is another private beach that is very family-friendly.

Istanbul is not a beach destination.

Is Istanbul or Nice Better for its Old Town?

Istanbul is renowned for its old town. Also, Nice is not as famous, but is still a good seaside destination to visit for its historic old town charm.

The old town of Istanbul is one of the most recognized in the world. The Old City in Istanbul is the most historic part of the city. It's where you'll find most of the city's historic sights. The area around Sultanahmet Square is the most popular tourist area to explore.

There are many historical things to see in the old town of Nice. Wandering around the charming old town is a quintessential part of visiting this city. There are many historic churches and squares, as well as great restaurants and shops that you can pop in.

Is the Shopping Better in Istanbul or Nice?

Both Istanbul and Nice are high quality shopping destinations.

Istanbul is an extremely popular place for shoppers. It is the capital of culture and fashion in Turkey, and there are many shopping areas that carry all kinds of brands. For a more traditional, but touristy experience head to the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market. For modern brands, Istiklal Caddesi is the most popular area for shopping.

Nice is well-known for its shopping. The city has long been a favorite for the rich and famous, so you'll find plenty of shopping opportunities around town. The boutique shops are chic, trendy, and fashionable, but for those on a budget, you can sometimes find a unique local purchase in your budget.

Is Istanbul or Nice Better for Families?

Istanbul is a well-known place for its family-friendly activities. Also, Nice is not as famous, but is still a good seaside destination to visit for its kid-friendly activities.

Istanbul is a very kid-friendly city. The city has several kid-friendly museums, a couple of aquariums, and fun theme parks. If the kids need a break from the city, you can spend a day at Vialand Theme Park or LEGOLAND Discovery Center Istanbul. Food in Istanbul is also very kid-friendly with many affordable dishes that young ones will enjoy.

Nice is a family-friendly city. The town has many fun playgrounds, kid-friendly beaches, and unique cultural opportunities that kids can enjoy. It also makes a great base for exploring the French Riviera and everything that it has to offer.

Is Istanbul or Nice Better for Couples?

Nice is an amazing seaside destination to visit for romance. Also, Istanbul is not as famous, but is still a good city to visit for its romantic activities.

Nice has so much to offer for a romantic couple's vacation. The old town is filled with romance and charm. You can also take a walk along the Promenade Des Anglais or soak up the romantic countryside that surrounds the town.

Istanbul makes for a fun place to visit for a couple. Couples who enjoy history, culture, and vibrant neighborhoods will enjoy a romantic stay here. The city lights up at night and there are many rooftop dessert cafes where you can take in the view. The waterfront setting is the perfect place to watch the sunset and there are many places to walk and soak up the atmosphere.

Is Istanbul or Nice Better for Backpackers and Budget Travelers?

Istanbul is renowned for backpackers. Also, Nice is not as famous, but is still a good seaside destination to visit for backpackers and budget travelers.

Backpackers and budget travelers come from all over the world to visit Istanbul . There are plenty of hostels and budget accommodation options, and there's also plenty of ways to meet other travelers. You'll find plenty of hostels concentrated in the Sultanahmet area.

Plenty of backpackers visit Nice. Because it's one of the most popular tourist destinations in France, many backpackers make their way here. Nice is known for its high end vibe, so it can be challenging to find affordable options, but if you know where to look, they are around.

Is Istanbul or Nice Better for Students?

Istanbul is a well-known place for students. However, Nice is not popular with students.

Students come from all over to stay in Istanbul . Students appreciate the city's vibrant neighborhoods, constant activity, and diverse population.

Nice is not popular with students.

Is Istanbul or Nice Better for Public Transit? Which Is Easier to Get Around Without a Car?

Istanbul is renowned for its public transit. Also, Nice is not as famous, but is still a good seaside destination to visit for times when you don't have a car.

Istanbul has a great public transit system. It has a comprehensive and diverse public transit system that includes buses, trams, minibuses, ferries, funicular, and more.

Nice offers a very effecient public transportation network. There are both buses and trams.

Is Istanbul or Nice a more walkable city?

Nice is an amazing seaside destination to visit for its walkability. Also, Istanbul is not as famous, but is still a good city to visit for its high level of walkability.

It is easy to get around Nice on foot. You should definitely spend some time exploring the 7 kilometer long Promenade des Anglais.

Istanbul is a very walkable city. Although it is huge, most of the neighborhoods that tourists visit are incredibly walkable and pedestrian-friendly.

Should I spend more time in Nice or Istanbul?

How long in istanbul or nice.

In either Istanbul or Nice, you'll find plenty of activities to fill your time. Most visitors tend to spend more time in Istanbul than Nice because of the overall number of sights and activities. Usually, 3-7 days is a good amount of time for Istanbul, and 3-5 days is enough time in Nice.

Families should spend more time in Istanbul than Nice. Because of the many family-friendly attractions and fun things to do for kids in Istanbul, it's a great place to visit with the whole family.

Couples should spend more time in Nice than Istanbul. You'll find plenty of romantic sights and fun activities in Nice that are perfect for a weekend getaway or a longer couple's trip.

Backpackers and budget travelers should spend more time in Istanbul than Nice if your budget allows for it. With a larger number of budget-friendly sights, good nightlife, and active things to do, anyone traveling on a budget would have a good time in Istanbul.

  • How many days in Istanbul or Nice? Ideal Length of Stay Istanbul 3-7   Nice   3-5

One day in Istanbul or Nice?

Istanbul is a big city destination where you can fill many days. Visiting the old town is also a must. Take your pick from the many activities offered here. With so much to do, one day is probably not enough time to see everything.

The beautiful seaside destination of Nice offers food and scuba diving and snorkeling. Exploring the old town is a popular activity. With so much to do, one day is probably not enough time to see everything. It will give you the chance to have new experiences.

A weekend in Istanbul or Nice?

Istanbul is a fun place to experience. The old town is one of the main draws for visitors. But since there are so many activities, you'll likely want to spend more than a weekend exploring. The entire region has so many activities, and you'll want time to do everything.

Nice is a popular place that is full of things to see and experience. People enjoy relaxing at one of the resorts. But since there are so many activities, you'll likely want to spend more than a weekend exploring. Take your pick from the many activities offered here.

Five days in Istanbul or Nice?

Istanbul is a historic big city where you can fill many days. This city offers something for everyone. Exploring the old town is a popular activity. Plenty of people spend five days in the area when traveling. Five days is often enough time to do most activities.

Nice is a popular choice for travelers. Five days here is typical. While some people choose to spend more or less time in Nice, five days is sufficent for most. The entire region has so many activities, and you'll want time to do everything.

A week in Istanbul or Nice?

Istanbul is a beautiful city where you can fill many days. Make sure you visit the old town while you're here. Many people spend one week here. The length of your trip often depends on your style of travel. Because of this, one week is usually enough time for a trip here.

Nice is a great place to explore. Visiting the old town is also a must. One week is more than enough time to enjoy everything. Take some day trips to nearby places to fill the extra days. This seaside destination offers something for everyone.

Which place is cheaper, Nice or Istanbul?

These are the overall average travel costs for the two destinations.

  • Istanbul Prices Turkey Prices Nice Prices France Prices
  • Average Daily Cost Per person, per day Istanbul $ 142 Nice $ 140

The average daily cost (per person) in Istanbul is $142, while the average daily cost in Nice is $140. These costs include accommodation (assuming double occupancy, so the traveler is sharing the room), food, transportation, and entertainment. While every person is different, these costs are an average of past travelers in each destination. What follows is a categorical breakdown of travel costs for Istanbul and Nice in more detail.


  • Accommodation Hotel or hostel for one person Istanbul $ 54 Nice $ 63
  • Accommodation Typical double-occupancy room Istanbul $ 108 Nice $ 126

Compare Hotels in Istanbul and Nice

Looking for a hotel in Istanbul or Nice? Prices vary by location, date, season, and the level of luxury. See below for options and compare which is best for your budget and travel style.


Hotels in Istanbul

Hotels in Nice

Kayak helps you find the best prices for hotels, flights, and rental cars for destinations around the world. Compare prices for multiple destinations when planning your next trip.

Local Transportation

  • Local Transportation Taxis, local buses, subway, etc. Istanbul $ 62 Nice $ 27

Typical Local Transportation prices in Istanbul

Some typical examples of transportation costs in Istanbul are as follows:

  • Ferry $ 0.10
  • Local Bus $ 0.10

Hired Cars and Shuttles in Istanbul

Some specific examples of transportation prices in Istanbul:

  • Istanbul Airports Arrival or Departure Private Transfers: $14
  • istanbul airport vip transfer by private car: $17
  • Istanbul Airport (IST) Private Arrival and Departure Transfer: $20
  • Princes' Island Tour with Lunch & Transfers: $20
  • Princes' Islands Cruise w/Music, Lunch & Transfer: $20
  • Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW) to City Center - Arrival Private Transfer: $20
  • Istanbul City to Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW)-Departure Private Transfer: $20
  • Private Economic VIP Transfer to/from Istanbul Airport : $20
  • Airport - Otel Transfer and City Tours: $20
  • Princes' Islands Cruise with Lunch and Transfer Full-Day Tour: $21
  • Half-Day Old City Tour with Hotel Transfers: $22
  • Istanbul Airport (SAW) to Istanbul - Arrival Private Transfer: $22

Hired Cars and Shuttles in Nice

Some specific examples of transportation prices in Nice:

  • Private Arrival Transfer: Nice Airport to Hotel: $34
  • Private Departure Transfer: Hotel to Nice Airport: $34
  • Arrival Transfer from Côte d'Azur Airport NCE to Nice City in Private Car: $44
  • Departure Transfer from Nice City to Côte d'Azur Airport NCE in Private Car: $44
  • Private Transfer: Côte d'Azur Airport (NCE) to Nice City Center: $46
  • Private Transfer: Nice City Center to Côte d'Azur Airport(NCE): $46
  • Private Transfer from Monaco Hotels to Port Hercule: $47
  • Port Hercule (Monte Carlo Monaco Port) to Monaco - Arrival Private Transfer: $47
  • Monaco to Hercule Monte Carlo Port Departure Private Transfer: $47
  • Private Transfer from Port Hercule to Monaco hotels: $47
  • Nice hotels to Nice Cote d'Azur Airport (NCE) - Departure Private Transfer: $50
  • Nice Cote d'Azur Airport (NCE) to Nice hotels - Arrival Private Transfer: $50

Is it cheaper to fly into Istanbul or Nice?

Prices for flights to both Nice and Istanbul change regularly based on dates and travel demand. We suggest you find the best prices for your next trip on Kayak, because you can compare the cost of flights across multiple airlines for your prefered dates.

  • Food Meals for one day Istanbul $ 35 Nice $ 52

Typical Food prices in Istanbul

Some typical examples of dining costs in Istanbul are as follows:

  • Juice $ 0.07
  • Turkish Delight $ 0.02
  • Dessert $ 0.30
  • Pastries $ 0.05

Food Tours and Cooking Classes in Istanbul

Also, here are some specific examples of food and dining related activities in Istanbul.

  • Dinner Cruise and Entertainment with Private Table: $18
  • İstanbul Bosphorus Dinner Cruise with Traditional Turkish Show: $20
  • Bosphorus Dinner Cruise Tour With Turkish Night Show: $21
  • Bosphorus Dinner Cruise and Turkish Night Show: $22
  • Bosphorus Dinner Cruise , Unlimited Drinks & Shows: $22
  • Bosphorus Luxury Catamaran Cruise with Dinner Show: $22
  • Bosphorus Boat Cruise with Dinner & Entertainment: $23
  • Bosphorus Dinner Cruise & Show with Private Table: $23
  • Istanbul Bosphorus Cruise with All inclusive Dinner and Belly-Dancer Show : $27
  • Bosphorus Dinner Cruise with Folklore Show & Belly Dancers: $27
  • Dinner Cruise Bosphorus with Hotel Transfer: $28
  • Istanbul Bosphorus Dinner Cruise: $28

Typical Food prices in Nice

Some typical examples of dining costs in Nice are as follows:

  • Slushee $ 2.67
  • Strawberries $ 4.27
  • Loaf of Bread $ 3.42

Food Tours and Cooking Classes in Nice

Also, here are some specific examples of food and dining related activities in Nice.

  • Hard Rock Cafe Nice with Set Meal for Lunch or Dinner: $30
  • Food tour and Tastings in Nice with Audio Guide: $58
  • Viator Exclusive: Organic French Dinner in the Garden of Nice: $77
  • Nice Small-Group Walking Food Tour with Local Specialties & Wine Tasting: $90
  • Viator Exclusive: Local Cooking Class & Dinner with View of Nice: $92
  • Fresh Seafood Dinner in Wine Cellar near Basilique Notre-Dame: $99
  • The Flavors of Nice Food Tour: $104
  • Half-Day Walking Food Tour in Nice with Lunch: $105
  • Old Nice Food Tour - Do Eat Better Experience: $105
  • Nice Evening Food Tour - Do Eat Better Experience: $105
  • Half Day Afternoon Walking Food Tour with Dinner: $133
  • Food Tour + Wine Pairing Lunch with a local Sommelier: $135


  • Entertainment Entrance tickets, shows, etc. Istanbul $ 89 Nice $ 13

Typical Entertainment prices in Istanbul

Some typical examples of activities, tours, and entrance ticket prices in Istanbul are as follows:

  • Bosphurus Boat (for 2) $ 0.70
  • Yerebatan Cistern for Two $ 0.70
  • Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts for Two $ 0.35
  • Hagia Sofia entrance $ 1.05

Tours and Activities in Istanbul

Some specific costs of activities, tours, and entrance tickets for Istanbul are as follows:

  • First Discovery Walk and Reading Walking Tour: $3.28
  • Kadikoy's history, theatres and sweet shops: a self-guided audio tour: $5.00
  • Istanbul Sites: Peel back the layers of Turkish history a self-guided audio tour: $5.40
  • Hagia Sophia Exclusive Digital Audio Guided Tour: $5.47
  • Highlights Self Guided Scavenger Hunt & Tour: $5.47
  • Hagia Sophia Tours /Skip The Lines: $5.54
  • Private Guided Walking Tour in Istanbul: $5.99
  • Istanbul Self-Guided Audio Tour: $6.00
  • Turkey: Tourist eSIM Data Plan: $6.55
  • City Exploration Game and Tour: $6.57
  • Vip Ticket For Hagi̇a Sophi̇a : $6.65
  • The Magnificent Hagia Sophia Tour: $6.65

Tours and Activities in Nice

Some specific costs of activities, tours, and entrance tickets for Nice are as follows:

  • Nice Self-Guided Audio Tour: $6.00
  • Monaco Self-Guided Audio Tour: $6.00
  • Ticket to Musée National du Sport: $6.57
  • Nice Scavenger Hunt and Self-Guided Walking Tour: $6.65
  • Monaco Old Town Scavenger Hunt and Walking Tour: $6.65
  • The Best of Nice’s Old Town: A Self-Guided Audio Tour: $6.99
  • Self Guided Private City Audio Walking Tour in Nice: $7.75
  • Nice's Historical Highlights: A Self-Guided Audio Tour: $9.99
  • Self-Guided Walking Tour in Nice with Audio-Guide: $11
  • Self-Guided Walking Tour in Monaco (With Audioguide): $14
  • Monaco's Neighbourhoods: A Self-Guide Audio Tour : $15
  • Allianz Stadium and National Sports Museum Tour: $18
  • Alcohol Drinks for one day Istanbul $ 17 Nice $ 18

Sample the Local Flavors in Istanbul

Some specific costs for nightlife related activities in Istanbul:

  • Istanbul Pub Crawl Big Nightout . Rooftop parties,party Bus & Nightlife: $22
  • Famous Istanbul Pub Crawl #1 Nightlife Experience: $27
  • Party Pub Crawl with Party Bus: $27
  • Drunk TourIST - Istanbul Pub Crawl: $27
  • #1 Rated Istanbul Party Pub Crawl w Party Bus/Sultanahmet&Taksim: $28
  • Istanbul 7-Hour Pub Crawl: Big Night Out: $33
  • Istanbul Wine Tasting at Home with Local Family: $88
  • Istanbul Wine Tasting at Home with Local Family: $94
  • 2-Day Wine Tasting Tour along the Thracian Wine Route: $180
  • Istanbul Private Wine Tasting Tour Through 3 City Wineries : $282
  • Guided, Food and Wine Tasting Tour in Istanbul : $300
  • Full-Day Wine Tour from Istanbul: $353

Sample the Local Flavors in Nice

Also in Nice, these are the prices for nightlife and alcohol related activities from various tour providers:

  • Pub Crawl Nice with Drinking Games and Optional Drink special: $22
  • Riviera Bar Crawl Nice: $28
  • Brewery Tour and Craft Beer Tasting: $33
  • Vineyard Tour with Wine Tasting within Nice city borders: $37
  • Nice Walking Tour with Wine Tasting: $45
  • Wine Tour Claus Vineyard Tasting From Saint-Paul de Vence: $53
  • Provence Organic Wine Tasting Half Day Tour from Nice: $66
  • Viator Exclusive: Wine Tasting in Basilique Notre-Dame's Cellar: $73
  • Wine Tasting: Tour de France in Nice City Centre: $75
  • Half-Day Wine Tasting and Saint Paul de Vence Tour from Nice: $85
  • Half-day Wine Tour in Bellet wine region from Nice: $97
  • Exclusive Food and Wine Tour in Menton - 3 hours - small groups: $100

When comparing the travel costs between Istanbul and Nice, we can see that Istanbul is more expensive. However, the two cities are actually relatively comparable in price, as the difference is somewhat minimal. Generally, this means that you could travel with generally the same travel style and level of luxury in each place. Since both cities are in Europe, it's no surprise that their costs are relatively close, as many destinations here have somewhat similar travel prices overall.

Istanbul is bigger, and its population is about 33 times larger than the population of Nice. When comparing the population of Istanbul vs. Nice, keep in mind that a larger population does not always imply the destination has more attractions or better activities. So, always research the type of place that you want to visit and the activities that interest you.

When is the best time to visit Istanbul or Nice?

Both destinations experience a temperate climate with four distinct seasons. And since both cities are in the northern hemisphere, summer is in July and winter is in January.

Should I visit Istanbul or Nice in the Summer?

Both Nice and Istanbul are popular destinations to visit in the summer with plenty of activities. The city activities and the family-friendly experiences are the main draw to Istanbul this time of year. Also, many travelers come to Nice for the beaches, snorkeling, and the family-friendly experiences.

In the summer, Istanbul is around the same temperature as Nice. Typically, the summer temperatures in Istanbul in July average around 24°C (74°F), and Nice averages at about 23°C (73°F).

In July, Istanbul usually receives more rain than Nice. Istanbul gets 19 mm (0.7 in) of rain, while Nice receives 16 mm (0.6 in) of rain each month for the summer.

  • Summer Average Temperatures July Istanbul 24°C (74°F)   Nice   23°C (73°F)

Should I visit Istanbul or Nice in the Autumn?

Both Nice and Istanbul during the autumn are popular places to visit. Many travelers come to Istanbul for the city's sights and attractions, the shopping scene, and the natural beauty of the area. Furthermore, many visitors come to Nice in the autumn for the shopping scene and the natural beauty of the area.

In October, Istanbul is generally around the same temperature as Nice. Daily temperatures in Istanbul average around 16°C (61°F), and Nice fluctuates around 17°C (63°F).

Nice gets a good bit of rain this time of year. Istanbul usually gets less rain in October than Nice. Istanbul gets 71 mm (2.8 in) of rain, while Nice receives 108 mm (4.3 in) of rain this time of the year.

  • Autumn Average Temperatures October Istanbul 16°C (61°F)   Nice   17°C (63°F)

Should I visit Istanbul or Nice in the Winter?

The winter attracts plenty of travelers to both Istanbul and Nice. Many visitors come to Istanbul in the winter for the museums, the shopping scene, and the cuisine. Furthermore, most visitors come to Nice for the shopping scene and the cuisine during these months.

Istanbul is cooler than Nice in the winter. The daily temperature in Istanbul averages around 6°C (43°F) in January, and Nice fluctuates around 9°C (48°F).

In January, Istanbul usually receives more rain than Nice. Istanbul gets 99 mm (3.9 in) of rain, while Nice receives 83 mm (3.3 in) of rain each month for the winter.

  • Winter Average Temperatures January Istanbul 6°C (43°F)   Nice   9°C (48°F)

Should I visit Istanbul or Nice in the Spring?

The spring brings many poeple to Istanbul as well as Nice. Most visitors come to Istanbul for the activities around the city and the natural beauty during these months. Additionally, the spring months attract visitors to Nice because of the beaches and the natural beauty.

In the spring, Istanbul is around the same temperature as Nice. Typically, the spring temperatures in Istanbul in April average around 13°C (55°F), and Nice averages at about 13°C (56°F).

Istanbul usually gets less rain in April than Nice. Istanbul gets 49 mm (1.9 in) of rain, while Nice receives 62 mm (2.4 in) of rain this time of the year.

  • Spring Average Temperatures April Istanbul 13°C (55°F)   Nice   13°C (56°F)

Typical Weather for Nice and Istanbul

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How Many Days is Enough to Visit Istanbul?

Did you come to Turkey primarily to tour Istanbul? Or do you want to visit other Turkish destinations as well? Istanbul is a fantastic tourist destination in and of itself.

Istanbul, a vibrant cultural hub, is brimming with must-see sites and monuments! So, how long should you stay in Istanbul? Give the city, at least three days if you’re coming for the first time. Three days in Istanbul will enable you to see the city’s most renowned sights — but anticipate a jam-packed schedule if you want to make the most of your time there! Istanbul, sandwiched between Asia and Europe, is one of the world’s most fascinating tourist attractions. 

How Long Should You Stay in Istanbul?

First, ask yourself the following questions: 

Did you come to Turkey primarily to tour Istanbul? Or do you want to visit other Turkish destinations as well? Istanbul is a fantastic tourist destination in and of itself. However, if you prefer to visit other places, such as Cappadocia or Pamukkale, don’t be overwhelmed by all the sights to see in Istanbul! If you just want to see the attractions of Istanbul , a day or two should enough! If you like having a full itinerary, three days in Istanbul is more than plenty. However, if you are a more leisurely visitor, allow yourself extra time to enjoy all that the complicated city has to offer. Finally, obviously, your budget must correspond to your itinerary. Istanbul is not a particularly costly place to visit. In fact, you may want to stay longer to save money on your trip!

Spend 3 Days in Istanbul

In terms of your budget and interests, we believe that a three or five-day vacation to Istanbul is the ideal option. If you have two or three days in Istanbul, you should certainly spend more time exploring Sultanhamet! After admiring the architectural marvels of the most famous Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, explore the remainder of Sultanahmet Square. Even if you only have two days in Istanbul, I suggest that you spend the whole day in Sultanhamet. The Hippodrome, the Egyptian obelisk, the Serpent Column, and the Basilica Cistern are all worth seeing. These sites have a deep historical importance, so don’t only snap pictures of them; learn about their significance as well! 

Grab a bite to eat at the Galata Tower, which offers a beautiful view over Istanbul. (Be prepared for a lengthy line since this is a popular sunset viewing location.) But believe me when I say that a sunset supper at the Galata Tower is well worth the wait!) On day two of your two-day schedule, you may visit the Grand Bazaar. After that, if you want to have a refined European experience, go to Istiklal Street. You may eat at one of The Flower Passage’s cafés. When you’ve had your fill of sightseeing, unwind in one of Istanbul’s hammams, ancient Turkish baths that guarantee total relaxation! If you have an extra day, I suggest spending more time on Istiklal Street. Your three-day schedule will give you extra time to see the interesting Mekan Galata Mevlevi Whirling Dervish House and Museum, see a Turkish film at The Majestic Cinema, and take a short circular Bosphorus cruise! 

A Week in Istanbul

More days in Istanbul means more time to see the city’s sights. Take advantage of the flexibility to explore more of Sultanahmet and Istiklal Street! With 4-5 days in Istanbul, you may be able to do a Full Bosphorus Cruise Tour. You may choose between an afternoon and an evening boat trip, depending on your preferences. Whereas the short circular Bosphorus Cruise trip provides an overview of the beautiful vistas from the Bosphorus, the full tour provides a more in-depth exploration. The latter allows passengers to go across the Black Sea! 

To cut a long tale short, depending on your interests, money, and plans, a typical 3 to 5 day vacation in Istanbul would be sufficient to visit every significant site in the city and feel its cultural essence.

Related Tours

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  • Nearby Istanbul

Known for its lake, creeks, drinking water basin, forests, and plateaus, the Sakarya region of Sapanca has recently gained popularity as a tourist attraction. This alluring route for travelers is even more alluring by its connection to Istanbul. For those seeking to escape the bustle of the city, Sapanca offers a variety of hotels and activities. When you visit Istanbul, you can also take pleasure in a leisurely weekend in the great outdoors.


A “bohemia” with its cafes, where debates take place about theater, cinema, literature, and philosophy. This is cihangir.

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Do you wish to visit istanbul? come learn about the newest airport in turkey’s most beloved city, istanbul! the council of ministers indicated that ataturk airport was inadequate in certain ways, therefore it was determined that a new airport was required. in 2018, istanbul airport became public. since the shutdown of ataturk airport, the airport has served as the sole airport on istanbul’s european side.

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Kadikoy, sisli, besiktas, and maltepe are the top districts in istanbul

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Istanbul, Turkey

Is it safe to travel to Türkiye right now? Latest travel advice

Here is everything we know about travelling to Türkiye amidst the conflict in Israel

Liv Kelly

Türkiye’s abundance of cultural heritage, fascinating historical sites, great architecture, food and people have made it a go-to holiday destination for decades. Istanbul is an incredibly vibrant city, which straddles two continents, but the country is also known for its beautiful landscape and coastlines. 

However, its proximity to the continuing conflict in Israel , which erupted on Saturday October 7, is causing concern about how safe it is to travel to this region of the world. Here is everything we know about travelling to Türkiye amidst the Israel-Hamas conflict. 

Is it safe to travel to Türkiye at the moment? 

Türkiye  has not been impacted by the conflict in Israel.  It depends on where in the country you’re travelling, but the majority of destinations in Türkiye are safe and tourist-friendly. Certain areas have experienced wildfires over the summer, and the UK Foreign Office estimates that the terrorist threat is ‘very high’. However, travelling to Türkiye is not advised against. 

How about Antalya? 

A city with gorgeous beaches which is full of ancient Greek and Roman remnants, Antalya is one of Türkiye’s fastest-growing tourist destinations.  

The province experienced wildfires earlier this year, which began in the forests of Kemer. However, the region has been considered a safe place to travel since the fires were brought under control. 

Is it safe to travel to Istanbul?

There is currently no official advice stating that it is unsafe to travel to Istanbul.

What is the UK Foreign Office saying? 

The UK Foreign Office advises against all travel to anywhere within 10km of the border with Syria. It also advises against all but essential travel with Sirnak (city) and Hakkari (province). 

Travellers are free to visit the rest of Türkiye, but the advice is to remain vigilant. Political protests can break out unexpectedly and the country is considered to have a ‘very high’ threat of terrorist attacks. The webpage also states that Türkiye is prone to experiencing wildfires during the summer, and recommends taking care when driving through woodland areas. 

What about the Turkey Travel Advisory? 

The advice from the Turkey Travel Advisory is similar to that of the UK Foreign Office. It marks Sirnak, Hakkari and anywhere within 10 km of the Syrian Border as a level four, which means ‘do not travel’. 

Advice about the rest of Türkiye encourages travellers to stay alert, avoid demonstrations and crowds, and to monitor local media for up-to-date information. You can read more about the Turkey Travel Advisory’s recommendations on their webpage. 

How far is Türkiye from Israel? 

Türkiye is 879 km from Israel, or about an hour and a half flight. Türkiye is north of Israel, and the two countries do not share a border. 

Is travel to other countries near Israel safe?

The Foreign Office does not currently advise against travelling to countries bordering Israel, but advice may change quickly as the violence escalates. 

Read more about the latest  travel advice for Israel and Egypt  and Jordan . 

For more information on how to help those affected by the conflict, you can read our guide on where to donate here . 

Stay in the loop: sign up to our free Time Out Travel newsletter for all the latest travel news.

  • Liv Kelly Contributing Writer

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