51 Istanbul Travel Tips – Things To Know Before You Visit Istanbul

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Post author SJ

Written by our local expert SJ

Sarah-Jane has lived in Croatia for 10+ years. SJ, as she is known, has been traveling the Balkans & beyond since 2000. She now shares her passion for traveling with her husband & kids.

Istanbul is one of my favorite places in Türkiye. You must know a few things before you land in Istanbul, as it is a gigantic city. Here are all the travel tips for Istanbul you need to have a superb time enjoying the tourist sites.

Istanbul is a city that straddles two continents and boasts of its rich and ancient history, breathtaking architecture, mouth-watering cuisines, and warm hospitality. It is also a place where you need to know some of these things before you head there. 

Turkey Travel Blog_All The Istanbul Travel Tips You Need

Istanbul is the best place to start in Turkey. I seriously think that if you don’t visit Istanbul at least once in your life, you’ll regret it. I also believe that once is not enough – which is why I have been many times and know not just the most important Istanbul travel tip – but rather many tips!

Packed with history, culture, entertainment, gastronomy, and nightlife, there is so much to see and do that you’ll be exhausted by the end of your trip but so happy that you did it all.

But Istanbul is enormous, literally massive. There are countless tips you need to know if you want your trip to go as smoothly as possible and so you can get the most out of your time. But don’t worry; I’ve got the low-down for you.

In this blog post, we’ve compiled insider tips from seasoned locals who know every nook and cranny of Istanbul.  Here are the must-know tips for Istanbul that you need before you visit for the first time. Or for the second or even the hundredth time. Every visit to Istanbul can bring new surprises.

Transportation And Navigation Travel Tips

1. Make Peace With Traffic

Driving in Istanbul

Look, it’s hectic, and that means traffic. If you think you’ve seen traffic, trust me, you haven’t. Istanbul traffic is on another scale altogether. There’s nothing you can do about it – no matter the day or time in Istanbul. So, the best thing is to make peace with it.

2. Use Public Transport

The tram stopped at the column of Constantine in Istanbul

The best travel tip for Istanbul is to use transport options that avoid traffic problems, such as the Metro line, the tramway, or, y’know, even a short walk. Istanbul is a very walkable city, with the walking distance between central locations ideal for kids (mine just needed breaks!)

3. Use The “IstanbulKart” 

Istanbul Card - transport in Istanbul

The IstanbulKart is a pre-paid transportation card that you can use on all types of public transport (except for taxis in Istanbul).

Public transportation in Istanbul is cheap and easy to use, and you’ll be thankful you have it in your bag when your feet hurt, and you want to get back to your hotel.

4. Avoid Buses During Besiktas Games

Besiktas football stadium is located across from Dolmabache Palace on a bustling road that links Besiktas with Taksim, Karatas, Galata, and Eminonu. But, if the football team plays at home, the road to Taksim and Sisli closes, and you’ll have to walk.

It’s a big hill, too – don’t attempt it.

5. Use HAVAIST Bus For Airport

Catching a bus at Istanbul Airport

If you’re flying into Istanbul, the HAVAIST bus is the easiest and cheapest way to get to and from both airports. There are numerous routes, and they run 24 hours per day on a regular basis. Taxis might seem more convenient, but they’re costly.

6. Take Taxis Via App Service

If you do decide to use taxi services, use those that are associated with an app. Options include Uber, BiTaksi and iTaksi.

Using these services will help ensure you avoid the scams the yellow taxis are known for in Istanbul.

Travel Preparation And Local Insights

7. Pack For Comfort

Galata Tower Family Istanbul

You’re going to be busy, and you’re probably not going to have time to go back to your hotel and freshen up before your evening out. Even if you do, you’ll be so tired you won’t even care what you look like. With so much to see, including the European and Asian sides, there’s no time to care about style points. My advice? Just pack for comfort and forget about style.

8. Emphasize Footwear

Even if you use public transport, you’ll probably end up standing for most of the way, so make sure you wear very comfortable footwear. Ladies, forget the heels. Just wear trainers that are well broken in, and you’ll be good to go on your day trip in Istanbul. Oh, and throw some plasters in your back, just in case.

9. Get An eSIM

Turkey Tourist Sim Card Options - In Istanbul

Large phone companies in Istanbul usually offer touristic sims for visitors to use during their stay, which includes Internet data. Turkcell, Turk Telekom, and Vodafone are all reliable options, but the prices vary, and getting someone to speak English is not always possible.

Save yourself time and get an eSIM (or a regular SIM card) before you go, which means you’ll save time for more sightseeing instead of negotiating at the stores.

10. Apply For An E-Visa 

If you need a tourist visa, you need to know about visa rules. Depending on your country of origin, you may or may not need one.

Generally speaking, most countries can purchase an online tourist visa, which lasts 90 days out of every 180 days. Introduced in 2013, the Turkey eVisa is a popular option for travelers visiting Turkey for tourism. The process is online and speedy. Remember that this type of Turkish visa is only available for eligible countries.

Great news! As of 2024, tourists from the USA no longer need a visa to visit Istanbul – so you are free just to come and say hello.

11. Plan Your Trip Flexibly

Considering the variety of attractions like Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, it’s a good idea to research and determine what you want to see; then, you can decide which part of Istanbul to stay in. However, don’t be too rigid with your planning because you might see something en route that you want to visit. Allow a little flexibility if you can.

12. Avoid Renting A Car

Istanbul - Roko &Vladimirwith Medusa head at Basilica Cistern

Traffic, crazy drivers, parking problems. Just don’t do it.

13. Know Airport Locations

Shopping at Istanbul Airport - People in the departure hall of the airport

There is more than one airport in Istanbul. So, one of the biggest Istanbul travel tips I can give you is to check which one you fly into and out of. 

Istanbul has two main airports – New Istanbul International Airport and Sabiha Gökçen International Airport. Be sure to review which airport your flight is departing from before you go to the wrong airport. The Sabiha Gokcen Airport is on the Asian side, while the New Istanbul Airport is on the European side.


14. Familiarize History, Politics & Religion

The country blends secular and progressive movements and regions that value more conservative practices. A great place to start learning about Turkey’s past is to read about Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – the founding father of the Republic of Turkey after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. 

Travel Tips For Cultural Etiquette And Practices

15. Mosque Etiquette

What To Wear In Turkey - Mosque Etiquette

There are many mosques in Istanbul, and if you want to explore (highly recommended), then make sure you’re prepared in terms of clothing. Most people want to visit the Blue Mosque at the very least, and it’s important to know what to expect.

So, ladies, you must cover your head (pack a pashmina or scarf) and ensure you’re modestly dressed. Shorts, leggings, and skirts are a no-no; if the attendant thinks you need to cover a little, they will give you a shawl to wrap around your middle and cover your legs.

Also, make sure that your shoulders are covered. Guys, the same goes for you – no shorts or vest tops.

You’ll be asked to remove your shoes, which will be kept safe while you’re inside. So, pack some socks in your bag.

16. Avoid Scams


There are a lot. So, make sure you check your bill before paying and highlight any mistakes to the waiter. If you’re traveling in a taxi, ask how much the bill will likely be before you get in, make sure the driver switches on the taxi meter, and if you feel that they’ve taken the scenic route for any reason, take the license number and report it.

Also, if a shoe shiner walks towards you and then seems to drop their brush “without knowing,” don’t assume they’ve accidentally done so. If you pick it up and offer it back, it basically means they’ll offer to shine your shoes “for free” as a thank you. It’s not free.

The list goes on. Just keep your wits about you, and you’ll be fine.

17. Know The Drinks Scam

While this is not something that happens everywhere, you may find that you are given local drinks rather than international imports in some tourist resorts. In some cases, the products you find in the market in Istanbul can be of lower quality and, in some cases, may even be fake. The best advice is to drink bottled or draft beer and never leave your drink unattended. This is the same advice you’d received anywhere else in the world.

If you’re keen to drink spirits, such as vodka, make sure you ask if the vodka is a particular brand and, if possible, ask to see the bottle. You should still heed warnings about this, however, as you may find yourself on a rather dodgy stomach the next day; otherwise, at the very least.

18. Understand Local Timing

It’s never a good idea to assume that anything will be done on time in Turkey. This is known widely as “Turkey Time,” which means that if someone says they’ll be there in one hour, they usually mean an hour and a half at the very least! It’s infuriating at first, but you’ll get used to it; in the end, you might find it endearing or see yourself turning up on Turkish time yourself.

19. Learn Basic Language

Old man selling sweets on the street in Istanbul_Turkey

Turks love it when you speak Turkish. While most young people in Turkey speak English, you may struggle to find English speakers if you head out of the main cities in Turkey and even into the main towns.

While you can find yourself an app to help your way through it, and most people rely on pointing and hand signals to communicate their needs, learning a few words of the language will make your visit easier and endear you to the locals.

Even a few words of Turkish can go a long way in helping you get around Istanbul. Try to learn some basic phrases before your trip, and look for signs written in English and Turkish.

Some basic Turkish to know is:


Hello – Merhaba

Goodbye – Güle güle

Please – Lutfen

Thanks – Teşekkürler

Good night – Iyi geceler

Good morning – Günaydın

Good evening – Iyi akşamlar

How are you? – nasılsın?

20. Respect Web Restrictions 

The most important banned sites you may try to access while traveling in Turkey are:

  1. PayPal
  2. Wikipedia
  3. Booking.com

You can use these sites before entering the country and even book hotels using booking.com ahead of time, but you will not be able to access the sites or book on them once in the country. 

If you are a traveler who enjoys making last-minute plans while on vacation, have an idea of sites you will use to book hotels and transport other than booking.com or set up a VPN.

21. Understand The Tut & Nod 

This is a strange one, but it’s certainly something you’ll see if you communicate with locals. When someone makes a tutting noise and then nods their head upwards, e.g., a backward nod, it means “no.” They’re not being rude or doing something strange; they’re telling you they don’t want whatever you’ve asked.

Brands We Use And Trust


Istanbul Travel Tips For Finances

22. Avoid Eating In Tourist Squares

Actually, that’s a little harsh. Totally eat in Sultanahmet but avoid the tourist restaurants in Istanbul that offer ‘traditional’ Turkish cuisine. It’s traditional, but it’s not the best quality, and the prices are waaaaay higher. Know that in Istanbul, as with any international travel, there are many scams around.

If you want traditional food, head away from the tourist streets and perhaps ask in your hotel where the staff go to eat. Away from the touristy areas, places like Besiktas (located on the European side) and Kadikoy (located on the Asian side) have some fantastic traditional restaurants offering much nicer food at a lower price.

23. Carry Some Cash

ATM Turkey - What currency to use in Turkey

Cards are widely accepted in Istanbul, and ATMs are everywhere, but small markets and stalls may only accept cash. So, have a little cash with you as you explore the markets in Istanbul, but don’t go overboard.

Not only will you lose out when converting your cash back to your home currency, but walking around with a large amount of cash is never safe in a large city, anywhere in the world.

24. Be Aware Of ATM Fees

Not all ATMs charge enormous fees, but there will probably be a small one, at the very least. Research this before you go, but know that your bank will likely charge a currency exchange fee even if you get away with an ATM fee. Just weigh up whether it’s worthwhile or not.

25. Understand Currency

Uber in Turkey - Paying in Turkish Lira

Are you wondering, “What is Turkish money called”? The Turkish Lira is the official currency of Turkey. It is divided into 100 kuruş. The symbol for the Turkish Lira is TL. The Turkish Lira was introduced in 1864, replacing the Ottoman Empire’s currency, the kuruş. The Central Bank of the Republic of Türkiye issues the Turkish Lira.

26. Tipping Customs

Tipping is customary in Türkiye, especially when dining in high-quality restaurants nationwide and in many other restaurants across Istanbul.

If a service charge/fee hasn’t been applied, it is customary to tip between 5-10% of the bill, depending upon how much you enjoyed the service you received. If you’re dining somewhere extremely high-end, a tip of between 10-15% is more likely. You should always tip in cash and leave the cash amount in the bill sleeve you will receive or give directly to the waiter.

Istanbul Tips For Health And Safety

27. Travel Insurance

Because you never know. Istanbul tips for tourists often overlook this obvious tip. But Istanbul is not the place to be sick without insurance. 

28. Locating Pharmacies

If you need painkillers, plasters, or anything else a pharmacy would generally sell, you need to look for an ‘eczane,’ which will have a red and white ‘plus’ sign lit up outside. They’re everywhere.

29. Drinking Moderately

It is legal to drink alcohol in Istanbul, but not in public spaces like parks. It is also taboo to drink excessively. Raki and wine are both quite common, and locals who partake in these beverages do so socially and in moderation. Be considerate of this, especially if you head to the Asian side of the city where things are more conservative. Here, you will find fewer establishments with alcohol licensing. 

30. Stomach Health Tips

Drinks in Turkey - Roko drinking Ayran

This salty yogurt drink that most locals adore can be found in just about any restaurant, day or night. It’s got excellent probiotic properties and helps gut health during your travels.

Exploration And Sightseeing Tips

31. Best Time To Visit Istanbul

Colorful street with cafe in Cihangir quarter, Beyoglu district

Summer is a lovely time to visit Istanbul, but it’s also sticky and hot, and when you combine that with it being busy, it’s not a pleasant time. I always think winter is the best time to visit Istanbul; if you’re lucky, it might snow!

32. Explore Both Continents 

Asian side of Istanbul and popular Bagdat avenue at Valentine's Day
Bagdat Avenue, Kadikoy

While most first-time visitors tend to stick around the European city side, do not forget about the equally fascinating Asian side of Istanbul – known as the Anatolian Side.

33. Plan At Least Three Days For Exploration

Travel Tips For Istanbul - Hagia Sophia Crowds

There are pros and cons to how many days are sufficient for Istanbul – but we suggest that a three-day trip to Istanbul would be enough to discover the main Istanbul attractions. Of course, more time is always best!

34. Enjoy Street Food

Lokmasi Street Food Istanbul Port-1

While I wouldn’t advise eating random food from a stall that looks unclean, on the whole, street food in Istanbul is very cheap and delicious.

Istanbul is known for its amazing food, and Istanbul tourist guides will show you which stalls are the best. 

I recommend you be sure to try some of the local specialties like kebabs, pide, kofte, borek, simit, nuts, sweetcorn, and lahmacun. Yummy! Wash it all down with a cup of Turkish coffee or tea.

35. Take A Bosphorus Trip

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

Any good travel guide for Istanbul (like ours) will tell you to start your Istanbul adventure by taking a cruise on the Bosphorus River. This is one of the best ways to see Istanbul’s incredible skyline and get a feel for the city.

36. Get The Istanbul Museum Pass


You can also buy a pre-paid Museum Pass, which allows you free or discounted access to museums and other attractions. You get to jump the queue, too, which is never a bad thing.

37. Offbeat Ideas

Colorful sights if Balat, Istanbul Turkey
Balat, Istanbul

No travel to Istanbul would be complete without finding a few hidden gems. Here is a list of some off-the-beaten-path ideas in Istanbul for people who have been before:

  • Aya Sofya: This former mosque, now a museum, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Istanbul, and it is visited even more during the peak season. It’s definitely worth a visit!
  • Rüstem Pasha Mosque: located in the center of the city, this hidden gem is a stunning example of Ottoman architecture and design
  • Balat District: located on the Golden Horn, this part of town is known for its narrow streets and colorful houses. It’s definitely worth exploring! Read all about Balat here. 
  • Suleymaniye Mosque: Built in the 16th century by master architect Sinan, this is a must-see place to visit while in Istanbul. grand mosque is one of the most impressive buildings in Istanbul.
  • Yerebatan Cistern: an underground wonder, this massive cistern was once used to store water for the city of Istanbul

38. Sightseeing By District

Istanbul is big – really big! It’s hard to see everything in one trip. To better use your time, make the list of things you want to see and do, and then organize your list by location in the city. You can often knock multiple sites off your list at the same time this way. It also minimizes the time you spend in traffic throughout your trip.


39. Arrive Early To Top Tourist Sites

Romantic places in Istanbul - Dolmabahce Palace
Dolmabahce Palace on the banks of the Bosphorus in Istanbul.

Whether you have a Museum Pass or not, go early in the day if you’re visiting a top attraction. The queues for Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and Dolmabahce Palace might look like they’re moving quickly, but they are always super long. Don’t waste your day standing in a queue.

Know Before Visiting About Your Stay In Istanbul  

40. Wise Hotel Booking

As you travel Istanbul, you will notice that Istanbul is massive, and if you stay somewhere super-cheap, you’re likely to be far away from the main action. And it might be terrible.

I’m not saying always stay in a posh hotel, but this is where you really do get what you pay for. Do some research into where the hotel actually is, and if possible, avoid places like Beyoglu or Taksim, at least if you want to sleep at night – nightclubs are open until around 7 a.m., and they’re LOUD.

Every time I travel to Istanbul, I am reminded that it has many different neighborhoods, each with its own character. Do some research beforehand to find an area that’s right for you.

Also, book ahead of time!

41. Stay Away From Mosques If A Light Sleeper

Book accommodation that isn’t right next to a mosque if you happen to be a light sleeper. The call to prayer sounds are quite powerful and majestic, but it’s perhaps not something your half-asleep self will appreciate. Calls can start as early as 4 am and ring five times a day. So consider that when finding your boutique hotel.

42. Use Mosques For Public Restrooms

Best Hotels Near The Blue Mosque -

If you are in need of a bathroom, find the nearest mosque. These almost always have public restrooms attached and are generally exceptionally clean. 

Remember not to flush your toilet paper while in Istanbul! Check to see if a small wastepaper basket is near the toilet seat or if there is a sign requesting paper be thrown instead of flushed. This helps keep the pipe system running.

Things To Know About Dining & Socializing In Istanbul

43. Lokanta Etiquette

Lokanta are casual restaurants known for serving home-style meals to tradespeople and workers. They are found in most neighborhoods and are excellent places to grab some authentic Turkish cuisine.

However, these establishments turn tables over quickly in order to make a profit, so once your meal is done, settle the bill at a cash desk and head on your way.

44. Meyhane For Lunch

If you want to truly experience life in Istanbul, and linger over a meal of olives and meze, and find a methane. These sidewalk cafes are the opposite of Lokantas and are designed for guests to nibble on meze platters and sip raki while enjoying long conversation.

45. Understanding Meze Platters

When dining out, a server may pass your table with an excellent selection of meze bites: artichoke, eggplant, yogurt, etc. Often, these are not free, so keep that in mind before taking some.

Unique Experiences When You Go To Istanbul

46. Enjoying Sunsets

One of the best spots in the city to take in a sunset is the Galata Bridge. You will get fantastic views of both sides of the city, plus you can enjoy the sun as it sinks over the Bosphorus. It’s magical and romantic and everything a sunset should be!

47. Organize Sightseeing

You can’t do it. You’re not a superhero, no matter what you think. Prioritize and then decide to visit again in the future. You’ll save your feet and your sanity.

48. Encountering Stray Cats

Istanbul is home to a million or more cats, most of which roam the streets or can be spotted near the local cafes. They tend to keep to themselves, but some will eagerly take a pat on the head. Istanbul has a no-kill, no-capture policy for these felines, so despite it not being what you’re used to, the cats live relatively unharmed and are fed by the locals who have taken on a community mindset in regard to their wellbeing.

Special Istanbul Tips

49. Visiting Mosques During Prayer Times

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

If the stunning Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque or any of the city’s other religious buildings are on your agenda, make sure to double-check the prayer times online before arriving. Most of the city’s mosques are open to tourists, but they close down to non-muslims during prayer times, at least 5-6 times per day. 

If you arrive during prayer time on your visit to Istanbul, you will have to wait in long lines until the building reopens to the public.

Note: Most mosques, such as the Blue Mosque, have no “fee”; however, you still have to wait in the security check lines when required.

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

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

50. Mosque Visits On Fridays

The Jumu’ah prayer is a congregational prayer that occurs each Friday at noon. This prayer at the Hagia Sophia happens to get incredibly busy with active members, making it a tricky time to visit as a tourist. 

51. Taking Kids Along

There are plenty of activities for all ages in Istanbul, from kids’ parks to historical sites and museums.


This Istanbul travel guide is aimed to help you travel Istanbul like a pro! Did we do our job? All of this Istanbul advice will make sure you have a great (and safe) trip; of that, I have no doubt. 

Tips For Visiting Istanbul FAQs


What are the must-visit attractions in Istanbul?

Istanbul offers a wealth of attractions. Some of the best places include the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapı Palace, Grand Bazaar, Galata Tower, and the Bosphorus Strait Cruise.

Is Istanbul’s city center a safe city for tourists?

Istanbul is generally safe for tourists, but like any major city, it’s essential to be cautious. Avoid crowded areas, be aware of your surroundings, and keep your belongings secure to prevent pickpocketing.

What is the best way to get around Istanbul?

Istanbul has an extensive public transportation system, including trams, buses, and ferries. The Istanbulkart is a convenient card to use for multiple modes of transportation.

What is the local currency in Istanbul?

The local currency in Istanbul is the Turkish Lira (TRY). It’s best to exchange your money at authorized exchange offices or withdraw from ATMs for the best rates.

Is English widely spoken in Istanbul?

English is spoken in tourist areas and establishments, but you might encounter limited English in more local neighborhoods. Learning a few basic Turkish phrases can be helpful and appreciated, especially when asking for exchange rates.

Are there any cultural etiquettes I should be aware of?

When visiting mosques, dress modestly, and women should cover their hair. It’s polite to remove your shoes when entering someone’s home. Avoid pointing the sole of your foot at someone, as it’s considered disrespectful to Turkish people.

What are some traditional Turkish dishes to try in Istanbul?

Don’t miss trying dishes like kebabs, baklava, Turkish delight, mezes (appetizers), and Turkish tea or coffee during your stay in Istanbul.

Phew, so I THINK that is everything you need to know before visiting Istanbul. If not, I’ll come back and update this post again with more helpful Istanbul tips, so be sure to bookmark it.

Comments (2)

  1. Thank you for the information, it’s very informative. I would like to know about transportation from the Airport to Hotel in the Old City, How safe it is for sole female travel.

    Thank you!

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