If you like to travel and to explore, Istanbul is a must-visit city. It has a historical side to it that is unmatched by any other city in the world that just presents itself to its visitors, but rather than what you should visit during your stay in this ancient and marvelous city, we are going to delve into how you should visit this city and what can you expect to find.
First of all, we are going to talk about how safe and secure the city is. I bet that you too, wonder about how safe somewhere that you are going to visit is, just like me, so the first subtopic is naturally about safety. Istanbul is considered a relatively safe city in the league of the gigantic metropolitans that it competes in. There’s no denying that when there are so many people amalgamated together in an arguably small area, it attracts some misfits. Generally, those misfits happen in cases of pick-pocketing in the densest areas. Another form of criminality in the city is the fraud of the tourist hunters such as the over-priced restaurants, taxis, and the “guides” that will try to lead you to the shops that they own or work with. So in order to be safe in this city, there are 3 things you should be wary of;
- Keep your purse or bag under your hand especially in dense crowds,
- Keep some Turkish Liras on your person to avoid being shortchanged by the taxi drivers or some malicious server working in some overpriced tourist trap restaurant,
- Don’t let yourself be lead to the extreme backstreets of the city after a “kind” local who was willing to give you a “tour”.
Before going on to our next topic, it will do you good to learn some conduct manners in the unfortunate event that you need help. The number that you should call in case of any emergency is 112, the equivalent of 911 in Turkey throughout, but in most cases, if you even dial 911 the operator directs your call to 112. You can get medical assistance, police, and fire department help from this number. If you are in no position to call for help via your phone, you can just ask for it from the locals, most of which will be eager to aid you. In order to ask for help, you can simply say “help”, most of the Turkish people will understand this word. The Turkish word for help is “imdat” (pronounced “eam-dot”) if you yell “eam-dot” people in especially touristy areas would be very attentive.
Next, I will talk about what value you can get from visiting Istanbul, simply is it worth to take your time and spend your money on visiting this city. Imagine this, a city that was founded nearly 2000 years ago, excluding the times that it was still a “town”. It became one of the most important trading ports of the ancient and medieval world, it served as a capital city for two of the greatest Empires of those times, Byzantine (East Roman) and Ottoman. It houses the remains of these two Empires both on the ground and below it. In the city, there are both Byzantine churches, cathedrals, etc… and Ottoman mosques (like a cool trivia, the Hagia Sophia Church was one of the first examples of the “Domed” structures and it is the first example of architecture that features the use of domes on such a large scale).
I will list some of the structures and sites in Istanbul that are must-see in order to persuade you further and talk about some of them;
- Hagia Sophia Museum ( it was made a museum by the decision of Mustapha Kemal Ataturk after the Republic of Turkey was founded).
- Blue Mosque ( Sultanahmet Mosque)
- Galata Tower
- Topkapi Palace
- Dolmabahce Palace
- Maiden’s Tower
- Grand Bazaar
- Spice Bazaar
- Anatolian and Rumelian Fortresses
- The Bosphorus
- The Belgrade Forests
- Basilica Cistern
- Taksim and Sultanahmet Squares
These and many more structures and sites are part of the charm of visiting Istanbul.
Hagia Sophia Museum
The most visited museum in Istanbul and Turkey the Hagia Sophia museum is an important building for two major religions in the world. The most important monument that succeeded to survive from the Byzantine Period of Istanbul is undoubtedly the Hagia Sophia, considered the eighth wonder of the world and also the most magnificent work of Byzantium. The work of Emperor Justirianus, who made the most important contributions to Byzantine Istanbul with Constantine, remained as the world’s most monumental structure for centuries with its size and splendor. It has survived many disasters such as fires and earthquakes in Istanbul and has reached modern times as a relic of the ancient world.
Sultanahmet Mosque ( The Blue Mosque )
Sultan Ahmet Mosque, which is one of the landmarks of Istanbul and located right across the Hagia Sophia Museum in Fatih district, was built between the years 1609 and 1617 with the order of Sultan Ahmet I, by the student of Mimar Sinan, Architect Sedefkar Mehmet Aga. It was built as a complex with madrasah (university), hospital, school, Turkish bath, freshwater fountain, public offices, shops, and the Sultan’s tomb. Some of these were added later.
The Galata Tower
The history of the Galata Region is as old as the inner wall. Galata, which was known as a settlement where Christians lived mostly in the Ottoman period, was a region covered with walls used by Genoese as a trade colony between 1273 and 1453. There are various rumors about where the name of Galata came from. The most accepted of these is that those coming from the people of “Galatian” settled in this region and gave their names to these lands. Another accepted rumor is that it came from the word “galasude”, which meant milk production in the Byzantine period. The fact that milk production was made in this region during the Byzantine Period meant that this rumor is accepted by many people. The Tower that takes its name from this region is believed to be built by the Genoese as and observation and defense building as the were sea traders.
Topkapi Palace, which is an indispensable part of the list of places to visit in Istanbul for travelers interested in history and architecture, has been fascinating its visitors for centuries. Topkapı, which has been turned into one of the largest palace-museums in the world in the early years of the Republic, is waiting for you with its architecturally designed sections and the priceless collection it contains. The construction of Topkapı Palace, built on an area of 7.5 million square feet on the Eastern Roman Acropolis in Istanbul Sarayburnu, construction started in 1460 upon the order of Fatih after the conquest of Istanbul. It was completed in 1478, the palace was used as the administrative, educational and artistic center of the Ottoman Empire for about 4 centuries.
Maiden’s Tower is the historical building located in the middle of the Bosphorus, which has been the symbol of Istanbul for years. The Maiden’s Tower, which has been in construction for many years, is a work of the Byzantine era and its history dates back to 24 BC. It has been used for different purposes since the first day it was built and then repaired by the order of Ottoman sultans. The Maiden’s Tower, which has a cistern, had many useful purposes such as customs station, quarantine building, defense fortress, it also is a lighthouse that emits a red light that can be seen from 2.5 miles far.
The Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar, which stands out with its magnificence and magnificence of its architecture, has been known as one of the most important trade centers of Istanbul for more than 500 years. The bazaar, which attracts shopping enthusiasts of all ages thanks to its content, also contains a rich cultural structure that dates back to the Byzantine Empire and developed during the Ottoman period. The history of the bazaar goes back to the Byzantine Empire. In the center of this place, which consists of a number of shops, there was a building called Cevahir Bedesteni. The first expansion works in the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest shopping places in the world were carried out in 1460 upon the order of Fatih Sultan Mehmet after the conquest of Istanbul. After the expansion, the bazaar, which started to be called Grand Bazaar, was built with another 15 sections.
For further information on Istanbul’s wonders you can check out some of the other posts on this site;
- The Bosphorus; https://goodistanbulguide.com/istanbuls-strait/ and https://goodistanbulguide.com/istanbul-by-ferry-vapur/
- The Spice Bazaar; https://goodistanbulguide.com/spice-market-bazaar-of-istanbul/
- The Basilica Cistern and Sultanahmet Square; https://goodistanbulguide.com/whats-underground-in-istanbul-basilica-cistern/
To conclude this heading, Istanbul is not only worth visiting but it is a must if you want to experience one of the most unique holidays of your life.
One of the parts of planning a vacation at home country or abroad is to estimate how much money to have. Budgeting your trip beforehand will allow you to enjoy it without giving it much thought.
Around the time that this post is written (Spring 2020), the exchange rate is about 7 liras to the dollar. (10$ = 70 TRY). A mid rage meal costs about 20 to 40 Liras (3$ to 6$). Transportation can have a large variety of costs if you use public transportation and you wish to visit 3 spots in the city that are away from each other you should plan to spend about 30 to 40 liras (a generous estimate) in a day ( about 5 bucks ). You should set about 50 liras ( 7$ )to visit privately owned museums ( excluding the state-owned ones that you can visit with the Musekart). Generally, it should be enough if you set about 30$ for a day to visit the city. There are no known exchange office frauds in the city but you would do well to look up the rates online and prepare yourself for some small commission rates.
Istanbul is a safe and whole different city at night. Some streets leading away from the Istiklal are known to have some bars running scams that result in the scammed to be asked for exorbitant amounts for little services. Istanbul has many bars and nightclubs that you can enjoy during your visit there. You can get more information about places to enjoy during the night here; https://goodistanbulguide.com/istanbul-things-to-do/
You can drink alcohol is most restaurants and all the bars in Istanbul. They serve wine, beer, and raki generally. For a pint of beer, you can expect to be charged about 25 liras ( 3-4 $). You should be careful about some restaurants that are specialized in raki and appetizers as some of them will not present you with a menu. You can get unpleasant surprises in some of these restaurants but do not hesitate to ask for the price of each item that comes to your table, they can try to imply that it is free but do not be shy about asking if it is free. Drinking on the streets is prohibited and monetary fines are applied to those who do drink on the streets. The legal drinking age in Turkey is 18, so you can get your drink from any shop and restaurant if you are past that age.
Istanbul’s hospitals are very well equipped. If you have traveling insurance most of the services are free of charge or costs just a token amount. If you call 112 you can call for an ambulance and there are operators that speak English. Food is generally very healthy in all places of the city, but be advised, to the unaccustomed plates the food might be too spicy or too oily so eat with consideration if you do not want to continue your trip with an upset stomach. Tap water is safe to drink in the city but the locals prefer bottled water because of the taste that they find unpleasant. The streets are fairly clean. As an added bonus, Istanbul is a city with many stray cats that are taken care of by the residents of the city. You will see many chubby and fluffy kitties on the streets that will not hesitate to come to you for pets, so it might be quite relaxing!
The hotels in Istanbul are safe and well maintained. The prices for one night ( without breakfast) can vary greatly depending on the quality of the establishment. You can find international chains like Hilton, Wyndham, Mariott, etc… witch base their charges on the U.S. dollar. You can expect the nightly fees at these hotels to be around 100$. There are also local hotels that are as good as the chain ones and generally, you can stay at these for half of the price of the chain hotels ( about 50$). The only warning that I would give you would be to not stay at the hotels too close to the touristic attractions, those demand high prices for one night and the quality is less than desirable.
Shopping in Istanbul can be very distracting and fun, but be careful because of the exchange rate you can spend more money than you wished for. Haggling is a must for most of your shopping in this city, especially in the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. You can haggle down the price of some items such as giftable trinkets nearly to half. Except for the chain stores, you can engage in haggling with nearly every trader. You should absolutely try your hand at this because most of the shop owners in Istanbul see it as a fun pass time activity and are more likely to gift you some small amount of goods you’re purchasing as they will respect you more as a customer.
I will put the most important things that you should be careful about down in a list below;
- Do not stay at hotels near touristic areas,
- Avoid traveling by taxis, if you must, pay in Turkish Liras and don’t hesitate to exorbitant amounts and to tell that you will call the police,
- Try to follow the locals and where they eat instead of restaurants in tourist hotspots,
- Don’t be guilted into visiting people’s shops for helping you, the hint is in the name, it is indeed help, not a service,
- Don’t pay the asked price for a giftable item on the streets, haggle it down,
- Eat with care, although delicious, Turkish food might not suit some palates,
- Be wary of where you carry your valuables, pickpockets are everywhere touristic in the world,
- Don’t hesitate to ask for directions and help but don’t pay someone for pointing you in a direction or answering a question.
Generally, these are the most important things that get overlooked when visiting a city this big if you follow this advice you should have an enjoyable stay.
Next, I’m going to be talking about some of the special aspects that are often wondered about western tourists that plan a visit to Istanbul.
Turkey is a secular country and Istanbul is a very progressive part of it. Kissing in public, wearing shorts, mini-skirts will not cause you a problem in this city. However, in the mosques, those wearing short clothes will be expected to wear long skirts and headcovers before visiting them thoroughly. Kissing or shows of affection further than holding hands is inadvisable in any place of worship in Istanbul, mosques, churches, and synagogues.
The power outlets in Turkey are different from those in the U.S. Here the outlets are recessed in wall sockets and supply a voltage of 220V with European Type-C outlets. You might need a voltage converter and an adapter for your plugs in order to charge your devices. You can find these in some shops in Istanbul but I would advise you to bring your own for ease. Most of the restaurants, cafes, bars, and touristic public areas will have power outlets and some transports will even have USB sockets so you shouldn’t worry about being out of power.
Turkish people do not consume pork, it is both a religious and a cultural thing so it is rare to find such catering in Istanbul. Beef, chicken, and sheep meats are largely consumed meats by the Turkish people so you should have no problem finding your preferences. In recent years more and more restaurants included vegetarian and vegan meals to their menus so you won’t be hard-pressed to find such meals if you do not prefer to eat meat.
One other item that can come to mind before visiting Turkey, although the hijab is a common thing for Turkish people, it is not an obligation. Turkey is geographically close to the middle east but the culture in big cities is western-oriented. You can expect to find two sisters with one wearing a hijab and the other mini skirt. You are not expected to wear a special kind of clothing anywhere in the city except the places that I stated above.
In order to visit Turkey, if you are the citizen of the U.S.A. any European Union country and the U.K., you can get a one time, one month touristic visa at the gates of the airport. If you are not the beholder of the countries stated, but you have a Schengen visa, you can get the same one time visa at the gates as Turkey has integration protocols with the European Union.
The clothing that you should wear according to the weather will vary, Istanbul is a city that you can visit year long. If you travel in the summer, be advised that the city is quite hot and humid, you should prefer light clothes during this period of the year ( one exception would be at night if you cross the Bosphorus and winds can pick up and chill you to the bones). In the spring and fall, you should dress for rain and mildly cold weather, bring an umbrella (or you can buy them off the streets when it starts to rain most of the peddlers on the streets will bring out the umbrellas and single-use raincoats).
I hope that this post will help you with your visit to Istanbul and answered most of the questions that you had in mind. If you wish to get further information about what to do, where to visit, what and where to eat, stay or generally what to expect during your visit, don’t miss my other posts on this very same site. Safe-travels!