Istanbul, located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, is Turkey’s largest city with a population of over 15 million. It’s renowned for its historic sites like the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, while also being a bustling modern metropolis. Istanbul welcomes around 13 million tourists annually, offering a unique mix of cultures, cuisines, and experiences. Tourists can savor delicious Turkish cuisine, explore iconic historical sites, enjoy warm hospitality, shop in vibrant bazaars, immerse themselves in a diverse culture, and experience a lively nightlife scene.
Get ready for your trip
- Discover the best time to visit
- Book your flight
- Find the best place to stay in Istanbul
- Make a list of top places to see
- Learn how to get an IstanbulKart and how to use public transport
- Get your Museum Pass for Istanbul
- Find out how to get from Istanbul Airport to Taksim
- Discover the best Street Food in Istanbul
- Learn more about the Istanbul Must-Eats
- Find the best Night Clubs
- Discover where to get the best Turkish Breakfast in Istanbul
The latest posts about Istanbul
Practical things to know before visiting Istanbul
Planning the trip
- Spend 3-4 Days Exploring Istanbul
When visiting Istanbul, allocate at least 3-4 days to get a proper introduction to this vast city and see its main attractions. Istanbul’s endless neighborhoods, ferry trips, museums, and dining options mean you could easily extend your stay beyond a week.
- Pre-Book Your Accommodation
Hotel booking platforms like Booking.com might not work in Turkey, so it’s wise to browse and secure your lodging in advance. This is especially vital during the peak season (June to August) when nicer hotels tend to sell out early, and prices can surge. Find the best hotels in Taksim!
- Avoid Renting a Car
Istanbul’s traffic can be chaotic, making it unnecessary to rent a car within the city. The public transportation system, which includes the metro, trams, buses, and ferries, is affordable and dependable. Google Maps is a valuable tool for planning routes.
- Choose Comfortable Footwear
For extensive walking and standing, wear comfortable, well-broken-in shoes. Leave heels at home and opt for trainers, especially if you plan to use public transport.
- Stay Away from Mosques If You’re a Light Sleeper
Mosques in Istanbul may issue calls to prayer as early as 4 am. To ensure a peaceful night’s sleep, consider booking accommodation away from mosques if you’re a light sleeper.
- Be Mindful of Banned Websites
Certain websites, including PayPal, Wikipedia, and Booking.com, may be inaccessible in Turkey. Plan your online activities accordingly, and consider using a VPN.
- Use Public Transport from the Airports
For convenience and speed, opt for public transport options like shuttle buses or the metro when arriving at Istanbul’s airports. They provide direct access to areas like Taksim and the city center. Learn more about how to get from Istanbul Airport to Taksim.
- Invest in an Istanbul Kart
Consider purchasing an Istanbul Kart for public transportation. It offers significantly reduced fares compared to single tickets and can be used by up to five people, making it a cost-effective choice for groups. Find out how to get an Istanbulkart and the prices!
- Use Taxi Apps
Istanbul offers various types of taxis at different price points, but it’s safer to use taxi apps to avoid scams and ensure reliability.
- Enjoy Local Ferries
Rather than splurging on a Bosphorus cruise, take advantage of affordable local ferries to enjoy similar scenic views. Ferries criss-cross the Bosphorus, offering a more budget-friendly way to experience the city’s waterways.
While you are there
- Combine Cards and Cash
While credit/debit cards are widely accepted in Istanbul, smaller shops, street food vendors, and certain restaurants may prefer cash. Carry small bills for tipping and to meet card purchase limits in some stores.
- Be Prepared for Hills
Istanbul is known as the “City on the Seven Hills,” so expect steep streets, especially in areas like Beyoglu, Balat, and around the Galata Tower. Comfortable shoes and water are essential for navigating the hilly terrain.
- Consider Tourist Passes
Invest in tourist passes like the Istanbul Museum Pass or E-Pass for skip-the-line access to major cultural institutions. These passes are particularly beneficial if you plan to visit multiple attractions. Learn more about the Museum Pass!
- Start Early to Beat Crowds
To avoid crowds, especially during the summer, start your day early and arrive at popular landmarks when they open. The metro operates as early as 6 am, making it easy to get around in the early morning.
- English Is Limited
While English is spoken, it’s not as widespread as you might expect. Learning a few basic Turkish phrases can be helpful, as not everyone you encounter will be fluent in English.
- Don’t Flush Toilet Paper
Many places in Istanbul request that you dispose of toilet tissue in a bin rather than flushing it due to sensitive plumbing. Follow the posted instructions in restrooms.
- Beware of Scams
Be cautious of potential scams, such as overcharging in restaurants and cab rides. Double-check your bills and use reputable services to avoid unwanted surprises.
- Remember to Tip
Tipping is common in Turkey, and it’s customary to tip between 5-10% of the bill in restaurants, with higher-end dining often warranting a 10-15% tip. Always tip in cash.
Is Istanbul expensive?
Istanbul’s affordability for travelers has evolved over the years. While it used to be very cheap, it is still relatively budget-friendly compared to many other European cities. However, the cost of your trip can vary significantly depending on your preferences and choices. In recent years, Istanbul has seen an increase in prices for various aspects of travel, from accommodation and transportation to groceries and entertainment. This increase can be attributed to several factors, including Turkey’s currency devaluation, foreign trade deficit, negative interest rates, and the Russian war in Ukraine, all contributing to rising prices.
The good news is that you can experience Istanbul on a budget and still have an enjoyable trip. Accommodation, public transport, and local food can be quite affordable while offering a rich cultural experience. Additionally, purchasing a museum pass for around $75 can cover most of the city’s attractions, making it a cost-effective way to explore Istanbul’s history and culture.
Ultimately, the cost of your trip will depend on your choices regarding dining, accommodation, and the activities and attractions you decide to explore. Many international visitors still view Istanbul as one of the most affordable destinations in Europe, which is why the city continues to attract millions of travelers each year.
Where to stay in Istanbul?
When deciding where to stay in Istanbul, it’s essential to consider your preferences and priorities. The city offers a diverse range of neighborhoods and accommodations to suit different traveler needs. If you want to be at the heart of Istanbul’s historical and cultural attractions, Sultanahmet is an excellent choice. It’s home to iconic landmarks like the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Meanwhile, Taksim Square in Beyoglu is perfect for those who want a vibrant, bustling atmosphere with plenty of dining, shopping, and nightlife options. If you prefer a more tranquil and charming setting, consider the historic neighborhoods of Balat or Kadikoy, known for their picturesque streets, local markets, and waterfront views.
Overview of the best places to stay in Istanbul
- Sultanahmet: This is where you’ll find Istanbul’s most famous landmarks, making it an ideal choice for history enthusiasts. Accommodations here range from luxury hotels with stunning views of the Bosphorus to charming boutique hotels.
- Taksim/Beyoglu: If you want a lively atmosphere, Taksim is the place to be. It’s packed with restaurants, bars, and shops. Choose from trendy boutique hotels, international chains, or budget-friendly hostels.
- Sirkeci: Located near Sultanahmet, Sirkeci offers a convenient location for exploring historic sites. You’ll find a mix of international chain hotels and charming boutique options.
- Galata: Galata is famous for its historic tower and the trendy Karakoy neighborhood. Accommodations include boutique hotels with modern amenities and panoramic views.
- Ortaköy: Situated on the Bosphorus, Ortaköy is known for its vibrant nightlife and the iconic Ortaköy Mosque. You can choose from waterfront hotels and cozy guesthouses.
- Besiktas: This area is known for its waterfront, vibrant nightlife, and upscale shopping. You can stay in modern hotels or stylish boutique accommodations here.
- Balat: This historic district offers a taste of old Istanbul, with colorful houses and a relaxed vibe. You can find boutique hotels and guesthouses that provide a cozy, local experience.
- Kadikoy: Located on the Asian side, Kadikoy offers a more laid-back environment with a local feel. You’ll discover comfortable hotels and rental apartments, along with great local eateries.
- Üsküdar: On the Asian side, Üsküdar provides a more tranquil setting with beautiful views of the European side. Accommodations include waterfront hotels and comfortable guesthouses.
Istanbul Airport or Sabiha Gökcen Airport?
For tourists, choosing between Istanbul Airport (IST) and Sabiha Gökcen Airport (SAW) depends on your destination within the city. Istanbul Airport, is located on the European side and is better connected with a frequent shuttle bus service and a shorter metro connection to the city center. Istanbul Airport offers around-the-clock shuttle buses to various tourist destinations. On the other hand, Sabiha Gökcen Airport, situated on the Asian side, has limited shuttle bus options to Kadiköy and Taksim, and the metro connection to Kadiköy takes almost an hour. Additionally, most international flights operated by Turkish Airlines land at Istanbul Airport. So, if you’re heading to the European side or looking for more transportation options, Istanbul Airport might be your preferred choice, while Sabiha Gökcen may be more convenient if you’re staying on the Asian side of the city.