No-one can forget their first visit to Istanbul. The sights, the smells and the sounds combine into one huge feast for the senses. Even after a short visit, it fast became one of my favourites and I’m convinced you’ll love it too. Read on to find out my top tips for visiting Istanbul. I’ll tell you what to do, where to stay and what to look out for.
My 8 Top Tips for Visiting Istanbul
I always find it helps to have a little insider knowledge when visiting a new city. Where should I stay? How long should I go for? Is there any etiquette I need to follow at the sights? Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.
1. Don’t listen to people that tell you not to go
Poor Istanbul. I feel sorry for the city as it’s plagued with negative headlines, political instability and terrorist attacks. But so is Paris, and London, and far too many other cities to list out here. Yet, no-one tells you they’re not safe.
Istanbul is a fabulous city that’s well worth a visit, and yes, it is safe. So don’t listen to people that tell you not to go – I bet they’ll be super jealous instead.
I go into a lot more detail about this in another post about why Istanbul is safe for visitors so do feel free to read that to put your mind if you’re worried.
2. Take a tour with Daily Istanbul Tours
If, like me, you like to make the most of your time in a city and pack as much in as possible, consider a tour of the city with Daily Istanbul Tours. As the name suggests, they run daily tours of the city that take in all the major sights and treat you to a yummy lunch as well. On our tour, we had a fantastic guide who told us everything we needed to know about the city and Turkish culture.
3. Forget everything you think you know about kebabs
If you’re reading my tips on visiting Istanbul to work out what to eat, your wait is over! Of course, no trip to Istanbul is complete without trying a local kebab (or kebap as it’s known over there).
Now, the Turks would reel if they knew those greasy, potato chip-filled pitta breads I used to eat after a drunken night out were called kebabs in the UK. We’ve given Turkish cuisine such a bad name!
Kebabs in Istanbul are all cooked fresh on the grill, and look so much more appetising than the meals we’re accustomed to over here. Being a vegetarian in Istanbul, I happily tucked into a delicious vegetable casserole, which always came accompanied with pitta bread, salad and hummus.
4. Learn where Istanbul actually is
Everyone knows Istanbul is in Turkey, but I made the very silly mistake of thinking that Istanbul is through and through a European city. But I was only half right. Istanbul is one of very few cities in the world to straddle two continents: Asia and Europe, and it is the perfect blend of the two. I mean… just look at this place. Where else can you find such beautiful windy European-style streets and Asian influences in the same place?
Istanbul’s split personality is down to first being founded by the Greeks, before the Roman Emperor Constantine named it Constantinople. He chose it to be capital of the Roman Empire, and it then became capital of the Byzantine Empire, Latin Empire and Ottoman Empire. Istanbul has certainly seen a lot of history and varied cultures, so it’s only once you know its history that you can fully appreciate Istanbul’s unique style.
5. Stay in the Old Town
Thanks to Istanbul’s unique geography, visitors can choose to spend their nights in Asia or Europe. The Asian side is typified by sprawling boulevards and lively nights out. For history buffs, you might prefer the historical Old Town on the European side. Our desire to be walking distance to all the major sights meant we chose the Old Town. I recommend you do too! Although there are better bars and clubs in the Asian side, the restaurants in the Old Town can keep you entertained late into the night before you stumble the very few steps back to your hotel.
We took advantage of the cheap prices and booked a room in one the nicest hotels we’ve ever stayed in: Sura Design Hotel & Suites. As we were just steps from the Blue Mosque, the location was perfect!
Looking for somewhere to stay in Istanbul? Try booking.com! You can search using the handy booking box below.
6. Get ready to haggle in the Grand Bazaar
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is one of the largest covered markets in the world, and also one of the easiest to get lost in. The maze of alleys and stalls will keep you entertained for hours. You can pick up souvenirs, furniture, clothing, jewellery, sweets, decorations and crockery all under one roof. Just make sure you know what you’re looking for and how much you’re willing to pay.
Stall owners tend to hike their prices at the first sign of a foreign accent. So be stern, be steady, and prepare to walk away until you negotiate a price that you’re happy with. Hint: it’s usually at least half of their initial price!
7. Follow advice on what to wear in the Blue Mosque
If you follow any of my tips for visiting Istanbul, make it this one. As a sign of respect in any of the beautiful mosques of Istanbul, you should cover up. There are helpful attendants outside each gate who will tell you what to wear in the Blue Mosque. They also hand out scarves and overalls if you forget. Ladies – cover your heads, shoulders and knees, but you may also need to cover tight fitting clothing too. Men – cover your knees! You also need to take off your shoes.
Please don’t let the rules put you off. The Blue Mosque is an absolutely beautiful building and was one of my highlights from the trip!
8. Go now
If my first piece of advice was anything to go by, lots of people have been put off visiting Istanbul in recent times. But that’s what makes now the best time to go! Take advantage of the smaller queues at tourist attractions, empty rooms in hotels and cheaper prices pretty much everywhere. Despite being one of the most visited cities in the world, Istanbul’s current drop in tourism is great news for you.
So go now! You won’t regret it – I promise.
Now you’ve heard all of my top tips for visiting Istanbul, you might like to read my advice on how to spend 48 hours in the city.
What advice would you give to people visiting Istanbul for the first time? Share your wisdom in the comments below!
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11 thoughts on “8 Top Tips for Visiting Istanbul: A First Timer’s Guide”
Istanbul is on my bucket list, I must get around to going. Great read 🙂
I’ve been to Istanbul a few years ago and loved it, especially the Grand Bazaar and the Blue Mosque. I think another thing tourists should not miss when visiting the city for the first time is a turkish hamam.
You have made me very excited for my trip to Istanbul in June! I love kebabs! Can’t wait to try a real authentic one!
I LOVE this!! These tips are so so helpful, thank you so much for sharing them! I really want to visit Istanbul, but I don’t know too much about it and this has just convinced me that now i MUST go! Beautiful photos, this is a great read 😀
Istanbul sounds like a dream!!! I would love to visit one day! The culture, food and people all must be amazing! Thank you for sharing!!
You are the first blogger who has mentioned about City tours (in any city) and I AGREE with you completely, it saves time, money and is so helpful to give you pulse of the city!
Wow… Very informative tips. And I am especially happy to read in your blog about delicious vegetarians food options in Istanbul. Being a foodie, that was a delight as I had not expected it in Turkey and most of the European and South East Asian countries.
Istanbul seems to be a great city full of culture. Your photos are beautiful makes me want to visit, thanks for those tips!
Great tips. I’ve only been twice to Istanbul but it’s a place I always want to go back 🙂
I totally agree with you about the negative publicity. It is such a pity that people focus on that rather than all the positives this beautiful city has to offer a tourist. I loved my visit and will definitely go back again if I have the opportunity.
Istanbul was a great place to see. I’d go back there any time. To bad it’s so crowded.