11 Things to know before traveling to Istanbul, Turkey

I recently traveled to Turkey for one week and I had an amazing time due to the blossoming culture and friendly people. This was my first time traveling to Turkey and I opted out of getting a tour guide, so I could explore on my own.

Make sure you always do your research before traveling anywhere. Yes, it is a vacation, but part of enjoying that vacation is having a plan of what you will dedicate your plans to each day. Since I didn’t know much about Istanbul before going, I am going to list 11 things you should know before going.

1. Don’t dedicate more than two days at the Grand Bazaar.

The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest Bazaars in the whole world. It takes over more than 61 streets and has over 3,000 shops, so it can become very easy to spend your money and keep going back for more. Instead of spending your whole time shopping, go look at all the amazing views and places that Turkey has to offer.

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2. Be wary of where you eat meat.

This should be a given in any foreign country. Don’t eat any meats being sold at the street vendors. Make sure to stick to restaurants and cafes or ask your hotel staff for information on where to eat.

3. Make an itinerary before your trip.

There are so many beautiful places to go that you don’t want to take up your precious vacation time trying to plan out where to go. Make sure you see: the Cistern, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar, and the Bosphorus Tour.

4. Pack shirts and tops that you can layer. And bring a winter coat if you are traveling during the colder seasons.

It became hot during the day and incredibly cold at night. And always make sure to check the weather before you go.

5. If you are female, make sure to take a scarf with you to visit mosques.

The mosques require females to cover their hair for religious purposes. I luckily had a scarf with me because it was very cold the day I went. I threw it over my hair and went to look at some of the most beautiful architecture I have ever seen.

The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque

6. If you are not partaking in a tour, the cheapest way to travel from city to city is with a charter bus.

Use this site: http://www.turkeybusrental.com/

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 7. Do not take the boat tour.

If you go to the Blue Mosque or Hagia Sofia, there will be numerous people trying to sell you a boat tour. In retrospect, it looks like a really cool deal because it goes all around Istanbul, but you can’t really see anything and the tour guide doesn’t explain much. Save your money and go buy some tea and hookah!

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8. Take at least two pairs of comfortable shoes.

I am a very light packer, so I took a pair of comfy boots and my Converse sneakers. Looking back, I wish I had brought my running shoes because I walked close to 5-6 miles a day. Walk everywhere you can because this will allow you to stumble upon small cafes and shops.

9. Make sure to have some loose change when going to the bathroom.

Most public bathrooms charge 1 lira especially in the more touristy areas. There were a lot of people I would constantly see stranded outside of the bathrooms because they only had their card.

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10. BYOP

The bathroom stalls usually do not provide toilet paper so you have to BYOP (bring your own paper). Simply pack a small tissue pack inside your purse or pocket, so you always have some handy.

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11. Remember that you will be in one of the most beautiful and historical cities in the world.

Make sure you take advantage of it by trying all the foods (forget your diet) and seeing all the wonderful sights Istanbul has to offer.


Let me know what things you always make sure you know before embarking on a trip!

Don’t fret over your travel arrangements, either! Make it easier on yourself by booking your preflight hotel room with AirportParkingReservations.comClick here to reserve yours today!

  • Lilly Gostovic

    We are travelling to Instanbul end of summer, your info is great !

  • Marlene Macke

    Much of what was said was good advice, however I would point out, from my 10 days in Istanbul and Turkey, Take your most comfortable walking shoes, as you are frequently walking on broken pavements hundreds if not thousands of years old.
    I had no problem with the food, in fact it was delicious! I had no worries that it was not properly refrigerated or prepared. Especially in Istanbul, one needs to remember this is a city embracing both Western and Eastern cultural habits and standards.
    During our travels in the country side I was delighted by the fresh squeezed orange juice or pomegranate juice on the verandahs of the restaurants — and only 5 lira! (about $2.50).
    I did hit one bathroom that had run out of toilet paper, but how many times has that happened in malls or public bathrooms in Canada or the United States? Lots of times!
    I was personally disappointed in my visit to the Blue Mosque, not that it wasn’t a wonderful place to visit, but the hoards of @#$#@ tourists were so noisy and disrespectful and unmindful of it being a spiritual place of worship, that I didn’t linger.
    I liked the Spice Market, especially to see the fellow selling leeches! Where are you going to see that every day? I did find at the Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar that the stall owners are so smoothly adept at getting you into their shops and it is hard to break free (being the “polite Canadian” that I am). Harden yourself to saying no, no, no, if you have no intentions of buying and then leave!
    The arts and crafts in the smaller tourist centres outside of Istanbul are far nicer and more likely to be authentic than much of the stuff in the Grand Bazaar, much of which originates in China (just like a lot of the touristy kitsch here in North America — sigh.)
    I have to admit I was a tad disappointed by our boat trip on the Bosphorus, as the buildings, except for some of the palaces, are pretty nondescript. But I am glad I did experience it once as it is such a historic waterway.
    I can’t wait to visit Istanbul and Turkey again!

    • Nadia Zamani

      Marlene, thanks for the great tips! I forgot about how delicious the fresh squeezed orange and pomegranate juice was. I’m looking forward to your future comments!

  • Margaret

    There is some valuable advice, but also a few less than accurate pieces of information. I eat meat from street side vendors all of the time. I have spent hundreds of days in Istanbul in the last five years and have never become ill from food. Most restaurants are cleaner than those we have in the US, and Turkish people understand the necessity of refrigeration.

    Ladies traveling in sleeveless tops and shorts need a long pashmina to drape over their exposed shoulders and knees in addition to the head, when visiting a mosque.

    An experience on the Bosphorus is something I define as “Not to be missed”. Even if you only have time for a 20 minute ferry ride to the Asian side everyone should spend a bit of time on this famous waterway.

    Very few toilets require money. I have used only two in the last seven years, and both were in the Grand Bazaar. I have never not had toilet paper, including in the most primitive villages of eastern Turkey.

    Their are guides you can hire at the entrance of every attraction. They are trained and they wear their license on a lanyard. For something less expensive rent a recording.

    Buses are inexpensive, but charter buses are more expensive than regular buses, and domestic air travel is often very competitive. You can fly to almost every major city and back for $100USD, and it takes 90 minutes in the air rather than 12 to 14 hours in the bus.

    Istanbul houses centuries of history, but it is also a modern and fashionable city. It connects Europe and Asia and holds the history of great civilizations. It is my favorite travel destination.

    • Nadia Zamani

      Hi Peggy,

      You raise some really great points. The points I make in the blog are all based on my own opinions and experiences. I do appreciate you taking the time to write what you think is worth knowing before traveling to Istanbul!

  • Peggy

    There are some useful hints here, but also some areas that are less than accurate. Meat at streetside vendors is safe. On a whole restaurants in Istanbul are much cleaner than what we see in the US. I have spent hundreds of days in Istanbul in the last seven days, and I have never become ill from anything I have eaten.

    Itineraries are useful. I always check to see how many cruise ships are in town before planning on visiting the more popular places, like Topkapi, and BTW, there are licensed guides at the entrance to every attraction. You can engage their services or rent a listening device to help you appreciate what you are seeing. Itineraries are great, but leave yourself time to wander the interesting little side streets. This is where the magic happens.

    Under no circumstances would I advise people to avoid an experience on the Bosphorus. I prefer the day long cruise to the Black Sea, but if time is short, even a ferry to the Asian side of the city is a great experience. I define it as not to be missed.

    In all of my days in Turkey I have paid to use the restroom twice in the Grand Bazaar. I have never paid in any other location, and I have never been in a restroom anywhere in Turkey, including the primitive villages of Eastern Turkey where there was not an abundant supply of toilet paper. My restroom tip is that if you are not spry, you may want to pass on the squat Asian style toilet. There will be a western sit-down toilet around the next corner, or often just in the next stall.

    Bus travel is cheap, but in comparison, domestic air travel is am amazing bargain. For less than $100USD you can fly to and from any major city in Turkey. You will invest no more than 90 minutes compared to 12 to 14 hours on a bus. It is rarely significantly more expensive to fly, and if you actually take a charter bus, rather than a regular bus, it is probably more expensive.

    Istanbul has ancient secrets with magical attractions, but it is also a sophisticated, modern city with more than 100 fashionable malls. Dividing Asia from Europe it is a juxtaposition of both worlds, as well as a repository of thousands of years of history.

  • Donna

    I respectfully disagree with your caution against Bosphorus cruises. We have been to Istanbul three times and have taken the cruise every time. We so enjoyed the views of the waterfront mansions, the bustling neighborhoods, the palaces, the mosques in the distance, and the Rumeli Fortress. Some boats are nicer than others – if you take one with narration you will enjoy the views and learn a lot. Just a slightly differing opinion. We love Istanbul and would gladly go again!

  • sharon

    Very helpful. We will also be there in October and will probably require that coat you mentioned!

  • Ralph

    Would like more info on suggested tours. Only ones I saw in your posting was positive on visiting Grand Bazaar and comment on avoid boat tours. Where else in Istanbul would you recommend visiting and are there local guides at those locations or should you book entrance fee in advance?

    • Nadia Zamani

      Hi Ralph,

      I would recommend the Basilica Cistern, the Spice Bazaar, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, and the Galata Tower. You can purchase the tickets for the Basilica Cistern, the Hagia Sofia, and the Galata Tower at the front entrance. The Blue Mosque and the Spice Bazaar (located near the Grand Bazaar) are completely free, so no tickets are necessary. I also recommend that you check the times for Hagia Sofia because they usually close their gates around 4 PM.
      There are no local guides at these locations, so that is something you would probably need to book in advance through a tour company. The Basilica Cistern also sells headsets that gives you information about the Cistern while you walk through it.

  • Sheila Frobuccino

    Thank you so much for this info…we’re going this fall, so your guidelines came at the right time!

  • Diana Besemer

    Don’t forget to visit the Spice Market. Lots of Turkish delight and spices to taste. One of the highlights of my trip.

    • Nadia Zamani

      I definitely loved the Spice Market as well especially their Turkish Delight! So delicious!

  • rick smith

    PLEASE BE CAREFUL WITH TAXIS!! The taxi drivers hailed near tourist spots will be trying their hardest to rip you off. Please carry small bills and make sure to hold on to the bill until change is given. They WILL switch bills. Traveled with my elderly parents and they were ripped off 5 times!

  • mary

    Love your write up on Turkey! I love to travel as well and after reading your blog now want to visit Turkey. You are extremely informative

    Also your tips very Helpful- they could actually apply to many countries out side of the US

    Look forward to reading future blogs regarding your Travels!

    • Nadia Zamani

      Thank you! I am glad my tips were helpful to you! I will be having a new post coming out about Peru next week, so make sure to check it out.

  • http://www.michaelfranken.com Michael

    Visited Istanbul on a mileage run a few years ago and loved it. There is plenty of cheap NICE accommodations near the big tourist sites. One of my favorite places was the Spice Market – and I brought back about twenty different spices to cook with.

  • http://www.baralinc.com Luis Baraldi

    I am traveling to Istambul in October.
    Thank You Very Much for your information.

    • Nadia Zamani

      Safe travels!