Istanbul is an amazing city – and one that becomes even more amazing once you get familiar with it. We were given many excellent tips before coming here and wanted to take the time to pay it forward with 7 tips of our own for making your stay easier and more enjoyable.
1.Know how to get to your accommodation….really well!
Istanbul is absolutely huge and can be very chaotic at certain times of the day. This can be a bit of a shock when you finally emerge into the city – especially if you don’t know exactly where you are going! A map, the address, and a list of major nearby streets can all be extremely helpful in finding you accommodations.
Probably the easiest and cheapest way to get to Taksim from the airports is via the Havatas Airport Bus. These drop off at various locations before their final destination at Taksim Square. If you are heading to Sultanahmet, then a number of other options may be easier. Great advice can be found on Turkish Travel Planner (Sabiha instructions & Ataturk instructions).
FYI, we took the Havatas Bus from Sabiha – it was really easy and straightforward! We walked out the front doors and two buses were waiting – there is also a small service desk if no buses are there at the moment. Buses leave every 30 mins and cost 13TL per person. It takes from 50 mins and upwards to get to Taksim, depending on the traffic.
2.Get an IstanbulKart ASAP!
Just like an Oyster Card in London, the IstanbulKart is your gateway to Istanbul’s excellent public transport system. You only need ONE card for up to 5 people and you can reload it at almost any major transport stop. However, we found actually getting the card the hard part.
They can (allegedly) be purchased from some major transit stops (although we didn’t see them at very many) and via private sellers like newspaper stands. You can also buy one at Ataturk airport, but not Sabiha Gokcen airport as far as we could tell. Your best bet might just be asking your hotel concierge or guesthouse owner the best place to buy one.
The card is a non-refundable 6TL, and rides cost 1.95 each (and then less for subsequent rides). This saves you 1.05 or more for each ride you take, a savings that adds up pretty quickly.
3.Get out of Sultanahmet at least once!
Sure Sultanahmet is where all the “must-sees” of Istanbul reside, but the neighborhoods outside the old city center are where all the action really happens.
Better food, livelier atmosphere, cheaper prices, and of course far fewer carpet salesman await you in Beyoglu, Kadikoy, Ortakoy, and many of the other interesting neighborhoods just a short ride or walk from Sultanahmet.
4.Hop on a ferry.
The ferry system in Istanbul is an awesome (and cheap!) way to see the city. For just the cost of a public transport ride (1.95 TL), you can get a unique look at Istanbul from the water. Ferry rides are also a cheap alternative to a Bosphorus Cruise and are one of the best ways to get to the wonderful neighborhoods we’ve been going on and on about!
5.Get up high for a completely different perspective
You can’t truly appreciate how big Istanbul is without seeing it from above. Whether that’s during your flight in, or by going up in a structure like Galata Tower, you will definitely feel small once you see what surrounds you.
Istanbul is one of the largest cities in the entire world – and visualizing that is definitely an experience in its own right. Without this view of Istanbul, it’s impossible to fully appreciate everything going on around you.
A trip up Galata tower will set you back 10TL per person, but it is an enjoyable experience and a great way to get a panoramic view of the city. Plus, the tower has a very interesting and storied history in and of itself.
6.Don’t drink the Water!
While tap water has improved in recent years, bottled water is still the safest way to stay hydrated. Whenever possible, we try to refrain from drinking drink bottled water, but Istanbul is not the place to do that!
Bottled water is cheap and plentiful, and many accommodations provide large jugs for you to refill at. Probably better to be safe than miss out on the city because you’re sick!
7.Try new things!
Whether it’s eating strange street food like Kokorec, experiencing a Turkish Hamam for the first time, or hearing your fist call to prayer, there are many strange and exciting things to experience in this diverse and interesting city. Open your mind to the new and sometimes crazy things Istanbul has to offer and you will be rewarded with more than enough stories to take back home.