Whether you are exploring the magnificent buildings built by the Ottoman empire or shopping at the Grand Bazaar, there are various incredible things to experience while visiting Istanbul. Spanning over Europe as well as Asia, this ancient city has so much culture and history to offer.
The various buildings reflect the different empires that ruled the city creating a melting pot of different styles. If you are a foodie like me, you will enjoy indulging on delicious traditional desserts and coffee.
I have visited the city multiple times and if you want to find out why I fell in love with Istanbul and were the best spots are to visit, then check out my Istanbul travel guide below…
TRAVEL ISTANBUL | ABOUT ISTANBUL
Istanbul is an excellent destination for a quick city break. The city is massive though, with its population reaching over 15 million people. Because of its unique location, it is seen as a bridge between the east and west. You go there for its incredible culture, history, amazing food, beautiful architecture, and incredible sights.
Underneath are the basics that you need to know when traveling to this incredible city.
Money and Price
The currency in Turkey is the Türk Lirası (Turkish lira; ₺). Currently (November 2019) the exchange rate sits around:
€1 = ₺ 6.32
$1 = ₺ 3.89
£1 = ₺ 7.37
Because of the positive exchange rate, Istanbul is not an expensive city to visit as a tourist, making it a great place to visit when you have a tight traveling budget. An average meal at a modest cafe will cost about 20-25 TL with a drink. And the average price of a hotel in Istanbul for a couple is TRY263 ($46) per night.
The official language spoken in the city of Istanbul is Turkish. But English is widely spoken in Istanbul; visitors are often surprised by the relatively high level of English spoken by most Turks. Just in case, here are some handy phrases to learn before you go include:
- Yes = Evet
- No = Hayır
- Thank you = Teşekkürler
- Hello = Merhaba
- Goodbye = Güle güle
Best times to visit Istanbul?
In my opinion, Spring (which is March-May) is the best time to visit Istanbul. It is not as busy in the city and the weather is a bit more moderate. The same would go for Autumn (which is September till November). This way you will avoid the majority of the crowds and you should have pleasant weather to explore the city!
Is it safe to travel to Istanbul?
With Turkey’s current political climate some may stress that the level of safety in Istanbul is questionable but from what I have heard from friends who have been to Istanbul recently and from my own research, it seems that you should be absolutely fine but to of course stay aware. Turkey as a tourist destination is once again on the rise and has been making a comeback of epic proportions as of late, which is a sign in itself that the safety of the country is ever-growing. If it does help to reassure you in anyway then there is plenty of security around tourist attractions and in most hotels.
Tip for ma girls out there: Turkish men are a little cray-cray with foreigners, especially if you are blonde, ginger or red-headed… they will whistle at you, say hello, etc but it is very common and you can just ignore them and they will leave you alone. This is one thing I do get told most often from girlfriends who have been.
Where to stay in Istanbul?
Most tourist attractions are located near the Sultanahmet Square and I would highly recommend staying there. This will mean that you get to walk around the city and save time and money spent on transport. Walking is also one of my preferred choices to explore Istanbul as you get to visit various traditional shops and cafes on the way to the landmarks.
How to get around Istanbul?
Istanbul offers many ways of getting around by public transport. The metro, bus, ferry, and tram run throughout the entire city. You will need to get a magnetic card (Istanbul Kart) which costs 7 TL, you will then add credit as required. Overall public transportation in the city is pretty convenient and very affordable.
If you prefer getting into a taxi ( taksi ) then be careful of cabbies who want to make some extra money from the ‘rich’ “yabancılar” (foreigners) in an unfair way. They will charge you unfair prices. Taking a taxi in Istanbul is in general reasonably cheap, easy and comfortable way of transportation. Just try to be vigilant. Here are some tips on falling for a taxi scam in Istanbul.
TRAVEL TIPS ISTANBUL | THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Underneath are just a couple of things that you can see and do when traveling to Istanbul.
Explore the iconic Blue Mosque and Sophia Mosque
The Blue Mosque is one of the most iconic places to visit in Istanbul. While it still remains as a functioning mosque, tourists are permitted to visit this breathtakingly beautiful building. The mosque was built in 1616 and its interiors are decorated with over 20,000 hand-painted blue tiles. This is the reason why the mosque is referred to as the Blue Mosque. To avoid big crowds, I recommend that you visit the mosque in between prayer times.
After you visit the Blue Mosque, take a short walk towards the Sophia Mosque. This architectural masterpiece was commissioned by Emperor Justinian as an Orthodox Cathedral until 1453. In 1453, it was converted by the Ottoman Empire into a mosque. This mosque is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and features a massive 32-meter dome.
One thing that you need to keep in mind when visiting mosques in Turkey is your attire, and I recommend wearing conservative clothing. If you are a woman, there is no need to bring a scarf with you as they will provide you with a scarf to wear during your visit.
The most iconic shopping experience in Istanbul is the Grand Bazaar. Take your time to wander and explore one of the largest and oldest bazaars in the world.
This beautiful bazaar dates back to the 15th century and features beautiful arched ceilings that are hand-painted. This is also the perfect place to shop for souvenirs with many merchants selling handmade items.
Another great bazaar to check out is the Egyptian Spice Bazaar! A large bazaar of shops selling spices, nuts, oils, sweets, jewelry, and dried fruits.
The magnificent Topkapı Palace was built during the Ottoman Empire and it is one of the most visited sites in Istanbul. The original building has been expanded and changed by each sultan, reflecting different tastes and architectural designs. Whilst its architecture style if predominantly Middle Eastern in character, the various styles of the building reflect years of history.
This makes this building unique and it is definitely worth visiting.
Balat is one of the oldest districts and the best-hidden gems of Istanbul. Colorful, quiet sloping streets with old beautiful houses. It was once known as the Jewish quarter of the city. Be seduced by the narrow streets filled with a lot of different warm colors, seemingly authentic restaurants and shops. Balar is a hidden gem and a great walk especially when the weather is warm and sunny
Set a few hours aside and take a Bosphorus cruise and experience the amazing buildings situated in Istanbul. There is no better way to experience the façade of the magnificent buildings than via a boat tour. If you are in Istanbul for a short period of time, the boat tour is perfect as you get to see an abundance of historical spots within a short period of time.
These tours are inexpensive, so they are perfect for anyone traveling on a budget. They can range from three hours to ten hours long. Most of the cruises will take you all the way to the Black Sea and back and there is plenty to see on the way. You can stop and visit certain landmarks or simply observe them from the boat.
Eat like the locals
One of my favorite things to do while visiting Istanbul is to enjoy their amazing cuisine. Be sure to indulge in one of the many delicious desserts such as baklava, sip Turkish coffee and eat some traditional Turkish pide. I have listed three must-have dishes for you to find and try while in Turkey:
Turkish breakfast | Now you may be thinking huh? Turkish breakfast, that is all you can come up with? well, hold the bus! because this breakfast is like none other. It’s like a mini buffet but all to your self, full of salty and sweet side dishes such as cheeses, eggs, sausages, tomatoes, cucumbers, cream, honey, jams, Turkish bread, cured meats, etc etc (and there is a lot more, trust me) and then you wash it all down with the delicious and well known Turkish coffee.
Simit | Are you a fan of pretzels or bagels? then you have to give this baby a go which is sort of a cross between the two, simit carts are everywhere in Istanbul and can’t be missed! They are also super delicious, chewy and covered in sesame seeds mmmm.
Kumpir | Potaos – the hero of food, I chose this dish as ‘a safe food’ and because it’s saaah good! Sometimes trying new foods can upset our tummies or taste palettes but with this, you can’t really go wrong. Heres what it is – Baked potato sliced in half, copious amount of butter and cheese are added, then the potato is topped with a massive amount of everything you can imagine or choose to have on top of it haha such as beans, more cheese, corn, meats, olives, pickles, etc
Pleeeeease let me know what foods you love best from Turkey in the below comments, I would love to hear what you enjoyed! (or didn’t like haha).
If you are visiting Turkey, take as many photos as you can of this magnificent ancient city and make sure you tag me on Instagram as I would love to see them! If you have enjoyed my Istanbul travel guide, please leave a comment below.
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