Istanbul Travel Tips
Keep in Mind...
- Saying your please's and thank you's Many United States customs are different from those in Turkey. But, this one still applies: Be gracious even if you don't understand what is going on.
- Speaking of... Communicating with the locals can be difficult, although many Turks know at least some English. It is, however, still polite to say your greetings in Turkish. Phrases such as "Hello" (Merhaba), "Goodbye" (Hosça kal) and "No thanks" (sagolun) will come in handy.
- Kid-friendly? Not so much If you have kids in tow, you might want to vacation elsewhere. Istanbul does not have much for children to do, and they will likely quickly tire of touring Byzantine architecture and squirm at the exotic foods.
Bridging East and West -- Europe and Asia -- Istanbul possesses a richly complicated heritage. Once the capital of the Ottoman and Byzantine empires, this city's prestigious history has left us with many monuments to cherish. Plus it integrates its past and the present to create a unique mix of architecture; a glass skyscraper next to a Byzantine church or a colorful bazaar in the shadow of a shopping mall. The natural landscape is also impressive. The Bosphorus, a narrow strait, cuts the city in two and connects the Sea of Marmara in the south to the Black Sea in the north. From the blue waters, visitors will see a skyline of domes, steeples and modern towers. sits along the blue water.
Although Istanbul looks serene from afar, the internal atmosphere is wonderfully chaotic. Discover the bustling streets and busy bazaar stalls that have characterized the city for hundreds of years. Drivers will jockey for position; shop keepers will barter in an avalanche of chatter; and you'll be struggling to digest all of the sights, sounds and smells. Speaking of smells … during your exploration, taste the distinctly Turkish treats off the streets, including döner, their version of fast food. And when the sun goes down, you'll see that Istanbul sheds some of its conservative façade to reveal a thriving nightlife. At the intersection of civilizations and continents for centuries, Istanbul surprises visitors with its fast pace, its ancient history and its present culture.
How To Save Money in Istanbul
- A room with a view If you have a room that looks out on to the Bosphorus or the Hagia Sophia or any breathtaking monument, you will have paid a premium. You won't be spending a lot of time in your room anyway, so ditch the expensive hotels and stay in a more residential neighborhood.
- Gone in 60 seconds That's how fast your destination will pass by on the bus, if you aren't paying attention. Paying a second fare when you have to catch a bus going in the reverse direction is an easy waste of money. Pick up an AKBIL card at a kiosk outside select transit stations to save additional cash.
- Have fare judgment You're in Turkey! So, eat Turkish local fare and enjoy the lower prices. Avoid the lunch and dinner spots near tourist sites. You'll pay more for worse food.
Istanbul Culture & Customs
Although Turkey is a secular state, the predominant religion is Islam and travel writers generally characterize the country as conservative. During your stay, you might notice that practicing Muslims pray five times a day. During the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.
Casual clothing is not unusual in more modern areas like Beyoglu. But women should cover their legs, shoulders and head in the more conservative neighborhoods, as well as nearby a mosque or other religious site. Also make sure to bring a scarf if you're visiting these places, though some offer ones to borrow. Men should wear pants rather than shorts of any kind -- even in less conservative neighborhoods.
In general, it is better and safer to travel accompanied by others. It is not recommended for anyone to travel through the city alone. If you venture into the Grand Bazaar, keep a close eye on your belongings as pickpockets are in no short supply here.
Rather than shaking their heads to say "no," Turks will throw their heads backwards slightly and raise their eyebrows accompanied by a "tsk." When shaking hands, never offer your left hand, as it is considered rude and unclean. In addition, be sure to point the soles of your feet away from others when sitting on the floor; doing otherwise is very offensive.
Turkish humor is also different from that of the United States. Extreme sarcasm should be avoided in conversation, as should political or religious views.
Visitors will also find that smoking is more socially acceptable. Don't be surprised to see Turks take frequent cigarette breaks during a meal.
Turkish cuisine can be described as a fusion of Middle Eastern, Asian and Mediterranean flavors. In Istanbul in particular, kebabs and mezes (small, tapas-like plates) are well-known and popular. Dishes are generally heavy on meats, beans, fresh vegetables and nuts. Yogurt is also a main component of much Turkish cuisine and can usually be found as a companion to many meat entrees and breads. Street food, including döner (made from lamb meat) and simit, a bagel-like bread that serves as a convenient portable snack, is also very popular among residents and out-of-town visitors. Turkish coffee will keep you going strong for all of the sightseeing, and for dessert, try out some Turkish Delight.
A wide variety of dining establishments can be found in Istanbul, from high-end restaurants run by well-known chefs to chaotic meyhanes (traditional restaurants and bars in Turkey) and no-frills hole-in-the-wall kebab joints. Meyhanes are typically loud and boisterous and places where alcohol flows along with mezes. While you're here, be sure to try raki, the national licorice-flavored drink made out of the anise plant and served with a glass of chilled water. When the two liquids make contact, it forms a milky white color, giving the drink its nickname, aslan sütü, (or lion's milk).
For the most authentic experience, avoid the Sultanahmet area. The tourist-heavy district's restaurants in general serve overpriced and mediocre food. Take a 10-minute trip on the tram north across the Golden Horn to Beyoglu, where you'll find a mix of simple home cooking, as well as some of the trendiest options in the city.