As you may know, Tom and I recently travelled to the beautiful city of Istanbul where we had an amazing time. I can’t recommend this city enough! – however, there are some things you need to know before traveling to Istanbul that will make your trip so much easier and stress-free. Keep reading to find them all!
We all have made mistakes when traveling, and I haven’t really been the one to avoid them… Some things are out of control (like when someone at the airport rips your passport in half and leaves you stranded 6,000 Km from home) but for everything else, I always try to be prepared and do my research beforehand.
I had lots of questions before traveling to Istanbul – will people understand me? How will I find my way around? Will I get scammed by taxis? I had to spend quite a while googling stuff before the trip to avoid a potential crisis, so before I forget all of the things I learned (easy or hard way), I have put it all together for you. Here’s everything you should know before travelling to Istanbul!
Unless you hold a Turkish passport, you will need a visa in order to enter the country. The good news is, this is pretty easy to get and can just be requested online for $20. We actually forgot to request them in advance and only remembered a few hours before our flight… but luckily as soon as we requested it we received the email with the visa (phew!). The website states it can take up to 48h for some passports, so if you have the chance, I recommend you request it a few days in advance just in case 🙂 Always use the official site which you can find here, and bring a printed copy if possible just in case the computer systems at the airport aren’t working.
2: Currency & Cash
The official currency in Turkey is the Turkish Lira, and this is the currency you will have to use to pay for everything.
At the time of our visit (April 2019), 1 Lira was approximately £0.13, which made our trip extremely cheap… however, the Lira is quite an unstable currency so check the current rate before you travel to make sure it’s worth it.
Another important thing is – always carry cash! Most restaurants will accept credit or debit cards, however for other things like markets, monuments or public transport you will need to carry cash on you at all times.
I recommend you use an online bank such as Revolut or Monzo, which are perfect for traveling and will allow you to take cash out of any ATM as well as make purchases abroad at the current exchange rate, without charging a commission fee (always pay and withdraw in local currency!)
3: Data & Roaming
Turkey is not part of the EU, and so unless you have a special data plan, you might not benefit from free roaming. If this is the case, you might want to get a Turkish SIM card to use during your stay.
Our UK network charges £6 per day for roaming in Turkey (only 500MB) so for us at least it was totally worth it. We went to a Turk Telecom store and got a pre-paid SIM with 9GB of data for 135 Lira (£18) 🙂
There’s an even better option (which I wish I knew about back then) called Airalo. If you have an e-SIM enabled device (like most new iPhones) you can buy an e-SIM online and activate it on your phone. It’s cheaper and way easier! See prices here.
I recommend you always have data when you travel as this will help you get around, google random facts or request taxis… but whether you have data or not, you should always download the map of Istanbul on your Google Maps app before you travel so you can access it offline as well.
I hate using taxis when I’m abroad, because I always feel like I’m going to be cheated or they’re not going to understand where I need to go (China, I’m looking at you! LOL). Thankfully, there’s an app to help you with taxis in Istanbul, called BiTaksi. It works in a similar way to Uber except it uses public taxis instead. It will allow you to request a taxi and set your departure and destination points on the map, see a fare estimate, follow the route in real time and even choose if you want to pay by card or cash.
Always make sure the taximeter (in the rearview mirror) is on, and if you’re paying cash, always carry small notes with you – we had a bad experience with a taxi driver who tried to give us less change than he was supposed to. He started screaming at us in Turkish when I confronted him and asked for the rest of the change, and pretended he didn’t have enough change for 50 Lira (even though he did have a lot more notes in one hand…). We ended up having to go into a shop to get smaller bills because he was being so rude and stubborn! So try to always give the exact amount and thoroughly check the change you get back 😉
5: Public Transport
Public transportation in Istanbul is amazing. They have Trams, metro, ferries and buses that connect all the points of interest and run very frequently. In order to use any of these, you will need a transport card called Istanbulkart. You can buy it and recharge it in the kiosk machines at any tram or metro station – the card costs 6 lira, and each trip costs 2.60 (even the ferry!). You can only use cash (notes over 10 Lira only, no coins!) and the machine won’t give change, so make sure you have the exact amount you want to load. When you finish your trip, you can return the card and get your remaining credit back.
Another tip – make sure you download Citymapper. This is the app we use to get around using public transport in London, and it actually works in Istanbul too. It will tell you what line to take and where to get on/off, the arrival and travel times, etc. It even works for ferries too! (Data needed to use the app)
If you speak English, you shouldn’t really have a problem to get around Istanbul. Even though most people can’t speak English at all, the ones working at tourist hotspots (restaurants, monuments, shops, etc) usually have at least some basic knowledge of English to communicate. Most restaurants also have English menus. Can’t really say the same about taxi drivers though (therefore my recommendation for the taxi app!) or even some of the smaller shops, so always be prepared to play charades when needed (hehe). I highly recommend you download Google Translate and then download the Turkish language to make it available offline – it gives you an option to point the camera to a text and translate it in real time! (Super handy when trying to read signs or buying street food)
7: Dress code
If you’re planning to go into any mosques (which you probably will, as there are thousands of them including the famous Blue Mosque) make sure you dress appropriately. Both men and women need to have knees and shoulders covered (meaning no tank tops or shorts), and women specifically will need to cover their hair as well before entering.
I recommend always wearing long trousers/skirts, carrying some sort of cardigan (even in summer) to cover your shoulders and also a pashmina for your hair (some mosques will provide these but not all of them!)
Everyone must remove their shoes as well, so considering most mosques are carpeted you might want to bring some socks with you.
If you’re old school like me (I always send a postcard to my mum!), note that finding a stamp in Istanbul is nearly impossible unless you specifically visit a Post office. Just type “PTT” on Google maps and it will show you the ones in the area. Then just buy it from one of the counters (4 Lira)
I could warn you about many other things that are different or surprising in Istanbul (like the strength of their coffee!) but I think they’re just fun details that you should discover and experience yourself when you’re there… so I’ll leave you to it!
I hope these tips were helpful to you – Now that you’re all ready to travel, don’t forget to leave a comment if you have any questions or thoughts you’d like to share, and subscribe to my blog so you can read my guide to the Best Things to See in Istanbul as soon as I publish it 🙂
Thanks for reading… and safe travels!