10 Things You Should Avoid Doing in Istanbul

10 things not to do in Istanbul

Istanbul is an absolutely amazing city! I fell in love with it the moment I got out of the bus: friendly people, vibrant atmosphere, delicious food, interesting history and culture make the visit to the city an unforgettable experience. Probably, in my case one of the reasons is the fact that I have some Turkic blood in my veins 🙂 But as any other touristic places it has its traps, so here are my travel tips on the things not to do in Istanbul in order to have a really enjoyable experience!

Well, before you read them, here is the most important one: don’t walk alone (and not alone as well) at night, especially in the distant parts of the city. Frankly, this is true for many places, not for Istanbul only.

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Of course, it is much more convenient to stay closer to the sights, when you do not have to spend time and money to get to an attraction. But by doing this you will miss the real Istanbul and the authentic local life. If you stay in Sultanahmet close to the Blue Mosque or in Taksim near Istiklal, you will see crowds of tourists and locals alike. And it will be noisy. We stayed at Çapa, reasonably not far from Sultanahmet, and really enjoyed the neighbourhood. And it is cheaper 🙂

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2. Don’t take the tram on Istiklal.

Istiklal tram | 10 Things You Should Avoid Doing in Istanbul
Tram on Istiklal street

I know how tempting it sounds: to take a ride in the historical tram in the center of Istanbul in its most famous street. Well, it was not that dashing when I had to stand in the tram packed with people and not being able to see a glimpse of Istiklal. So, don’t do it, especially if you intend to actually see this wonderful street. Frankly, many people just take photos of themselves in front of the tram without getting in. But if you are tired – and you will be, if you are going to peek into all the shops, of which there are plenty – it is even advisable to take the tram to get to the other side of Istiklal.

3. Don’t shop on Istiklal.

Continuing with Istiklal, here comes my next tip: don’t shop there. I have to admit, I am guilty of this one. There are many shops on Istiklal, especially lots of not-so-expensive European brands as Mango, Bershka, H&M, and local Turkish ones, and it is difficult not to fall to the temptation of buying a fancy dress or a T-shirt. But people who travel to Istanbul frequently advise to go to big shopping centers, which are not touristic, and the prices are lower.

4. Don’t buy apple tea.

I am one of those people who loves tea: waiters in Istanbul ask me if I am Russian when I order it 🙂 After hearing so much about the Turkish apple tea, I decided to try it. Well, no offence to apple tea lovers, but it is far from being the best beverage I have ever had. And that powder the tea is made of looks totally artificial. Better buy authentic Turkish tea: I think Çaykur is the most popular one of them.

5. Don’t buy everything you see on the bazaars.

Delights at bazaar | 10 Things You Should Avoid Doing in Istanbul
Turkish Delights at the Egyptian Bazaar

Yes, the Egyptian and Grand Bazaars are cool, and you can buy lots of things there, but they are intended for tourists primarily, and are very expensive. If you want to buy Turkish delights or tea, better go to a local bakery or a supermarket. Just an example: my friend wanted to buy Çaykur tea in the Egyptian bazaar, because, as the rumor has it, it is cheaper there than in the Grand Bazaar. In one shop it cost 15 Turkish liras, in the second one 30(!) Turkish liras, and in the supermarket – 12 Turkish liras only (or might be even less depending on the tea type).



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6. Don’t buy on bazaars without haggling.

Haggling is crucial! You can cut the price by half. The items in the bazaars are overpriced, and you can’t buy everything in supermarkets or local shops. If you really want that amazingly colorful scarf or those wonderful tulip-shaped glasses, then don’t be afraid to bargain. When the seller tells the price, say that it is too expensive. They lower the price a bit, but you go on with saying that it is still too expensive, and turn to go away. Usually they stop you and ask to set your own price. Don’t be too immodest, give it a reasonable price, and you will strike a deal. A story again: on my first trip to Istanbul I did not know any of these, but managed to cut the price of a scarf from 60 Turkish liras to 25.

7. Don’t be afraid to try street food.

Street food | 10 Things You Should Avoid Doing in Istanbul
Street food in Istanbul

Turkey has an amazing national cuisine, and you don’t even have to go a restaurant to try it. Get yourself a kumpir (a baked potato with filling), balik ekmek (fish and bread), tombik (it is similar to burgers, but tastes much better), simit (a bread with sesame seeds), and baked chestnuts. And freshly squeezed pomegranate and orange juices! I think street vendors are everywhere in Istanbul, so consider yourself safe from starvation 🙂 . If you are not a fan of street food, and don’t think it is hygienic enough, go to small Turkish restaurants.

And, obviously, don’t go to McDonald’s or Burger King 🙂 The Turkish cuisine is not limited to street food, so go to restaurants that serve traditional kebabs and delights. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed! Even better, dine with a local family! They do not speak much English, but your guide will translate if anything is unclear. In addition, you will get a tour of Sultanahmet’s backstreets!

8. Don’t eat close to touristic places.

This one is a very strong don’t, and it’s true not only for Istanbul. We had a dinner in a very small restaurant just next to the Topkapi palace: unfortunately, I don’t remember its name, but it was overpriced and the food was awful. Actually, it was our worst meal in the city. Just go a bit farther from the sights and you will find really nice places to eat.



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9. Don’t wear revealing clothes or short dresses.

Turkey is a Muslim country, and it means that a dress code should be respected. I strongly advise women not to wear short dresses or skirts or clothes that reveal a lot of cleavage. I do not think many of us need so much unwanted attention.

I wore once a long above-knee shirt with thick black tights and too many people paid attention to me, while older ladies kept rolling their eyes 🙂

10. Don’t try to get to everywhere on foot.

When I looked at the map of Istanbul, some sights seemed to be really close to each other, while in reality it takes a lot of time to get there. When we went to Yildiz Palace – an amazing place, by the way, I thought that Dolmabahce is not really far from there. Trust me, it is, and I am glad we took the bus. If you like long walks, then it is not a huge distance for you, but for us, who attempted to get everywhere on foot as much as possible, it was quite an ordeal.

Do you know any other things not to do in Istanbul you would like to share? Anyway, if you are going to Istanbul, you will need a list of places to see there, so I am here to help! And I have a huge list of useful tips for Istanbul!

Well, in any city you travel, you have to stay somewhere 🙂 When I search for accommodation, I always use two options: it is either AirBnB (click here for a discount on your first booking with AirBnB) or Booking.com.



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10 things to avoid doing in Istanbul, Turkey | Things not to do in Istanbul, Turkey | Travel tips for Istanbul, Turkey

33 thoughts on “10 Things You Should Avoid Doing in Istanbul

    • Marianna says:

      Hi!

      Sorry for the late reply, I was travelling.
      Yes, Istanbul is safe during the daytime. You can easily walk around pretty much whole Istanbul including but not limited to Sultanahmet, Fatih, Laleli, Eminonu, Taksim, Beyoglu, Karakoy, Nisantasi, Besiktas, Uskudar. When it comes to night time, I would stick to the tourist areas like Taksim and Sultanahmet and any places close to tourist sights.

      Best,
      Marianna

    • Marianna says:

      Hi Lizzy,

      Personally I always choose to stay not far from Sultanahmet. I really enjoyed staying at Fatih: we booked an Airbnb close to Turgut Özal Millet Cd, it was absolutely safe, many locals and a direct tram to Sultanahmet.
      Laleli, Sultanahmet and Beyoglu (parts close to Taksim Square, Galata Tower and Karakoy) are nice areas to stay as well.
      I would stick to the areas I mention above as they are close to main tourist attractions.

      Best,
      Marianna

      • Fathima says:

        Hi i will be going in January and will be staying at the ramada old city is it a good location and will the cold be manageable

        • Marianna says:

          Hi Fathima,

          Is that Ramada in Turgut Özal Millet Caddesi? If yes, then I think that the location is perfect! The tram stop is nearby, and it will get you right to the Blue Mosque, Galata Bridge, Dolmabahce and Kabatas where you can take the funicular up to Taksim Square and see Istiklal going down to Galata Tower.

          As for going there in January: I was in Istanbul at the end of December, and it was rainy, windy and gloomy, but I had just a coat on and I remember it was enough. It does not mean that January will be the same, I guess I just was that lucky 🙂 Anyway, take warmer clothes with you to be safe. What I advise to do is check the weather a day before you go there, and then you can decide what to pack.

          Have fun in Istanbul!

      • Popo says:

        Hi Marianna,
        I am not going to Turkey for tourism purposes, I was wondering if you could advise on places within istanbul where I could buy items likes ladies outfits, men’s suits, Turkish carpets for a small business.

        Many thanks
        Pops

        • Marianna says:

          Hi Pops,

          Well, I am afraid I won’t be of much help as I have never thought about it, so take everything I write with a grain of salt. Many people in my country bring clothes from Turkey for sale, and I have heard rumours they buy it somewhere in Laleli, a district of Istanbul next to Sultanahmet. But I have no idea where exactly they buy it. I am sorry I am not of much help.

    • Marianna says:

      Hi Shane,

      I would opt for the old city part, but that is my personal preference. And it is hard for me to judge as it depends greatly on what you enjoy more. Taksim has a richer nightlife, if that is of any interest for you.

      Best,
      Marianna

    • Marianna says:

      Hi Mohamed,

      Honestly, I have no idea. It seems to be a residential area, so should be safe.

      But it is really far from the historical center of Istanbul. It will take about an hour to get there by public transport. But, again, it depends on the purpose of your travel to Istanbul.

      Best,
      Marianna

  1. Naz says:

    My wife purchased a few of bottles of purfume from the street. Big mistake; when she used one there was virtually no smell.

    • Marianna says:

      Hi Naz,

      I am sorry for that. I know that things like this happen, so that’s why I advise to be careful when buying at bazaars.

      But I hope you had a nice trip 🙂

      Best,
      Marianna

  2. Muhammad Ahmed says:

    Hi Marianna,

    Would you recommend to buy tickets online for tourist attractions or on the spot. If online what is the best website to buy them from.

    Kind regards and many thanks for your suggestions in advance.

    Muhammad

    • Marianna says:

      Hi Muhammad,

      Personally, I have never bought anything online, I prefer to buy tickets on site, and I feel that Istanbul, despite being so popular, is not very online friendly 🙂 Still, the queues might be extremely long when you travel during high season.

      Check this website for everything available online: https://muze.gov.tr/urun-ekle?catalogNo=WEB-AYS01-01-008. It is the website of the ministry of culture and tourism and they sell tickets to some places online. In addition, they sell museum passes for Istanbul, but read carefully which places the pass gives access to, as Dolmabahce, Galata, Yerebatan Cistern are not included.

      You may opt for organised tours like this Topkapi tour or this one including Harem as well, or this Topkapi and Harem with a historian as a guide, Hagia Sophia, Dolmabahce with audioguide, and Basilica Cistern. Naturally, these tours are more expensive than just buying a ticket, but they come with skip-the-line option, meaning no lines, and there is usually a guide. If you don’t have much time in Istanbul or don’t want to wait in queues, you might consider them. Otherwise, I would just buy tickets on site.

      I am afraid that’s all I know.

      Have fun in Istanbul!
      Marianna

  3. Jasmine says:

    Hi,

    What are the best places to see in Istanbul in a day (stopover). Turkish airlines provides free sight seeing tours and I was wondering which tour I should opt for.

    1. Departure from Istanbul Airport
    Following the Coastal Road
    Sight seeing tour (outer visit & sight seeing tour)
    Yedikule Fortress
    Old Samatya Armanian District
    Yeni Kapı Harbour
    Walls of Constantine
    Eminonu District
    Photo break on Galata Bridge for 10 mins
    Dolmabahçe Palace
    Free time at Dolmabahçe Palace for 20 mins
    Taksim Square
    Galata Tower
    Golden Horn
    Aqueduct of Valens
    Yeni Kapı Harbour
    Returns to Istanbul Airport

    2. Departure from Istanbul Airport
    Breakfast
    Blue Mosque
    Hippodrome: German Fountain
    Serpentine Column
    Obelisk of Thedosius
    Topkapı Palace
    Lunch
    Returns to Istanbul Airport
    Grand Covered Bazaar
    Returns to Istanbul Airport

    3. Departure from Istanbul Airport
    Lunch
    Pierre Loti Hill & Coffee House
    Eyüp Sultan Mosque & Square
    Byzantine City Walls
    Ayvansaray Sahaba Tombs
    Church of St. Mary (Panagia – Blachernae)
    Balat (a walk through the streets with ancient houses)
    Bulgarian St. Stephen Church (from outside)
    Ahrida Synagogue (from outside)
    Fener Greek Orthodox College (from outside)
    Patriarchate of Istanbul
    Return to Istanbul Airport

    4. (walking tour) Departure from Istanbul Airport
    Following the Coastal Road
    Yeni Kapı Harbour
    Beyazit Square
    Istanbul University (outer visit)
    Beyazit Tower
    Old Book Market
    Grand Bazaar
    Çorlulu Ali Pasha Mosque
    Tomb of Mahmud the 2nd
    Column of Constantine
    Hippodrome Square
    German Fountain
    Egyptian Obelisk
    Serpentine Column
    Obelisk of Theodosius
    Blue Mosque (outer visit)
    Hagia Sophia (outer visit)
    Dinner
    Returns to Istanbul Airport

    Thank you!

    • Marianna says:

      Hi Jasmine!

      My advice is based on my personal opinion and experience. If it is your first time in Istanbul, I would opt for 1 or 2. These 2 cover the most well-known sights in Istanbul like Blue Mosque, Topkapi, Galata and Dolmabahce. But then again, do you know whether you will go inside Topkapi and Dolmabahce and Galata Tower? I am asking because unlike mosques, these are not free to enter. I suspect you will see them from outside only. Still, these 2 tours are quite good.

      The third one is churches, mostly Orthodox ones: are you interested in them?

      The fourth one is mostly around Beyazit and Blue Mosques. All of these places – Hippodrome Square, German Fountain, Egyptian Obelisk, Serpentine Column, Obelisk of Theodosius – are on Sultanahmet Square next to Blue Mosque. It sounds like it’s many places, but in reality they are meters apart.

      Personally, I would opt for 1: it has a richer programme. But if you want to visit the Grand Bazaar more, then 2 🙂 I am sorry if I am not of much help.

      I have a post on what to do during a short layover in Istanbul, where I give some ideas on how organise it by yourself, but I wrote it when Ataturk was the main airport, so ways of getting to the city will be different. Still, you might want to have a look 🙂

  4. Ilze says:

    Hi there!
    Thank you sooo much for this insightful read!. I’m planning a trip to Turkey for 12 days. And this helped alot.
    We want to see cappadocia for 2nights for the balloon ride as well as antalya. What is your view for antalya

    • Marianna says:

      Hi Ilze,

      Thank you for your nice words!

      I haven’t been to Cappadocia, but it is high in my list, and I have heard only amazing things about it. Don’t forget to explore the area nearby, including the fairy chimneys.

      About Antalya: in my country it is viewed as mostly a resort city on the seaside with multiple hotels. And it is very popular among my co-citizens and Russians as well. There are some places of interest in the city, but it isn’t as rich in attractions as Istanbul. Antalya is more of a place to lounge on the beach drinking cocktails 🙂 Of course, my knowledge about the city is limited as I haven’t been there myself, but this is the impression I got. Many hotels offer all inclusive deals, meaning you don’t even have to leave the hotel as you can get everything there. But, maybe, this is exactly what you are looking for 🙂

  5. TRIPSTER says:

    That’s a great article! The Egyptian and Grand Bazaars are good but much touristic. If it’s not your first time in Istanbul, I suggest you to visit Besiktas Marketplace or Nisantasi. Also don’t forget to try “midye dolma”, “kokorec” and “kumpir”.

    • Marianna says:

      I have never been to these markets, so thanks for the tip!

      And I still regret that despite visiting Istanbul so many times I have never had midye dolma! Kokorec is good, I loved it! Not so much kumpir, but it might be because I chose the wrong filling 🙂

  6. Berat says:

    Turkey is a not muslim country , Turkey is country that have muslim population mostly.

    So even if you dress openly like in europe or other west side countries there will be no problem.People we are in 2020 , and please do not think İstanbul is like , Iran or any other kind of muslim country.People here already okey with everything you wear

    • Marianna says:

      I did my research and about 98% of Turkish population say they are Muslim, so I think it is safe to say it is a Muslim country. And I don’t understand what in your opinion is wrong with it.

      Secondly, when it comes to clothes I speak from my personal experience and I saw how people reacted to my clothes.

  7. Sarah Baig says:

    Hi Marianna, thanks for taking the time to proviso much information!! We are a family of 5 (3 kids ages 19,17,13) planning to visit Istanbul and Cappadocia in June. How’s Hilton Istanbul Bosphorus? Is there a lot of eating places around it? What kind of transportation can I take to go around from there? Or staying in Sultanahmet is better? I fee that the hotels in Sultanahmet are a bit old. How Hotel Ameera in Sultanahmet? Look forward to hearing from you!

    • Marianna says:

      Hi Sarah,

      I will try to respond to the best of my ability. I am not very familiar with that part of the city, I stayed in an apartment once not far from Hilton, but it was a business trip and I did not go out much. Hilton seems to have nice reviews, not perfect, but nice. If you get a room with sea view, I think you won’t regret it.

      About the location: in my opinion, it is far from the main sights like Topkapi and Blue Mosque, but Taksim Square, Istiklal street (Galata Tower is not far from the other end of Istiklal) and Dolmabahce are relatively close. I hope you are good walkers, these places are within 1-2 km from the hotel. When it comes to transportation, I advise you to have a look at Google Maps, it knows much more than I do 🙂 But I know for sure that tram T1 goes from Kabatas (not far from Dolmabahce) to Sultanahmet: we took this tram often when we were in Istanbul. From Kabatas as well you can take buses 22, 25E, and from Kadirgalar Caddesi not far from the hotel 40T and 42T to Rumeli Hisari fortress. Ferries to the Asian part and the Prince Islands depart from Kabatas pier. Maybe, there are some buses that connect Hilton hotel area to Sultanahmet, but I am not an expert in this. When it comes to restaurants, there are lots of places on Cumhuriyet street, in the part closer to Taksim but not so many in the nearest vicinity of the hotel. Lalezar Meyhanesi inside Hilton has nice reviews as well as Karabatak Harbiye coffee shop.

      Do you mean Hotel Amira as I can’t find Ameera in Istanbul? The location of Amira is much better in my opinion, and it has better, I would even say glorious, reviews. Just remember that this part of the city is not plain, meaning you will have to go up and down, but it wasn’t a problem for us when we walked in the area. I suppose (I only suppose) that it is the same with Hilton hotel.

      I hope this is helpful 🙂

  8. Sarah Baig says:

    Omg Marianna!! That was an excellent reply! Such detailed! Thanks dear 🙂
    No O am not a walker although my family is. Thanks for telling me that hote Amira is among hilly roads and Hilton is far. I would like your opinion in another thing…is it Better to take a tour or go around on your own? I’ve went around Amsterdam, London and Dubai on our own. So is Istanbul a similar place where we can see places on our own without getting a tour? It’s not for the money but we would like to move around at our own time. But just not sure if we’ll miss anything. Thanks again!

    • Marianna says:

      I always go around on my own, I don’t like anyone telling me where to go and how much time spend there 🙂 I don’t think you need anyone’s help for Istanbul, everything is easily accessible, but queues might be huge. If you don’t want to wait in queues, have a look at the tours I mention in a comment above. I think you should definitely see Blue Mosque, Suleymaniye, Aya Sophia, Topkapi, Dolmabahce, Galata Tower, Istiklal Street, Rumelihisari, Grand and Egyptian Bazaars, Beylerbeyi Palace. And take tours of Bosphorus and Golden Horn.

  9. Sarah Baig says:

    Do you recommend any hotels? I want it close to food so that my kids can go and get something if they want. Also my kids are not into too much of old stuff and not interested in history. But we are dragging them! I want a nice hotel priced up to $350/night. Also near shopping. So dear, too many parameters! But thanks for any pointers.

    • Marianna says:

      Well, I am not of much help when it comes to hotels, the only thing I can advice you to do is to check booking.com. If you are not familiar with it, you can specify the location and open the map, and select how much you want to pay per night. Read the reviews carefully as people mention many things there. I recommend some hotels in the post.
      When it comes to shopping, Laleli, the district neighbouring Sultanhmet, has lots of shops, and is actually considered being somewhat of shopping heart of Istanbul. Istiklal street has many shops as well, but big shopping centers are better. I am not into shopping so can’t say much.

  10. Annalie Van Rooyen says:

    Hi there Marianna, I would love to see Turkey with my family, two late teenagers, a ten year old and my husband. I am fascinated with Turkish history. We cannot afford fancy hotels and do not mind staying in fairly simple places as long as it is safe, clean and warm. We also do not mind fixing our own meals or eating from street markets. Where do you suggest we stay in Istanbul where it is reasonable and safe? Do you suggest air b and b’s? How do we travel on our own in Turkey if we are not with a tour group? We would love see other places like Konya, Izmir, Sögüt etc. And Cappodocia. We will visit in December and early January.

    Thanks so much!

    Thanks so much

    Annalie

    • Marianna says:

      Hi Annalie,

      Well, in Turkey I visited only Istanbul, so can’t speak about travel inside the country. I looked once for ways to get from Istanbul to Cappadocia, and the best way was by plane. The tickets were quite cheap, around 30-35 EUR one way, so you can have a look at flights. Flights to Izmir from Istanbul are approximately the same price. I use kayak.com to search for tickets.

      As for hotels and airbnbs, I have no preference, I just choose the cheapest option. I stayed in airbnbs in Istanbul, they were quite good. You are a big family, so I would advise to search for an airbnb somewhere in Sultanahmet, Laleli or Capa. This way the main sights will be close to you, and there are many cafes, restaurants, shops and supermarkets around. There are hundreds of hotels in Istanbul, but they don’t have cooking facilities, so airbnbs are a better option. When it comes to other cities, I, unfortunately, have no experience. I can only advise to read carefully reviews on airbnb and booking.com before booking.

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