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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1. Don’t stay close to the sights.
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 🙂
2. Don’t take the tram on Istiklal.
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 in the bazaars.
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).
6. Don’t buy in 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.
Turkey has an amazing national cuisine, and you don’t even have to go to 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.
9. Don’t wear revealing clothes or short dresses.
Turkey is a country with a Muslim majority, 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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