First Trip to Istanbul? Here is All You Need to Know!

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Planning your first trip to Istanbul? How exciting! After two months living in the Turkish cultural capital I have knowledge enough to give all the tips you need to organize your holiday to Istanbul, Turkey. This is one of my favorite destinations, we already have been there four times, and every year that I put my feet there, feels like it´s my first time in Istanbul.

Istanbul is a dream destination, it´s located in the edge of Europe where east meets west. Connecting the two continents, the city hides layers of history, culture, colors and scents. The architecture, the food, everything in Istanbul tells a story. The city is busy, fast, never stops, but when you need a break from all this fervid life there is always a nice garden, a small tea house or a mosque where you can seat, breath and relax.

Many people have the idea that Turkey is not a friendly country due to the Muslim religion and culture. But the truth is: when you leave the prejudice behind you will be enchanted by the beauty of Turkey and its people. As much as you discover the city more you fell in love of Istanbul.

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For your first trip to Istanbul I would recommend at least five days, so you can have the taste of the ancient city and also enjoy the modern side of Istanbul. Although if you want to explore the big cities and the countryside, I´d say you should book a 10 days holiday minimum. In our last trip to Turkey we spent 60 days around the country and we didn’t have time to enjoy everything.

Istanbul is huge, in 2013 there were 14 million people living there. The city is as big as any other European capital, however Turkey is a cheap destination if you compare with other countries. With a good travel planning I´m sure you’ll enjoy your first trip to Istanbul without emptying your pocket. Sounds good, isn’t it?

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First Trip to Istanbul? Here is all you need to know!

» Arriving and Departing from Istanbul

You can travel to Istanbul by bus, train, boat or flights, the best option will depend on where you are coming from. All the major budget airlines fly to Ataturk and Sabiha Airport, also Turkish Airlines has good connection from all around the world. Also check the flight fares on Skyscanner or Expedia.

If you are searching for some unique experience you can travel to Istanbul by train. The famous Orient Express Route doesn’t operate anymore, however you can use EURAIL PASS to get there from Europe and travel around Turkey by train.

 

» Visa and Immigration Issues

As you are travelling to a different country you always have to do a good research about visa and the documents you  will need  to cross the border. Last year Turkish government changed their visa policies, now many tourists that in the past had to apply for the visa at the Turkish Embassy can do it online in a really simple way. On the Turkish Visa Information website  you can check all the rules, the fees and how to get your visa on arrival.

To organize all your documents follow our list of 7 Essential Tips Before Travelling, I´m sure you don’t want to ruin your first trip to Istanbul just because of some visa or document misunderstanding.  😉

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» Where to stay in Istanbul



Istanbul is full of hotels, hostels, guest houses and flats. From cheap accommodation to really pricey tags. Definitely you will need a professional help to find the best place for your taste and pocket.

There are many helpful sites like First Choice that can make your life easy while booking a luxurious room or a budget hotel in Istanbul. Sometimes you can find affordable holidays packages to Istanbul, including flights and accommodation. The areas that are nice to stay are: Sultanahmet, Beyoglu and Taksim. All them are surrounded by restaurants, street food and are safe place to stay.




 

» What to Do in Istanbul

Istanbul is plenty of tourist attractions, from ancient ruins, palaces, worldwide famous mosques, narghile bars and endless shops inside the Grand Bazaar. So many things to do and see that you will need time and energy to visit it all. To help you to organize your first trip to Istanbul here goes a list of some places you should not miss.

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More info about all the attractions, the highlights and some local secrets I will tell you in our next post about the Turkish Capital. For now we’ll focus only in how to organize your first trip to Istanbul.

 

» How to get around Istanbul

As soon as you arrive in the city buy a Istanbul Card in one of the automatic machines. This card is accepted in all public transports even on the boats. Cheaper than the single journey ticket (jeton), you can top up the card with any amount of money you want.

Most of the places and tourist attraction in Istanbul can be reached by public transport, especially by tram, metro, boats and funicular (buses can be a bit complicated to use there). But I would suggest you to walk as much as possible. Istanbul is an amazing city, with great architecture and hidden places. Exploring the city by foot is a unique opportunity to meet locals and enjoy the real Turkish feeling.

If you need to use Taxi, make sure the meter is on and don’t accept flat rates to go to the tourists attractions. For sure they will charge you far more than it´s worth. Also from Ataturk airport you can reach the city using public transportation. Bus shuttle to/from both airports to city centre are offered by Havatas.

 

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» Eat & Drink in Istanbul

Welcome to the paradise of food, sweets and teas. The streets of Istanbul are packed of kebab stalls, cozy restaurants, teas and coffee shops. There are so many flavors, spices, ingredients that Turkish food would deserve one entire and delicious blog post.

One thing you have to keep in mind is: Try Everything!! Food is not expensive in Turkey, even in a nice restaurant in Istanbul you would not pay a fortune for a good meal. Local dinners can be found around Taksim Square and at Istiklal Street. Go to the Turkish buffet restaurants to see and try different dishes. As dessert the traditional baklava with ice cream or some Turkish delights  are a must.  😀

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»Best season to visit Istanbul

Istanbul is beautiful and worth the visit any time of the year, but as the season changes the amount of tourists in city also varies. Spring and beginning of summer are  my favorite time to be in there. I would definitely recommend you to do  your first trip to Istanbul during May and June.

In summer time be prepared for hot (really hot) temperatures, long days  and amazing boat tours.When winter arrives it´s pretty cold and windy, but maybe you can be lucky enough to see some snow around there. And when it´s snowing Istanbul looks like a magical place. This year was the first time we got cold weather in Turkey (we were there in September and October), but we didn’t stay longer to wait for the snow season.

 

» What to Avoid in Istanbul

For a big city Istanbul is quite safe. Maybe you can be surprised the amount of people begging on the streets, but most of the time they will not cause any harm to you. Because of the conflicts in the Middle East many refugees are living on Istanbul’s street.

There is an area around Tarlabasi Street, close to the Taksim Square,  that is known for being a place of drug dealers, prostitutes and danger. So please avoid that to go there especially during night time.

As we are foreigner in a Muslim country, we should respect their traditions and habits. When you are enjoying the city there is no need to cover yourself or be worried about your clothes. However when you visit the mosques and religious sites please wear long skirts or trousers, also remember to cover your shoulders and chest.

A nice scarf is always a good option to cover your head inside the mosques and to protect you from the sun and the heat. And girls, we know that a nice scarf or pashmina will turn any simple look in a stylish outfit.  😉

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Now that you already got these precious advice it´s time to enjoy your first trip to Istanbul. If you didn’t buy your tickets yet, do it fast. If you already have your holiday booked, stay tuned for our next posts. I promise some nice and detailed information. Be prepared to learn my secrets about where to go, to eat, to party and to stay in Istanbul! Information I have being collection since my first trip to Istanbul. 😉

 

Are you planning your first trip to Istanbul? There are any other information you need to organize your holiday around there?

48 Comments

    1. Hey Doreen!

      Istanbul is an amazing city! Some of the architecture and religious places look alike Middle East, but far more relaxed and open mind.
      If you liked the article keep following our posts because there are lots of nice stuff from Turkey to come!
      Safe travels!

      Nat

  1. Sadly people have created that perception that Muslim = dangerous and therefore attach stigma to many of the worlds most beautiful countries and their people.

    Can’t wait to get to Turkey & Iran in the new year! 🙂

    1. You are so right Chris, prejudice stops people of discover and learn about such amazing cultures.

      We spent two months in Turkey, so if you need any info to organize your trip just send us an email. 🙂

      Nat

  2. Great guide. I would also recommend sticking to the coast where the nice people are. As you travel further away from the sea, you will see the ugly face of Istanbul and Islamic conservatism.

    A common mistake though: Istanbul is not the capital of Turkey. Ankara is.

  3. When I booked my flight to Istanbul I was so excited about this city, but unfortunately I couldn’t go for some reasons. I think I should book another flight, those pics are amazing!

  4. Ooh, Istanbul looks SO cool! So far, my travels have focused in North America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Europe–but I need to expand my horizons, and Istanbul has now been bumped to the top of my must-travel list. Pinning this for a future trip! 🙂

    1. Hi Natalie,
      It`s an amazing city! So let`s exchange some info, we are planning to do Central America & Caribbean next year. So if you come towards Asia we give you some tips too 😉
      Merry Xtmas!

  5. Natalie I love your blog!

    My boyfriend and I are traveling to Istanbul for the first time in October. It’s one of the places he’s always wanted to visit. I’m very excited to read through your other posts so we can plan our trip accordingly!

    1. Thanks Veronica!! 🙂

      We are so happy to help you plan your trip! I´m sure you will love Istanbul, is such an incredible city!
      If you need any more info let me know!
      Wish you two a wonderful trip!

      Cheers,
      Nat

  6. What a wonderful post. I visited Istanbul before and after an Intrepid tour of Turkey and absolutely loved it. I wandered around on my own and fell in love with the city.

  7. Blue Mosque Tip: If you’re planning to visit and enter the Blue Mosque. Check the prayer times, they go on throughout the day and you aren’t allowed to enter during that time. A brilliant vibrant city

  8. I once visited Istanbul and one of my colleague advised me to try dondurma (Turkish ice cream). Its truly divine. I advise every traveler to try it. Its a unique delicacy. I enjoyed my trip a lot. Istanbul is a fascinating place to visit.

  9. Great list dear! Thanks for sharing this amazing post with us. Istanbul is one of most interesting, exotic, fantastic cities in the world. And don’t forget to add to that great Turkish food and the friendliest people.

  10. Hi Natalie. Just embarking on first trip there! Starting with a friend I’ve been corresponding with. I enjoyed your post zone thanks.

    Andy

  11. Ola Natalie & Robson,

    I saw this post on Twitter this morning, and have really enjoyed reading it. I was in Istanbul almost 2 years ago now, but absolutely loved it. I found the melting pot of East meets West mesmerising. Having been to Tangiers when I was around 18 (more than a couple of years ago now LOL) I was a bit wary of how Istanbul would be, in terms of my feeling of personal safety, especially as an obviously foreign female. But I was pleasantly surprised.

    Istanbul is a place where amazing cultural experiences seem to lurk around the corner. 🙂

    Ate logo 🙂
    Jackie

    1. Ola Jackie!!
      So happy that you enjoyed reading the post. We LOVE Istanbul, as you said, it’s a melting pot of culture and people. I’m so happy to hear that you had a good experience there, I try to tell people to leave the prejudice and the fear aside and travel to Turkey and let this beautiful country surprise them too!
      All the best, happy travels!

      Nat

      1. OMG THIS IS MY BIG DRAM FOR YEARS I TRY TO LEARN THE LANGUAGE BY MY SELF IS NOT EASY BUT I TRY I READ A LOT BOOKS FROM TURKY AND TV SHOWS ARE MY FAVORITE HOPE SOME DAY CAN I ASK YOU MANY DETAILS … THANKS FOR YOUR COMMENTS 😉

  12. Hi NAtalie!

    My husband and I will be in Istanbul for the 1st time for 4 nights and we want to check the historical sites of course and we are foodies too! We were thinking about staying near the galata tower, what do you think? Or do you think as the first time there the best bet would be sultanhamet?

  13. Namaste Natalie and Rob,
    Loved your piece of writing ♥
    Well ,me and my boyfriend are planning for a trip for our honeymoon ,and we have January or February, So is that a good time ?
    And I heard some recent terror attacks last year , is it safe to go this year?

    1. Hi Alefiya!
      I’m glad you liked the post! 🙂
      January and February will be winter time, so be prepared with warm clothes. But it’s not so busy, so you get the chance to visit the attractions with a fewer people.
      About safety issues, it’s complicated to tell you if it will be safe or not. The whole Europe has been a mystery and you never know what might happen. But I try to leave my fear aside, I won’t stop traveling because of terrorism. I know this is a personal opinion, so you need to take the decision that best suits you. I hope nothing bad will happen as I’m planning to visit Istanbul again late this year.
      All the best,
      Nat

  14. Hi Natalie,
    This post is really helpful. I have my trip planned for 8 days this month. Although you have covered most the places to visit. Can you please throw some light on which beaches & bars are a must go? Also which restaurants? Did you also visit to Cappadocia for the Hot Air Baloon ride?

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