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 on 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, breathe and relax.
First trip to Istanbul? Here is all you need to know!
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. The more you discover the city the more you will fall in love with Istanbul.
For your first trip to Istanbul, I would recommend at least five days, so you can have a 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 10 days or a 2-week Turkey itinerary. On 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 2019 there were 15 million people living there. The city is as big as any other European capital, however, Turkey is a cheap destination if you compare it with other countries. With good travel planning, I’m sure you’ll enjoy your first trip to Istanbul without emptying your pocket. Sounds good, isn’t it?
Also read: The ultimate Guide to Istanbul – what to do, where to stay and eat
» Arriving and departing from Istanbul, Turkey
You can travel to Istanbul by bus, train, boat or flight, the best option will depend on where you are coming from. All the major budget airlines fly to Istanbul Airport and Sabiha Airport, Turkish Airlines has good connections from all around the world. Also, check the flight fares on Skyscanner or Kiwi.com.
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 formalities for your first trip to Istanbul
As you are traveling to a different country you always have to do good research about visas and the documents you will need to cross the border. Last year the 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. If you are having trouble with your visa application, you can seek personal assistance with your Turkish visa here.
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.
» Where to stay in Istanbul on your first visit
Istanbul has over 4 thousand hotels, hostels, guest houses, and flats. From cheap accommodation to really pricey tags. Definitely, you will be overwhelmed by the number of places to stay in Istanbul the variety of prices and services offered.
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 holiday packages to Istanbul, including flights and accommodation.
Some of the areas that are nice to stay in Istanbul are: Sultanahmet, Beyoglu, and Taksim. All of them are surrounded by restaurants, street food and are a safe place to stay.
Hotels in Sultanahmet that we recommend:
Hotels in Beyoglu that we recommend:
Best hotels in Taksim that we recommend:
Check our guide to the best areas to stay in Istanbul
» 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.
- Blue Mosque
- Hagia Sophia – have a look at this tour
- Topkapı Palace – you can save time and skip the line with this tour
- Basilica Cistern
- Grand Bazaar
- Spice Bazaar
- Suleymaniye Mosque
- Galata Tower
- Dolmabahçe Palace
- Taksim Square and İstiklal Ave
- Bosphorus Boat Tour (book online and skip the line)
- Ortaköy neighborhood
- Sunset at Uskudar
All the details about the attractions and what to do in Istanbul you can find on the blog posts below:
- Travel Secrets: what to do and where to stay in Istanbul
- The most Instagrammable places in Istanbul
- Things to do in Istanbul on the European and Asian sides
» How to get around Istanbul
As soon as you arrive in the city buy an Istanbul Card in one of the automatic machines. This card is accepted in all public transports even on boats. Cheaper than the single journey ticket (jeton), you can top up the card with any amount of money you want.
If are staying more than 3 days and planning to visit many attractions, then buying the Istanbul Welcome Card might be a good option as it includes public transportation and entrance to 12 attractions (skip the line benefit) for 7 days.
Most of the places and tourist attractions 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 walk as much as possible. Istanbul is an amazing city, with great architecture and hidden places. Exploring the city on foot is a unique opportunity to meet locals and enjoy the real Turkish feeling.
If you need to use a 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. From Istanbul Airport, you can reach the city using public transportation. Bus shuttle to/from both airports to the city center are offered by Havaist.
For booking private transfers to/from Sabiha Airport and Istanbul Airport to/from your hotel I recommend using the services offered by GetYourGuide. Click here for Sabiha Airport and here for Istanbul Airport.
» Eating & drinking in Istanbul
Welcome to the paradise of food, sweets, and teas. The streets of Istanbul are packed with 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 for dessert, the traditional baklava with ice cream or some Turkish delights are a must.
Consider joining a food tour where you can taste and learn about the delicious Turkish food.
» Best time to visit Istanbul
Istanbul is beautiful and worth the visit any time of the year, but as the season changes the number of tourists in the city also varies. Spring and the beginning of summer are my favorite times to be in there. I would definitely recommend you to do your first trip to Istanbul during May and June.
In summertime 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 by the number 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 Taksim Square, that is known for being a place of drug dealers, prostitutes, and danger. So please avoid that to go there especially during the nighttime.
As we are a 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 into a stylish outfit.
Now that you know everything about traveling to Istanbul for the first time, start planning your holiday and enjoy this incredible city.
97 thoughts on “First trip to Istanbul? Here is all you need to know!”
Lovely post, Natalie. It looks a lot like parts of Dubai, from your pics. I’d love to visit Istanbul and immerse myself in its culture.
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!
I am planning to visit only for 2.5 days as a part of my romantic dates with my wife…
We are planning to visit in upcoming week.
Kindly guide me regarding the same. So that we can make it memorable and explore the city as much as possible.
In addition to this article we also wrote this one: https://loveandroad.com/where-to-stay-what-to-do-in-istanbul/
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! 🙂
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. 🙂
Hi Nat i am planning on visiting Istanbul in the coming months and i would greatly appreciate any insights or advice.
All tips are on the above article. Do you have any specific question?
Hi Natalie.. could you help me with a 06 night 7 days trip to IStanbul
We don’t provide travel planning services but all our tips are on the article above and on this one.
Marta, If you have the opportunity to visit Istanbul, go for it!
It´s an amazing city!!
Thanks for follow us! 🙂
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.
Thanks for the heads up. We know about Ankara and even have friends that live there. It was a silly mistake already corrected.
Thanks again 🙂
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!
For sure! And if you need more tips, send us a msg!
Istanbul is such an overwhelming and amazing city to experience. It’s great that you put together some suggestions on how to experience it when first visiting. Great ideas!
Tks! We absolutely love Istanbul!
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! 🙂
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 😉
Thanks for this, Rob! I am looking at hitchhiking Central Asia in two years and I am starting in Turkey. Istanbul looks very interesting!
Credits to Natalie on this one 🙂
No better place to start than Turkey. Just a bit risky you may fall in love and stay longer 😉
Really happy I read this! I will be visiting Istanbul in May and hadn’t even thought about getting a visa!
So happy that our article was useful for you! 🙂
We are big fans of Istanbul and Turkey, so if you need any info just send us an email!
I would like to know after you got your visa for turkey is their any other document required for your trip
We have Brazilian Passport so we don’t need Visa to enter Turkey.
Suggest to contact the Turkish embassy in your country.
Great and useful article, I really enjoyed learning more about Istanbul. Especially on what to avoid. Thanks for sharing!
I´m glad you liked the article!
Thanks for stopping by!
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!
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!
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.
We have a love relationship with Istanbul too!!
Wander around is the best way to find hidden places and get a real feeling of the city!!
All the best,
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
Tks for the tip Steve!
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.
Dondurma is delicious and it’s a show to get one 😉
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.
Istanbul is a magnificent city indeed… And the food OMG!!!
Thanks for stopping by!
Hi Natalie. Just embarking on first trip there! Starting with a friend I’ve been corresponding with. I enjoyed your post zone thanks.
Enjoy your trip Andy!
I will like to take a trip there
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 🙂
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!
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 😉
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?
If you stay near Galata tower you can easily reach Sultanahmet via Tram or Taxi. It is a great area 🙂
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?
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,
It’s a fantastic city and very beautiful, i love it!
I was in Taksim Square and İstiklal Ave once!
Yes, Istanbul is a fantastic city!
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?
Check out our post about Cappadocia: https://loveandroad.com/top-things-to-do-in-cappadocia-turkey-where-to-stay-what-to-eat/
Thank you, Natalie !
You are welcome!
OMG Amazingly written post ….Planning January 2018
going to note down of each and every detail you have written so so glad found your blog…
keep it up …
Glad you enjoyed.
Hello Natalie Deduck!
Thanks for all your articles and pictures. I will be relying on your advise to visit some of the places during our 3 night-3 days stay.
I and my wife are visiting Istanbul in the 1st week of February, which is going to be winter and expect it to be very cold. We are on our way to India and are taking 3 days’ break in IST, though it’s not a tourist season. Most of your pictures seem to be in summer time and therefore any advise on winter travel will be highly appreciated!
Good luck and keep up the good work!
Hope you are fine.
Visiting Istanbul in February has 2 main pros & cons.
Pros: Less Tourists
Pack some warm clothes and enjoy the city! And drink more Çay to warm up!
Me and my wife are visiting Istanbul in mid-May this year for our honeymoon for 3 nights & 3 days and from there we will catch the flight for Greece.
We would like to stay at a hotel nearby Taksim Square.
Would you like to recommend any places to visit and any other opinion for our short trip.
Have a look at this article: https://loveandroad.com/where-to-stay-what-to-do-in-istanbul/
Hi Natalia, I enjoyed reading ur post about Istanbul and I wish to come there during xmass period. Should I continue with the plans?
I planning to go with my family, two doghter , so would you like to asessetment if is a good idea , I mean, my children have 10 and 7 years old. My wife and I thought in Istanbul long time ago. We wish to be there, but I don’t know if can be a good deal for children…
Since we don’t have kids this is a question we can’t answer, sorry!
Hello immediately it’s a wow essay but you have no write yo say that they think that Istanbul is an unfriendly city due to the religion over there which is Islam because Islam makes the place better because most historical places there are related to islam in a way or other and you must delete this part or change it respecting the Muslim people and thanks…
Unfortunately, a lot of people do have this misconception about Islam.
Hi Natalie and Robson,
Im planning my first trip to Istanbul in September 2019. My question is 4 nights (5days) enough to see everything the city has to offer, how much time is needed to visit the Grand Bazaar and what is the weather really like in September? Thanks for a great article….greetings from South Africa
If you plan it well you can do a lot in 5 days. My advice is to choose a hotel close to the places you want to visit so you can save time between attractions and going back to the hotel. It’s hard to tell how much time you’re gonna spend in the Grand Bazaar, it all depends on you and if you manage to not get lost (we always got lost and ended up spending 2 or 3 hours there. lol)
September is the start of the Autumn, the temperature will be between 16ºto 25ºC.
Have an awesome trip!
Hey loved your article so much. I wanted to ask if you think the temperatures will be bearable in June, or will it be too hot? Will it be possible to go on hikes and visit the ruins in such temperatures?
We have been in Istanbul from May to October. May and June were our favorite months, expect temperatures around mid 20C.
Thanks for your article so helpfull
I will travel to Istambul this June.
Do you know about using Airbnb to get place to stay in Istambul, Is it OK?
Absolutely, we have used AirBnb in Istanbul a couple of times.
Hi I’m planning to visit Istanbul I will be travelling alone is this a good idea
We found Turkey overall very safe.
Hi, thank your for this! I am going this month to Istanbul with my husband. I am a Muslim, but never visited Turkey before.
How much (approximately) money we need for food per day?
Thanks in advance
It depend on where you gonna eat, street food will be around 5 Turkish Lira and meals in restaurants will start at 10 Turkish Lira and the sky is the limit.
Thank you for the great tips I really enjoyed reading this article
I’m planing a trip to turkey with my family soon and just by reading this it felt as if i actually was there. One more issue that yiou had not addressed is the internet connectivity. Am planning to place an order for the Pocket WiFi with rent n connect let me know of this is the right choice or if there are more options on this that are better.
We have been using the TEP Wireless all around and it works great. Another option is to buy a local SIM card.
Good day! Thanks for sharing the travel tips to Turkey which I find very helpful indeed. I am planning for 8-days vacation to Turkey & not sure if late July is a good time to visit Turkey. Appreciate your kind advise. Thanks in advance.
We spent 2 summers in Turkey and loved it. Yes, it is super hot and busy but we loved it.
Hi we are plannig a 7 days trip to Turkey in April. Will be going to Cappadocia for 2 nights and the rest in Istanbul. Can you please suggest if it’s worth to take a day trip flight from Istanbul to Ephesus or Pammukale or should we spend 5 days in Istanbul. Thanks
7 days to visit Cappadocia, Istanbul and another destination will be quite rushed.
Is it possible to do a day trip to Ephesus or Pammukale? Yes, it is but bear in mind that it will be a long day.
Have a look at these tour options:
I’ve enjoyed Ephesus more than Pamukkale.
I read the article as a resident of Istanbul. The text is generally nice ☺
But I want to make a few additions.
I think the most beautiful view of Istanbul is viewed from the Çamlıca hill. This hill is located in Üsküdar. and is the highest hill of Istanbul
I highly recommend watching the scenery from here and having a picnic.
Çamlıca hill also has the municipality’s open buffet and I recommend you to eat “kumpir” or simit with tea. For transportation, there is a bus from Üsküdard to 15c and Kadikoy to 14f.
There are also 4 islands in Istanbul. You can go to these islands and watch the view of Istanbul.
Tks for the tips!
Iam planning to visit Istanbul by end of december with my family (2 adults & 2 kids) & i have more luggage around 6 begs as i have to stay only 4 nights in istanbul & after that i will
for my home country.
Which transport is best to reach hotel with this much luggage?
Which hotels location is good for us to easy access for every things?
For new year fire work which place is safe for family?
For sure a taxi or a private driver will make your life easier with the luggage.
I recommend staying in Sultanahmet area, easy to get to the Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia…
One of the best areas to watch the fireworks is in Ortakoy, a hotel in Ortakoy could be a good option to enjoy NYE.
Great Blog and very useful info. We are planning for a 7 nights trip in June and include Istanbul & Cappadocia ( to experience Hot Air Ballon :-). What are your recommendations.
Have a look at this post about Cappadocia.
Thanks for all the information, loved reading this page. I am going to visit Istanbul this April and want to do a boat cruise on the Bosphorus, do you have any suggestion? i came accross one called Bosphorus Sunset Cruise on luxury yacht, looks more exclusive than others as shown here though it is more expensive than other cruises. do you think if i is worth paying extra for this cruise? Thanks..
I would suggest checking this list of Bosphorus boat cruises and read all the reviews.
I want go to instanbul because is one of the best trips I love turkey thank you
Go for it!
What a great post, thanks for the very useful information!
You are welcome 🙂