Travel to Istanbul, Turkey: All You Need to Know

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Are you looking to travel to Istanbul, Turkey? Let us tell you- it is definitely a city to talk about. Not only is it a beautiful city with fascinating things to do and see, but it also has the particularity of belonging to two different continents.

Yes! Istanbul has a European side and an Asian side, divided by the Bosphorus river. So after visiting just this one city you will be able to tell your friends you visited two continents in one day.

Whether you're visiting on a layover, or planning on spending a week, we're here to share with you everything to know about what it's like to travel to Istanbul, Turkey.

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Where is Istanbul, Turkey?

Istanbul is the most famous Turkish city, and is actually often mistaken for being the capital. It is the gateway of Europe and Asia, located all the way on the west side of the country. Istanbul is situated on the Marmara Sea to the south, and the Black Sea to the North.

where is Istanbul Turkey

Istanbul is the connecting city of Europe and Asia.

How to Travel to Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul is one of the biggest flight and naval hubs in the world! This makes it very easy to get to, and can be particularly inexpensive to fly into.

Flying to Istanbul

The Istanbul airport is just 35-45 minutes from the city, and there is also a port right inside the city that many cruise ships stop at. The main airline of the area is Turkish Airlines, which is actually one of the best airlines out there! You can get great rates with excellent service on your flights, so we highly suggest using this airline if you can.

Flight Tip: Using Skyscanner you can use the calendar feature to see which are the cheapest dates for your destination!

Search for a flight to Istanbul:

Trains to Istanbul

One of the most famous train rides is from Paris to Istanbul, which is a long and expensive journey. However, there are a few trains from European cities to Istanbul that you can book instead of flying.

We read and heard that there are trains from plenty of cities, but could not find any online. We suggest checking at a train station in a big city to see if they can book one for you.

Buses to Istanbul

There are a few cities in South Eastern Europe that have buses going to Istanbul. Here are a few of the routes that you can book:

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Requirements to Enter Istanbul, Turkey

In order to travel to Turkey there are many people that do need a visa. Some will need to purchase an E-visa before hand, while others can purchase theirs upon arrival at a desk right near customs. For the visas upon arrival each country has to pay a different amount, and it needs to be done in cash. (We will show the chart below).

Which Countries Need a Visa to Travel to Turkey?

Countries that are able to get a visa upon arrival (which is also a multiple-entry visa) include Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Canada, Chile, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Kuwait, Maldives, Mauritius, Oman, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Saudia Arabia, South Africa, Taiwan, UAE, and the USA.

who needs a visa to travel to Istanbul

Countries who need to get their visa online (which is for a single-entry visa) include Algeria, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Cape Verde, East Timor, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Egypt, Fiji, India, Iraq, Lybia, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Senegal, Soloman Islands, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Vanautu, Vietnam, and Yemen.

Countries that are unable to get an E-visa will need to apply for a traditional visa via a diplomatic mission. These nationalities include Cuba, Guyana, Kiribati, Laos, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Myanmar, Nauru, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, South Sudan, Syria, Tonga, and Tuvalu.

What Countries Can Enter Turkey Without a Visa?

All citizens from the EU are exempt from needing a Turkish visa, as well as those from Argentina, Brazil, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Do I Need a Covid Test to Enter Istanbul?

No, all requirements in regards to Covid have been dropped in Turkey.

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Local Adjustments For Traveling to Istanbul, Turkey

Whenever you travel there are certain things that you may forget about. These may be different from where you are coming from. Here are some of the local adjustments to keep in mind while traveling to Turkey.

What is the First  Language in Istanbul?

The official language in Turkey is Turkish, which is actually unlike the languages of the surrounding countries such as Greece or  those in the Middle East. 

Do They Speak English in Istanbul?

Being such a big city, you'll find that many locals do in fact speak English. We actually didn't have any problems communicating, and there were also people who even spoke Spanish as well.

What Currency is Used in Turkey?

The currency used in Turkey is the Turkish Lira. As of today (October 2023) 1 USD is equal to 28 Turkish Lira. Credit cards are accepted in many big restaurants and hotels, so we really didn't  need to use too much cash in large amounts. However, there are tons of street markets where you will want to have some cash just in case.

Outlets: What Plug Type is Used in Istanbul?

Turkey uses the same plug types as most of Europe, which are types C & F. The standard voltage in Turkey is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.

Can You Drink Tap Water in Istanbul?

The tap water in Istanbul is totally safe to drink. However, due to the taste, many locals will forego drinking from the tap, and opt for bottled water.

Do You Tip in Turkey?

The tipping culture in Turkey is similar to many countries in Europe, which is an average of 10%. Tips normally can't be added to the credit card, so we suggest leaving cash for you server.

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Travel to Istanbul, Turkey: What to See

If you travel to Istanbul. Turkey, you will find out there there is so much to see! Here are some of the top things to add to your list.

1. The Blue Mosque

There are a lot of mosques around Istanbul and Turkey in general, but the Blue Mosque is Istanbul's most famous one, and a complete must if you are visiting. It got the name due to its blue interior tiles.

The inside decorations will take anyone's attention, and what's great about this huge place is that it's still an active religious mosque, so it's closed to non-worshipers for a half hour or so during the five daily prayers.

The dress code requests gentlemen to have long pants and women to cover their legs and shoulders. 

Blue Mosque, things to do when you travel to Istanbul

Explore the Blue Mosque more deeply with these curated tours:

2. Hagia Sophia

This beautiful architecture piece has being an interesting part of history. Built in AD 537, it used to be a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral, later an Ottoman imperial mosque, and now is a museum. It is famous for its large dome.

When built, it was the world's largest building and something completely radical for its time. So was it, that many have said that it changed the history of architecture. This is definitely a must if you travel to Istanbul, Turkey.

Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul

Here are some tours for the Hagia Sophia:

3. Grand Baazar

If you like shopping, this gigantic place is for you. The Grand Baazar has it all, and when we say all we mean almost literally all. It's a huge place with a lot of history that now welcomes between 250k and 400k people every day.

With more than 5000 shops covering 60 streets, this massive shopping center used to be a trading center in the XV century Now it's one of Istanbul's most popular touristic spots. If you are traveling with a group, we recommend you to set a meeting point, because you can seriously get lost in here very easily.

Gran Bazaar, things to do when you travel to Istanbul
Grand Bazaar, things to do when you travel to Istanbul
Grand Bazaar, things to do when you travel to Istanbul

Want a special tour at the Grand Bazaar? Here are a few we've found for you:

4. Galata Tower

This medieval stone tower offers views of the city and the Bosphorus, which can be only described as incredible. With almost 67 meters (219 feet) in height, you can really enjoy a panoramic view of the city.

What's also great about this place is that it has a restaurant café and nightclub on the top, making this tower a place to have some fun.

Galata Tower, things to see when you travel to Istanbul, Turkey

5. Taksim Square

It is considered the heart of modern Istanbul. The central station of the Istanbul Metro network can be found in here, as well as the Republic Monument, which commemorates the foundation of the Republic of Turkey.

There are a lot of street vendors with anything from food to flowers, and many public events & festivals take place in here. Istiklal Avenue can also be found in here.

6. Istiklal Avenue

Istikal Avenue it definitely a street you want to walk through. This is one of Istanbul's most popular avenues, and during the weekends, 3 million people walk it per day. In here you will find all kind of stores; from restaurants to souvenir stores, to music stores, and even nightclubs.

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Travel to Istanbul Turkey Pin
Travel to Istanbul Turkey Pin
Travel to Istanbul Turkey Pin

7. The Egyptian Spice Market

Whether you like tea, sweets, souvenirs, decorations for the house or shisha pipes, this place has it all. From the moment you walk in, a particular smell will take over and cast a spell on you.

There's such a variety of options that its visitors usually spend a long time wandering around, going through all stores, enjoying all that the market has to offer, with its products with good (& tasty) value.

Something that's good to know is that if you want to take tea mixes or any type of food as a souvenir, stores usually have a little machine to vacuum seal your bags so they are allowed to be transported overseas.

Spice Market, things to do when you travel to Istanbul, Turkey
Spice Market, things to do when you travel to Istanbul, Turkey
Spice Market, things to do when you travel to Istanbul, Turkey

Turkey is known for their incredible spices and teas.

8. Basilica Cistern

This fascinating underground construction from the XI century was, once, the biggest of several cisterns during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. Nowadays it's kept with little water so that tourists can visit it.

Its name comes from the fact that it was located below the Stoa Basilica. 7,000 slaves carved it from the earth! And the craziest part is that its creators thought that after being finished, it would be flooded by water and never seen again. 

Many mysterious things can be found, including two huge Medusa heads. The meaning of this remains unknown.

Here are some tours you can take to experience Basilica Cistern:

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8. Suleymaniye Mosque

If you enjoy architectural masterpieces, want to learn about the Muslim religion or if you are a curious person who enjoys beautiful places, than this mosque is for you. The Ottoman imperial mosque was built on the order of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, and the whole place will give you something to talk about!

mosque suleymaniye, things to see when you travel to istanbul, Turkey
mosque suleymaniye, things to see when you travel to istanbul, Turkey
mosque suleymaniye, things to see when you travel to istanbul, Turkey

Want a tour with the Suleymaniye Mosque included? Here are a few:

9. Topkapi Palace

This was once the residence and administrative headquarters of Ottoman sultans. The beautiful museum holds several buildings and gardens inside that are worth seeing. It's name means "Cannon Gate Palace".

From the very moment you cross it's entrance gate, you will feel like you're back in the XV century.

Here are a few tours to Topkapi Palace you can choose from:

10. Balat

Balat is definitely one of our favorite neighborhoods in Istanbul! It is full of colorful shops, cute cafes, and vibrantly painted houses. It's full of charm, and definitely a place you'll want to remember to bring your camera. 

Balat, things to see when you travel to Istanbul, Turkey
Balat, things to see when you travel to Istanbul, Turkey
Balat, things to see when you travel to Istanbul, Turkey
Balat, things to see when you travel to Istanbul, Turkey
Balat, things to see when you travel to Istanbul, Turkey
Balat, things to see when you travel to Istanbul
Balat, things to see when you travel to Istanbul, Turkey

Travel to Istanbul, Turkey: Things to Do

We already mentioned several buildings and places that brings the best out of this marvelous city. Now it's time for a few activities and experiences for you to enjoy when you travel to Istanbul, Turkey.

1. Take a Hamam (Turkish Bath)

You might have heard of them, and you may have seen them in movies. A Turkish bath is a truly relaxing experience, and quite different from any bath you have ever taken before.

It has several stages. First you will go into a "relaxation" room, hot and with dry air so that you can perspire properly. Then you will be guided into an even hotter room. As a third step, you will take a bath in cold water. Enjoy after that a nice bubble massage, and finish in a "cooling" room to conclude this healing process.

2. Take a Cruise Through the Bosphorus

As we mentioned before, two continents share the city of Istanbul; The Bosphorus River divides the city in two, but this doesn't have to be a reason to prevent you from enjoying everything it has to offer.

Jump into a cruise tour through it and let the guide fascinate you with buildings & stories of Istanbul and all the history it holds.

3. Visit the Neighborhoods Karaköy & Ortaköy

What these two neighborhoods have in common is that they are not very popular amongst tourists, and that can be an advantage!

Karaköy is the new name that the old neighborhood Galata used to have in Constinople. Nowadays it's a cosmopolitan place full of incredible architecture, mosques & local restaurants.

Ortaköy, on the other hand, holds attractive street markets during the weekends with a very colorful and special atmosphere. Visit them during the afternoon, at dawn, to see how the night falls on the Bosphorus.

Travel to Istanbul, Turkey
Karakoy, things to see when you travel to Istanbul

4. Do a Photoshoot

Something very peculiar, but interesting in Istanbul is that there are a ton of fun photo opps.

Ever seen those perfectly curated photos that seem to emulate the essence of Turkey? Sitting on an old rooftop with pillows, tea, and seagulls flying above you? How about with colorful lanterns dressed in traditional Turkish clothing? Well, the reality of these are that they are actually studios with photographers setting up the perfect pictures and videos.

Actually, there are studios everywhere. Many of them are scattered around the center of the city, and one of the most popular ones is Taht Istanbul which has various rooms such as a rooftop view and a pink flowery cafe. 

We'll be honest, we were pretty bummed to find out most people's photos weren't real situations and were simply for the photos. However, if you know going in, and plan for it, it seems like a fun way to take some souvenirs back home with you.

photoshoot in Istanbul
photoshoot in Istanbul

other than studios, you can also hire a professional photographer for when you travel to Istanbul. Turkey:

Travel to Istanbul, Turkey: What to Eat

Food is a huge part of travel, and this country has a great mix of cuisines! Here are some Turkish dishes and treats to try when you travel to Istanbul, Turkey.

1. Turkish Delights

If you're into sweets, be prepared because this will leave you craving for more. These sweets are made out of a gel of starch and sugar. The advanced or "premium" ones have all types of nuts inside, like pistachios, hazelnuts or walnuts, and they're as sweet as they are tasty!

Turkish delights, things to try while traveling in Istanbul, Turkey

2. Baklava

Baklava is a rich, sweet dessert pastry made of layers of filo filled with chopped nuts. It is sweetened & held all together with either syrup, frosting or honey. It's typical from Turkey & from the Middle East, so make sure you try one! Remember, local is always better.

3. Testi Kebab

It might sound a little cliché, and you probably have had it before, but kebabs here are one of Turkey's traditional meals. So forget about every time you had one before, because we know that locals always do it better than foreigners.

There are over 20 types of kebabs, including the one that you probably already know, the Döner kebab. Depending on how are they cooked and what type of meat there's in it you will find several options. But Testi kebab is one that we recommend because it comes with a little show.

The meat and vegetables will be cooked inside a testi or pot, cooked under flames of fire, then broken & opened to serve. This all happens in front of the customer's eyes with a very particular style.

testi Kebab

4. Get an Ice Cream in the Street

This is quite a show, and they know how to perform it. Getting a local ice cream can be challenging for travelers, but definitely a fun thing to watch.

What does this mean? Ice cream parlors are masters of the art of making you believe you're getting an simple ice cream, while they give you empty cones, empty napkins or sometimes even nothing at all.

It's hard to put it into words. Instead, enjoy this video to see the talent these people have.

5. Kokoreç

You know how sometimes it's better not to ask? Well, if you read that this is made with lamb intestines, you may want to walk away from it. In reality, this is a delicious dish from Istanbul that is eaten in a sweetbread. There are many options to eat with it,  and the smell while it's cooked on skewer over the charcoal fire is delicious.

6. Lahmacun (Turkish Pizza)

This probably isn't what you think first when you read the word pizza. To start, there's no cheese,  and the dough is super thin and crunchy. It's usually spicy, and it has to be rolled up, like a burrito,

Pretty different, right? Well, don't let these changes fool you, because this dish is not only super tasty but also very practical to eat on the go!

7. Have a (lot of) Tea

Turkish people drink tea A LOT, and for a good reason; with so many spices and different combinations to choose from, how could they not drink it all the time? Plus, it's basically flavored water with natural elements so it's a very healthy beverage.