Istanbul – what you need to know before your trip


1) Istanbul is not the classic touristy Turkey. Istanbul and Turkey are like Moscow and Russia – one country, but different concepts. You will want to come back to Istanbul again and again if the city opens up and shows its charm, and it does not do that for everyone.

2) Many people mistakenly think of Istanbul as the capital of Turkey. Remember: Ankara is the capital of Turkey.

3) You only need a passport to travel, no visas are required. The local currency is the Turkish lira, which is equal to about 0.12 USD. If you want to pay in dollars or euros – no problem, these currencies are in circulation, but the rate can be overvalued.

4) You can buy tickets to Istanbul from 5 USD, but if it is in advance or on sale. The average price in the season – 300 USD there and back. You can buy a package tour from different cities!

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5) Istanbul has 3 (2 operating) airports, one of which was opened recently (and the old one was closed) – by 2023 they promise to complete the full scale and then it will take the place of the largest airport in the world.

6) Istanbul is one of the world’s top cities for traffic jams, so think carefully before renting a car or taking a cab. Traffic here is worse than in Moscow. And the fines for traffic violations will cost a pretty penny.

7) It is obligatory to buy Istanbul Card to travel on public transport, you can buy a tourist card with tickets to museums. It’s convenient to travel by metro, high-speed streetcars, and ferries. The last option is especially romantic and not standard – you pay as in the subway, and the feeling of a ride on a ship with the included excursion – a buzz!
Istanbul is the only city in the world located simultaneously in Europe and Asia.

8) In the 19th century, travelers called the city the Paris of the East because of its half European and half Asian culture.

9) Istanbul has a subway line called MARMARAY, which runs underwater. The 13.6 km tunnel, located directly under the Bosphorus, connects the European and Asian parts of the city.

10) In addition to the underwater tunnel, the Asian and European parts of the city are connected by the Martyrs’ Bridge or the Bosphorus Bridge. The suspension bridge looks impressive, especially in the light of nighttime lights. Pedestrian traffic on the bridge has been strictly prohibited for several years (except for the dates when the Istanbul Marathon is held) due to the large number of people who decided to end their lives beautifully.

11) The İstanbul Maratonu or Istanbul Marathon is the world’s only transcontinental sports marathon, starting from Asia over the Bridge of Martyrs across the Bosphorus to Europe. A 42.195-kilometer run by athletes – how’s that for you, Ilon Musk? If anything, the marathon will take place in November 2019.

12) Apple tea is only drunk by uninitiated tourists. The real Turkish tea is black. Locals drink it all the time from those very colorful glasses – tulips. Thanks to the simple but rich taste, you can drink tea in huge quantities. And remember – if locals invite you to drink tea, then bravely agree, refusal is perceived as a sign of disrespect.

13) Turkish coffee is recognizable around the world, which is strange considering the fact that there are no coffee plantations in Turkey. The secret of the drink lies in its preparation – Turkish coffee (or Turkish coffee) is called so because of the way it is prepared in a coffee mill. Coffee in Turkey is a culture! According to the tradition, coffee is brewed on low heat for at least 20 minutes, the crema is sure to appear (don’t bring it to the boil in any case), spices are added to spice it up.

14) There is a funny wedding tradition that was originally known in Istanbul and Izmir, and then spread throughout Turkey: the groom comes to ask the bride’s parents for her hand, she brews for him strong and very, very salty coffee, and the groom is obliged to drink it. In this way the man shows his readiness for family life and his patience for the hardships of life.

15) Turkey is a Muslim country. Don’t be surprised when you hear prayers blowing in the air all over the city. Namaz (prayer from the Koran) is offered five times a day in Istanbul. There is even a schedule online. I’m not a religious person, but there is definitely some magic in the sounds of namaz!

16) There are over 3,000 thousand mosques in Istanbul. The most famous of them are the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque), the Süleymaniye Mosque, the New Mosque and the Ayia Sofia. The last mosque for thousands of years was the largest temple in the world and is even now in the top 10 largest cathedrals. All the mosques have a rich history and the interior decoration simply can not fail to impress. I recommend to visit even to atheists.

17) Many people think that because this is a Muslim country, everything is strict here. But Istanbul is unique and colorful to the point of madness. Here the burqa meets luxury brands, graffiti in the streets next to the business district and towers reaching into the sky, modern art museums compete with historical castles and the heritage of Constantinople. In short, there is something for everyone.

18) I’m writing this article to Turkish vocals and it’s all about how Istanbul is a delight for music lovers! Turkish violin, duduk and other instruments in combination, melodically spilling through the streets of the city, give just a magical effect.

19) Istanbul is a hell of a photogenic city. You want to photograph every corner, so make room in your phone. I recommend especially the Balat district, French Street, the embankments of the Bosphorus, the Grand Bazaar, the MODA district in the Asian part.

20) Cats have long occupied the niche of world domination over people of different ages, but in Istanbul they are especially revered. Cats are considered untouchable here, so don’t be surprised if a kitty jumps up on the table during lunch or sits gracefully next to you on the couch. Watch the movie KEDI (“Cat City”), a stylish account of Istanbul, seen by cats and the people who care for them.

21) Before, during or after your trip, read Elchin Safarli’s books. No other author has ever written so subtly and deliciously about Istanbul.

22) You can’t come to Istanbul without eating baklava and Turkish delight. These sweets can be found anywhere, but I visit the lovely café Hafiz Mustafa 1864 every time I visit. The prices here are a bit higher, the place is touristy, but the variety of the menu of sweets and the cool view of the Galata Bridge from the second floor are really worth it.

23) A big smile, discounts and hospitality are guaranteed if you know at least a couple of words in Turkish.


Hello – Selam (selam).
How do you do? – Nasılsınız ? (Nasılsınız?)
Nice to meet you – Memnun oldum
Please – Lütfen. (Lütfen )
Thank you – Teşekkür ederim
Yes – evet
Excuse me – Efendim? (Efendim?)
Very nice/tasty – çok güzel (çok güzel)
Bye-bye (goodbye) – Güle güle

24) Turks like Russian women very much. Very much! Therefore, a single trip for a girl may not be comfortable – attention will be to the maximum.

25) The dress code in Istanbul is free, but do not forget to respect the local customs and religion. In the city center any outfit seems appropriate, but in non-touristy areas (such as Balat district) do not wear short skirts, shorts and cleavage – unhappy looks will be provided with reproach.

26) The most photogenic product of the Turkish cuisine is simit, but do not be in a hurry to buy it from the carts, which are on the streets. Locals take simit exclusively freshly cooked. Feel free to head to the SIMIT chain of cafes, various variations of bagel for cheap are guaranteed.

27) Bazaars are a separate story, especially dangerous for people who like to buy everything. If you’re one of those people, it’s your duty to haggle with the vendors. For them it’s like a game, without bargaining the process makes no sense and no discounts, and we have to buy everything at a maximum and the best price!

28) The largest bazaar in Istanbul is the Grand Bazaar, with more than 5000 stores and stalls, working exclusively for tourists, locals don’t buy anything here. Expensive, but you can find anything you want to your heart’s content. The Egyptian Bazaar (Misir Carsisi) or Spice Bazaar is nearby. The legendary Pandeli Restaurant, where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Leon Trotsky and Agatha Christie at one time had lunch, is located in the north wing of the bazaar. Among the non-pop: Sahaflar Market – you can find rare books there, go to Kumkapı and Eminenyu Fish Bazaars for fresh seafood, Besiktas Market for fresh fruits and vegetables.

29) The Bosphorus is the true heart of Istanbul. The strait connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. The water in each season has a different, but saturated hue – from cold blue to bluish-emerald. The only other body of water I have ever admired so much was Lake Baikal. Take a tour of the Bosphorus, most of them leave from the Eminönü pier (bring warm clothes).

30) I haven’t seen so many seagulls as in Istanbul in any other city in the world. Watching the Bosphorus and the flocks of seagulls circling over it is priceless.

31) Turkey is famous for its soap operas, girls will understand. So if you’re a fan of Kara Sevda, you can make a full itinerary of the filming locations of the series. And there is also a chance to meet on the street Burak Ozcivit, but it’s not certain.

32) Turkey is famous for pomegranate juice and pomegranate wine (NAR).

33) If you decide to go to the famous Pierre Loti restaurant, which offers a truly magnificent view of the Golden Horn Bay, keep in mind: you can get there only by cable car, which is called Teleferik – a kind of public transport. Not to be confused with the funicular – in Istanbul it is a subway branch consisting of one station.

34) Never pick up a shoe brush that fell out of the shoeshiner’s hands, as we did on one visit. This is a popular type of tourist debauchery, especially around the Galata Bridge. The scheme is this – the tourists pick up out of the goodness of their hearts dropped brush, the cleaner offers to clean the shoes of noble people, and then begins to demand a fee for the service (from 50 lire, for a second). So don’t fall for this story and walk by with a stony Russian face – in this case it will be appropriate.

35) Istanbul is not about the sea. But if you want to combine your trip with a beach vacation without flying to your favorite all-inclusive, there is a way out. Option one: get to the Princes’ Islands. The ferry will take you in 2.5 hours, you can walk around the beautiful places and sunbathe on the beach. I’m telling you right away – the water is cool and the coastline is modest. Option two: there are many cool beaches near Istanbul, some of them host various music festivals and hangouts, such as Suma Beach.

36) Not to go to a Turkish hammam in Istanbul is a crime. The choice of baths for every budget is provided. The famous soapy foam will make anyone close their eyes with pleasure. I recommend Aga Hamami, the hammam has existed since 1454 and Nastya Ivleeva was here for the filming of the travel show “Heads and Tails”.

37) Tasty ice cream is everywhere, but you won’t find such a presentation of sweetness as in Turkey! Dondurma is a lingering ice cream made with goat’s milk. The spectacular presentation, just like in YouTube videos, will make everyone smile.

38) There is a stereotype that there is nothing to do in the Asian part of the city or that it is like a ghetto. That’s a load of crap. The Asian part is rich with cool places (the Maiden Tower alone), hipster photogenic streets and bars, you will see the local life and have a great time.

39) Walking across Galata Bridge don’t be surprised by the huge number of fishermen; they are here at any time of the day or night and in any weather. There are even girls with fishing rods. The most “fishy” district of the city.

Istanbul Sapphire, Turkey’s tallest building, is located in the business district of the city. Climb to the top of the observation deck at 360 and you will see perhaps one of the best panoramas of your life.

41) Istanbul is so vast and endless that no matter how much you think you know the whole city, you don’t. The city has a population of over 15,000,000 according to official figures, and unofficially… well, you get the idea.
Turkish cuisine is not only shawarma, kebabs and baklava. The variety of dishes will please any gourmet. Balık ekmek (fish sandwich) is especially popular with me. Don’t be afraid to try new things but ask locals where you want to try it, it will make you feel safer.

42) KIZ KULESI or Maiden Tower is one of the main symbols of the city and an inspiration for many creative people. There are many legends of its origin, but the most popular version for tourists is as follows: the emperor had a daughter and she was predicted to die from a snake bite on her 18th birthday. The emperor built an entire tower for her where there are no snakes – in the middle of the Bosphorus. The princess lived in confinement for all the years and the day of her majority came. Her father, satisfied that he had deceived the prophecy, brought a basket of exotic fruits as a gift for his daughter, but a cunning snake managed to get in and bit the princess. She died in the arms of the emperor, just as the seer had foretold.

43) There is an expensive restaurant in the tower – make it to 6 p.m., it closes quite early.

44) Istiklal Caddesi or Istiklal Street is world famous and the busiest pedestrian street in Istanbul, over 3,000,000 people visit it every day! The street begins at the famous Galata Kulesi (Galata Tower, which is visible from almost every corner of the city) and ends at Taksim Square. It has everything – stores, cafes, bars, restaurants, souvenir shops. The prices are high but it is a must see.

45) The most Instagrammable and historic T4 Taksim – Tunel streetcar runs along the aforementioned Istiklal Street. The line consists of 5 stations and is just over 1.5 km long.

46) Taksim Meydani Square (Taksim) is a popular and populous place in Istanbul. Mass festivities and celebrations are held here and all the tourist routes pass through Taksim.

47) Yerebatan sarnıcı or Basilica Cistern is one of the must see places in Istanbul. Its construction began as early as the 300’s under Emperor Constantine to store a large amount of water in case of drought or siege of the city. The cistern is often compared to a palace – inside there are 336 columns. The place is truly atmospheric. The head of Medusa Gorgon comes as a bonus. In total, more than 40 cisterns have been found in Istanbul.
In Istanbul, as in other cities in Turkey, many places are named “Ataturk” (from the airport to the names of children). Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was the first president of the Republic of Turkey and the founder of the modern Turkish state, and locals honor his services and marvel at his achievements.

48) Istanbul has been called the capital of three empires. Byzantium, Constantinople (New Rome), and the capital of the Ottoman Empire are the names of Istanbul in different eras. The history of this city is truly amazing and fascinating!

49) Dolmabahçe Sarayı Palace (45,000 sqm) is the home of 6 Turkish sultans and Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi Palace (over 700,000 sqm) is the oldest residence of the legendary rulers of the Ottoman Empire, in 400 years of service the palace received 25 sultans! You know you can’t miss it.

50) Come to Istanbul at any time of year, in my subjective opinion. The weather here is European. However, the best time of the year to visit is spring and fall. In summer the tourist flow is high, the daytime is sticky heat and in the evening there is a nice breeze from the Bosphorus. The idea to celebrate the New Year in Istanbul is doubtful as it is not a large-scale celebration: there are no large-scale festivities, Christmas markets and Christmas atmosphere.

One thing I know for sure: Istanbul will always welcome both experienced traveler and beginner with open arms. The city of contrasts has something for everyone.

Güle güle!

Author: Ksenia Semkina


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