Istanbul; it’s a big, fascinating and complex city. Combining both old and new, East and West, it’s a city that’s made it to the top of many a traveller’s bucket list (the city welcomes over 39 million tourists each year!).
Lying on two continents – Europe and Asia – Istanbul, which is a partially UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers visitors plenty of sites with historical and modern sides to it, varied local cuisine and a shopping experience like no other.
While this all may be a bit daunting for the first-time traveller to Istanbul, we’ve put together this list of tips to help make your first trip to the only city that straddles two continents as smooth as possible.
Arrange your visa before arrival
Previously, many visitors to Turkey were able to get a visa upon arrival. However, this isn’t the case anymore. Prior to arrival in Turkey, visitors need to apply for an eVisa on the Turkey Government Website.
Don’t call the city Constantinople
Until 1923, Istanbul was known as Constantinople; which was the capital city of the Roman Empire, Eastern Roman Empire, Latin Empire and Ottoman Empire. Constantinople fell in the 15th century, and in 1923 the name was officially changed to Istanbul.
Learn some Turkish!
While most people in Istanbul who work in service and tourism speak very good English, it’s still worth putting in the effort to learn a few key Turkish phrases.
Respect local Islamic culture
Turkey is a secular Islamic country, with most of the population being Muslim. As Islam forms the cultural heritage of almost everyone you’ll meet here, there are a few minor ways that you can show respect. If you have any questions about Islamic beliefs and practices, only ask tour guides or museum guides.
When in Istanbul, visiting a handful of mosques is a must! However, there are a few simple rules you’ll need to abide by:
- Don’t visit during prayer service time.
- Leave your shoes outside.
- Men should wear long pants and remove any hats.
- Women should wear tops that cover elbows and long pants/skirt. Women’s hair should also be covered (most mosques have headscarves that can be borrowed)
Don’t be afraid to haggle!
Haggling is half the fun when shopping in Istanbul! You do need to keep in mind that prices will be inflated as you’ll be paying visitor price, however, don’t let this deter you. Be firm, have a maximum price in mind and don’t be afraid to feign disinterest and walk away if you need to.
Turkish bath etiquette
Known as hammams, Turkish baths are an authentic experience that should be tried! If you’ve never been to a hammam before, here are some things you should know:
- There aren’t co-ed baths; men and women bathe separately.
- Everyone is given a towel to cover with, with women also getting a pair of underwear.
- Each bath is staffed by workers of the same sex; men staff the men’s baths and women staff the women’s baths.
Pack comfy shoes!
If you plan on seeing all of the best that Istanbul has to offer, you’re going to have tired feet come to the end of the day – make sure you pack a pair of comfortable walking shoes!
Interested in learning more about Istanbul? Read more about Turkey’s capital in our blog post ‘How to Experience Istanbul, Turkey Like a Local’.