Tips for Tourists in Istanbul

Here is a brief list of some things you should keep in mind on the very touristy historical side as a tourist;

  • Don’t talk to strangers, they all want to sell you something; or if you DO talk to strangers, keep your wits about you.
  • If you intend to visit any mosques, bring a scarf to cover your hair. The big ones that people often visit will have scarves for you if you’ve forgotten, but bringing your own is more sanitary and will likely look better in your photos.
  • Keep in mind the prayer times before planning your visit to the mosques.
  • Likewise, if you’re wearing a short skirt, shorts, tights or exceptionally tight pants, be forewarned that they will give you a hideous blue skirt to put over your clothes.
  • You can’t wear shoes in a mosque, so wearing socks is a good idea; when you take your shoes off, and they give you a bag for them – don’t leave them outside the mosque, bring them with you inside.
  • Don’t ever pick up a brush that has been dropped by a shoe shiner; he will pretend he’s so grateful that he wants to give you a free shoe shine – and then ask for money afterward, which will likely be too much anyway.
  • Don’t let anyone put a flower wreath on your head to try it on – they won’t take it back and will insist on payment.
  • Don’t take a rose from any old women who are offering them, even just to help her out, because she will ask for too much money and will not take it back from you.
  • If you’re a woman, keep in mind that if you smile at a Turkish man on the street, or be at all friendly, chances are he will think you are either for sale or that you would like to get married. I have literally been asked “how much?” after saying simply good morning to a man in the street. Not ALL men here are like this (afterall, I am dating a Turkish man), but certainly there are many – so just keep it in mind.
  • If you’re getting into a taxi, make sure the meter in the taxi is on, and keep an eye on it – they know you’re a foreigner and will try to cheat you somehow.
  • If you’re using a taxi, and you’re giving the driver big bills (bigger than 10-20tl), watch the bills you give him; I have given a 50 TL note and had him switch it with a 5 TL note and tell me that’s what I gave him. You might think this doesn’t really work, but most people here have had it happen at one point or another – and the drivers are very quick and very insistent.
  • Haggling is normal practice in the bazaars; if you’re not used to this, it means just don’t take the first price. Say the price is too high and try to walk away, he will bring it down every time.
  • The museums can get pricey if you’re planning on visiting the majority of them – a good way to deal with this is to buy a museum pass. If you’re foreign and don’t hold a residency permit, you can purchase a 5 day museum pass for 85 TL, which amounts to the entrance fees (approximately) to two or three museums.  Alternatively, if you hold a Turkish residence permit, you can purchase a Müzekart for 50 TL which will be valid for a year. Either way, if you plan on seeing the sites and checking out some history, either of these passes will be worth your while.
  • If you’re planning on visiting the museums, take a moment to check the opening hours for them, because you’ll find that sometimes some museums are closed on odd days; for instance, Topkapi Palace is closed on Tuesdays, and Dolmabahçe Palace is closed on Thursdays.

 

So there you have it, hope these are helpful, and I’ll add to the list as I think of things! This list is generally for tourists specifically in the tourist areas, as opposed to helpful tips for people living and moving here, and I’ll likely write something about that later. There are probably many things I’ve forgotten, and if anybody has any good tips, warnings, or useful information that I should add to the list, let me know!