Things to know before traveling
Turkey is a country of diverse history, cuisine, and culture. It is a fascinating country with one of the world’s greatest cities, Istanbul. Modern Istanbul is a mega-metropolis filled with everything you could want in a travel destination. Its museums and palaces offer a wealth of learning experiences. Meanwhile, the city’s tourist sites are perfect for exploring whether you are on a short vacation or a long holiday.
Istanbul is an amazing city, but its size and population make it a little overwhelming. If you can navigate Istanbul’s streets, then you will be rewarded with a rich experience. So, before you travel to the jewel of Turkey, let’s explore some things to know before traveling to Istanbul.
Drink bottled water
In many major cities around the world, it isn’t safe to drink tap water. Istanbul is no different as you shouldn’t drink water straight from the tap. Water quality varies in Turkey and tap water isn’t used for the purpose of drinking. If you want to drink water, then you should always buy bottled water to consume. It is safe to use tap water in cooking or to make coffee and tea as the water will be boiled before consuming it. Although water filtration systems are in place most locals prefer bottled water to remain on the safe side.
Always have cash
Istanbul shops, restaurants, and cafes widely accept credit card. However, you should always have cash on hand as there are plenty of places throughout the city that do not accept credit card. Outside of Istanbul, you will find many places do not accept credit cards at all. Independent shops are likely to only accept cash payments. If you plan to take an Istanbul taxi, it is always advisable to have cash ready. Most taxis do not have credit card points inside.
Tipping is welcomed at restaurants
You may come across some countries in Europe that do not encourage tipping due to the wages paid to restaurant staff being considered “livable”. In Turkey, tipping is different as staff do not earn much money. In Istanbul, you are welcome to tip up to 15% of the bill in upmarket cafes and restaurants. You should also consider tipping staff when dining at small, independent, family-owned restaurants. It is also common to tip taxi drivers if they help with your luggage.
Istanbul is a conservative city
It is highly uncommon for public displays of affection to be shown on the streets of Istanbul. Even holding hands is frowned upon in some areas of the city. It is wise to steer clear of showing any kind of affection toward loved ones while exploring the Turkish city, even if you are in the liberal areas of Istanbul.
Prepare an itinerary for your trip
There is a lot to see in Istanbul from museums to palaces to parks. Before arriving, you should make an itinerary of sites you want to explore. An itinerary will give you an idea of the time you can afford at each site. There are a few must-sees in Istanbul, so don’t miss the Cistern, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, and the Spice Bazaar. In addition, don’t spend too much time wandering the Grand Bazaar. Although it is truly magnificent, it can become a habit to return to the Grand Bazaar to shop and eat. Expand your horizons by visiting other places and areas.
Women should always have a scarf ready
If you plan to visit a mosque and you are female, then you must have your hair covered. It is required that all women who enter the mosques in Istanbul to cover their hair and tourists are no exception. It is a good practice to carry a scarf with you at all times around Istanbul. The city is conservative and you may need to cover up to enter other buildings, businesses, or shops. Female tourists do not have to cover from head to toe; but they need to be aware of the proper etiquette for clothing in Istanbul. It needs to be remembered that Turkey’s population is 99% Muslim.
Alla turca toilets
Many western travelers will be unfamiliar with alla turca toilets. You will find these in some parts of Europe and Asia. These are traditional squat toilets in which you do not sit down, rather you squad and hover over a hole in the floor. Despite the crude description, these toilets are hygienic. You will find alla turca toilets in some parts of Istanbul. It is more likely that you will come in contact with alla turca toilets outside of Istanbul.
Bring toilet paper
You may need to use a public bathroom while exploring the city. If so, it is a good idea to bring toilet paper with you from your hotel, hostel, or Airbnb. Many public bathrooms in Istanbul do not provide toilet paper. Moreover, you should have some change ready as public toilets cost money to access.
Getting to your hotel
Istanbul new Airport is your port of call when flying in to Istanbul. Once you emerge from the airport, the chaos of Istanbul begins. You are likely to encounter taxi drivers right after stepping out of the airport’s doors. It is best to turn down their approaches and to use the shuttle services available at the airport or to use the metro system. You can also arrange for your hotel to pick you up at the airport.
Istanbul’s climate can go to extremes. Depending on the time of year you visit the city, pack accordingly to ensure you don’t freeze or fry yourself. September to November is considered the best time of the year to visit due to the city’s comfortable temperatures. Summer is the peak season for travelers and the weather reaches up to 30°C. The summer is very humid as well. March to May is cool. It is perfect jacket weather and layers are recommended. Winter can be cold with January and February being the city’s coldest months. Temperatures drop as low as 3°C.