Europe, Travel, Unconventional tips for ...

Unconventional Travel Tips: Istanbul

A city pretty much at the centre of the travel world – for me at least. World renowned for being where East meets the West and straddling two continents. Offering some of the best street food in the world and super accessible from the majority of countries on Earth thanks to their acclaimed national airline. I am of course referring to the city of Istanbul.

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Traveling to the city’s Ataturk Airport for a number of years as a transit passenger, it was finally time to step out of the airport and explore the best of what one of my favourite cities had to offer. Taking a Saturday morning flight on a sunny February day from Heathrow’s Terminal 5, we arrived in Istanbul in the late afternoon. It took over one hour to actually get out of the airport – most of this time spent in the visa queue/passport control.
I had not been to Turkey since they changed their visa process, but they now prefer travellers to get a visa prior to arrival, even for European/British passport holders. I had been used to getting my visa at passport control but now, getting the front of the 45 minute queue, I was advised I had to visit another area of the airport if I wished to collect my visa on arrival. I went and did this (where, evidently there was no queue as nobody was collecting on arrival anymore) and I paid £20 for the sticker. Alternatively, you can apply for a visa online and print this out ready for passport control. If you don’t have access to a printer, they even accept them on mobile devices for some nationalities. How times have changed.

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Just like its airport, Istanbul is a pretty large city and you can walk for days so be prepared. A city built on seven hills, it is not long before this starts to show. With inclines likening steep hill hikes, combined with cobbles and cracked paving in places, comfortable shoes are a must. On our first day in the city we left our hotel around 10:30am and we did not return until almost 9pm. We walked around the city the WHOLE TIME, stopping for refreshments a few times throughout the day. Luckily for us it was a crisply bright, winter sun sort of day and was perfect for seeing the sites.

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When walking gets too much to take, public transport in the city is a safe and reliable option. The trams in the city can get very full, and I mean London Underground style crammed, at busy times in the day. There is also an ultra modern subway system being developed in the city and with plans to stretch to more corners of the city in the coming years, the infrastructure development in Istanbul shows visitors just how seriously they take tourism. We took a couple of trains on our five day stay, one being from the airport into town which was of course quite crowded, and one being from the city out to a shopping mall on a really rainy Tuesday afternoon.

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Travel cards for the subway system can be used by more than one person. This means that you can buy one card for up to three people and keep it topped up. One person goes through the barrier and passes the card back to the next person, who then goes through the barriers using the same card. Unlike many public transport systems you are not required to scan or tap a card at the end of your journey, which is why that system works so effectively. Train and tram travel in Istanbul is super cheap and a little over £30 lasted two of us, five days.
Taxis in Istanbul are also in abundant use. Some are older than others to say the least, but from our experiences they are generally trustworthy and pretty cheap. Typical rules apply; be careful where you flag them down and agree a price prior to getting in. We took a death cab style ride up one of the vertical hills on the evening that was my birthday – a journey which involved a driver that spoke no English, a cab that had no glass in the front windows, a GPS system that did not work, rolling backwards for a terrifying couple of seconds at the top of an incline because of a super dodgy brake system and needing to take a right turn up a street that turned out to be steps. Needless to say we got out of the cab before it turned right! Our taxi to the airport was a lot more relaxed and a whole lot more normal. We also took a taxi from the shopping mall, back into the city which was what you would consider an uneventful car ride as well.

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Forget everything you think you know about Turkish food and kebabs. Turkish food is some of the best in the world (when done right) and has been ruined by the greasy visual of kebab shops and soggy donner meat in the UK. Kebab meat in Turkey is freshly grilled and served with lashings of flavouring in the form of herbs and spices from across the Mediterranean and around the Middle East. One of the best things we ate in the city was a quick bite we grabbed from a street vendor behind an Istanbul university. Some of the most succulent chicken pieces, served in soft white bread about the side of my head, cut in half and stuffed with Turkish salad. This alone makes me want to go back to Turkey tomorrow as it was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten, and it was literally about £2.

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Quick Things To Note:

  • Lots of places are cash only – try to have Turkish Lira to hand when exploring the city.
  • When it rains, it pours. Take an umbrella. I have never been to Istanbul where I haven’t witnessed one of their tremendous downpours – even when just transiting through the airport.
  • You can get 5* accommodation for 3* prices all across the city. We stayed in the five star hotel 10 Karakoy Istanbul and we paid under £50 a night. Located in one of the most vibrant districts of the city, this luxury, boutique hotel was exactly what we needed for my birthday celebrations and kept us within budget.

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My final and most important tip for visiting Istanbul is DO NOT LISTEN TO PEOPLE THAT TELL YOU NOT TO GO. It is one of the cleanest, friendliest, most eclectic cities on Earth and should be visited by everyone at least once.

34 thoughts on “Unconventional Travel Tips: Istanbul”

  1. Really informative post, I feel like wherever you go there’s so much you need to know beforehand so I love reading posts like these. I’ve never thought to go to Istanbul simply because I didn’t know much about it, but from the photos it looks beautiful and the food sounds so good!

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    1. Thank you so much for reading ♥ I fee the same – I love blog posts about the things that you generally don’t know about until you are there! Istanbul should be on everyone’s to visit list – I’m so glad you like my pictures. Istanbul is so beautiful but the food is out of this world delish! x

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  2. It is so cool that you got to travel out to Istanbul. The city looks interesting, especially with the bottom floor being the shop and top floors are the living spaces. The mall looks amazing!! Oh wow, their food is cheap as well. You can’t go wrong with this. I am glad you had a great time out there! Thanks for sharing your experience!

    Nancy ♥ exquisitely.me

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    1. Their food is crazy cheap and it tastes so wonderful like so much food in this part of the world. Thank you so much for reading – the little side streets are the most charming – they are the best places to find the yummiest food! x

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  3. I’ll definitely be securing a visa before anything else when going Turkey – cos I can’t be struggling for over an hour to get out of an airport! Anyway Turkish cuisine is one of my favourite cuisines. Even the “greasy visual of kebab shops and soggy donner meat in the UK” I quite like, so I can’t wait to witness how great the local food is one day. Btw have you been to Istanbul Park track before?

    P.S. I think you may have a love affair with the city 😉

    Johnny | Johnny’s Traventures
    https://johnnystraventures.com

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    1. People with visas had a queue of about 45 minutes to an hour but maybe that was b/c we arrived on peak and it was Saturday afternoon?! Definitely get sorted before you go so you don’t have to wait even longer! I have an epic love affair with the city and could honestly write for days about it (more posts to come!) I haven’t been to the track before but I would LOVE to 🤩 I miss Turkish races 😦 x

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  4. Like you I’ve only ever seen it from the sky landing and tak8ng off as a transit passenger to other places…….But I’ve been to Turkey a few times for holidays and it’s a stunning country……get away from the tourist cliches and you’ll find an amazing beautiful country….. ps food is pretty special too
    Now I need to explore Istanbul 🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌

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  5. I am one of the unfortunates who have only experienced Istanbul from the airport as a transit passenger. I must confess I even liked the airport, which is more like a small city. If Istanbul is as nice as some of its resorts that I have visited, I think I would love it. Here’s hoping I will find out one day.

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    1. It’s crazy how huge the airport is. I like a hood airport myself 😁 And I’m excited to try the new airport in the city soon. I’d definitely recommend a trip even if it’s just a few days on the way somewhere else! It’s such an interesting place to explore.

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  6. Your trip sounds AMAZING – thank you so much for sharing. I really haven’t travelled much, so although I’ve never thought of going to Turkey, that’s not a reflection on the country itself. In any case, this post has made it sound super appealing, so it just might have to make it onto my list of places I eventually hope to go! (Also the visa thing was quite useful to know for someone who’s not travelled much too!)

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    1. Thank you so much for reading ♥ Istanbul is one of those places I think everyone should visit at least once, like New York or Paris for its own reasons. The visa thing was new to me too – and also a sign that I had left it too long since my last trip. I would go back in a heartbeat! I hope you get to go to Istanbul one day – so much to offer as a city! (And the food is epic!)

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  7. One of the most amazing cities I’ve ever been to. And that taxi ride on your bday was so scary but still fun haha 🐗🦆

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    1. I am so happy that you liked the city b/c I hyped it up so much! Things like the taxi ride really make the trip unique… it makes me smile each time I think about it.

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  8. Istanbul looks amazing and the food looks so delicious! This post is full of helpful information, thanks so much for sharing. Istanbul sounds quite affordable! That’s great that you can get 5* accommodation for such a great price. Really want to try that chicken and bread, it looks so good! x

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    1. It’s seriously one of my favourite cities! It’s so beautiful, loads to do and the food is wonderful. It is quite cheap compared to a lot of Europe especially away from tourist trails – the cheapest and best food is from street vendors, like a huge fresh orange juice for 30p locally is “expensive” at £1.50 in touristy areas 😲🙄

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    1. It’s great that it’s on your list. Because of its connections, it’s a great city to visit on the way somewhere else (to fit it in) but when you do that it makes you wanna go back and spend more time there just like I did. the food is the best!

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    1. 100%! Add it! You will not regret it. The food alone makes it worth it plus history and walking and exploring and culture and just wonderful people. I hope you get to visit one day x

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  9. This was great, it always pleases me hearing good things about places such as Turkey as so many focus on the negative. It has been on my list to visit for a while, I hadn’t appreciated how cheap it was though which is growing my temptation to go!

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    1. Thank you for reading ❤️ I hope to encourage everyone to visit a part of Turkey at least once. Istanbul is one of my favorites so I try really hard to make it sound as wonderful as it is for exactly that reason; it has such a bad rep! 🙂

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  10. Thank you for this post! I have been 2 times in Alanya, but none in Istanbul. But one day I will definitely go there! 🙂 Can I also pay with EUR or DOLLARS in Istanbul (in shops, restaurants, hotel…)? In Alanya it’s possible.

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    1. We didn’t have much lira when we arrived so needed to change some and places were saying they could take dollars or euros but not pounds 😂 I found it best/easier to get Lira sorted ASAP 😁

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