Before You Go
When to Go?
The optimum time for a visit to Istanbul is around springtime (April and May) and autumn (mid to late September and October), when the climate is perfect for walking and exploring the city.
Istanbul has a temperate climate. The city’s hot and humid summer season begins in mid-June and lasts through to mid-September. Although the summer can be sizzling, refreshing activities like taking a cruise along the Bosphorus can help to make your stay pleasant.
From October to March, the city can be rainy and windy, though thanks to its coastal location, winter in Istanbul (from December to February) is mild and snowfalls are rarely heavy.
Istanbul hosts big international events from time to time and hotel rooms tend to skyrocket in price. Therefore, it’s highly recommended to check whether your visit coincides with a big event like the Formula 1 Grand Prix in May.
Ramadan - Muslim Holy Month:
Ramadan (or Ramazan in Turkish), which is the holy month for Muslims, can be an enjoyable time for a visit but it can also serve some annoyance. During Ramadan, Muslim people fast, starting from the first light of day till dusk, during which time they are prohibited from eating, drinking and smoking.
Ramadan evenings in Sultanahmet (the old city center) mean street fairs, festivals and specially planned events. While it’s no doubt atmospheric, it can be difficult to move freely around Sultanahmet after dark. Also be aware that there can be a slowdown in the way some places operate. Some restaurants which are normally open can be closed during Ramadan. Holy places and mosques will be crowded. Traffic jams before the evening meal are common as millions of hungry residents rush to their homes or restaurants to break their fasts. The dates of Ramadan for 2011 are August 1 - August 29.
How many days?
3 days will hardly be sufficient for a great city like Istanbul, where you can only cover the major attractions. You can easily fill up 4-5 days in Istanbul and still be busy. Boasting two continents of treasures from three empires, Istanbul deserves at least a week, which will give you plenty of time to get a sense of the city with a little time for relaxation as well.
Two or three days can easily be spent exploring Sultanahmet and its attractions like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya), Topkapi Palace, the Basilica Cistern, Grand Bazaar, Archeology Museum, Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum and the Spice Bazaar.
Taking a Bosphorus cruise, which is a must for any visitor to Istanbul, will also keep you busy for a day.
Regardless of the number of days you spend, you will no doubt have a wonderful time in this magical city.
What to Pack?
What to pack for a trip to Istanbul depends on what time of year you are going and what you plan to do in the city. We have put together a list of the most important items to bring with you on your visit to Istanbul:
- Things like shampoo, dental floss, toiletries and cosmetics are expensive in Turkey compared to most western countries, so it’s advisable to bring these with you.
- A day pack for trips around the city.
- Mosquito repellent for those balmy summer evenings.
- Ear plugs, if you don’t wish to be woken at sunrise by the first call to prayer.
- Sun cream, sunglasses and a hat to block out hot summer rays.
- A raincoat. Istanbul can be cold and rainy during the winter, spring and autumn months, and the city experiences light showers in summer.
- If you’re planning on visiting any mosques, a scarf and skirt or sarong will come in handy for women; trousers or long shorts are needed for men.
- An adaptor to fit a European style two-pronged power socket.
- Tampons, although available, can be difficult to find and costly in Istanbul.
- Comfortable shoes for walking around the city.
- Swimwear- for a dunk at the Princes’ Islands or Black Sea beaches, or for wearing on a hamam visit.
- Prescription medicine. Though most prescription medicines can be obtained relatively easily and cheaply from Istanbul’s ‘Eczane’s’ (pharmacies), bringing what you’ll need from home can save you the time and hassle of translation.
- Photocopies of your important documents. These can be your passport, birth certificate, marriage license, driving licence or medical records. Put a set of photocopies in a large envelope, and take it with you. It may also be useful to make another set in an envelope and give it to someone you trust, so that he/she can mail you in case of an emergency. You can use Google Documents to scan images of your important documents and save it to its online database.
- If you have a six-digit pin on your bank card, consult with your bank before leaving, as you need a four-digit pin number to use ATMs in Turkey
- A camera for capturing the city.
What to Wear?
Turkish men and women in Istanbul take pride in their appearance and seem to have perfected the smart/casual look. It is rare to see sloppily dressed Turks and dirty or ripped clothes in Istanbul, even among those who are less well off.
Turkish women are generally elegant dressers and prefer western style clothing from big name European and American brands. Very short skirts, low cut tops or very revealing outfits aren’t common (apart from at the nightclubs along the Bosphorus, where they’re the order of the day), and can give the wrong impression, so they are not advisable. Although many Turkish women wear high heels, the cobbled streets and uneven sidewalks can make walking on kitten heels a major challenge in Istanbul!
Headscarves are a contentious issue in Turkey and are barred from state institutions such as schools and universities. Although the number of Muslim women choosing to wear a headscarf is rising in Turkey, it’s purely a matter of personal preference and it is very common to see female friends or family members with and without a scarf walking side by side. Turkey is a secular state and tolerant of other religions and cultures so there is no reason for female visitors to wear a headscarf, apart from inside a mosque. Scarves are usually available at mosques for this purpose.
Men will notice that shorts are generally not worn in Istanbul as locals tend to think that they are designated for the beach, not the city, and you will stand out as a tourist if you don a pair in Istanbul. Keep in mind that men must wear trousers when entering mosques, or long shorts covering the knees.
Istanbul Market ©Andrew Sawvel...
Golden Horn ©Helen Simpson
Sultanahmet © Aydin Sertbas
Bosphorus © Yildirim Incealemd...
"I see my path, but I don't know where it leads. Not knowing where I'm going is what inspires me to travel it" - Rosalia de Castro