FAQ’s about Istanbul & Turkey
We at My Destination Istanbul have put together a list of the most commonly asked questions about Turkey and Istanbul. If you feel there is something worth adding, please feel free to contact us.
1. What’s the best time of year to visit Istanbul? How hot/cold will it be?
It’s possible to visit Istanbul at any time of the year, although the optimum times are during the spring and autumn months as the city is a pleasant temperature and the major sites are less crowded. Summers in Istanbul can be very hot while winters are usually rainy and quite cold with occasional snowfalls. Check out our Istanbul info before you go section for more information. Also you can see our Istanbul weather section for current weather conditions in Istanbul.
2. What should I wear in Istanbul?
Whatever you wear at home. Although very short skirts or revealing clothing are not common in Istanbul, the Turkish dress sense is otherwise generally very westernized. See more…
3. I have only got a short time in Istanbul. What are the most important sites to see?
Istanbul is a huge city with an unlimited number of things to experience. To save you the headache of trying to decide which ones to pick, we have put together a list of the Top 10 Things to Do in Istanbul including taking in the sites in Sultanahmet, a Bosphorus tour, a night at a meyhane and more…
4. How religious is Turkey? Will I have problems as a non-Muslim?
Although the majority of Turks are Muslim, Turkey is a secular state. While there are some strict followers of Islam in Turkey, there are also many more moderate Muslims. Turkey is generally very open and welcoming to other cultures, and it is extremely rare to experience and problems as a non-Muslim in Turkey. See our article on Religion in Turkey for further information.
5. Do I need a visa?
Most foreign nationals from western countries do not require a visa in advance for a visit to Turkey. Some countries do not require a visa at all while most others can purchase it at border posts and airports. Working and residency permits are more complicated. Check out our article on Visas & Permits in Turkey for more information.
6. Is Istanbul safe?
Compared to most western countries, Istanbul is a very safe city. The incidence of violent crime against foreigners is extremely low and few visitors to the city experience any problem. There are some scams and pickpockets operating, more so in the tourist-heavy areas, so exercise usual caution.
7. Is Istanbul easy to get around? What kind of transport options are there?
Despite its huge size and number of waterways and hills, Istanbul is reasonably easy to get around. There are a large number of transport options such as bus, minibus, dolmus, tram, metro, metrobus and ferry. See our section on Travel Info for more information on these transport options.
8. Where should I stay in Istanbul?
There are a number of different accommodation options in Istanbul which vary hugely in location, price and style. From dormitory style hostels to boutique guesthouses, serviced apartments and plush hotels, where you stay is dependent on your preference and budget. Check out our guide to Accommodation in Istanbul.
9. Do I need to exchange money? Are there many ATM’s in Istanbul?
Although Euros are accepted at some larger stores and in the tourist areas, it is generally better to trade in the Turkish currency (the ‘lira). Major currencies can be exchanged for lira at airports, banks or exchange offices throughout the city. Alternatively, there are ATM machines all over the city, and those with a credit/debit card will have few problems accessing money.
10. Is it safe to drink water from the tap in Istanbul?
Although the water is chlorinated in Istanbul, it’s recommended to drink bottled mineral water. Mineral water is widely available and reasonably cheap in Istanbul. See our section on Medical & Safety for more information.
11. Is it safe to eat food from the street and small restaurants in Istanbul?
The standard of hygiene in Istanbul is generally quite high, and few visitors report problems related to unsafe food in the city. Practice common sense and only eat at an establishment if it looks clean and busy. Fresh fruit should be peeled before eating and salads should be avoided if you suspect they have been washed in tap water.
12. How can I get from the airport to the city centre or my hotel?
There are a number of transport options for travel from Ataturk and Sabiha Gokcen Airports to Sultanahmet and Beyoglu/Taksim. Both airports have dedicated shuttle services and it is also possible to travel by public transport (tram and metro from Ataturk Airport, and bus from Sabiha Gokcen airport.) Taxis are widely available, although the cost is higher. See our Travel Info section for detailed information about transfers to and from the city centre.
13. Should I take a tour in Istanbul or is it better to travel independently?
Whether or not you decide to take a tour in Istanbul depends on your personal preference. While some visitors like to have a pre-arranged package or custom tour with an expert guide, others prefer to organise their trip themselves.
14. I’m a solo woman planning to visit Istanbul. Will I have any problems?
Many female travellers choose to travel to Istanbul alone, and few report any problems. Istanbul is generally a safe and welcoming city and is becoming increasingly popular with solo women travellers. See our Tips for Women to help to make your stay as problem-free and enjoyable as possible.
15. What are the best things to buy on a visit to Istanbul?
Many come to Istanbul for the shopping. While carpets are the most obvious choice, Turkey’s high quality ceramics, tiles, antiques and handicrafts are also popular and can be purchased at one of the city’s historic bazaars, backstreet markets or boutique stores. Istanbul also has a large number of modern shopping malls.
16. Do I need any vaccinations for a trip to Istanbul?
No. There are no required vaccinations for Turkey, although a typhoid vaccine is recommended for longer stays. See our section on Medical & Safety for more information.
17. How cheap/expensive is Istanbul?
Istanbul ranks at number 38 in the world ranking of expensive cities. The cost of accommodation and food is generally cheaper than in most European and North American cities, but is generally more expensive than central/eastern Europe.
18. Is alcohol available in Istanbul?
Yes. Although the majority of Turks are Muslims, alcohol is readily available in Istanbul. The national drink, raki, is especially popular, as is beer and wine of which there are many local brands. Istanbul has some of the best nightlife in Europe with a seemingly never ending supply of bars, nightclubs and restaurants.
19. What language do they speak in Turkey? Will it be hard to get by with only English?
Turkish is the official language of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Kurdish is also spoken by the large Kurdish minority. English is widely spoken in Istanbul and visitors are often surprised by the relatively high level of English spoken by most Turks. Other commonly spoken second languages in Turkey include French, Spanish and German. Knowing a few words in Turkish will be appreciated, though. See our section on Turkish Language Basics to learn some of the most important words and phrases.
20. Should I take out insurance before visiting Turkey?
Yes. Private health insurance is recommended on a visit to Turkey. Although there are a number of state hospitals, treatment and sanitary conditions are generally much better at private hospitals. See our section on Medical & Safety for further information.
21. How can I get from the European to the Asian part of Istanbul?
Although buses, metrobus and dolmus make the trip between the European and Asian parts of Istanbul, the cheapest and best way to do it is by ferry. Ferries make the trip between Eminonu and Kadiköy and Üskudar on a regular basis. Other ferries leave from Besiktas and Kabatas; more information on transportation in Istanbul can be found here.
22. What is there to do for children in Istanbul?
Children are generally revered in Turkey, and Istanbul is a very child-friendly place. The city itself provides a constant source of entertainment- from its colourful streets and inhabitants to its many resident animals such as cats, birds and even dolphins. There are a variety of sites geared towards children like Miniaturk, Toy Museum the Rahmi M. Koc Transport Museum, Istanbul Dolphinarium, Turkuazoo and Istanbul Modern. Check out our section on Tips for Parents.
23. Should you tip in Istanbul?
It is customary to tip about 10% at restaurants in Turkey. If the bill reads ‘servis dahil’, then the service charge has already been tacked on. Hamam (Turkish bath) attendants will generally expect up to 25%. It’s not usual to tip taxi drivers or barmen in Turkey.
24. What’s a Hamam, and is it worth experiencing?
A hamam is a Turkish style bathhouse, which follows centuries-old rituals involving scrubbing, massage, rinsing and sauna. Hamams are a unique and invigorating experience and remain one of the most popular activities for visitors to Istanbul. Browse our list of Hamams in Istanbul.
Do you have any other questions about Istanbul? Contact us. We will get back to you with an answer and put it here for the use of everyone.
Topkapi Palace © Aydin Sertbas
© Simona Mimmo Lilly Obino
Topkapi Palace © Yildirim Ince...
Bosphorus ©Helen Simpson
Istanbul at night by Mista Rig...
"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step" - Lao Tzu