I am a member of a female traveler group and have foreign friends, my friends have foreign friends hence I am often hearing the question “So what should I know about İstanbul; any tips, tricks, useful information?”. I think I can write a book about this, but a blog post is enough for a start.
1) İstanbul is a VERY big city. Surprise!
There is always traffic and it is not always easy to navigate so do your homework in advance in order to save time and to not get lost. Also do not always count on the people you see on the street to ask an address, as I have said it is a very big city and many people knows about their own neighborhood only so they might end up giving you completely wrong directions.
2) Airport shuttle is the best way to get to the city center. This applies for both airports. It is not really expensive and there is a bus every 30 minutes.
You can also get into the metro at İstanbul Atatürk Airport but I do not find it logical as you need to change station/line for several times, which is not convenient after some hours of flight.
3) There are two passport control points at the arrival corridor of İstanbul Atatürk Airport so just walk to the other one when you see an endless queue.
4) If you are likely to use public transportation, better have an İstanbulkart. The card costs 6 TL and you need to load money separately. You can use it for boarding buses, funiculars, subway, ferryboats and trams and oh no, you can not pay cash on any of these. Sorry Bob, but you need the card this time.
It is also possible to get a token for metro and tram but you may find yourself in long queues in touristy areas.
Hint: If you do not have the card but desperate to take a bus, just ask from a local at the bus stop and they will just help you out. For sure. Without asking the cost in return.
5) You can find pretty much everything 7/24 in İstanbul. This city literally never sleeps.
6) Public transportation does not work after midnight (yes, i kind of lied at #5). The good thing is, there are taxis everywhere and you can literally find a taxi anytime anywhere. The bad thing is you will most likely be overcharged because you are…a…tourist….
7) Bargain hard like there is no tomorrow, especially at the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar. Yes, you will be overcharged, a LOT. And bargaining is a recognized part of Turkish shopping culture so do not hesitate to use it when necessary.
8) There are several free Wi-Fi zones in the historical town but connection speed is not always satisfying. Just go to a cafe or restaurant instead, these are the sources of lovely fast free Wi-Fi in İstanbul. Even if it is a secured connection, just ask for the password.
9) There is no China Town on the Asian side. I am writing this down as I met a person who looked for a Turkish China Town for several hours. People nowadays…
10) It is very common to offer tea or coffee. Anywhere. Anytime. Also many of the cafe/restaurants serve tea or coffee for free after the meal.
11) İstanbul is not a very vegan friendly city so it is better to check out places where you can find proper vegan/vegatarian menu before starving to death.
12) That man you will hear for 5 times a day is müezzin and those screams you hear is the call for the prayer.
13) Turkish taxi drivers are mad. Period. But I definitely recommend a dolmuş ride from Kadıköy to Beşiktaş (or Taksim), especially at night. You will get a great Bosphorus view while adrenaline comes out of every single cell of your body.
14) “Personal space” is not part of our culture so get ready for the eye contact, hand shake, hugs and kisses. We express our feelings with our gestures. Even when it is too much, it is not actually too much.
15) The food is great. And cheap. If you know where to go. Avoid touristy places at any cost.
16) Most of the tourists goes to Galata Tower to get a panaromic view and panaromic views never comes for free. Visit Galata Tower without going up, then walk down little bit where you will find Galata Konak Cafe where you can find pretty much the same view FOR FREE. Spend your money for a cup of tea of coffee.
17) Our streets are full of stray cats and dogs. They are mostly fed by the local people and enjoying their time.
18) Add Ortaköy to your must-visit list. İstanbul is a lot more than Beyoğlu and historical part.
19) Turkish drivers have a secret car honk language so do not be shocked when you hear endless car horns.
If it lasts for more than 20 seconds, then it means something very very bad.
20) Tipping is not a must.
21) You cannot smoke indoors in İstanbul but no worries, almost all of the places come up with a solution for this so you can poison yourself anyway you like.
22) No, İstanbul is not the capital of Turkey.
23) You might need to deal with language barries as English was not favorite subject of many İstanbulites. But if you need help, people will help you. Whether they understand what you are saying or not.
24) Ferryboats are part of our daily public transpoartation journey, and they are probably the best ones among other options. You get fresh air, great view, hot cup of tea and blue blue Bosphorus. If you can not afford a Bosphorus tour, just take the ferry. You will not miss much. The local procedure is to buy a simit in advance to feed the seagulls.
I will definitely continue with this list when I am less distracted and tired. If you are planning a trip to İstanbul, you know who to contact!