Istanbul Travel Guide: Travel Tips, Best Places To Visit

Istanbul Travel Guide: Travel Tips, Best Places To Visit

Located right at the intersection of West and East, Istanbul is a unique city with thousands of years of history and culture. The city’s rocky past resulted in the fusion of cultures, religions and ethnicities like nowhere else. The blend of Christianity and Islam, Europe and Asia, ancient ruins and modern architecture make Istanbul a one-of-a-kind experience for everyone. In today’s Istanbul travel guide, we will dive into the most popular attractions, learn about local cuisine and explore expert tips. 


When Is the Best Time to Visit Istanbul?

Istanbul has a mild climate and the weather does not fluctuate too much throughout the year. However, the months of July and August tend to be too hot and humid for most people which is why it is recommended to plan your trip for April, May or June. If you prefer to travel during the off-season, consider booking your tickets for September or October. The temperatures are comfortable (21°C or 70°F) yet not warm enough to spend days sunbathing and swimming in the ocean. In the winter, the temperatures drop to 10°C (50°F) or even lower so pack accordingly.

Best Time to Visit in Istanbul

Airports in Istanbul

Istanbul is home to two large airports: Istanbul Airport and Sabiha Gökçen Airport. Istanbul Airport is an international harbor that is located 40 km (25 miles) away from the city itself so be ready for a long journey. Presuming you are staying somewhere around the central area of the town, a taxi ride will cost you around $20. You can also take a bus which is a much more affordable option as the ticket costs only $3.6 but the journey will take at least 1.5 hours. Another option involves taking a train ride for only a dollar to the end station in Kâğıthane and hopping on a taxi for the rest of the journey. Keep in mind that the train operates from 6 am to 12 am every day, whereas the bus and taxi are available 24/7.

The second international airport near Istanbul is Sabiha Gökçen Airport which is located nearly 50 km (31 miles) away from the city. A taxi ride from this airport will cost you even more, around $25, while the bus ticket is $5 per person. Beware that the bus runs from 4 am to 1 am so you might have to wait at the airport or take a taxi if you arrive at night.

Istanbul Airport in Istanbul

How Many Days to Stay in Istanbul

Istanbul is a large metropolis with 15 million residents and rich history that dates back centuries. In fact, it’s the 15th largest city in the world and the biggest in Europe. Its lengthy and rocky history makes it an endless pit of landmarks, museums, ancient buildings and ruins and much more. If you want to have ample time to visit at least the top tourist attractions, consider staying for no less than 4 days. 

How Many Days to Stay in Istanbul

What to Eat in Istanbul

Turkish cuisine is world-wide famous and made its way into almost every country. However, tasting authentic Turkish dishes prepared with local ingredients is a different experience. Let’s explore the local cuisine and dive into our food guide in Istanbul

Döner Kebab in Istanbul

The most beloved dishes include döner kebab, sliced meat served with onions, tomatoes and yogurt and rolled up in flatbread. Another local delicacy is a pide, a Turkish equivalent of pizza made from flatbread, ground meat and vegetables. You should also try kumpir, a baked potato stuffed with cheese and various toppings like veggies and meat. If you have a sweet tooth, don’t miss out on baklava, a pastry made with pistachios, walnuts, honey and dough. To quench the thirst after trying this extremely sweet dessert, get a cup of famous Turkish coffee or tea as well as ubiquitous pomegranate juice. 

Baklava in Istanbul

Best Attractions in Istanbul

The city that has a lot to offer, Istanbul is brimming with mosques, museums, galleries, palaces, markets and more. In this section, we will explore the Istanbul guide for the must-see tourist attractions. 


Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)

Hagia Sophia is a mosque and a major historic landmark in Istanbul. Ordered by Constantine I in 325, the mosque underwent numerous alterations since then, due to fires, earthquakes and political changes. The building was repurposed as a museum in 1935 but became a mosque again, only a couple of years ago. The mosque is a unique architectural and artistic masterpiece that is definitely worth your time. Here, you can explore 8th-century old mosaics, 9th-century depictions of saints, 6th-century gates and more. 

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

Since it is a working mosque once again, entry is free of charge for everyone. Keep in mind that you need to dress respectfully and take off your shoes when entering the premises. 


Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet)

Right next to Hagia Sophia, you can visit the Blue Mosque also known as Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Erected at the beginning of the 17th century, this landmark is protected by the UNESCO organization. The nickname Blue Mosque is attributed to the interior of the building which is decorated with blue tiles. Also an active place of worship, the mosque opens its doors to anyone interested. 

Blue Mosque in Istanbul

Check the schedule at the main entrance to avoid disturbing people during their prayer hours. 


Basilica Cistern

Known for its eerie atmosphere, the Basilica cistern is the largest out of several hundred cisterns that have been rediscovered in 1545. Since the 4th century, cisterns were used as a water reservoir throughout the centuries and later fell into disuse. One of the best places in Istanbul, nowadays, it is a grand tourist attraction as well as a popular location for film shooting. Anyone can visit this underground location and immerse themselves in the world of the ancient Byzantine Empire. 

Basilica Cistern in Istanbul

The cistern opens its doors to visitors every day from 9 am to 7 pm for a ticket price of $17.5 per person. 


Topkapi Palace Harem

The former administrative center of the Ottoman Empire, the Topkapi Palace is a large museum located in Istanbul. Harem has two meanings in this context: the space where the Ottoman sultan resided as well as his family, including multiple wives. Topkapi Palace Harem is located in the second courtyard of the premises and includes imperial stables, a kitchen and residences. However, the complex comprises four courtyards that are worth exploring. Make sure you have at least a couple of hours available before entering the destination to discover various apartments, religious artifacts, majestic gardens and a lot more. 

Topkapi Palace Harem in Istanbul

The museum operates from 9 am to 6 pm every day but can sometimes be closed on Tuesdays. If you want to learn the history behind this majestic palace, consider getting a guided tour in Istanbul. 


Dolmabahce Palace

In 1856, the Ottoman sultan at the time decided to build a new palace for himself and his family and thus the Dolmabahce Palace emerged. The new palace had to be better and bigger: this palace is the largest in the whole country covering a 45,000 square meters area and containing 285 rooms. The sultan did not save money on decorations as well, the palace was built using 100 kg of gold, has the largest crystal chandelier and features paintings from world-renowned artists like Ivan Aivazovsky. The architecture is an eclectic mixture of Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassicism in conjunction with traditional Ottoman styles. 

Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul

The palace opens from Tuesday to Sunday at 9 am and closes at 4 pm. Here you can also book an Istanbul tour guide to receive detailed information about the palace. 


Galata Tower

Constructed in 528, the Galata Tower functioned as a lighthouse to watch over the nearby ships in the sea and protect the land. The tower is 67 meters (220 feet) tall and acts as a landmark and a panorama area. From the balcony, you will enjoy a breathtaking view of the city, including the Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and much more. The local legend explains that the tower top is a magical spot for couples: if a couple in love climbs to the top, they will be happy forever and get married. However, if one of them had already climbed it in the past, the direct opposite will happen. 

Galata Tower in Istanbul

The panorama view is the best around sunset time when the streets get empty during the prayer and the sky turns a gorgeous pinkish hue.


Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is often regarded as the first shopping mall in the world and holds the title of one of the largest and oldest (1455) covered markets in the world. The destination is extremely popular earning the market the title of most visited tourist attraction in 2014 with more than 90 million annual guests. Nowadays, the market is brimming with authentic handmade crafts, including carpets, lamps, ceramics, water pipes, jewelry, clothes and food. Due to its overwhelming size, you are bound to get lost a few times but there is actually a system to the chaos: the different streets are devoted to specific items. For example, carpentry can be found around Halıçılar Caddesi and jewelry on Kalpakçılarbaşı Caddesi street. 

Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

The market is open every day except Sunday from 9 am to 7 pm and hosts up to 400,000 daily visitors. 


Istanbul Archaeology Museums

The museum complex consists of three parts: the Museum of the Ancient Orient, the Archaeology Museum and the Museum of Islamic Art. The Museum of Ancient Orient was built in 1883 to preserve pre-Islamic artifacts from the Ottoman era. One of the most famous items is the 8th-century BC Hittite molding of relief with the image of the storm god called Tarhunza. The Archaeological Museum is home to collections of items documenting Byzantine and Ottoman history. The museum also holds a number of ancient sarcophagi, including the 4-century BC Alexander Sarcophagus depicting Alexander the Great himself. Lastly, the Museum of Islamic Art offers tiles and ceramics from the 12th century and on, including Seljuk, Anatolian and Ottoman eras. 

Istanbul Archaeology Museums in Istanbul

Istanbul Travel Tips

Unfortunately, traveling can involve some level of bureaucracy like getting a visa, travel insurance, sim cards and more. Let’s go through a list of important steps you need to take before coming to Turkey in our Istanbul travel tips guide. 


Plan your Trip

Istanbul is a true gem for any inquisitive tourist with a multitude of attractions to explore. Try to prepare a list of locations you want to visit and spread them across the days of your stay. Keep in mind that most palaces, museums and markets are enormous and will take a couple of hours to cover. Include lunch breaks in your schedule to indulge in the local cuisine and have time to rest and recuperate after hours of walking in Istanbul. If you feel overwhelmed by the list of places you want to see, consider booking a local tour guide to show you around. 

Plan Your Trip in Istanbul

Istanbul Tourist Discount Pass

Being a renowned tourist destination, Istanbul offers various passes to allow visitors to save some money on entry tickets and transportation. Let’s take a look at one of the best Istanbul tips for tourists, discount passes can help you cut costs by a significant amount. 


Istanbul Museum Pass

If you are a museum enthusiast and have already marked a couple of museums for you to check out, this pass will save you a lot of money. This offer includes almost all the museums we have discussed, including Topkapi Palace, the museum complex, Galata tower and many others. Valid for five days, the pass is roughly $37 per person while the Topkapi Palace alone costs $26.5 to enter. 

Museum Pass in Istanbul

Istanbul Tourist Pass

The Tourist Pass offers a 75% discount to more than 75 attractions across the city for a certain amount of days. The prices range depending on the duration of the pass: 1 day costs $100 per person and the price tag incrementally goes up with each day by $10 to $20. Besides enormous discounts to the most popular destinations, including the ones in this article, the pass offers additional perks like guided tours in Istanbul, airport shuttle discounts, online support via WhatsApp and more. 

Tourist Pass in Istanbul

Istanbul Welcome Card

The Welcome Card offers up to 50% discount on entry tickets and public transportation. The pass includes tiers that differ in their prices and benefits from classic, premium, saver combo to deluxe. All cards allow for discounts at museums, guides, free public transportation rides, free tours in Turkey, Istanbul and more. Depending on how long you are staying in Istanbul and your budget, get familiar with each tier and choose the appropriate one. 

Welcome Card in Istanbul

Istanbul E-Pass

The Istanbul E-Pass is another special offer for city visitors that allows them to save up to 70% on ticket prices. The discounts can be applied to most of the attractions in this article as well as shows, cruises, guided walking tours, day trips, aquariums and a lot more. The price of the pass varies depending on the number of days chosen: a 2-day pass is sold for $100 whereas a 7-day pass goes for $158.

E-Pass in Istanbul

Travel Insurance

The government of Turkey requires visa-holding tourists to purchase travel insurance for the duration of their stay without predefined coverage. If you are a citizen of a country that has visa-free access to Turkey, you are not obligated to have travel insurance. To acquire information pertaining to international travel insurance, contact an agency in your area. 

Travel Insurance in Istanbul

Apply for an E-Visa

Even though technically US citizens are required to obtain a visa before visiting Turkey, the process of visa acquisition is simple and fast. All you need is to fill out an online application, upload images of your ID, pay a small fee and you will receive your approved visa within a few days. The document will allow you to stay in Turkey for 90 days upon the arrival. 

We have some valuable tips for determining if you require a visa to travel to Istanbul. To accomplish this, you may use the service. Just choose your passport country from the options available to discover if Turkey requires a visa for your visit. If you do require a visa, you can use the website's facilities to obtain one quickly and easily. By entering the promo code "freetour," you can receive a 5% discount on these services. It's important to note that the link provided in this article already applies the promo code automatically.

E-Visa in Istanbul

Book Accommodation in Advance

Istanbul is a large tourist hub with thousands of concurrent visitors at any time. Arriving in the city without pre-booked accommodation is not the best approach and can ruin your vacation. Make sure to reserve a hotel room or Airbnb apartment before going on your trip. The city has anything and everything: from small hostel beds to luxurious hotels. 

Accommodation in Istanbul

Don’t Forget About Cash

Although card payments are accepted in some establishments like hotels, restaurants and museums, if you want to experience the local scene, get some cash. Markets, small kiosks, street vendors, taxi drivers mostly only deal with cash payments. The conversion rate fluctuates from time to time but $10 is approximately 200 Turkish lira. Withdraw some cash from an ATM and keep a few thousand lira on you to treat yourself to a kebab or pay for a taxi ride. 

Get Cash in Istanbul

Istanbul Sim Card for Tourists

When it comes to sim cards, you have a few options. The first is to simply purchase it at the airport upon arrival. Although convenient, this is the most expensive option that you will definitely overpay for. The second is to purchase a sim card in town which will help you save up to 50% of the cost. The downside is that you have to first reach Istanbul city without any connection which can be tricky. The final option is an e-sim card which could be a middle-ground solution. 

Tourist Sim Card in Istanbul

Istanbul Public Transport

Istanbul's public transportation system is quite big and elaborate. Using the subway, you can reach almost any part of the city. There are also trams and buses that run throughout the city as well as shared taxis. Small minibusses, shared taxis can be stopped with a wave and operate across the town. There is also a public ferry that works as a means of transportation for locals and tourists. To pay the fare, purchase the so-called Istanbul Kart at any station for 25 TL which will be credited to your account. The average cost of a trip is 7.7 TL but you can also opt-in for daily or weekly offers.

Public Transport in Istanbul

Taxi Apps in Istanbul

Istanbul has access to the most common taxi apps like Uber and Cabify but also provides local services. Check out apps like BiTaksi and iTaksi to compare the prices and book more affordable rides. 

Taxi Apps in Istanbul


Istanbul is an endless source of tourism with amazing culinary locations, exquisite handmade items and friendly people. Don’t hesitate to embark on this journey and explore this astonishing city that has so much to offer.
Better Features in the App
cashless tips
Cashless Tips
cashless tips
Google / Apple Pay
cashless tips
Nearby Map