A Comprehensive Guide for Families Travelling to Istanbul
Istanbul is one of the world’s most popular travel destinations, and it’s easy to see why. It offers a unique blend of cultural and historical riches, home to many different civilizations and sitting on two different continents. The city has a lively atmosphere that combines the past and future in a single pot, providing a sense of universal history in every step.
With more than two thousand years of history, vibrant nightlife, unique nature and culture, Istanbul has plenty of things waiting for you to discover. If you’re planning to go to Istanbul for a holiday, here’s a comprehensive guide to help you plan your trip.
Top 10 Places to Visit in Istanbul
1. Hagia Sophia
When it comes to the list of the best places to visit in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia often tops the list. As the city’s best-known landmark, Hagia Sophia should be on everyone’s itinerary. Its soaring domes and vibrant minarets dominating above the Old City attract millions of travellers who come here to discover the mosque’s 1,500 years of history. Hagia Sophia was the heart of Byzantium and the oldest structure in the Sultanahmet area.
The current structure of the Hagia Sophia is the third to be built in the area. Riots and fire have destroyed the two previous buildings. When you visit the mosque, you’ll discover centuries of Islamic and Christian history with icons of both religions displayed side by side. Some of the fascinating treasures in Hagia Sophia include the Tomb of the Princes, the Viking Alphabets, the weeping column, and more!
2. The Bosphorus River
What makes Istanbul unique is that it occupies two continents – Europe and Asia, divided by the Bosphorus Strait. One of the most popular activities in Istanbul is cruising along the Bosphorus River, which is also a great way to admire both sides of the city.
Most cruises will start slightly to the east of the famous Galata Bridge before travelling to Anadolu Kavagi, a beautiful finishing village and the entrance to the Black Sea. On some cruises, you can have lunch in this village. From here, walk uphill to reach Yoros Castle, where you can marvel at the panoramic views of the Black Sea.
You will also find a range of boat cruises departing from the ports of Eminonu, Kabatas, or Besiktas. It’s also possible to book a private boat tour for special celebrations, such as birthdays and anniversaries. The boat will make numerous sightseeing stops along the way.
3. Grand Bazaar
One of the highlights of your trip to Istanbul is shopping at the world-famous Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets, home to more than 4,000 shops. The Grand Bazaar is one of Istanbul’s top tourist destinations where you can shop for some souvenirs and everything else.
Occupying an area of 47,000 square meters, the Grand Bazaar consists of a dizzying labyrinth of streets and narrow passageways. Here, you can shop for silky shawls, scarves, antiques, traditional items, leather goods, carpets, handicrafts, and more!
While most people would come here to shop, the Grand Bazaar is not only a place for shopping. It’s a historical site where you can experience the local culture and history. The massive market is also home to a historical coffee house where you can sample the tastiest Turkish coffee cooked on a coal fire. Make sure you check out the wide selection of Turkish delights!
4. The Blue Mosque
One of the top places to visit in Istanbul is the Sultanahmet Camii or the Blue Mosque. It’s called “blue mosque” due to the intricate blue tile work covering the building interiors. Built in 1616, Blue Mosque is one of Turkey’s most fascinating buildings. It was built as an imperial show of strength, complementing the nearby Hagia Sophia, which faces the Sultanahmet Square just across the Blue Mosque.
Four elephant foot pillars support the Blue Mosque, while the central dome is surrounded by four semi-domes, making it almost a square in shape. The ceramic Iznik tiles decorating its interiors are handmade, featuring designs of different flowers, such as roses, tulips, and carnations.
It’s free to enter the Blue Mosque. But since it’s a working mosque, it is closed to tourists during prayer time. Also, there are general to follow when entering the mosque. One of these is to dress respectfully, although shawls and outer garments are available if necessary.
5. Topkapi Palace Museum
The Topkapi Palace used to be the administrative centre of the Ottoman Empire. It was used for four hundred years until the construction of the Dolmabahçe Palace during the mid-1800s. One of the best places to see in the Topkapi Palace is the Harem, the dwelling place of the mother of the sultan, his concubines, and wives.
The Topkapi Palace is truly impressive, making it one of the top places to see in Istanbul. Its walls feature exquisite tile work that looks very attractive. And if you visit during springtime, you’ll find the gardens filled with colourful hyacinths and tulips. Plus, you can enjoy panoramic views of Istanbul from here.
As you explore the palace, you will also learn about the lives of the Ottoman Sultans and see their actual clothes and accessories. You will also experience some aspects of Ottoman architecture.
6. Basilica Cistern
Basilica Cistern is the largest of all the ancient cisterns lying underneath Istanbul. Built around the 6the Century under the order of Emperor Justinian, the underground structure features more than 300 columns, many of which came from ruined temples with finely carved capitals. The cistern’s sheer grandeur is breathtaking, and its cavernous depths can make for a great respite during hot summer days.
Like most sites in Istanbul, the Basilica Cistern has a strange history. The reason behind is name is because it lies below the Stoa Basilica. The cistern’s main purpose is to serve the Great Palace and the surrounding buildings, capable of storing up to 80,000 cubic meters of water delivered through 20km of aqueducts from a reservoir close to the Black Sea.
The İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality cleaned and renovated the Basilica Cistern in 1985 and opened it to the public in 1987. It’s now one of Istanbul’s top places to visit.
7. Istiklal Street
Set within the Taksim neighbourhood, Istiklal Street is a 1.5 km stretch of pedestrian-friendly street lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes. It runs towards the famous Taksim Square, another popular spot for tourists. Istiklal is always bustling with tourists day and night, with thousands of people walking through it every day.
You’ll also find a few historical sites at Istiklal Street, such as the Hagia Triada Church, which you will recognize by its towering dome and twin bell towers. It was built in the 1880s and renovated recently. It is now the Greek Church of the Holy Trinity.
Another beautiful building you’ll find along Istiklal Street is the French Consulate building. It’s a cultural centre offering French events and festivals. You will also find the Armenian Catholic Surp Voskeperan Church right behind the consulate.
8. Galata Tower
Topped with a distinctive roof resembling a witch hat, Galata Tower is one of Istanbul’s most famous landmarks. It’s an old Genoese tower dating back to the 14th century, overlooking the beautiful city of Istanbul. One of its most distinctive features is the massive cone-shaped structure built about 38 meters above sea level.
The Galata Tower was the first tower constructed closer to the sea under the order of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 528. However, it was demolished by Latin Crusaders late on. Then in 1348, the Genoese constructed a beautiful tower on the site known as the Tower of Christ.
The Galata Tower is now considered one of the top places to visit in Istanbul. Most tourists would come here for the observatory deck, which has a 360-degree view of Istanbul. There are two elevators at the entrance taking you to the top.
9. Dolmabahçe Palace
Featuring European Baroque style architecture, the Dolmabahce Palace Museum is one of Istanbul’s most magnificent buildings, situated at the banks of the Bosphorus. It used to be the residence of the last six Ottoman Sultans, including Ataturk, who founded the Turkish Republic.
Glass and crystals are the palace’s main features. It has beautiful staircases made of marble. You will also find giant crystal chandeliers, lush carpets, and British candelabras all over the palace.
Unlike the Topkapi Palace, the Dolmabahce Palace is a single large building with several pavilions and a sprawling garden surrounding the main building. It has high walls on the land side with two main gates, while the seaside entrance has five ports.
10. Sultanahmet Square
Also called the Hippodrome Square, Sultanahmet Square is a famous square in Istanbul. It’s often full of life and lined with historical sites within walking distance away from each other. The bustling square is fun to explore on foot, where you’ll find restaurants, shops, cafes, and a few attractions.
Nowadays, Sultanahmet Square is one of Istanbul’s most popular sites to meet and a good starting point for exploring the many sights nearby. It also has a historical significance, built around the III Century AD under the order of the Byzantine Emperor.
Top 10 Places to Eat Out in Istanbul
1. Spago by Wolfgang Puck
Set on the rooftop of St. Regis Hotel, Spago offers a modern and seasonal menu with exceptional service and stunning views. The restaurant was the first international branch of Wolfgang Puck’s flagship restaurant. Aside from the sumptuous dishes, the restaurant menu also features an extensive wine list of more than five hundred outstanding selections.
Spago opens to stunning views of the Bosphorus Strait. Indulge in refreshing cocktails or choose from the extensive wine list while soaking up the golden sunset. The best dishes on the menu are locally inspired, such as the sautéed cauliflower served with almonds and raisins. If you are craving home comforts, head to the sushi bar, which serves some of the best sushi in the city.
2. Nicole Restaurant
In the Beyoglu District, you will find Nicole Restaurant, which offers contemporary Mediterranean cuisines served on a charming terrace overlooking the panoramic views of the Prince Islands, Istanbul’s historical peninsula.
The name “Nicole” came from Mother Agnes Martha Nicole, who healed several patients until the early 20th Century when the building was a Franciscan Monastery. The building now houses Nicole Restaurant, one of the top places to eat out in Istanbul. The restaurant’s wine cellar is impressive and includes chateau-style local wines from the Anatolia, Thrace, and Aegean regions.
3. Râna Meyhane
Formerly called Topaz, Râna Meyhane serves authentic Ottoman and Mediterranean cuisines. The restaurant overlooks the Bosphorus Strait with a very serene and relaxing atmosphere, while the interior features a blend of traditional and modern decors.
Râna Meyhane has two wasting menus – traditional and modern. The traditional menu includes classic dishes like ravioli with beef cooked in strained yogurt. Meanwhile, the modern menu consists of innovative dishes, the most popular being the goose liver terrine served with cranberry marmalade and walnut.
4. Pokémate Restaurant
If you find yourself craving Hawaiian dishes, head to Pokémate Restaurant, a fantastic Hawaiian restaurant offering guests an incredible sushi experience you won’t find anywhere else in the city. You will find the restaurant in the neighbourhood of Nisantasi, within walking distance of Taksim Square.
Pokémate is named after “poke” a world-famous Hawaiian dish where three large sushi rolls are served open on a plate. The restaurant also offers the option to cook your own healthy, delicious, and fresh poke bowls.
5. Queb Lounge 360 Sultanahmet Restaurant
Queb Lounge 360 treats diners to delicious meals and drinks on its beautiful terrace surrounded by panoramic views of Istanbul. It’s set inside the Byzantium Hotel and doubles as a restaurant and cafe.
The restaurant is close to some of Istanbul’s famous sites, the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. It’s an ideal place to relax and enjoy delicious meals after a day of exploring the city. Featuring modern and aesthetic interiors, with a great location, you can enjoy your meals while surrounded by the panoramic views of the Bosphorus.
6. Kinaliada Teos Beach Restaurant
If you’re visiting the Princes’ Islands, drop by the Kinaliada Teos Beach Restaurant, one of the top places to eat out in Istanbul. Teos Beach is a popular beach club in the Kinali Islands, one of the islands that make up the Princes’ Islands.
Kinaliada Teos Beach Restaurant is a Greek-style restaurant offering an excellent dining experience. Enjoy delicious meals while surrounded by stunning sea views. The restaurant operates as a beach restaurant during the day and a club in the evening, offering live music and entertainment.
With a motto of “Food for the Soul”, Banyan Restaurant serves up delectable Asian fusion fares. It’s the best place to enjoy healthy cuisines with Asian roots, which you can enjoy on the top floor of a historical building, surrounded by striking views of the city.
The menu features popular Asian dishes like duck satay, Sichuan pepper steak, and several dim sum varieties. Enjoy your meals with refreshing cocktails, fresh juices, or tea. Whether dining outdoors or indoors, you are guaranteed to enjoy this beautiful Asian restaurant.
8. 360 Istanbul
If you’re looking for a luxury dining experience, 360 Istanbul is the best restaurant to visit. Featuring 360-degree views of Istanbul, this high-end terrace restaurant has excellent offerings on its menu, with dishes suitable for every taste. Aside from the delicious meals, guests are treated to fun evening entertainment, including extraordinary shows.
Located on the top floor of the historic Mısır Apartment building, 360 Istanbul is popular among tourists looking for a great place to relax while on holiday. Featuring a fusion of Turkish and International cuisines with an excellent wine selection, 360 Istanbul is definitely one of the top places to eat out in Istanbul.
Oligark is one of the newest culinary hotspots in Istanbul. It’s a dining complex featuring four restaurants and a winter nightclub. Thanks to its location right across the Bosphorus, you are guaranteed spectacular views as you enjoy delectable meals and refreshing drinks. Whether you are in the mood for Mediterranean cuisines, Turkish specialities, or international fares – you will find them all here!
After enjoying your meals, hit the trendy nightclub and dance to your heart’s content! But make sure you dress up when going to this place since there is a strict dress code.
10. Seven Hills Restaurant
Located close to Sultanahmet Square, the Seven Hills Restaurant is one of the best places to eat out in Istanbul. Located in the heart of the city, the restaurant is on the rooftop of the Seven Hills Hotel and overlooks the stunning views of Istanbul’s historic peninsula.
The menu features a combination of Turkish cuisines and international dishes, but the most popular are those made from freshly caught fish from the Sea of Marmara. Featuring spectacular views of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, the Seven Hills Restaurant is also one of the most Instagrammable spots in the city.
Things To Do as a Family
1. Cruise along the Bosporus
One of the most popular things to do in Istanbul with the family is to cruise along the Bosporus. Hop aboard a private boat or ferry and enjoy the sights of the city from one of the world’s narrowest straits, the Bosporus. Given the abundance of sightseeing spots by the strait, adults and kids will enjoy this fun activity.
You will have plenty of options for the cruise. The local Department of Transportation runs the Şehir Hatları passenger boat services along the river, while many other private operators offer cruise trips and sightseeing excursions to tourists. Sit and relax as your cruise traverses along the river, passing the landmark-filled skylines of Bebek, Ortakoy, and Golden Horn. The most popular terminal departs from Eminönü.
2. Marvel at the Lovely Sea Creatures in Istanbul SEA LIFE
Kids will have a blast at Sea Life Aquarium Istanbul, where they will witness a wide variety of marine life, from turtles to sharks, whales, and piranhas. As the fifth largest aquarium in the world, Sea Life Aquarium Istanbul is home to a wide variety of sea creatures and has one of the largest collections of sharks in Europe.
There’s so much to see and discover at the Sea Life Aquarium. At the interactive rock pools, kids will have a chance to touch starfish and crabs. Stroll through the 83-meter-long underwater Ocean Tunnel, marvel at the giant seabed display, and feel like you’re on the ocean yourself! The other exciting attractions worth checking out are the Turtle Hospital, thematic zones, and the Digital Aquarium.
3. Visit a Miniature Park
One of the best things to do as a family in Istanbul is to visit Miniaturk, a fantastic open-air museum showcasing a miniature version of Turkey’s famous landmarks and architectural monuments. Also known as the “Miniature Turkey Museum,” Miniaturk is an ideal place for little ones who want to learn more about Turkey and its history.
The park sits on an area of 60,000 square meters, at the far end northern coast of the Golden Horn. It also houses the Panorama Victory Museum and the Istanbul Crystal Museum, a 3D museum featuring crystal glasses, lights, and high-tech laser technology.
4. Have Fun at the Istanbul Toy Museum
At some point in the history of Turkey, the İstanbul Oyuncak Müzesi used to be a famous toy shop selling all kinds of classical Turkish toys and dolls. Located in the neighbourhood of Göztepe, on the Asian side of Istanbul, it was later converted into a toy museum, showcasing more than 4,000 different toys, puppets, and miniature sets collected from more than forty countries for twenty years.
İstanbul Oyuncak Müzesi offers you and your little ones great insights into the history of toys, with many of its collections being antiques dating back many centuries. The museum was established in 2005 by Sunay Akın, a Turkish poet and novelist.
5. Play at the Legoland Discovery Center
Take your kids to a world of fun and creativity at the Legoland Discovery Center. It’s an indoor area for entertainment and education located inside the Forum Istanbul Shopping Mall. Ideal for kids aged 3 to 10, it’s an ideal place to hone the creativity of your kids and spend quality time with the family.
Families visiting the Legoland Discovery Center will have plenty of fun attractions to enjoy, including access to indoor attractions. You will see iconic buildings made from Lego bricks, and kids can have fun at the rides and the Lego 4D cinema. If your kids are fond of Lego, they should check out the Model Builder Academy and learn tips on how to build a Lego masterpiece.
6. Ride the Rollercoaster at Isfanbul
If your kids are into thrilling rides, take them to Isfanbul, a massive complex home to a theme park, shopping venues, and entertainment areas. One of the park’s highlights is the Nefeskesen rollercoaster, which can run to a speed of 110 km per hour in only three seconds! For families who are brave enough, riding this roller coaster is a must!
Aside from the roller coaster rides, you can enjoy many other things in Isfanbul with your little ones. The complex also serves as a shopping, entertainment, and exhibition venue, and the shopping center is home to an indoor zoo called the “Jungle,” where the kids can have fun while the adults shop around.
7. Watch Dolphin Shows at Istanbul Dolphinarium
Your kids will surely be thrilled by the thought of seeing dolphins up close. So, take them to the Istanbul Dolphinarium, a popular theme park along the Golden Horn. As Europe’s largest indoor dolphinarium, it offers many exciting activities and attractions. Aside from watching the dolphin shows, you will have the opportunity to swim and interact with these incredible creatures!
The dolphin show lasts up to an hour, and visitors will have the chance to take photos with the dolphins after the show. And aside from the opportunity to swim and dive with the dolphins, you can participate in supportive alternative therapy, suitable for kids 3 to 16 years old.
8. Admire the Wax Figures at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum
One of the top things to do as a family in Istanbul is to visit the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum at the Grand Pera building in Istiklal Avenue to marvel at the incredible, life-size wax figures of celebrities and personalities in the field of sports, arts, and politics. There are also wax figures of Turkey’s historical and cultural icons.
Madame Tussauds has many branches worldwide, but the main one is in London. When you get inside the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Istanbul, you can get a closer look at the life-size wax replicas of some of your favourite celebrities, football players, and other personalities from Turkey.
The museum consists of different themed galleries – sports, music, science and culture, history, the leaders, and VIP party. There are about sixty wax replicas inside the museum, and some of the most popular ones include Julia Roberts, Leonardo da Vinci, Madonna, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and more!
9. Take a Boat Ride to the Princes’ Islands
After exploring all the exciting family-friendly attractions of Istanbul, you might want to escape the bustling city and visit a more tranquil place. So, hop on a ferry and enjoy a short boat ride to Princes Island, a cluster of nine islands along the Sea of Marmara.
Unlike the mainland, the Princes’ Islands have a more serene vibe, home to quaint villages of charming wooden houses. Motorized vehicles are not allowed in the archipelago, so the best way to explore is through a horse-drawn carriage. There are also fun rides for the entire family to enjoy. But if you are looking for more adventures, rent bicycles and ride through the bike paths of the islands.
10. Shop for Turkish Delights
For families with a sweet tooth, your trip to Turkey should include shopping for the mouthwatering Turkish delights! Locally known as “lokum,” these are different confections made from a gel of starch and sugar. Some of the most popular varieties have chopped dates, hazelnuts, pistachios, or walnuts bound by starch and sugar.
Shopping for Turkish Delights in Istanbul should be easy since you will find them all over the place, in different flavors and forms, and at various shops and markets around the city. Some of the most popular places to buy Turkish Delights are Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir and Hafiz Mustafa in the downtown area of Istanbul. The best part about shopping for Turkish delights is that vendors would happily hand out generous portions of these sweets for you to taste!
Safety and Security in Istanbul
Holidays to Istanbul are generally trouble-free. However, as with visiting any place in the world, visitors are advised to be cautious of their surroundings and to practice common sense when exploring Istanbul, the same way they would when visiting other major cities.
Is It Safe to Travel to Turkey
Istanbul is generally safe for tourism. It’s one of the most popular destinations worldwide, receiving around 40 to 45 million visitors each year, with the vast majority of tourists enjoying a trouble-free holiday.
Since tourism makes up a majority of Turkey’s economy, the Turkish government is working hard to provide a safe environment for foreign tourists. Thus, tourists should feel safe exploring Istanbul and other popular tourist destinations in the country, including Cappadocia and Antalya. Nevertheless, travellers are advised to remain vigilant at all times.
Tourists exploring the top attractions of Istanbul should always keep an eye on their belongings to avoid pickpocketing and street robbery. This advice should keep you safe not only in Istanbul but when travelling to other popular tourist destinations around the world.
Travelling Alone to Istanbul
The residents of Istanbul are warm and welcoming to tourists and will do everything to keep you feel safe during your visit. Whether you are travelling solo as a male or female, here are some tips to stay safe in Istanbul.
- Avoid telling anyone that you are alone.
- Purchase a local sim card at the airport upon arrival, so you will have access to the Internet at all times and be able to get in touch with your family back home. Having an Internet connection also allows you to use online maps that would come in handy when going out and about.
- Do not go out on your own after dark.
- Beware of tourist scams and strangers inviting you for a drink. Decline politely and firmly.
- Consider joining a group tour where you can meet fellow solo travelers.
Transport and Taxis Risk
In general, the public transport in Istanbul is reliable and safe. But be aware that pickpockets could happen from public transport. In fact, pickpocketing is a common concern on the various streets of the city, especially in popular tourist destinations like Taksim Square and the Grand Bazaar. So, be very careful when taking public transport and going to public places. Hold your bags tightly by your side and avoid displaying expensive stuff, such as jewellery and gadgets.
If you plan on driving around Istanbul, be aware of some local drivers who are reckless and would ignore traffic rules and signs.
Terrorism is one of the biggest concerns for tourists in Turkey. There have been a few terrorist attacks in the country over recent years. A large majority of these are between Turkish security forces and terrorist groups. It’s often likely on the borders that Turkey shares with Syria, Iran, and Iraq. However, terrorist attacks have also taken place in popular tourist sites like Istanbul over the past years.
In 2016, there was an attack on tourists in Istanbul, particularly near the Blue Mosque. In that same year, an attack happened at the Istanbul Ataturk airport that resulted in 41 casualties and more than 230 people injured.
Government travel advisories recommend that visitors avoid visiting the provinces in the east and southeast of the country because of the heightened threat of terrorism in these areas, especially in those areas close to the border with Syria.
If you decide to travel to Istanbul, stay updated with the local information regarding potential threats. Talk to locals, read the latest news, and stay informed while in the city. Make sure you follow the warnings issued by your respective foreign offices.
Scams and Mugging
The most common scam in Istanbul is when locals try to befriend tourists, asking them out for a drink or dinner and asking tourists to pay for it, which could be very expensive. Another common scam is taxi drivers tricking you into paying more and giving wrong directions.
Violent crimes could sometimes happen in Istanbul, and there were reports of tourists getting mugged and drugged and valuable items stolen. Some criminal groups would try to steal passports from tourists, so be very careful with this. If possible, leave your valuables at your accommodation when going out and about.
Health and Medical
Healthcare in Turkey has drastically improved over the decades. In fact, the country is now one of the leading healthcare providers in the world. Currently recognized as a focused-healthcare destination with modern technological advances, Turkey has welcomed thousands of foreign patients from Europe and the Middle East over the past few years.
Turkey has continuously pursued medical superiority and solid expertise in creating a foundation for patient quality care. The country’s healthcare system is working on competing with other health service providers to achieve excellence regionally and globally.
Medical Care in Turkey
Medical care in Turkey is exceptionally decent. Both private and state healthcare is highly accessible for foreigners, with private healthcare being more affordable compared to the United States and Europe.
Expats with a minimum of one-year residency can sign-up for the Turkish State Health Cover known as the Sosyal Güvenlik Kurumu. Although the monthly fees would regularly increase, it can provide coverage for the entire family and towards the cost of medical treatment at some private hospitals and cover admission costs at state hospitals.
Each village or town in Turkey has a local health centre. Locally known as the Sağlık Ocağı, consultations at these health centres are free, for as long as you show your residency permit. In the case of foreign tourists, passports. In addition, you will find many private doctor surgeries and polyclinics in Turkey that are competitively priced. These are often geared towards foreigners and ex-pats since the staff speaks good English.
Private Hospitals are also available for ambulance and walk-in emergency treatments. But they are more expensive compared to public hospitals. Tourists should verify if their travel insurance can cover them. Also, foreign residents with SGK may need to check the discounted rates for some treatments. The majority of the private hospitals in Turkey are of good quality standard and are cheaper than those in the US, UK, and Europe, with many foreign patients opting to come to Turkey for specialist operations, including plastic surgery.
Healthcare for Foreign Visitors to Turkey
The United States Center for Disease Control recommends that all foreign travellers to Turkey keep up to date with immunizations. More importantly, every visitor should have travel insurance. Otherwise, make sure you have sufficient money to pay for emergency medical visits. And although Turkey’s healthcare services are particularly less expensive compared to Europe and the United States, the cost can add up if you don’t have insurance to cover the cost.
For those with a medical condition, it’s a good idea to plan your holiday near or around a private hospital in Istanbul. Private hospitals may be more expensive but have shorter waiting times than public hospitals. Plus, the staff generally speak fluent English, unlike many public hospitals.
In case of an emergency, call an ambulance immediately. The ambulance will take you to the emergency department of a public hospital near you. You will immediately be attended to, and there will not be any charges for this. The fact that you are not a citizen of Turkey will not make a difference. Rest assured that you will be treated equally when seeking medical care as a foreign tourist in Turkey.
Spanning a vast area with seven climatic zones, Turkey experiences significant season variations from region to region. From hot and sunny summers to snowy winters, there’s a perfect month of the year for every traveller to visit Istanbul.
The hot and dry summer months are the high season for travel in Istanbul. Between July and August is the peak of the tourist season. It is when the weather temperatures hover around 30°C but can go over 40°C on some days. While it’s a great time to enjoy al fresco meals and swim at the beach, you can expect thick crowds of tourists and long queues.
Istanbul Weather by Month
The weather in Istanbul in January is typically cold, although it will not be as brutally cold as what you can experience in many other countries. While the temperature will vary in January, the afternoon averages 8°C, and nighttime temperatures can dip to 4°C or below.
Snow is common, and so does rainfall. The average amount of precipitation is 100 mm, and rain could happen over 14 days. Therefore, visitors should expect chilly and damp weather when going to Istanbul in January. Don’t forget to bring winter gear, such as a heavy coat, gloves, hat, waterproof boots, and sweaters. Due to the high possibility of rain showers, it’s worth exploring indoor attractions when you visit Istanbul in January.
The weather in Istanbul in February is somewhat similar to January. However, the temperature could go down to 3°C. Like many areas in Turkey, snow is possible, although precipitation decreases to an average of 70 mm on twelve days of the month. Witness lake-effect snow in the Black Sea and the other coastal areas in the city.
Make sure you are prepared for the winter weather when visiting Istanbul in February. Pack your cold weather attire and focus on exploring indoor sights.
March in Istanbul can be somewhat cold and wet during the early part of the month. As the month progresses, a noticeable change will occur with temperatures starting to warm up. In the afternoon, temperatures could average at 11°C. The wet weather will also subside in March, and the average precipitation is 50mm. Rain could take place over 13 days.
March is the perfect time to bring a waterproof coat, but you don’t need to bundle up with wool, scarves, socks, etc. The days will get longer, and there will be quite a bit more sun, making it feel warmer on some days.
April is the spring season in Istanbul, and you can expect more pleasant temperatures during this month. There will be light rain on some days, and precipitation averages 60mm over 11 days. But when it does rain, they are usually light showers, so there’s no need to worry about getting stuck in heavy rains. There will be quite a few lovely sunny days with blooming flowers for the entire month.
When packing for your trip to Istanbul in April, pack a mix of clothing for cool and warm days and perhaps, a rain jacket.
May in Istanbul will feel like summer, with temperatures averaging at 20°C. The possibility of rain will significantly decrease, with only 40 mm over nine days, making May one of the best times to explore the outdoors of Istanbul. And since tourist crowds will not arrive until the next month or so, you can explore with fewer distractions.
When coming to Istanbul in May, most of the clothing you will pack should be ideal for warm summer weather. Bring a pair of sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat. Consider bringing a mix of clothing, as there are days when the weather is cool, followed by hot and warm days.
June is when the crowds start pouring into Istanbul. The weather will get warmer, and the days will be longer and are hot and dry. Temperatures in the afternoon will average 26°C, sometimes reaching more than 30°C or higher. Visiting Istanbul in June would require bringing light summer clothing, including short-sleeved tops, a wide-brimmed hat, skirts, dresses, and shorts.
If you plan on going out late at night, don’t forget to bring a sweater to keep you warm. Temperatures can go down at night, averaging at 17°C. Chances of rain will significantly diminish, with average precipitation at 30mm. You can expect the areas along the coast to be wetter compared to the places inland, but a rain jacket is not yet necessary during this time of the year.
In July, the skies will almost always be blue. The weather is generally hot and is already warm enough for swimming, with temperatures averaging 21°C. In the afternoon, the mercury climbs to 28°C, although it rarely goes beyond 40°C. If you want to spend your Istanbul holiday swimming at the beach and enjoying al fresco diners, July is the perfect time to visit. Inland areas will be a bit cooler in the evening, and you may need to wear a sweatshirt or shirt to keep you warm.
July is a peak season for tourists in Istanbul. If you visit during this hot summer month, pack clothing suitable for warm weather, including bathing suits if you plan to go to the beach. But keep in mind that unless you are at the beach or pool, more conservative clothing is required when exploring Istanbul. Opt for light, loose, and comfortable clothing.
Just like July, August in Istanbul brings a lot of sunshine, with hot and dry weather. The average temperature is 28°C, but there will be quite a few days when the temperature stretches into 30°C. Chances of rain will decrease even further to just 20 mm over four days, so do not expect much for things to cool off from the rain.
August in Istanbul is about spending plenty of time at the beach, with the sea temperature averaging 22°C. Enjoy afternoon naps indoors to escape the searing heat. Pack in the same way you would for July. Bring plenty of lightweight clothing and a wide-brimmed hat to keep you protected.
September brings the end of the summer season. However, the first half of the month is still hot and dry. But as the month progresses, things will cool off, with the average temperature dipping to 27°C. You can expect pleasantly warm temperatures, especially during the latter part of the month. There will be higher odds of rain, averaging 50mm over eight days.
With the temperature averaging 16°C in Istanbul in September, pack a jacket or sweater, especially if you plan on going out in the evening.
In October, the autumn season has arrived in Istanbul, and the weather will be noticeably cooler across the country. Precipitation will increase a bit, especially in those areas along the Black Sea. Rain averages 60mm over ten days. The chances of rain will be higher as the month progresses. The average temperature in Istanbul in October is 19°C, and you can expect cold and crisp days along with warmer and sunnier days on some days.
Pack a mix of clothing when visiting Istanbul in October. Bring short and long-sleeved shirts and some sweaters. A rain jacket will also come in handy.
With winter approaching in Istanbul in November, the weather will take a dramatic turn, and the average temperature hovers at 14°C. If you want to enjoy warmer and sunnier days, visit early in the month. As the month progresses, it will likely feel more like the winter season, where the weather is wet and chilly.
The average precipitation in November will increase to 100mm over 13 days. Pack a warm and waterproof coat, pair of boots, and clothing that you can layer, allowing you to easily remove it in case the sun suddenly appears.
December is one of the coldest months in Turkey, and icy winds are more common now. While snow is less likely to appear in Istanbul, the city will feel slightly chilly, with temperatures averaging around 10°C. Meanwhile, the landscapes of Anatolia and Eastern Turkey will be dusted with a blanket of snow.
There will be an average of 100 mm precipitation over 17 days, so bring an umbrella when going out and about. Pack clothing that can help to ward off the cold and the damp, such as a waterproof coat, boots, gloves, and scarves.
Best Time to Visit
Since Turkey experiences cold winters and hot summers, the spring and fall seasons are the best time to visit the country. These seasons fall between April and mid-September through mid-November. During these months, the skies will most likely be sunny while temperatures are pleasant. Crowds will already start to arrive but will not be overwhelming. Visitors will have a better chance of getting discounted accommodation and airfare.
Best Time for Sightseeing
The best time to go sightseeing in Istanbul is when the temperatures are warm but not yet extremely hot. It is also a good idea to travel outside of the tourist season if you plan to go sightseeing in Istanbul. That way, you won’t have to worry about the tourist crowds getting in the way.
Spring is the best month to visit the country, especially in April, just before the temperature gets too high and the flowers burst into full bloom. Regardless of the season, except in winter, plan your visit early in the morning when sightseeing. For the best experience, visit during the opening hours or late in the day.
Best Time to Cruise the Bosphorus
Cruising the Bosphorus is one of the best things to do in Istanbul, and the best time to do this is in May, when the temperatures are warm. Dolphins will also appear in the river during this time, which makes for an even more exciting experience.
The early days of September are also a great time to cruise the Bosphorus, where tourist crowds start to dwindle, and the chilly winter gusts are still several weeks away. But if you want to go cruising in the Bosphorus during winter, be prepared for possible cancellations. Plan to come early in the morning, as there’s a higher chance of decent weather conditions.
Best Time to Go Shopping
With its chic boutiques, massive open-air markets, not to mention the incredible maze of stalls at the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul is an ideal destination for shopping. The Grand Bazaar has sixty streets, home to more than five thousand shops selling everything you can think of – from ceramics to carpets, antiques, jewellery, spices, and more!
Autumn is the best time to enjoy shopping in Istanbul when vendors do not have as many customers as they used to have in summer. Therefore, they would be open to bargaining. Shop early in the morning or before closing to get a good bargain. In general, malls and stores in Istanbul offer winter and summer sales. The winter sales will start just before Christmas and run until early January, continuing until their inventory runs out. Meanwhile, summer sales will kick off around the first week of July.
Best Time to Go to the Beach
The best time to visit the beaches of Turkey is in summer, especially between July and September. During this time, the weather is usually hot and dry. Temperatures along the south coast could reach the mid-30s, and sea temperatures are warm enough for swimming. September is also a wonderful time to visit Istanbul for honeymooners.
Best Time for Snow
Istanbul does not always receive much snow during the winter season. If you want to experience snow in Turkey, go to the northern areas, such as Kartalkaya, and into the Koroglu Mountains. Skiing is possible in these areas between December and March when the depth of snow can reach almost ten feet!
Turkey Travel Seasons
The High Season for tourists in Istanbul is from May to September. During this time, the weather is hot and dry, falling in the middle of summer and can go on until late spring. July and August are some of the hottest months in Istanbul. During this time, the temperatures average 30°C and can go up to 40°C or higher. While it’s a great time to go to the beach, expect to share the beach with thousands of tourists. The crowds will be thick, and queues are often long during this time of the year. Accommodation rates are also more expensive at this time, and so does the airfare.
The shoulder season, which runs from April to mid-November, is a good time to visit Istanbul, with April the best month during this period as the colorful flowers are in full bloom. While many tourists would visit Istanbul during this time, the crowds are not too overwhelming. The temperatures, especially in April until early October, are likely comfortable. The shoulder season is also a wonderful time to take advantage of discounts on airfare.
The low season in Istanbul is during the winter months, from mid-November until March. It usually starts in November, when the weather makes a significant turn and brings in chilly temperatures with the possibility of snow and rain. It’s also the best time to avoid the huge crowds of tourists and long queues in many tourist areas while enjoying discounted accommodations and cheaper airfare. Make sure to pack appropriately for the cold, wet weather. Bring a warm and waterproof coat, hat, and a pair of waterproof boats.
What To Wear
When deciding what to wear in Istanbul, the weather is the number one factor to consider. In general, there are no strict restrictions that you should think about when deciding what to wear on your trip to Istanbul. However, it’s worth checking the weather forecast on the days leading to your trip to help you pack. So, depending on which season you plan to visit, you’ll have to keep the weather condition in mind.
While you will not have to deal with any restrictions regarding what you can and cannot wear in Istanbul, you do have to think about the footwear to pack. Since most tourist places like palaces and museums are massive and require lots of walking, including the Grand Bazaar, make sure to wear something comfortable.
What Should Visitors Wear in Istanbul?
In Istanbul, you have the freedom in terms of what to wear compared to many other countries. It’s just like any European city where you’ll not find restrictions on what to wear while going out and about.
The only thing you need to think of when packing for your trip to Istanbul is the weather condition since the city experiences all four seasons. Another thing to consider in what you will wear is the places you plan on visiting. If you’re going to cruise in the Bosphorus, the appropriate attire is smart casual. You are free to wear open-toed sandals or flip-flops if you want.
If you plan on visiting palaces and museums, you can dress casually but wear proper and comfortable shoes, since you need to walk a lot. You should also dress appropriately when visiting religious places like mosques. Men can wear long sleeves and pants, while women can wear sleeved tops and pants or long skirt. If your dress or skirt is too short, you will be asked to cover up. Women are also required to cover their heads with a scarf.
What To Wear During the Summer Months?
If you plan on visiting Istanbul during the summer months, from May to September, you could experience warm and sunny weather. It could get quite hot, so you’ll see even the locals dressed in smart casual clothes. You will see men wearing short-sleeved shirts and cotton pants or shorts. Meanwhile, women can wear shorts, casual dresses, and shirts to feel comfortable walking in the hot summer weather.
To make the most of your visit to Istanbul in summer, make sure you pack appropriately. The temperature can get really high. Men can opt for crewnecks, polos, or short-sleeved shirts to go with shorts. Pack a pair of pants so you won’t have to wear a cover-up if entering the Blue Mosque or other religious sites.
Women can wear t-shirts and casual shirts suitable for the hot summer weather. Shorts, sundresses, and leggings are also a staple for women during the hot summer season. However, unlike men, the rules for women entering religious sites are stricter. It is a good idea to bring a pair of pants or a long skirt, so you won’t have to stand in a queue to borrow a scarf at the mosque for a cover-up.
While it’s okay to wear sandals and flip-flops, it is better to wear a pair of sneakers for exploring the outdoors. There are days when the rain is very unpredictable, so it is best to wear shoes that cover up your entire feet and will not cause you to slip.
Hats will come in handy during the peak summer season in Istanbul since it can get very sunny. If you don’t want to get a tan as you explore outside, wear a sun hat. Of course, don’t forget to lather up with sunscreen.
What To Wear During the Winter Months?
In the winter, between November and March, Istanbul will be freezing. Sometimes, the cold temperatures are combined with occasional snowfall and heavy rain. Although they are not the typical freezing temperatures, since Istanbul is surrounded by water, winter in the city can get a little harsh. Therefore, make sure you pack clothes that will keep you warm when coming to Istanbul in winter.
You will need to bring layers of clothing when going to Istanbul in winter. You don’t need to bring thermal layers. But if you are not used to such low temperatures, it’s a good idea that you do so to avoid getting sick, which could spoil your Istanbul vacation.
For your winter trip to Istanbul, make sure you bring a pair of warm pants, jeans, or sweatpants. Consider packing warm sweaters, shawls, scarves, and mufflers to protect you from the harsh winter weather. Woollen long jackets and coats are also essential for your winter trip to Istanbul. Since you could experience frequent winter rain in the city, bring weather-resistant jackets.
If you are from a country that doesn’t experience extreme winters and doesn’t have winter clothing, don’t worry. You can shop for winter jackets while in Istanbul. Depending on the brand, the jackets are reasonably priced.
You also need to pack long boots for your winter holiday to Istanbul, but make sure they are comfortable enough for you. Remember, you will be walking a lot as you explore Istanbul. Sneakers are a bad idea during winter, especially since it could rain, and the streets can get slippery. Water will most likely get inside your shoes, which is very uncomfortable.
What To Wear During Autumn and Spring
Autumn and spring are some of the best times to visit Istanbul. While the weather is slightly chilly, it is not too cold. It is also not too hot, allowing you to explore in comfort. Aside from the perfect weather, the scenery during these months is magnificent.
You do not need to pack plenty of winter clothes if you visit in autumn and spring. But bring a few sweatshirts, cardigans, and jackets. In spring, you should wear semi-casual clothes, like skirts, dresses, trousers, or cardigans.
What To Avoid Wearing in Istanbul
As already mentioned, there are no strict restrictions on what you can and cannot wear in Istanbul. However, there are general guidelines that will apply. As with travelling anywhere in the world, make sure to respect the local culture. Although Istanbul is very relaxed and locals are extremely accommodating to tourists, there are things you need to be mindful of in terms of the type of clothes to wear.
Avoid wearing anything that could be religiously or culturally insensitive to avoid offending the locals. Don’t wear clothes that have religious or political symbolism that can be disrespectful or hurtful to locals. Avoid wearing flashy gold and silver jewelry in public places like Taksim-Istiklal and Grand Bazaar to avoid being a target of petty theft.
When going out and about, wear shoes comfortable for walking. Women should avoid wearing high heels, especially if walking longer, especially in Istiklal, where the streets are uneven and made of bricks.
While many people think Turkey has many restrictions being an Islamic country, you could be surprised that it is more liberated than its Arab neighbours.
About Istanbul and the People
Turkish people are renowned for their hospitality. It is this trait that makes visitors want to visit Istanbul over and over again. The locals are friendly and welcoming and will greet you with a smile wherever you go. They are also known for their excellent cooking skills and for the value they put on friendship and family.
Turkish People Have Excellent Cooking Skills
One thing tourists love about Turkey is the delicious food, thanks to the excellent cooking skills of the Turkish people. Whether whipping up a simple homemade meal or a fine-dining menu, the Turkish people have a talent for prepping up delectable meals.
Aside from their fantastic cooking stills, the Turkish people are very talented – from the traditional craftspeople to actors, singers, fashion designers, athletes, authors, and film directors.
Turkish People Are Hospitable
Hospitality is another trait that the Turkish people are known for. In fact, almost every visitor to the country will always have a story to tell about how the locals helped them or invited them into their home for a meal. When you visit Istanbul, you will find that the Turkish people find joy in helping others and are known for their generosity to people, even strangers.
Timeless Traditions and Culture
Even though Istanbul is a modern city, it retained its many cultural elements and traditions. From music to folk dances, literature, and arts – the city’s past is still well-celebrated today. And although the Turkish people give utmost importance to their culture, they know how to let loose and have a good time.
If you attend any Turkish wedding, you’ll find everyone dancing and having a great time, even the oldest grandma. In a local tavern, you’ll find Turkish people singing their favourite tunes together with street musicians.
Respect for Family and Pride in their Country
Family is important in the culture of Turkey, and the Turkish people always make sure to put family first. They are very respectful of their elders and are committed to taking care of them when they are old. Many would prefer to live with their parents until they get married and have their own families.
The Turkish people take pride in their nationality, and you can feel their enthusiasm when talking about their culture and history to others. No matter which part of the country you go to, you’ll find that locals are more than willing to tell you stories about their country, culture, and history.
Turkish People on Love and Friendship
The Turkish people believe in love and romance, soulmates, and true love. They savour the emotions that come with falling in love. You will find that many Turkish songs, whether folk or pop songs are often always about love.
Aside from putting importance on family, the Turkish people are very close to their friends and have deep respect for friendships. In Turkey, you can be certain that your friends will be by your side on the best and worst days of your life.
Turkish people are very opinionated and will not hold back from expressing their opinions. They can also be emotional. When they are happy, they will ensure that the people around them feel their happiness.
Istanbul is a big city. But the good news is that it’s pretty easy to get around to, all thanks to its excellent public transport. Perhaps, the only issue you will have to deal with is the traffic. Thankfully, there are ways to get around the heavy traffic.
The Istanbul Card
When taking public transport in Istanbul, you can rely on the Istanbul Card or IstanbulKart. It is best to purchase this from the airport as soon as you arrive since you will need it when taking public transport all over the city. You can also buy them from various kiosks in the city. It only costs 13 Lira, and you need to load some credit to it.
To use the card, scan it upon entry at the metro, bus, or ferry, and you will be charged 4.03 Lira on every journey.
Istanbul Public Transport
There are various types of public transport you can take in Istanbul to get around the city. And although you can easily walk between certain places, keep in mind that distances can be pretty long. You might think that a specific route looks walkable. But when you set off, you’ll realize otherwise!
You can hire a car in Istanbul if you prefer to drive around, but given the traffic, it’s not the best idea. Aside from the traffic, some roads can be bad and local drivers tend to beep constantly, enough to drive you crazy. So, save yourself from all the stress. Take public transportation instead.
Taking Taxis in Istanbul
Taxi is a convenient way to travel around Istanbul. Unfortunately, hailing a taxi in the city can be tricky. Taxis will not always stop on the street and are often almost full. And if you can get a taxi to stop, the next challenge is communicating with the driver to tell him where you want to go. You may also need to negotiate the rate, as some drivers won’t be willing to take you on a metered rate.
Taxi drivers should take anyone anywhere. Unfortunately, drivers will prefer to take tourists who will go farther since they want to earn more. They do not want to be stuck in traffic on short journeys for a very affordable fare. It’s pretty understandable, but that can be annoying for tourists.
But if you have no choice but to take the taxi, choose the yellow, marked taxis. Ask the driver how much you are expected to pay to your destination, even if they will go by meter. It’s a good idea to ask ahead how much to pay so you will not have to pay more once you get to your destination.
There are two kinds of buses in Istanbul – regular and faster metro buses. You will not find any buses in the middle of the city, such as in Taksim and Besiktas. But you can take the bus to get you to the European side from the Asian side and back. They are more common in the outskirts, such as Zeytinburnu, Yenibosna, etc.
Since regular buses are easier to use and find, they are your best bet when taking buses in Istanbul. They will have a sign on the front on where they are going, including a list of the main stops.
The only problem with buses in Istanbul is that they could get stuck in traffic and can be very busy, especially during weekends. Despite this, they are the cheapest and easiest way to get around the city. Buses also run until the early morning hours.
Using The Metro in Istanbul
Taking the metro train is the fastest way to get around Istanbul. There are several lines, but the two main lines can take you where you want to go. While it does not cover the entire city, it does cover the main parts of it, including Taksim, Levent, etc. Also, it connects you to the far reaches of the city, including the bus station in Esenler.
When searching for a metro station, simply look for the M sign with red, blue, and white colors. Scan your IstanbulKart to get in the gates, then follow the arrows to the train you need to take. Refer to the big map on the wall if you need directions on which train to take. And if you get stuck, don’t hesitate to ask one of the local commuters or the staff at the station who can point you in the right direction.
Marmaray – Europe to Asia
The Marmaray is a metro service that will take you to the Asian side of Istanbul coming from the European side. To take this train, head to Sirkeci and you’ll find the station there. Using this train service is pretty much the same as taking the regular Metro train. However, it will be travelling through the Bosphorus and come out to the other side in Kadikoy.
Ferries In Istanbul
Another way to get to Asia from Europe and back is to take the ferry. Taking the ferry is a fun and scenic way of travelling around Istanbul as it crosses the Bosphorus Strait. The ferries will run from various points, such as Besiktas, Eminonu, and Kadikoy, and usually leaves every 15 to 20 min.
You can use the ferry service the same way you would with the other public transport in Istanbul, which is by tapping your IstanbulKart upon entry. While ferries can get very busy during peak hours, they are rarely packed, so they are a more convenient way of getting around Istanbul.
Another popular mode of transportation for tourists to get around Istanbul is to take the tram. While trams don’t cover the entire city, it’s a great way to get to Sultanahmet from Besiktas without having to walk.
The tram line begins in Kabatas, down a steep hill from Taksim and Besiktas, going as far as Bagcilar. There are 31 stops along the way, and you can use the tram the same way you would in the metro. But, trams can be quite busy during rush hour, especially since it travels to the city’s main tourist areas. The tram runs from 6 AM until 11 PM.