5 Things you should know before your trip to Istanbul

In hindsight, there are always things you wish you knew before visiting a different country or exploring a new city. But no matter how much research you do beforehand, there will always be something that surprises you.

In the hopes of better preparing you for your trip to Istanbul, here are 5 things you should know before you get there!

1. The epitome of chaos

Istanbul is chaotic. There are people everywhere, pedestrians cross highways and roads whenever they feel like it – while cars are coming at them, and there are no rules of the roads. It’s chaos.

But why is it so busy?

Perhaps it can be attributed to the population. Looking at statistics from 2019, Turkey has a total of 81.92 million people residing within its borders. Istanbul, contains 14.97 million of that total. Moreover, Istanbul has a population density of 2,523 people per square kilometer, which is far greater than Turkey’s density of 102 people per square kilometer (reference).

And to add on top of that – all the tourists that come to visit the city!

So don’t be surprised by how crowded everywhere is. It’s only once you find some place empty that you feel like you can breath again.

A crowd of people filling up the side streets of Istanbul
A crowd of people filling up the side streets of Istanbul

2. Pickpocket central

Of course, since everywhere is so busy and crowded, it makes it easier for pickpockets to prey on unsuspecting travelers and locals.

Pick-pocketing is so common that in tourist locations there are tourist police to help. I have been told that these police help tourists with canceling their credit and visa cards because of how often wallets get stolen.

Thankfully, nothing was taken from me during my trip. However, two men did follow me on two separate occasions – whether it was to steal something or for something else, I am thankful to have not stuck around to find out.

Remember to remain vigilant.

For more specific tips and tricks on how to avoid pickpockets, you can check out this link.

3. Transportation made easy

Istanbul has created a way to make public transportation easy:

The Istanbul Kart.

The Istanbul Kart is a card that you can prepay and recharge with money at kiosks in metro stations, outside of bus stations, as well as at newsstands and small shops, to use for fare payment on public transportation.

Is it worth it?

The Istanbul Kart is worth getting if you’ll be using public transportation multiple times during your stay. If you’ll just be using the public transportation once or twice, it may not be worth the hassle of buying a card.

However, if you are using the public transportation often on your trip – the card is worth your while. It not only saves you time (i.e., you don’t have to wait in line to purchase a valid pass for each trip), but it also allows you to use multiple types of transportation.

Where can I use it?

You can use the card for almost every form of public transportation, such as buses, metros, trams, and ferries.

A boat preparing to leave the dock on a warm summer afternoon in Istanbul

How much is it?

10 TL (Turkish Lira) = approximately $2 USD

Where can I get one?

You can buy an Istanbul Kart at major transit stops, such as the airport, Sultanahmet, and Eminönü.

To note
If you are planning to take the airport bus to the new Istanbul airport, you will need to load your card with approximately 20TL for a ticket (per person). Make sure to do this ahead of time so that you do not get stressed right before the bus arrives and you find that you don’t have enough money on your card. The driver will not accept cash.

4. Washrooms

Squat toilets are a thing

In Istanbul, every public bathroom has many squat toilets. But fret not for those not used to these styles of toilets! There will typically be be at least 1 Western-style toilet in each public washroom, you’ll just have to look around to find which stall it’s in.

Toilet paper

Make sure to bring toilet paper with you as most public bathrooms do not have any – even restaurant bathrooms tend to have run out. So be prepared!

Toilets are not free

Public washrooms in Istanbul are not free. However, they are typically quite cheap to get into (costs between 1 – 2 TL).

Thankfully, because of this they are typically clean as someone is looking after them.

5. How to haggle

When you visit the bazaars in Istanbul, such as the Grand Bazaar, know that the items being sold are typically being sold to you at a price more expensive than what they are worth. I have been told to haggle to at least half the price or even down to one third of the price!

A beautiful display of lamps and lights at a stall in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
A beautiful display of lamps and lights at a stall in the Grand Bazaar
Some tips for haggling:
  • Find out what locals might pay for what you want to get. This can usually be determined when shopping in other cities or in non-touristy areas. This way, you’ll have an idea of what you should be haggling down to.
  • If there is no price written on items in a shop, it is safe to assume that the shop-keeper will be charging you much more than they would a local for that same item. No price means one price for locals, one price for tourists. Haggle away! (If you are able to bring a local with you, that is the best case scenario – you might find you can get something at a much lower price than what would be offered to you)
  • Get deals when you buy bulk. Shopkeepers may be more flexible with the price if they know that they are going to be selling more goods.
  • When you walk away from a stall after unsuccessfully bargaining and the shop-keeper shouts out a lower amount that they will sell the item for, that is most likely the lowest they will sell it to you. If that price is right for you, go ahead and buy the item. If not, walk away.
  • Prices might drop at the end of the day when merchants are packing up. BUT the opposite can also be true: better deals can be found at the beginning of the day… which makes things a bit confusing. The sales people working for a shopkeeper must make a number of sales during the day to satisfy the owner of the store. So, at the beginning of the day, sellers might want to sell as much as possible to reach their quota and might give you a better chance to make a good deal – and the same goes for the end of the day.
Beautifully designed plates and tea cups on display at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
Beautifully designed plates and tea sets on display at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

Have you ever been to Istanbul? What things would you want people to know about before going? Let me know in the comments below!

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