Istanbul, Turkey, famously sits astride both Europe and Asia but it often feels like it has much more affinity with the East, especially for casual visitors more used to predictable tourist experiences further west. These are some tips for visitors to minimise the culture shock and ensure that you get the best out of this ancient, varied and wonderful city.
Photo by Greenwich Photography
Visitors used to the precise, packaged and proscribed world of Western Europe may not be used to haggling but this is expected in many situations in the East. Vendors will not be disappointed if you don’t haggle since they will be getting away with charging you extortionate prices, but you will be missing the chance to lock horns with some of the best bargainers in the business and gain a real experience of the East. You will also pay less for things. Try to knock at least 35% off their opening price and don’t be afraid to walk away if their offer isn’t coming down quickly enough.
Locals and long-term expats offer one very practical piece of advice for visiting Istanbul which is; bring an umbrella. The city does bask in glorious sunshine a lot of the time but its maritime location and prevailing weather patterns mean that drizzle, drops and plain old rain frequently interrupt a day’s sightseeing. With an umbrella you can carry on regardless until the clouds part and the sun comes out again.
Taking to the sea on the Bosporus is one of the iconic experiences of Istanbul and visitors are recommended to try it, even if you aren’t that interested in the Asian side of the city. There are many companies offering hugely expensive cruises around the city but they are a complete waste of money. Local boats and ferries are constantly crisscrossing the Bosporus and they offer the chance for visitors to get on the water, experience a slice of local life and all for less than the tenth of the price of a ‘cruise’.
Another iconic experience of Istanbul is the Turkish bath. Visitors in the top end hotels may well have one included in the price of the room in which case it would be careless not to partake. Other visitors are recommended to seek one out; the best ones are those used by locals, not exclusively by tourists and will be reasonably priced.
Finally, Istanbul like any large city has its share of crime and some of it is targeted at visitors. Be wary of pickpockets in crowded areas including the main airport terminals and of unscrupulous taxi drivers, of whom the city has more than its fair share. Friendly locals in bars may be just that but they may also be drawing you into a very unpleasant scam where you will find yourself presented with a huge bill for drinks you didn’t order. Attractive young Ukrainian or Russian women are also a frequent lure. Do not be paranoid but do be aware.
Hotels in Istanbul
Average Price: €30
Average Rating: 7.1
Vica Guest House
Average Price: €40
Average Rating: 8.8
Average Price: €34
Average Rating: 8.0