Nuts-and-bolts information to plan your trip, plus a checklist of essentials to include when you pack and a list of links to local media
Entry Requirements: U.S. citizens need a valid passport; visa ($20) purchased upon arrival.
Security: Istanbul is generally quite safe; however, pickpockets target tourist areas and crowded places such as ferry terminals and ticket lines. Keep handbags and camera bags in front of you and wallets secured. Accepting offers of free tea or refreshments in shops and bazaars is normal and even expected, but friendly strangers offering drinks outside these circumstances (especially invitations to bars), can be a ruse to extort cash or “drug-and-mug.” Not common, but it does happen.
Getting There: Local and international airlines fly to Atatürk International Airport (European side), or Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (Asian side). From airport: Taxis, Havaş shuttle bus, hotel shuttles.
Time: Istanbul is seven hours ahead of U.S. eastern standard time.
Money: The Yeni Türk Lirası (YTL, New Turkish Lira) dropped six zeros in 2005. Prices are sometimes quoted in “millions” out of habit, but million bills are no longer legal tender. Check the Turkish Central Bank for current exchange rates.
Phone Calls: Istanbul has two city codes—212 on the European side and 216 on the Asian side. Dial 0 before local mobile numbers or other area codes. International calls require 00 before the country code.
When to Go: Avoid July-August tourist rushes and heat waves (topping 115°F/45°C). April to mid-June is balmy, with occasional rain. Sunny and mild mid-September through November. Winters are typically rainy or snowy.
Getting Around: Ubiquitous yellow taxicabs cost $1.42 plus $1.00 per half mile. Make sure the meter is running. Rates increase by 50 percent after midnight, indicated by meter flashing “gece” (night) rather than “gündüz” (day). Tipping cab drivers is uncommon. Spotless Metro connects major shopping areas; inclined railway and tramways cover downtown and historic district. Bus services abound; dolmuş (shared vans) pack up to 8 people, stopping anywhere along designated routes. Quickest travel is by water via ferries across the Bosporus, Golden Horn, and Sea of Marmara.
Tips: “Pack for function, but don’t forget style,” advises Kathy Hamilton, culture reviewer, TimeOut Istanbul. “Blending in among both the modern and traditional crowds will make you more a part of the Istanbul adventure.”
Passport/Visa Photocopies: Leave original in a secure place, such as hotel safe. Keep a copy on hand.
Toiletries: Most over-the-counter medicines are inexpensive and available. Pharmacy hours are 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday with only one 24-hour “nöbetçi eczane” (on duty pharmacy) per neighborhood (location changes weekly). Pocket-pack tissues and wet wipes are invaluable for public toilets.
Sturdy, Fashionable Footwear: Steep hills, cobbled lanes, and uneven pavement make Istanbul an urban adventure. Rubber-soled shoes are a must, and will be more versatile if fashionable. Socks are useful for mosques, where shoe removal is required.
Conservative Clothing: Istanbul is Western in attire, though neighborhoods range from conservative to couture. Clothes should be modest but fashionable. Even during hot summers, above-knee shorts are conspicuous. If you prefer it short, opt for a miniskirt instead. Pedal pushers are common for women; most men don’t wear shorts, though below-knee cargo shorts are sometimes seen. “Dressing for dinner” is common for nighttime events—a shift and a shawl for women, a long-sleeve linen shirt and chino trousers for men.
Lightweight Shawl for Women: Nights become cool and windy once the sun sets. A shawl is also useful for covering your head in mosques; some mosques frequented by tourists no longer require it, but most do.
Forget Traveler’s Checks: Finding a place accepting traveler’s checks will consume more time than it’s worth. Instead get cash from ATM with a credit or debit card. Be sure to notify your bank when you travel overseas to avoid having your account frozen due to “suspicious” activity.
Foreign resident’s guide to culture, destinations, and bureaucracy. Events calendar, local entertainment listings, shopping directories. www.mymerhaba.com
Turkey Travel Planner
Active bulletin boards reveal up-to-date travel facts, answers to cultural questions. www.turkeytravelplanner.com
Official city portal. Nightlife, conventions, hotels, dining, tours. English-Turkish dictionary. www.english.instanbul.com
Lodging database searchable by area, includes historical hotels and guesthouses. www.istanbulhotels.com
Ministry of Tourism, Republic of Turkey
City guide with art, culture, literature. Streaming videos of Istanbul’s churches, mosques, and palaces. www.turizm.gov.tr
Award-winning site provides general information, metro-specific news, live traffic webcams, 360-degree city views. www.ibb.gov.tr/en-US/Pages/Home.aspx
City guide focusing on museums, mosques, and palaces. Includes historic photographs of the city. english.istanbul.gov.tr
All About Turkey
Extensive listings for Istanbul attractions by a Turkish tour guide. www.allaboutturkey.com/istanbul.htm
History and images of Byzantine Eastern Orthodox churches in Istanbul. www.ec-patr.org/afieroma/churches/index.php?lang=en
Turkish Jewish Community
Directory of local synagogues open for public visits and services. www.jewish-europe.net/turkey/en/synagogue.htm
Hurriyet Daily News
Formerly Turkish Daily News; country’s first English-language daily newspaper, designed for foreigners living in Turkey; national and international news coverage with diplomacy, finance, weather, sports, and variety of opinion columns by native and foreign experts. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/
Newest entry in English-language daily field, also intended for foreigners; published by well-funded independent gazette Zaman. International and national news, business, arts, travel, sports, Turkish press review, and expat’s page. www.todayszaman.com/tz-web
Local English-language edition of worldwide culture guide franchise. Targets an under-30 audience, emphasis on nightlife and hot spots. Irreverent monthly coverage of personalities, trends, dining and entertainment, and gay-friendly venues. Maps. www.timeout.com/istanbul/
Bimonthly city directory with features. Neighborhoods, dining and entertainment, extensive listing of restaurants, hotels, travel services, and other practical advice. Maps. www.theguideistanbul.com
Glossy triannual magazine for connoisseurs of Turkish culture, favors enduring attractions and architectural restoration. Recent guide to Istanbul is a collector’s item. Erudite, quiet advice illustrated by masterful photographers. www.cornucopia.net
Nat Geo Traveler All Access
Available in print and for iPad®! See destinations come alive with 360-degree photos, videos, and more!