1. It is very easy to travel around Istanbul via metro, tram, funicular and ferry. To get a ride, you need tokens called “jeton”. You can buy them at the stations from machines called “jetonmatik”.
2. Metro and tram use red plastic tokens. Funicular uses yellow plastic token. Ferry uses golden metal tokens. Don’t worry, “jetonmatik” at the stations will sell you the right token for the particular ride. Therefore, if you go to a “jetonmatik” at the port, you’ll always get a golden metal “jeton”.
3. Istanbul is a safe city for ladies travelling alone. Just stick to general safety precautions, you should be fine. Plus, ladies often get bigger discounts when shopping alone ;-)
4. İstiklal Avenue very much reminds me of Myeongdong (Seoul) and Calle Florida (Buenos Aires) - a long stretch of pedestrian walkway with many nice shops. Good for those who enjoy walking aimlessly, jumping from shop to shop, stopping for a cup of coffee.. you know.. simply enjoying being out and about.
5. Go to Dolmabahçe Palace early. Why? Because it is compulsory to follow guided tours to see the palace and the harem, you can’t just walk around by yourself. Each tour takes roughly 45 minutes. Only a small group of about 20 people is allowed per tour, thus the waiting line is normally long. By the way, there are separate tours for the palace and the harem. So yes, go there early so that you have the time to join both tours in one visit.
6. Do take a ferry and cross the straits to the Asian side. You’ll experience a different Istanbul - less crowded, less touristy, normal people living their daily lives. Also, stuffs there are relatively cheaper compared to the European side.
7. Topkapi Palace is a must visit.
8. Try the following Turkish dishes:
- Manti - It’s something like ravioli.
- Iskander kebab - Kebab on a plate, drenched in tomato sauce.
- Apple tea - Yummy!
- Turkish coffee - Strictly for coffee lovers.
- Aryan - Yoghurt drink. Very sour.
9. Go to Galata Tower in the morning because it requires quite a bit of uphill walk from Karaköy tram station to reach there.
10. Stuffs sold at Grand Bazaar are pretty expensive. Price tag is almost non-existent. It’s quite hard to get a good deal unless you are very good at bargaining. But it’s a nice place to go if you simply want to enjoy the atmosphere.
11. To get tax refund, you have to spend at least TRL 118 in a single receipt. Request the store to prepare the tax free form. There’s a tax refund office at İstiklal Avenue where you can get your refund immediately in cash. Remember to submit the tax form at the airport on the day you leave the country, otherwise a penalty will be charged to your credit card.
12. The locals are generally very friendly and helpful. Their English command can be quite limited though, except for those who work at tourist areas.
13. Stay at Sultanahmet (old city). Most major attractions (i.e. Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, Topkapi Palace) are within the area.
14. Shops at tourist areas normally accept both TRL and EUR. However you may suffer quite significant exchange loss if you pay by EUR. So just stick to using TRL.
15. Simply put, if you love architecture, photography and history, Istanbul is the place to be!