ISTANBUL FAQ'S

How do I get from the airport to my hotel?

Beginning on April 7, 2019, domestic and international flights arrive at Istanbul Airport (Istanbul Havalimani, IATA code IST). Istanbul Airport is located approximately 27 miles northwest of Taksim Square. Istanbul Airport replaced the former international airport, Atatürk Airport (Atatürk Havalimani, IATA code ISL), located 13 miles west-southwest of Taksim Square. Turkish Airlines` main hub operates from Istanbul, and began operations at Istanbul Airport on April 5, 2019.

Sabiha Gökçen Airport is primarily a hub for charter airlines as well as for an increasing number of domestic flights. Getting into town from Sabiha Gökçen Airport, 25 miles east of Taksim, can be quite expensive (₺400 and up) or terribly convoluted (a combination of two or more of a taxi, bus, ferry, tramway, or funicular ride, depending on the final stop), unless you take the bus.

IETT (The Istanbul Electric Tram and Tünel Company, www.iett.istanbul/en) operates shuttles from Istanbul Airport to central Istanbul, including stops at Abdülhak Hamit Street in Taksim and at the Yenikapi Ferry Terminal. Fourteen buses leave Istanbul Airport daily for Taksim, and thirteen leave for Yenikapi, with the first leaving at 7:40 a.m. and the last leaving at 9:40 p.m. There are also buses leaving Taksim beginning each day at 6:10 a.m. and last leaving at 7:20 p.m.; a similar schedule is in place to the airport from Yenikapi except the first bus of the day leaves at 6 a.m. Expect a ride of 90-110 minutes to these destinations, factoring in other stops as well. These tickets cost between ₺18 and ₺25 and can be paid for using the Istanbulkart. For more information on the Istanbulkart, please read the getting around page. For more information on Istanbul Airport`s shuttle options, visit www.istanbulhavalimani.com/en/passenger/transport/public-transport.

Taxis queue outside the arrivals hall at Istanbul Airport. Only take taxis that are yellow in color. If the driver tries to convince you into going into the city with the meter off, get out of the car and find a new taxi. If need be, ask for assistance inside the arrivals hall from an airport worker. Expect to pay at least ₺150 for a taxi from Istanbul Airport. It is more economical to take the shuttle into the city.

How do I get around the city using public transportation?

There are many public transportation options in Istanbul. Nearly all of these options are overseen by the IETT and can be paid for via a plastic card called the Istanbulkart. Let us introduce you to a few of these options:

The Istanbul Metro

The Istanbul Metro (www.metro.istanbul/en) was inaugurated in 1989. As of 2019, the Metro has seven lines:

-Line M1A: Yenikapi-Atatürk Airport (line runs parallel to the M1B until it diverts at the same stop as Istanbul intercity coach bus station, marked on the map as Otogar)
-Line M1B: Yenikapi-Kirazli
-Line M2: Yenikapi-Haciosman (easiest access to Taksim Square)
-Line M3: Kirazli-Olimpiyat (Atatürk Olympic Stadium)/Basaksehir
-Line M4: Kadikoy-Tavsantepe (line runs on Asian side of Istanbul only)
-Line M5: Uskudar-Cekmekoy (line runs on Asian side of Istanbul only)
-Line M6: Levent-Bogazici Universitesi (Bosphorus University)

Most lines run every five to ten minutes during peak times. They typically begin at 6 a.m. and run their last route either at midnight or just before midnight (typically 11:50 p.m.). Fares start at ₺2.60 one-way on the Istanbulkart. If you are staying in Turkey for a long period of time, it may be more advantageous for you to purchase the 200-use social "blue" (mavi in Turkish) Istanbulkart for ₺125. You can buy the card online at bireysel.istanbulkart.istanbul/en.

The Istanbul Tram

The Istanbul Tram (www.metro.istanbul/SeferDurumlari/SeferDetaylari#tramvay-hatlari, website in Turkish and English) originally operated in Istanbul from 1860 until 1966, with electric lines operating from 1912. The Tram returned in 1990 with a `heritage line` which runs through Taksim Square to Tünel Station on Istiklal Avenue. This line is called the T2. The T1 tram line (Kabatas-Bagcilar) was the first full-scale line to open to commuters and tourists alike, in 1992. The other lines open are the heritage tram T3 (Kadikoy-Moda), running from Kadikoy station north and west to Mihrimah Sultan Mosque in Uskudar; and the regular modern electrified T4 (Topkapi-Mescid-i Selam). Tourists will most likely be using the T2 and T3 heritage trams. Fares for the Tram are the same as for the Metro, and both systems (in addition to many others) can be traversed by using the Istanbulkart.

The funicular and Tünel

The Istanbul Metro operates two funicular (füniküler) lines. The first, called F1, links Taksim Square with Kabatas station, 0.4 miles and 2 1/2 minutes away. It runs every 10 minutes during non-peak times and every 3 minutes during peak times, beginning at 6 a.m. and ending just before midnight. There is also an older line, the Tünel (F2), which has operated since 1875, linking Beyoglu station on Tünel Square with Karakoy Station on Tersane Avenue, 0.3 miles away. The Tünel is the second-oldest underground rail line in the world; only the London Underground is older. It is also operated by the Istanbul Metro. The same fares outlined previously apply to these lines as well.

The cable car

There are two cable car (teleferik) lines operated by Istanbul Metro, TF1 (Macka-Taskisla) and TF2 (Eyup-Pierre Loti). The first line connects Macka with Taksim Square, and the second connects Eyup with the Pierre Loti Cafe. TF1 begins its daily trips six days a week at 7:30 a.m., and on Sundays at 8 a.m., running until 9 p.m. (7 p.m. on Sundays). TF2 runs from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. (10 p.m. during the winter season). Fares are ₺2.30 each way and can be purchased, like other Istanbul mass transit options, with credit loaded onto the Istanbulkart.

Marmaray commuter rail

The Marmaray commuter rail service was inaugurated on October 29, 2013, replacing the former Istanbul and Haydarpasa suburban rail systems serving the European and Asian sides of the city, respectively. An underground line, which firmly connects Halkali on the European side and Gebze on the Asian side, opened to travelers on March 12, 2019. The completed line runs for 47 miles from west to east. Marmaray is administered by TCDD Tasimacilik, an offshoot company of Turkish State Railways. The following station stops may be of use to travelers:

-Kucukcekmece Station, two stations east of Halkali Station, which provides connections to the Metrobus system.
-Akvaryum Station, four stations east of Halkali Station, where the Istanbul Aquarium is.
-Yenikapi Station, on the corner of Mustafa Kemal Pasha Avenue and Kennedy Avenue, providing links to the Istanbul Metro and the ferry terminal.
-Sirkeci Station, just after Yenikapi, which is connected to the T1 tram line.
-Uskudar Station, the first station on the Asian side after crossing the Strait of Bosphorus, connected to the Istanbul Metro.
-Ayrilik Cesmesi Station, just after Uskudar, also connected to the Istanbul Metro.
-Sogutlucesme Station, just after Ayrilik Cesmesi, also connected to the Istanbul Metro.
-Pendik Station, 15 stops after Sogutlucesme, where the current high-speed service from Ankara to Istanbul terminates.

The ferry

Until 1973, if you wanted to cross to the Asian side of Istanbul from the European side, and vice versa, you had to travel by ferry. Ferries are still a popular way to travel, with 37 quays in operation across the city. IDO (Istanbul Deniz Otobüsleri, www.ido.com.tr, website in Turkish and English), operates commuter ferries between both sides of the city. The terminals on the European side are Bakirkoy, Yenikapi, Sirkeci, and Besiktas, and the terminals on the Asian side are Harem, Kadikoy, Bostanci, Maltepe, and Pendik. These stations tend to be linked to, or adjacent to, other public transport options like the Istanbul Metro, the Istanbul Tram, and the Marmaray commuter rail line. These ferries run year-round, with higher frequency in the summertime. There are also ferry options which take travelers to Bandirma and Bursa on the southern shore of the Sea of Marmara. Fares start at ₺19 for economy, ₺65 for business class, and ₺450 for first class. To buy tickets and view up-to-date timetables, visit the IDO website. (Timetables in Turkish and English.)

Buses and Metrobuses

IETT operates bus service in Istanbul. Hundreds of bus lines traverse the province, in addition to nine Metrobus lines, which operate in their own bus lanes (many segments run on the D-100 motorway) and are considered `express`. For more information on the bus lines in the IETT system, including maps, visit www.iett.istanbul/en/main/hatlar. For more information on Metrobus, visit metrobus.iett.istanbul/en.

Info on the Istanbulkart

The Istanbulkart costs ₺6 and can be bought from seventeen different tram stops (including Eminonu, Taksim, Topkapi and Uskudar stops); Bostanci, Kadikoy, Kartal, and Unalan metro stations; as well as Pendik train station. You can also buy your card online at www.istanbulkart.istanbul (website in Turkish and English). You can fill your card with cash credit online (bireysel.istanbulkart.istanbul/en), via the Istanbulkart mobile app, or at a yellow machine called Biletmatik. The Biletmatik machines have instructions written on them, in both Turkish and English. Fares for all services cost between ₺2.30 and ₺2.60 per ride. You can ride on the Metro, Tram, the Marmaray commuter line, IETT buses, the Metrobus, the funicular, the gondola, and the Tünel using the Istanbulkart.

How do I call/hail a taxi?

Taxis can be hailed from the street, although it is recommended that you allow your hotel to call one for you. If you do get one from the street, make sure it is yellow in color with a yellow light on the top (it will say TAKSI). For your own protection, make sure the meter is turned on before you depart, and hold on to your money until you get your change back; don`t pay first and expect change later. Many people have been shortchanged. Avoid the taxis around the Karakoy cruise ship port and around Topkapi Palace/the Hagia Sophia. Find a taxi rank at the closest Metro stop instead, or take public transportation, if you doubt the honesty or legitimacy of some of the cabs you see around. Fares begin at ₺4.50 and each mile will add about ₺6. Round up to the nearest lira if you want to tip your taxi driver, otherwise a tip is not needed. To ensure you find a licensed, safe taxi, consider downloading the BiTaksi app. To learn more about BiTaksi, visit https://www.bitaksi.com/en.

I will have a car in Istanbul, where can I park?

Istanbul is notorious for congested traffic, a cavalier attitude toward traffic regulations, poor signage, and a shortage of parking spaces. Basically, having a car in Istanbul is more aggravation than anything else! If you are planning on taking any day trips or touring the Turkish countryside then we suggest you pick up your rental car as you depart the city to avoid excessive rental/parking expenses.

Is Istanbul a walking city?

The best way to experience Istanbul is to wander and lose your way in the winding streets and alleys. Most of the main sites are located within a short distance of each other, particularly in the old part of the city, and the easiest way to get to them is on foot. We recommend walking when possible and using public transportation (of which there are many forms) to get around Istanbul.

Is Istanbul a dangerous city? Are there certain areas I should avoid?

Western travelers to Turkey are quite often worried about safety. Rest assured, Istanbul is a remarkably safe city. Sometimes anti-government protests occur; they usually occur in the neighborhoods of Taksim/Beyoglu and sometimes Besiktas. If you hear about protests occurring while on your trip, it is perhaps best to avoid Beyoglu while they are occurring. Also keep in mind that the Turkish police`s use of force can be indiscriminate so it`s best not to get too close to demonstrations. Protestors, on the other hand, are eager to share their grievances, and therefore, unlikely to show any hostility towards sympathetic foreign visitors. To be on the safe side, check news reports and the U.S. State Department website before your trip.

Tourists can be taken advantage of in a number of ways in and around major tourist attractions such as Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia. Keep your wits about you, put money and documents in various interior pockets in your clothes, and look like you know where you are going at all times. If you are called or beckoned by someone off the street, do not respond and keep it moving.

In an emergency, you can reach the police by dialing tel. 155. Keep in mind that English-speaking operators may not be available 24 hours a day.

Can I pay/tip in U.S. dollars?

The currency of Turkey is the Turkish lira (₺). Banknotes come in denominations of ₺5, ₺10, ₺20, ₺50, ₺100, and ₺200, while coins, called the kurus (kr), come in 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 kurus pieces. There is also a ₺1 coin. U.S. dollars are not accepted, although local prices for large ticket items (hotels, tours, carpets) are still commonly quoted in foreign currency, usually the Euro. (You will most likely be asked to pay in Turkish lira, but if you need Euros, a currency exchange desk will be able to help.)

Please be sure to have the correct currency on hand or be prepared to exchange your dollars for lira upon arrival. Currency exchange desks and ATMs can be found at the airport and many locations throughout the city. Be aware that the ATMs are often fickle or empty, so always carry around alternatives in the form of cash or traveler`s checks (which you will most likely have to exchange at the post office) for emergencies.

Note: Gratuities are a way of life in Turkey and are often expected for even the most minor service (except taxis). Try to keep coins or small notes handy.

I don't speak Turkish. Will many people speak English?

English may be spoken at your hotel and in the tourist areas, but not everywhere. German is widely understood, as many Turks have family members who live in Germany, and they may have spent time in Germany as well. English is understood with about as much commonality as German, with French, Russian, Spanish, and Italian increasingly so. We suggest you get a good guidebook and familiarize yourself with common phrases such as hello (merhaba), goodbye (hosca kalin), please (buyurun), thank you (ederim), excuse me (affedersiniz) and numbers 1-10. It`s considered basic courtesy to attempt to communicate a few words in the native language, even if it is `Do you speak English?` (Ingilizce biliyor musun?)

Note: Sarcasm can easily be misinterpreted, so you could insult someone without even realizing it. Topics that are generally sensitive include human rights, the Kurdish issue, the Armenian question and anything to do with the movie Midnight Express. NEVER make jokes about the following topics: the Turkish nation, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, or the Turkish military. Even amongst friends, this could lead to serious consequences.

Are there special rules or restrictions for visiting the mosques?

Appropriate dress for men and women entering a mosque is conservative. For women, shoulders, legs, and head must be covered, and men should be aware of any skin exposed by shorts or sleeveless shirts (note that Turkish men don`t wear shorts, no matter how hot it gets). It`s also a good idea to carry around a scarf, but all mosques provide some type of head covering at the entrance. And remember that shoes MUST be removed before entering the mosque.

I've heard there are different toilets in Turkey. What are they like?

There are two types of toilets in Turkey: the traditional `European` toilet and the Turkish toilet, which is basically a porcelain latrine in the floor. Most modern hotels and restaurants in Istanbul have European toilets, while older establishments have clean squat latrines. Public restrooms (tuvalet) are located all around town. Public toilets in Istanbul cost about 50kr, which occasionally includes a bonus handful of toilet paper. The floor-level faucet and bucket are for wash-ups and toilet paper is for drying only. Flushing toilet paper is usually not advised. As for the European toilets, most have built-in bidets. Toilet paper can be flushed down these types of toilets (usually). When in doubt, don`t, and use the bucket for discarding used toilet paper.

Note: Always carry toilet paper or a packet of tissues with you in Istanbul!

What are the best areas for shopping?

Istanbul`s Grand Bazaar has been a shopping destination for 500 years! It`s also the best place to haggle for carpets and kilims as well as pottery and ceramics, including colorful Iznik tiles, textiles and leather goods, copper items and gold and silver jewelry. The entire length of Kalpakcilar Avenue in the Grand Bazaar glitters with gold. Foodies will want to sample the exotic flavors that can be found at the Spice Bazaar and the Galatasaray Fish Market.

Walking through a bazaar may elicit a `buyurun` or `buyurun efendem`, which are expressions of courtesy and invitation to `Please feel free` (to look, to come in) or as a `You`re welcome`. With regard to bargaining, a good rule of thumb is to offer about 25% less than you`re willing to pay; and hold off your counteroffer for as long as you can. If the shopkeeper won`t budge, remember there`s another one selling the same stuff next door.

In modern Beyoglu, pedestrianized Istiklal Avenue, is lined with sleek local shops. The high fashion district is the upscale Nisantasi neighborhood, north of Istiklal Avenue. This is where you`ll find the boutiques of established Turkish fashion designers as well as the flagship stores of high end international brands like Chanel, Prada and Louis Vuitton. On the Asian side, Bagdat Avenue serves a similar purpose to Istiklal Avenue, and there are many department stores, shopping centers and high-end retailers here.

Down the hill from Istiklal, Cukurcuma Avenue is home to various antique dealers. As far as antiques go, beware of counterfeit items and bogus certificates of origin. It is prohibited by Turkish law to export anything dated prior to the 20th century without the proper authorization from a museum directorate.