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Istanbul Travel Tips
Many of the travel tips on Istanbul are spread on our different Istanbul travel guide pages, whether for the views, the sightseeing locations, so don't forget to check them as well.
Unless you plan to only walk while in Istanbul, get a an Istanbul Card as soon as you arrive. It is an electronic card you touch at turnstiles to pass. You can load credits (starting around 4 euros/6 dollars) for travel on the bus, tram, seabus, ferry, tunel, metro basically all public transportation. You do not need to buy multiple cards if you are two or more people traveling together, you can use one card, pass and give the card to your companion.
The metro has now an extended service with two stops added, one at the end of Istiklal street in Tunel Sishane and the other end in Oto Sanayi which would be useful for business traveler so the city.
There are two funiculaires and cable cars in Istanbul. Funiculaire is a one stop metro. There are two funiculaires at each end of Istiklal streets. One that goes between Karakoy and Tunel and the other between Taksim and Kabatas.
One cable car over Macka park connecting Taksim and Macka offering nice vista of the Bosphorus over a park during a three minute ride. If you happen to be walking from Taksim to Nisantasi you can take the back side walk behind Taksim park and then get on the cable car. The other cable car is in Pierre Loti at Golden Horn.
Food and Restaurants
Many travelers eat at international fast food chains while in Turkey because it is cheap but they miss on plenty good Turkish meals which are cheap and delicious! There are many Turkish fast food joints, mostly meatball restaurants serving also salads but also self service Turkish traditional cooking restaurants along the Istiklal street and Kadikoy.
For example Sinem borek, on Sadri Alisik street just off Istiklal in Beyoglu, cooks boreks (order "su boregi" literally translates into water borek), dough coooked with cheese, in traditional ovens. Balkan restaurant on a side street on Istiklal, Buyukparmakkapi street, and Besiktas offers cheap traditional Turkish cooking, casserole dishes in self service restaurant.
Turkish cuisine is world famous, some of the best meals to try:
Kebaps, Doner, Meatballs: Doner (a revolving beef or chicken meat ideally cooked with charcoal fire). Iskender is a doner with tomato sauce, yogurt and butter. And of course many different kebaps the basic Adana kebap and many variations such as Fistikli (Pistacchio), Patlican (Egpplant) and Soganli (Onion) Kebaps. Meatballs are also famous and you can find them in chain restaurants as well.
Turkish casserole dishes: Kuzu haslama (boiled lamb in a soup), vegetable and meat stews, turlu with many vegetables, dolma (stuffed vegetables such zucchini, eggplant), zeytinyagli enginar (artichokes with olive oil), and other cold vegetable dishes with olive oil known in Turkish as zeytinyagli, such as barbunya pilaki (red beans), and many many more.
Mezes (appetizers, hors d'oeuvre): acili ezme, haydari, eggplant salad, stuffed grapeleaves, humus, fava, pacanga boregi and sigara boregi (both served hot)
Turkish fish meals: Grilled fish: Lufer, palamut, barbunya. The fish who are cooked on grill are generally more expensives. Fried fish istavrit, hamsi, tekir and palamut. Must try unique Turkish fish appetizer is lakerda and there are also good squid and shrimp side dishes.
Pide and Lahmacun: They are two different type of Turkish pizzas.
Borek: It is dough cooked with cheese, meat or vegetables such as spinach. You will find it pide and borek shops as well as some famous sweet shops. Su boregi is the best, though there are also kol boregi and other boreks.
Sweets: Baklava, Maras ice cream, lokum (Turkish delights) try pomegrenade and pistaccios, almond paste, sutlac (a special rice pudding), kazandibi and tavuk gogsu (chicken breast sweets)
Drinks: Ayran (a yogurt drink), Salep drink (milk with orchid roots), Salgam (Salty beet juice, there is a hot version as well), Raki (Tukish national alcoholic drink). Especially in winter another Turkish speciality is boza, a thousand year old tradition from Turkic tribes, a think fermented wheat drink. In recent years wine industry in Turkey has brought into market high quality wines. Also Serbet (sherbet) is a drink made of fruits such as lemon, rose, orange or spices and are quite refreshing. You may try in select locations sumak and demirhindi versions.
Spices: You may hundreds of different spices among them sumak, isot (a type of red pepper preparations) stand out as some of the most commonly used spices in Turkey.
Ocakbasi is a great restaurant type for meat lovers for grills and kebaps. You can drink beer, wine or raki with mezes and charcoal cooked delicious meats.
Other cheap and yummy food choices include fish sandwitches, fried mussels. Instead of Norvegian mackarel which is pretty standart, you can also find hamsi sandwitches.
Where you eat is important, check the cleanliness of the restaurant or the shop and the profile of the people as well as whether it is crowded of not.
Food and Spices you can buy as gift
You can buy spices and salep in Spice Market or Kadikoy Bazaar. Please note salep is dried orchid roots and it is hard to find it pure. They most of the time mix it with starch and sell it cheaper. Ask around for a good spice shop.
Lokum (Turkish delight) with different flavours, almond paste (Badem Ezmesi in Turkish), olive oil, olives, baklava, black tea, apple tea and other herbal teas, Turkish coffee.
There are a couple of types of boat and ferry with which you can do a cruise. The cruises also vary in duration and how far in Bosphorus they go as well as whether there is commentary or not. For tips see Istanbul Bosphorus Cruises
Day Trips and Travel
You can visit Bursa, Gallipoli, Troy, Canakkale and Edirne with day trips from Istanbul. Gallipoli trips can be tiring as it is about 5 hours drive from Istanbul.
There are many galleries around Istiklal street and Galata neighborhood but if you have time only for one modern arts exhibition, it should be Istanbul Modern with a permanent ottoman collection and exhibitions from world famous artists. Pera Museum is also suggested.
Turkish bath is a great experience for some travelers. You can give a try in Cagaloglu or Galatasaray Hammams (Turkish Baths).
There are plenty of cafes with or without view. Try the ones around Istiklal and on the Bosphorus. Orhan Veli cafe off Istiklal Street for a Turkish boheme atmosphere, Mustafa Amca's cafe in Hanzapouli passage.
You can buy dollar beers in bars located in side streets of Istiklal street. Bohems, students go to these places. Go around 8-9, not too late, and never walk on a deserted street. Eski Cambaz is a locals favorite, no sign tough.