Istanbul, Turkey is an accessible, exotic city that really does combine flavors, sights and sounds from the East and the West. I just returned from my second visit and thanks to a lot of local friends, I’ve learned some key tips to make the most out of any trip to Istanbul. Here are my top five essential Istanbul travel tips:
Get your Turkish tourist visa online, in advance
Every visitor to Turkey as a tourist needs a visa and the normal procedure is to wait in line on arrival at Istanbul airport. Now, visitors can obtain their visa in advance, online from the Turkish government. The cost is $20.00 and you show your receipt to the immigration officer upon arrival, making the arrivals process faster. I used the process and it really did take only minutes online to get the visa, then it eliminated the extra step of having to purchase it at the airport. I handed the visa receipt to the immigration officer with my passport upon arrival and was out of the airport in minutes.
Buy a museum pass
The Muze pass ($42.00 per person) can pay for itself with just two museum visits. The pass is good for 72 consecutive hours at ten museums around the city, beginning with the first use.Travelers should note the pass offers only one admission to each museum, you can’t return several times over the same period. In addition to the museum access, the Muze pass offers discounts at a lot of museum and tourist shops. The Muze pass can be purchased at six of the larger museums, from some hotels and from the mobile sales trucks also parked at heavily touristed areas. Online purchase is possible but a bit difficult, as the pass must be delivered to an address in Turkey. I recommend purchasing the pass at the first museum you visit, then using it for the balance of the trip.
Stay in Sultanahmet
Although there may be a new subway and good tram system, Istanbul is a fairly large city, spread across a large area. The main monuments and tourist sites are in or near the Sultanahmet area, the original historic core of the city. Staying in close proximity to the key historic sites (Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia & Topkapi Palace) will give you more time at those amazing locations. For some serious luxury in the Sultanahmet area, I recommend the Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet. Housed in a former prison, the hotel is steps from the Hippodrome and some rooms even offer views of the Hagia Sophia.
Take a Bosphorus cruise
Although it may seem touristy, this is a city that was built on the water and many of the classic buildings were designed to be enjoyed from that perspective. Palaces on the Bosphorus have their front facades facing the water, not the street. Sehir Hatlan is the city ferry service and they offer a short and long Bosphorus cruises. There is no guide, each passenger gets a tablet and headphones for a self-guided English tour. The tablet’s GPS tracks the boats course, keeping the digital tour updated and accurate. The two-hour short tour ($5.00 per person) gives a good overview of the city’s main sections, while the six-hour full tour ($12.50 per person) is an excellent way to see the city’s entire coastline. A discount is offered to Muze card holders.
Visit a hamam
You have not visited Istanbul until you’ve had the full Turkish bath or hamam experience. I went to the city’s oldest, Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam, built in 1556 by the legendary architect Sinan for the Sultan’s wife, Hurrem Sultan. Housed in its original building, steps from the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, the experience was like a luxury spa experience. My hamam visit was part facial and body scrub, part massage, part bubble bath and part steam bath. I had the 50 minute “Pleasures of the Hamam” package which was $145.00.
Freddy Sherman is a world traveler and editor of the travel blog luxuryfred.com. In the past year, he has visited Turkey twice, had a foodie adventure in Hong Kong, taken a cruise down the Mekong river through Vietnam and Cambodia, slept in an Ice Hotel in Canada, performed on stage with Yes at Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp in Las Vegas and toured Peru. You can follow him on Twitter -@luxuryfred and on Instagram – @luxuryfred.
More from this contributor:
Four Seasons Istanbul at the Bosphorus: Hotel Review
A Fun Night Out in Istanbul
My Visit to the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul