Before you embark on your getaway trip to Istanbul for a glimpse of Byzantine and Ottoman history, below are ten tips for your travels in Turkey. If you’ve only got time for a weekend getaway in Istanbul, it helps to fast track the leaning process of helpful hints without the awkward moments.
1. Befriend the locals – hospitality plays an important role in Turkish culture and creating a bond with the locals will enrich your experience in Istanbul. This is a country where people don’t always just point you in the right direction, they walk you there. They are usually very willing to provide help if need be, and will treat you like family once a relationship has been established.
2. Slow it down – people are in no rush in Turkey (except when driving!), so take the time to stroll the streets and absorb your surroundings; life is best enjoyed slowly and leisurely, as you will quickly discover in Istanbul.
3. Dress respectfully – Istanbul is a modern, cosmopolitan city, but some areas are more conservative than others. If you want to reduce the risk of being hassled, dress a little more conservatively, particularly if you plan on visiting smaller villages around Turkey. While you don’t have to cover yourself completely, leave the hot pants at home. Mosques that are still in use also require that you cover yourself and remove your shoes.
4. Don’t go with random people offering to take you to a bar – don’t be too cautious that you miss out on all the fun of partying with the locals, but unfortunately, there have been cases of locals offering to take tourists clubbing with the intention of leading them to a dodgy, ladies bar, where a beer costs anywhere from 100TL – 300TL for the privilege of just sitting there.
5. Walking with someone off the street can mean commission – there are many touts working, particularly in Sultanahment and the Grand Bazaar, whose wages are purely commission based depending on the clients they bring to a particular store. While they can be helpful, the price quoted to you will include their commission.
6. Research before you buy – buying souvenirs is a simple enough task, but for bigger purchases of gem stones, gold and Turkish carpets, know what you are looking for; for example, the type of dyes used, the purity and quality of materials (wool, cotton or silk) and the number and type of knots, are all factors that change the value of a carpet. Learn some simple steps to discern between a valuable handmade carpet and a cheap, factory-made one in order to avoid going home with a fake.
7. Haggle – for expensive or multiple purchases at bazaars, small stores, and family-run businesses, it is general practice to haggle their original asking price. Café’s, bars, restaurants and hotels generally do not negotiate their prices unless there is a group.
8. Don’t overstay your visa – a change in law recently states that anyone who overstays their visa will not just receive a fine like in the past, but will also be deported. Visa’s can easily be obtained at airports and land borders; if your trip runs longer than the permitted 90days, you need to exit the country beforehand and attain a new visa. Bulgaria, Cyprus and Greece borders are the closest and easiest to reach.
9. Run on Turkish time – things run on their own time schedule, so 10 minutes may mean half an hour, one week means two. Not everything runs according to plan and promises are not always delivered, but if they’re not stressing about it, then neither should you. Eventually, it all works out in the end.
10. Remove your shoes – if you get invited into a Turkish person’s home, it is considered respectful to remove your shoes to keep their homes clean; traditional families sit, sleep and eat on the floor. But don’t worry about your bare feet; a pair of slippers will usually be offered as ‘cold feet’ is believed to bring an onset of ailments.