Istanbul: Things to know

All your pre-visit and on-location info, from public transport and tipping to visas and vaccinations. As a guide, you probably will want a visa, and you’ll definitely want sea legs



Time zone

East European Time Zone (GMT+3)


TL (Türk Lirası/Turkish Lira)

Country dialling code



Istanbul is subject to a maritime climate, so don’t forget lightweight raingear in all but July and August. Average temperatures between December and February are around 3C/37F, though icy winds from the Black Sea bring occasional snow and below zero temperatures. Average summer temperatures flicker around the 21C/70F, with midday highs in excess of 30C/86F

When to visit

May/June and September/October for perfect, warm sightseeing weather, long days and plenty of festivals. July and August (Istanbul’s high summer) are relatively quiet (many Istanbulites decamp to Aegean resorts) and the city’s rooftop bars and restaurants are a delight. Winter (widely considered as long as November to late February) is good for nightlife, galleries and the like but fog, rain and snow may affect your visit


Most nationalities need a visa. Apply online before you travel at and check for the latest entry requirements


None required


Type C (two-prong plug)


5% is standard in ordinary places, but fancy restaurants often levy a 10-15% service charge which won’t get to your waiter, so count on an additional 5%


Dial 112 for ambulances, 110 for fire and 155 for police. Tourist police are on (+90) 0212 527 4503

Tourist info

There are useful state-run tourist offices at Atatürk Airport, Sultanahmet, the Grand Bazaar, Sirkeci station and Taksim – all of which hand out information and city maps

Getting there

Airlines and airports: Istanbul is a major world hub. Atatürk Airport, on the European side of the city, serves most major airlines. Sabiha Gökçen, in Asia, is favoured by budget carriers. A massive third airport, in Europe, is scheduled to open in 2018

Transfers: Atatürk and Sabiha Gökçen airports are served by regular Havataş shuttle buses (, taking around 45 minutes from Atatürk airport (11TL) and at least an hour from Sabiha Gökçen (14TL). Atatürk Airport also has a metro linking it with the city centre (operating between 6am and midnight). Taxis – which can be found outside both airports – cost around 50TL from Atatürk, 80TL from Sabiha Gökçen. Alternatively, search car hire options here.

Getting around

Public transport: Istanbul’s public transport system has undergone a major upgrade in recent years, and now has a comprehensive and state-of-the-art metro, tram, funicular and ferry system. The Istanbulkart travelcard, which costs a refundable 7TL, can be used on all forms of publıc transport, and gives considerable discounts on fares

Sea travel: Ferries are a lifeline for visitors and Istanbulites alike, and a magical way to see the city. Pop across to Asia (20 minutes) from Europe for 4TL, or cruise up the Golden Horn for the same fare.

Cabs: Istanbul’s yellow taxis are not entirely reliable, and issues with overcharging common. Uber taxis are a useful alternative, but remain mindful that this is the world’s most congested city, so public transport and foot may be preferable

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