Travel Bug in Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey

I had the opportunity to go to Istanbul from March 17-22 as part of a mid-year conference for my teaching program.  Special thanks to the English Language Fellow Program for sponsoring this trip. 


This is intended as a quick-reference guide for anyone planning a trip to Istanbul.  I have a full travelogue as well, but it should be noted that many of my experiences in Istanbul were a by-product of living in Ukraine. For example, if I had come to Istanbul from America I probably never would have gone to Migros, let alone gotten excited about seeing Doritos and Ruffles potato chips there.


·  Sights

·  Food and Drink 

·  Recommended Restaurants

·  Bargaining

·  What to Avoid

·  Transportation

·  Lodging

·  Money

·  Language






·        Topkapı —the Ottoman Sultan’s former palace.  Be sure to check out the room with antique robes, and the rooms of the Sultan’s harem. 

·        Ayasofya—a former church in the time of Constantinople that was converted to a mosque and is now a museum. Some parts of it may still be under renovation.

·        Sultanahmet—also known as the Blue Mosque. Lots of beautiful tiles inside.

·        Suleymaniye—another beautiful mosque in Istanbul.

·        Istiklal Caddesi—a pedestrian street of Taksim Square with shops, restaurants, bars, movies and more. 

·        Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı).—A bazaar in the Eminönü neighborhood that specializes in spices, but other textiles and housewares are available.

·        Covered Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşısı)—The mother of all bazaars.  A small city of leather, clothes, housewares, jewelry, etc. 

Food and Drink

Döner—a kind of thin meat sliced off a spit.  Served either on a large section of a baguette/batard as a sandwich (750,000 TL), or over rice (menu with soup, dessert, and drink 4,500,000 TL).

Kebab—if you have only had shish kebab, you are in for an education.  There are varieties of kebab based on the preparation of the meat (sometimes based on regional specialities).  On my trip I had pan kebab, iskender kebab, and urfa kebab.  Restaurants have many varieties prepared; you can look in the window and just choose one!

Baklava­—a sweet puff pastry with lots of sugar and pistachios. One of many fine Turkish desserts. 

Simit—A round pastry with a large hole in it, often eaten for breakfast (300,000 TL).  Like many pastries for breakfast or tea, simit is salty, not sweet. 

Helva—a desert made from peanuts; a hard, drier form of peanut butter. 

Incir—dried figs.  One of many dried fruits that Turkey exports to other countries such as Ukraine.

Çay (prounounced like “chai”), the Turkish word for tea.  Turkish çay is served in small glasses that have no handles and curve inwards on both sides near the top of the glass.  It’s not a handle, though, because you are supposed to hold the glass at the very top with your thumb and index finger. 

Rakı—the national liquor.  Called “Lion’s Milk” because when you mix it with water, it turns cloudy. Has a flavor like licorice or anise.

Recommended Restaurants

Hala—A café and restaurant on Istiklal Caddesi which offers great Turkish home cooking.  They have great yufka, a very thin bread like a crepe that is handmade on the premises (you can watch the women working through the window) and filled with potato, goat cheese, or other savory fillings.  Another food they claim as a specialty is mantı, a pasta filled with meat and covered in a yogurt and olive oil sauce. Everything is reasonably priced too.  The dishes range from 1 million to 2.5 million TL.  And the service is very friendly.  The çay may be free at the end of the meal.

Olympiat—In the Karaköy neighborhood, probably on Rihtim Caddesi.  Excellent fresh grilled fish with a view of the Golden Horn harbor area.

Doğa Fish—a short cab ride from Istiklal, this restaurant (pronounced Doya) has good fish and salads and from the eighth floor it has an amazing view of Topkapı (the Sultan’s palace), the mosques, and the scene on the other side of the Golden Horn. 


If you are shopping in Istanbul, you must be prepared to bargain, or be prepared to pay the tourist rate.  Some bargaining tips (based on my Turkish friends’ advice):

·        You should aim to bargain the price down to half the seller’s initial offer.

·        Your first counteroffer should be ridiculously low so that you can work your way up to half the seller’s initial offer.

·        Don’t be afraid to walk away from a negotiation if you change your mind or the negotiation isn’t going well.

What to Avoid

Purely based on my personal opinion and/or bad experience:

·        Carpet salesmen (unless you want to buy a carpet).

·        Anyone who offers to give you a service (e.g. shining your shoes) and says you can pay “what you want” at the end.  Always agree on the price first.

·        Anyone who offers to give you a tour of a mosque.  There are no official guides or tours for mosques. 

·        Any taxi whose meter seems to be broken, unless you want to use this to negotiate a fixed price before driving to your destination.


·        From the airport, an airport bus to Taksim Square is run by Havaş about every half hour and cost 4,500,000 Turkish Liras (TL), a little over 3 U.S. dollars.  A taxi to the same area costs about 14 million TL.

·        There is a trolley that runs from Taksim Square down Istiklal Caddesi (less than 1 million TL). 

·        At the end of the Istiklal trolley line is the Tünel, a kind of funincular that runs down near the bridge that goes across the Golden Horn (Yeni Galata Köprüsü) (500,000 TL).

·        There are many ferries that run along the Bosphorus between the European and Asian continents.  There is a special ferry that runs for tourists once per day (at about 10:15 a.m.) and takes six hours.  If you don’t have time for that you can take a regular passenger ferry for about 800,000 TL.

·        Across Yeni Galata Köprüsü in Eminönü, there is a tramvay that runs to tourist areas like Topkapı, Sultanahmet (the Blue Mosque), and the Covered Bazaar (650,000 TL).

·        There is a Metro system in Istanbul but I didn’t use it.


Because I was on a company budget, I stayed at the Hotel Richmond on Istiklal Caddesi.  I saw an AYH hostel near Topkapı and Ayasofia, and another hostel up the hill from Blue Mosque. 


ATMs are everywhere in Turkey, and many banks will exchange U.S. dollars.  Turkey’s inflation rate is improving but is still high at 61 percent, so only withdraw or exchange as much money as you need.  Credit cards can be used widely (though having gotten used to living in cash economy, I used my credit card sparingly).


Many people in Istanbul speak English.  The only exceptions I found were telephone and post office employees.  Food servers, hotel staff and bazaar/carpet salesmen are often multilingual.  I met people who spoke German, Russian, Hebrew, Spanish, and more.  If you are a language philologist like me, you can go to the Foreign Languages for Travelers site and learn some Turkish words.  “Lütfen” (LOOT-fan) means “please”; “Teşekkür Ederim” (Tuh-SHAY-kur EDurem) means “Thank you”.