Istanbul Travel Guide

Health & Safety

As with most European cities, but especially in crowded areas of Istanbul, watch your pockets and travel documents as pickpockets have devised all sorts of strategies to obtain them from you. Do not rely too much on the 'safe' feeling you get from the omnipresence of policemen. Taksim Square, Sultanahmet Square, Istiklal Avenue, Kadikoy Square etc.. security cameras monitored by police 24/7 non-stop.

Istanbul is home to three of the biggest clubs in Turkey and arguably European football: Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe, and Galatasaray. It is advisable not to wear colours associating yourself with any of the clubs—black&white, blue&yellow, and red&yellow respectively, particularly on the days of matches between the sides due to the fearsome rivalry they share.

Scams

Blue Mosque scam "guides"

When walking through the gates of the Blue Mosque, beware of smiling, friendly chaps who offer immediately to be your de-facto guide through the mosque and its surrounds; they'd be pretty informative on just about anything relating to the mosque; etiquette, history and Islamic practices. However, needless to say, they would eventually demand a price for their "services", a quotation that can be as high as 50TL (or equivalent to €25 or UK£20). One would be better off booking a private tour online; or not at all, since the mosque is essentially free to all anyway.

Bar/club scams

Tourists must be aware of high-drink prices scams encountered in so-called night-clubs mostly located in Aksaray, Beyazit and Taksim areas. These clubs usually charge overpriced bills, based on a replica of the original menu, or simply on the menu that had been standing upside down on the table.

Also be aware of friendly behaving groups of young men or male-female couples striking up a conversation in the street and inviting you to a "good nightclub they know". This has frequently been reported as a prelude to such a scam. The person(s) in on the scam may offer to take you to dinner first, in order to lower your suspicions. Another way they will try to lure you in is by talking to you in Turkish, and when you mumble back in your language they will be surprised you're not Turkish and immediately will feel the urge to repay you for their accident with a beer.

A recently encountered variant of this involved an invitation in Taksim to two male tourists (separately, within an hour of one another) to buy them beer (as they were "guests"). At the club, two attractive ladies, also with beers, joined them. When the time came for the bill, the person inviting the tourist denied having said he would pay for the drinks, and a bill was presented for 1500 Lira; when the tourists in question expressed an inability to pay such a high amount, burly "security" personnel emerged, who the manager explained would accompany the tourist to an ATM machine (presumably to clean out their bank account). In one of the above examples, the tourist escaped by shouting for the police once on the street; in the other, a much lower amount was accepted from the tourist.

In either of these scams, if you refuse to pay the high prices or try to call the police (dial #155) to file a complaint, the club managers may use physical intimidation to bring the impasse to a close. If you find yourself in such a situation for any reason, you should do whatever they want you to do, pay the bill, buy the things they are forcing you to buy, etc. Try to get out of the situation as soon as possible, go to a safe place and call the police (dial #155). That said, sometimes there is a chance to run, such as a case in August, 2009, when a man was able to escape. His sudden leave may have caught the waiters off guard; in all hastiness they forget to put someone at the door, thus leaving an opening.

Any bar that looks like it could be a strip club is more than likely a scam joint. Also be wary of men in Taksim who splash water on the backs of your neck. When you turn around, they will try to start a fight with you as another man comes in and robs you. These men tend to carry knives and can be very dangerous.

Lira/Euro Scams

A frequent scam, often in smaller hotels (but it can also happen in a variety of other contexts), is to quote prices in Lira and then later, when payment is due, claim the price was given in Euros. Hotels which reject payment early in a stay and prefer you to "pay when you leave" should raise suspicions. Hotels which operate this scam often offer excellent service and accommodation at a reasonable price and know most guests will conclude as much and pay without complaint - thus (ironically) this can be a sign of a good hotel.

Another scam is coin-related and happens just as you're walking into the streets. A Turkish guy holds you and asks where you are from. If you mention a Euro-country, the guy wants you to change a €50 note from you into €2 coins he is showing. He is holding the coins stack-wise in his hands. For the trouble, he says he will offer you '30 €2 coins, making €60 in total'. Do not agree with this exchange of money, as the first coin is indeed a €2 coin, but (many of) the rest of the coins will probably be 1 Lira coins (looking very similar), but worth only 1/4 of the value of €2.

Many bars in the Taksim area give you counterfeit bills. They are usually well-made and hard to identify as fakes in the dark. One way to verify its authenticity is to check its size against another bill. Another is to hold the bill up to a strong light, face side up, and check for an outline of the same face which is on the bill. The value of the bill (20, 50, etc.) should appear next to the outline, light and translucent. If either if these two security features are missing, try to have the bill changed or speak to the police.

Shoebrush

Some men will walk around Taksim (or other tourist-frequented areas) with a shoeshine kit, and the brush will fall off. This is a scam to cause some Western tourist with a conscience to pick it up and return it to the owner, who will then express gratitude and offer to shine your shoes for free. While doing that, he will talk about how he is from another city and how he has a sick child. At the end, the shiner will demand a much higher price for the "free" services provided than is the actual market norm. A similar trick is to ask for a cigarette and proceed similarly.

If you actively decide that you would like your shoes shined, then expect to pay not more than 5 lira for both.

Taxi drivers

Taxis are plentiful in Istanbul and inexpensive by Western European and American standards. They can be picked up at taxi hubs throughout the city or on the streets. Empty cabs on the streets will honk at pedestrians to see if they would like a ride, or cabs can be hailed by pedestrians by making eye contact with the driver and waving. Few taxi drivers speak languages other than Turkish, but do a fair job at deciphering mispronounced location names given by foreign riders. It is advisable to have the name of the destination written down and try to have a map beforehand to show the driver, to avoid any misunderstanding and also potential scams. Though taxis are plentiful, be aware that taxis are harder to find during peak traffic hours and traffic jams and when it is raining and snowing. They are also less frequent during nights, depending on the area and are hard to find after midnight.

Try to avoid using taxis for short distances (5–10 minutes of walk) if possible. Some taxi drivers can be annoyed with this, especially if you called the cab from a taxi hub instead of hailing it from the street. If you want taxis for short distances, just hail them from the street, do not go to the taxi hub.

Few taxis have seatbelts, and some drivers may seem to be reckless. If you wish for the driver to slow down, say "yavash lütfen" (slow please). Your request may or may not be honored.

Unfortunately, as in any major city, tourists are more vulnerable to taxi scams than locals. Be aware that taxi drivers use cars affiliated with a particular hub, and that the name and phone number of the hub, as well as the license plate number, are written on the side of each car. Noting or photographing this information may be useful if you run into problems. In general, riding in taxis affiliated with major hotels (Hilton, Marriot, Ritz, etc.) is safe, and it is not necessary to stay in these hotels to use a taxis leaving from their hubs.

Others may take unnecessarily long routes to increase the amount due (although sometimes alternate routes are also taken to avoid Istanbul traffic, which can be very bad). Some scams involve the payment transaction; for example, if the rider pays TRY50 when only TRY20 are needed, the driver may quickly switch it with a TRY5 note and insist that the rest of the TRY20 is still due or may switch the real bill for a fake one and insist that different money be given.

Methods to avoid taxi scams:

1. SIT IN THE FRONT PASSENGER SEAT. Watch the meter. Watch the driver's actions (beeping the horn, pumping the brakes, etc.) and note what the taximeter does. While it is rare, some drivers will wire parts of their controls to increase the fare upon activation. If you're with your significant other, do it anyway. Save the cuddling for after the ride. Check if the seal on the taximeter is broken. Use your phone for light. This will make the driver realize that you are cautious. Note that for women it is better to sit in the back seat (where you can see the meter from the middle), as there are occasionally problems with taxi drivers getting overly friendly, and sitting in the front is a sign that a woman welcomes such behavior.

2. Ask "How much to go to...?" (basic English is understood), before getting in the taxi. Price will be quite accurate to the one in the taximeter at the end of the ride. If the price sounds ok for you, get in the cab and tell them to put the Taximeter on. Since 2009, the rate they are applying is same during night and day.

3. Know the route. If you have a chance, find a map and demand that the driver take your chosen route to the destination. Oftentimes they will drive the long way or pretend not to know where you're going in order to get more money out of you. If the driver claims not to know the route to a major landmark or gathering place, refuse his services as he is likely lying.

4. Choose an elderly driver. Elderly taxi drivers are less likely to cheat passengers.

5. Let taxi driver see money on your hands and show values and take commitment on it. This is 50 Lira. OK? Take this 50 Lira and give 30 Lira back OK?. This guarantees your money value. Otherwise, your 50 Lira can be 5 Lira immediately on his hands. Try to have always 10 Lira or 20 Lira bills in your wallet. This makes money scams in general more difficult. If you realize that the driver tried to use the 50 Lira to 5 Lira trick on you, call the police (#155) immediately and write down the license plate.

6. Create a big scene if there is a problem. If you are absolutely positive you have been subject to a scam, threaten to or call the police and, if you feel it will help, start yelling. Taxi drivers will only rip off those they think will fall for it; creating a scene draws attention to them and will make it easier to pay the correct rate.

Overpricing

Watch the menu carefully in street cafes for signs that prices are not discriminatory — if prices are clearly over-inflated, simply leave. A good indication of over inflation is the circulation of two different types of menu — the "foreigner" menu is typically printed on a laminated card with menu prices written in laundry marker/texta, i.e., prices not be printed; in these cases, expect that prices for foreigners will be highly inflated (300% or higher).

While this is not really a problem in Beyoğlu or Ortaköy, avoiding the open air cafes toward the rear courtyard of the Spice Bazaar (Sultanahmet) is wise. The area immediately north of the Spice Bazaar is also crawling with touts for these 'infamous' cafes.

Having nargile (water pipe) is a famous activity in Istanbul,Tophane(top-hane)is a famous location for this activity where a huge number of nargile shops are available and can easily be reached by the tram, avoiding a place called "Ali Baba" in Tophane is wise, usually you will be served there with plates you did not ask for like a nuts plate, and expect to have a bill of around 50$ for your nargile !

Stalking

Men intent on stalking foreign women may be present in tourist locations. Such men may presume that foreigners have a lot of money or liberal values and may approach foreign women in a flirtatious or forward manner looking for sex or for money (either by theft or selling over-priced goods). If you are being harassed, use common sense and go to where other people are; often this is the nearest store. Creating a public scene will deter many stalkers, and these phrases may be useful in such cases:

İmdat! - "Help me!"
Ayıp! - "Rude!"
Bırak beni! - "Leave me alone!"
Dur! - "Stop it!"
Gider misin?! - "Will you go?!"

Or to really ruin him:

Beni takip etme?! - "Can you please stop stalking me?!"
Polisi ariyorum - "I am calling the cops!"
Siktir Git - "Fuck off!"

Occasionally try not to use Turkish as the stalker will like it more, just scream and run and find a safer place with crowd and police.

Tourism Police

Istanbul PD has a "Tourism Police" department where travelers may report passport loss and theft or any other criminal activity by which they are victimized. They have an office in Sultanahmet and can reportedly speak English, German, French, and Arabic.

Tourism PoliceYerebatan Caddesi 6, SultanahmetPhone: +90 212 527 45 03Fax: +90 212 512 76 76

source: Wikivoyage

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