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Istanbul: Tips before you go

Welcome to Istanbul, my friend, the gateway to the East, an eclectic cocktail of history, culture and adventure, where modernity waltzes with antiquity.

Airport Transportation

Touchdown: Once your plane kisses the tarmac at Istanbul Airport, you need a ride, and there are two sheriffs in town: Havaist, the airport shuttle, or your run-of-the-mill taxi. Watch out for the local cab scam artists though, 800 lira for a 40 minute ride is broad daylight robbery. If you’re a bit more adventurous and aren’t hauling the Queen’s jewels, go for Havaist. Half the price and a 10-minute walk after disembarking gets you to your base camp. But hey, if your suitcases are teeming, suck it up and pay for the overpriced taxi, consider it part of the Istanbul initiation ritual.

City Navigation

If you’re playing tourist in the confines of Istanbul, public transport is your magic carpet. Grab an İstanbulkart near the metro stations and load it with some Turkish lira. It’s the ticket to your personal tour bus around the city. You’ll notice these tap-and-go machines wherever you decide to roll, just wave your card like a magic wand. And remember, one card can carry more than one person. Tap away. The buses may feel like they’re taking you through Dante’s circles, but ride a few and you’ll master their rhythmic chaos. And be swift about boarding and alighting, Istanbul bus drivers aren’t known for their patience. Trust me, use public transport. You’ll thank me later.

Haggle your heart out

Barter like a Pro: Istanbul’s streets are teeming with sharp-eyed merchants waiting to fleece unsuspecting tourists. If you’re a Westerner, the art of haggling might not be your second nature. Time to toughen up. Haggle your heart out, for literally everything. Be it cab fares, Bosphorus tour tickets or trinkets at the Grand Bazaar. Taxis are notorious for overcharging. Insist on the meter or pre-decide the fare. Beware of tour tickets being sold for $20-$70. They shouldn’t be more than 150 lira. Remember, everyone’s a bargain hunter here except in eateries and malls.

Mingle with Locals

Istanbul is a city of stories, and who better to narrate them than the locals. Ask for their secret food haunts or directions. Turks are warm and welcoming, tap into their local wisdom.

Overcoming the Language Barrier

While English might not be the city’s first language, most Turks know enough to understand and respond. The further you stray from tourist hotspots, the rarer English becomes. A bit of Arabic could be useful, though your English skills should serve you fine. Of course, knowing a few Turkish phrases won’t hurt.

Apps to install

For navigating the city, put your faith in Google Maps and Mobiett. The latter simplifies your public transport options. Use it in tandem with Google Maps to avoid wandering off track. Remember, if you’re without data, download an offline map of Istanbul and a Turkish translator before setting off.

SIM card

If your current cell plan laughs at the idea of international use, grab a Turkish SIM card. Avoid tourist traps though, you can find a better deal in a small corner shop, like we did for 450 lira. Remember, you’re here to explore, not be exploited. Or, even better, use Airalo esim. Use a promocode TRAVEL7460 to get $3.

Pet the cats

Just pet them.

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