Destination Guide: Istanbul

Language: Turkish

Currency: Turkish Lira (TL)

Time: Istanbul is in the Eastern European Time zone (EET) = GMT +2 hours

Need to knows:

Visa info

British nationals require a visa to enter Turkey (except cruise ship passengers where arrival and departure is on the same day). Visas can be obtained from any port of entry for a 90 day period (for a £10 fee). Tourists and business travellers can also get a visa in advance.

To tip or not to tip?

It is customary to tip good service and as a rule, you are expected to tip 5-10% in restaurants, bars and cafes. Hotel staff will expect a tip of between 5 to 20 Turkish Liras (LR), depending on their duties. The only group of people who Turks don't tend to tip are taxi drivers. Having said that, most Turks will still round up the fare to the nearest TL.

What time do we work?

Government employees generally work from 8:30am until 5pm with a 1 and a half hour break between midday and 1:30pm. Businesses will usually operate between 9am and 7pm. However, during the summer and during Ramadan, businesses will have significantly shorter working hours.

Languages spoken?

English is widely spoken in Istanbul. In addition to English and Turkish; Kurdish, French and Spanish is also spoken here.

Local Customs

A firm handshake in the normal greeting, and Turkish men will often hold your arm with their left hand as a sign of warmth. Unlike in the UK, a handshake is not used to say goodbye – instead, as the relationship grows, you may be kissed on the cheek.

Personal relationships are very important in business situations – you should engage in friendly conversation before any business exchanges.

It is respectful to address a Turkish professional by his/her title alone, e.g. “Doctor”. And it is likely that you will be addressed by your title followed by your first name, e.g. “Mr Jon” or “Miss Emma”.

Getting around


The easiest way to get around Istanbul is by bus. You’ll notice that there are two types of bus, one is run by the municipality (these are red and white or green). Alternatively, there are the private buses that are blue and green.

Buses run from 6am to 11pm and pretty much span the whole city. If you are going to be taking several trips, you should think about picking up an Istanbulkart. Similar to London’s Oyster card, you can purchase one for 10TL (which is refundable upon return) and load it with credit. It doesn’t limit your travel to buses; you can use it on all of the subways, commuter trains, ferryboats and trams that are operated by the municipality.

Boats and ships

Boats and ships are great for exploring Instabul. The main services run between Eminonu, Karakoy and Besiktas, and depart every 15mins or so. These sea buses offer a fun way to travel; however, they are more expensive than other modes of transport and are generally restricted to commuter hours.

Where to work?

Congress Valley is the city's business and cultural centre and as a result the area is not short of hotels for business travellers.

If you opt to stay in a hotel in congress valley district you’ll be within walking distance of the Istanbul Convention & Exhibition Center (ICEC), the Istanbul Hilton Convention & Exhibition Center as well as several fashionable shopping areas and lively Taksim.

Where to play

If you’re making a quick turnaround, this is a great place to spend a few hours:

Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar is one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets. It is home to 3,000 shops across 61 streets which attract 250,000-400,000 visitors every day. It is steeped in Turkish history as well; construction is believed to have first started in 1455.

If you’ve got a day to spare you absolutely have to visit:

Bosphorus Strait

This is truly unique experience. You may only get one chance to do it, so make sure you find some time. Istanbul is a unique city in that it is the only one to lie in both Europe and Asia.

Whilst the commercial and historical centre lies in Europe, a third of the population of Istanbul lives in Asia. The Bosphorus Strait is where the two continents meet. There are regular tour guided ferry trips across the Strait, providing you with the chance to cross from Europe into Asia without leaving the city, an opportunity no other city can offer.

If you’re taking a longer stay in Istanbul, make sure you visit:

The Topkapi Palace

The Topkapi Palace is a must-see. It is located in Sultanahmet and is famous for being home to generations of sultans and wives who were closeted in the harem. It will cost you TL20 (around £7) to visit and go inside the Palace and it's open Tuesday to Sunday from 9am-6pm. 

Where to eat:

Kara Mehmet - One of the best ways to absorb real Turkish culture is to visit (and eat at) one of the markets. If you are heading to the Grand Bazaar for shopping you should consider making a pit stop for some food – you’ll find an abundance of restaurants and stalls here to suit most tastes and budgets.

Even if you’ve got no shopping to do, the Grans Bazaar is still a great place to sit back, enjoy a bite to eat and watch the world go by.

Haci Abdullah - one of the oldest Turkish restaurants in Istanbul and  famous for traditional fare. If you’re staying in congress valley then it’s only a short walk for you, the restaurant is located in Beyoglu.

There are several stews on the menu and eggplant features quite heavily; the signature dish is lamb shank with eggplant. It is important to note that they don’t serve alcohol here.

Where to stay:

Hilton Istanbul

The Hilton Istanbul provides the perfect location at the (mostly) reasonable prices normally associated with the chain. It sits in the Congress Valley, the heart of Istanbul’s business and financial industries.

There are almost 500 guest rooms available and 32 meetings rooms should you need them. There are seven restaurants to choose from as well as an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, fitness suite and tennis court in which you can relax. Room rates can vary from £106 to approximately up to £660.

Address: Cumhuriyet Caddesi Harbiye, Istanbul, 34367, Turkey.

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