5 Things Only Tourists Do in Istanbul

Like A Local Guide • 12 Mar, 2017

1. Wear a fez

This traditional hat was widely worn during the Ottoman era (it’s also worn in many Middle Eastern countries), but it’s not really part of daily life anymore. Even the modern versions aren’t fashionable at all! It’s shaped like the bottom half of a cone and is generally red, however there are also patterned tapestry versions called kilim. Walking through the Sultanahmet district, you’ll see lots of different versions in the shop windows even though Turkish people haven’t worn them as part of their daily outfit for a long time. Oftentimes tourists wear them mismatched with shorts and flip-flops, and we locals always feel surprised to see them on people’s heads. Tip: buy one if you must, but just as a souvenir. Don’t wear it in an attempt to feel like a local.


Photo credit: Mehmet Rifat Öcal

2. Go on a Bosphorus ferry tour

To avoid the traffic and have a nice 20-minute break from the rush and noise of the city, ferries are indeed the best transportation option. Bosphorus ferry tours, however, are a whole other story. From the district of Kadıköy all the way to Eminönü, you’ll hear loud calls for these tours. Locals never take them more than once in their lives! Yes, they’re good for sightseeing (they generally take one or two hours) and you’ll see buildings on both the Asian and European sides, but they’re really made for tourists. The on-board guides tell stories about the buildings and the city’s history, so if you want to enjoy the view and feel less like a tourist, I recommend you bring music and headphones. This way you can admire the spectacular panoramas and enjoy your time without the noise of the crowded ferry.


Photo credit: Dan

3. The pavyon experience

A payvon is a kind of nightclub, but there are some things you should know before heading out for a payvon experience. They are kitsch places that have their own rules, the first being that you should only visit them with locals who are really aware of the payvon culture (a local’s first payvon experience won’t be so different to that of a tourist). Secondly, they’re expensive and you can end up spending twice as much as you planned. And it’s not a good idea to try and argue! That being said, it’s probably best to steer clear of them altogether.

4. Visit tourist hotspots such as the Galata Tower, the Basilica Cistern and Topkapı Palace

The Galata Tower, the Basilica Cistern, Topkapı Palace and Dolmabahçe Palace are historical and cultural landmarks, but you won’t come across any locals at these places. Locals generally visit them once in a lifetime, if ever! The most popular attractions are often not worth the long waiting times and expensive tickets – there are plenty of lesser-known places in Istanbul that are just as beautiful and much more unique. If you really feel the need to see all of the touristy landmarks, try to visit them at less busy times like in the early morning.


Photo credit: Jos1etheDog

5. Waste a lot of money on transport

If you prefer taking cabs, you should always make sure the taximeter is working as soon as you get in. Istanbul locals can generally calculate the fare from one place to another in their heads, plus they know the shortcuts. If you prefer to use public transport, you should get an Istanbul Card. Public transport is generally crowded and tourists tend to stand out. Unfortunately public transport is quite expensive in Istanbul, however if you buy the Istanbul Card, the prices are a bit more reasonable and you won’t look as touristy.


Photo credit: Jody Sticca

Opening photo credit: Gulsen Ozcan

For more local recommendations read:
What locals like to do in Istanbul
Where locals like to eat in Istanbul
Where locals like to party in Istanbul

Special tip: For a more authentic Istanbul experience, get the Like A Local mobile app

fc430f422ac0903a5b5a3dfb0885cb5c-150x150Selin is a journalist who left her job to become a freelance content creator. She was born on the Mediterranean side of Turkey, but has lived in Istanbul for almost 20 years. She takes pleasure in discovering her own city daily and hopes to one day have enough time and money to travel around the world and catch up on all that she has missed!

Like A Local Guide
Like A Local Guide is about stepping off the tourist trail and finding cool and cosy spots where locals like to spend their time. We built a website and mobile app to bring insider recommendations from around the world to your fingertips.

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