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Istanbul on your own 2021: tips and secrets

How to organize a trip to Istanbul on your own, what should tourists take into account

Istanbul attracts tourists with its flavor and unique mixture of cultures and traditions. Europe and Asia, Christianity and Islam, ancient history and modern entertainment – there is something in Istanbul that will interest tourists with a wide variety of interests and preferences. As a popular tourist destination, the city is quite convenient and well suited for travelers. Therefore, organizing a trip to Istanbul on your own will not be a big problem, even if you are going there for the first time. However, there are many nuances that tourists should take into account. We have collected the most important ones in this article. Here you can find useful information, tips, life hacks and recommendations to help you organize an unforgettable trip to Istanbul on your own.


When is the best time to go to Istanbul and for how many days

Do tourists need a visa to Turkey

How to get to Istanbul

Where to Stay in Istanbul: Best Areas & Hotels

Transport in Istanbul

How to get to Istanbul from the airport

From Istanbul New Airport

From the airport. Sabihi Gokcen

Istanbul City Public Transport

HES codes for tourists in 2021 in Istanbul due to Covid-19

Istanbul sights on your own: tips and life hacks

What to see

Things to do

Istanbul Museum Pass

Useful services and applications for travel to Istanbul

What else to consider when traveling to Istanbul: travel tips

When is the best time to go to Istanbul

когда ехать в стамбул

If you want to walk around the city and explore the sights of Istanbul in a more relaxed way and with greater comfort, it is better to choose the off-season . In the middle of spring and autumn, you can “catch” a period when there is still (or already) no excruciating heat and stuffiness, there are no summer crowds of tourists, but at the same time it is quite warm and comfortable. Of course, there will still be enough people in the city – it never happens empty. But for independent excursions around the city, colorful photo sessions or just relaxing walks, these periods are perhaps the most comfortable.

Spring in Istanbul – lush greenery, many flowers and pleasant, comfortable weather. The most pleasant and convenient period for visiting is April. Summer expect heat and crowds, especially in tourist areas. In autumn the heat in Istanbul subsides: in September and October it is still quite warm and comfortable, in November it is colder (an average of 12 degrees). But in winter may already be quite chilly – an average of 8-10 degrees Celsius during the day, combined with fairly frequent rains and winds. But in the “low season” prices are also significantly reduced. Except for the New Year holidays, of course, when the city is flooded with tourists again.

What to consider when planning your trip to Istanbul on your own

When choosing a date for your upcoming trip, do not forget about religious traditions, which are very strong in Turkey. For example, if you find yourself in Istanbul during the Eid al-Adha or Eid al-Adha, you will have to adjust your tourist program, since on the days of major religious holidays, the whole of Istanbul follows a festive regime. Freely visiting the sights and walking wherever you want will not work at this time. Therefore, it is worth checking in advance if there are any special events on the dates of your trip.

How many days to travel to Istanbul

Стамбул что посмотреть самостоятельно

The answer to this question, of course, depends on your circumstances, finances and the time available to you. But in general, we can say that it will take at least three days to see the main sights of the city and begin to feel its flavor. For a more detailed study of Istanbul, you need 5 or 7 days.

If you have even more time, then you can afford an extended cultural program, as well as trips to the suburbs, the Princes’ Islands, Bosphorus cruises and other activities that require additional time.

Do tourists need a visa to Turkey

нужна ли в Турцию виза

If the period of continuous stay in Turkey does not exceed 2 months, and trips to Turkey for six months in total do not exceed 90 days, then a visa to Turkey is not needed! That is, if you are going to Istanbul on an ordinary short-term tourist trip, then a visa is not required – upon arrival in the country, at the airport, a stamp with an entry permit will be put in your passport. For this you need:

  • the passport itself is valid for at least 4 months from the date of entry into Turkey;
  • medical insurance (during a pandemic, insurance must be covered with COVID-19);
  • air tickets in the opposite direction;
  • confirmation of hotel reservation ( read this article on how to choose an area and a hotel );
  • on rare occasions they may inquire about the availability of sufficient funds for this trip;
  • in 2021, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Turkey is also required to present the result of a PCR test in English, taken no earlier than 72 hours before entering the country. The test result must of course be negative.

Since March 15, 2021, in connection with the situation with the coronavirus, new rules have been introduced for entering Turkey. No later than 72 hours before the trip, you must fill out a special form, print the completed form or download it on your mobile device and present it at the airport upon request. Based on this questionnaire, you will be automatically assigned an individual HES-code.

Istanbul on your own: how to get there

билеты в Стамбул самостоятельно

There are a lot of regular flights to Istanbul (and charter flights during the season). Most of the scheduled international flights, including Turkish Airlines, arrive at Istanbul New Airport (IST) . And low-cost airlines and charter flights to Sabiha Gokcen International Airport (SAW) . Read below how to get from the airports to the city.

Check which options to fly to Istanbul are currently available .

Read also:

How to buy cheap flights

Where to Stay in Istanbul: Best Areas & Hotels

где остановиться в Стамбуле самостоятельно

Such a popular tourist center as Istanbul, of course, offers a wide range of hotels, apartments, hostels. The choice of accommodation, as well as the area that suits you, will depend on many factors: budget, travel goals, individual preferences.

If you are primarily interested in historical sites, take a look at the Sultanahmet quarter of Fatih . It is here that the main historical and architectural gems of Istanbul are located: Sultanahmet Square and Mosque (Blue Mosque), the legendary Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Sultan Palace and other places. It is through these ancient quarters that the most interesting historical routes pass. This area remembers both the era of the sultans and the times of Byzantium.

A selection of hotels in the Sultanahmet quarter (the very heart of Ottoman and Byzantine Istanbul)

In the vicinity of Sultanahmet, there are Eminonu (Istanbul’s Old City) and Sirkeci, and a little to the west of – Laleli . All of them also belong to the Fatih area and are also very convenient for tourists, as they are located in the historical (“Byzantine”) part of the city, not far from the main attractions.

When choosing a hotel in the central regions, of course, you should always pay attention to sound insulation – check in reviews what other tourists write about the noise level in the rooms, as well as about other nuances of accommodation.

If you prefer a more European atmosphere to oriental flair, take a look at the Beyoglu district . It will surprise you with its architectural diversity, a mixture of styles and traditions, as well as its unusual hilly relief. But choose your hotel carefully to avoid too noisy streets. The fact is that in some quarters of Beyoglu life is in full swing both day and night – in particular, many nightlife can be found in the bohemian quarter of Galata, as well as in the area of ​​ Istiklal Street and Taksim Square . It can be fun, but very noisy.

Hotels near Taksim Square

If you are looking for more budget accommodation options and you are not intimidated by the need to use transport, take a look at the Asian side of Istanbul and the Kadikoy area. There you can find quiet, comfortable places, but there are many nightclubs and concert halls in the area, so choose the quieter streets.

A selection of hotels in Kadikoy

Read more about the features of the districts of Istanbul in this article. Here we share tips for choosing a place to stay, a hotel and a room.

Transport in Istanbul

How to get to Istanbul from the airport

аэропорты Стамбула самостоятельно

Both the New Istanbul Airport (İstanbul Havalimanı) and the Sabiha Gökçen Havalimanı International Airport are located about 35 km from the city center. Depending on your budget, the volume and weight of luggage, the requirements for comfort, you can choose the option that suits your situation best – from public transport to a transfer or taxi.

How to get to Istanbul from New Airport

Depending on your capabilities and requirements for comfort, you can choose different options – from public transport or special shuttle buses to taxis and individual transfers. Let’s take a closer look at these options.

By Havaist Shuttle Bus

Havaist branded buses run from Istanbul New Airport (İstanbul Havalimanı) to the city center (there are signs in the airport terminal that will help you find the stop of these buses). Havaist will take you to the city center faster and more comfortably than regular city buses. But they are also more expensive.

Depart every 45 minutes, average travel time is 1.5 hours. The buses have free Wi-Fi.

You can pay by credit card, cash, and recently you can download the Havaist mobile application to your smartphone and pay for travel through the application using a QR code (but in this case, the phone must be connected to the Internet when you enter the bus).

Havaist buses run on several routes, allowing you to reach different areas of the city. In particular, the route HVIST-12 can be reached from the airport by bus to Beyazit Square (Beyazit Meydan stop), located in the Old City, not far from Sultanahmet. On route HVIST-14A – to Taksim Square ( Taksim). On route HVIST-9 – to Kadıköy pier (stop Kadıköy).

You can check routes to these other stops, as well as check prices, on the official website (information is available in English or Turkish, and the names of stops are in Turkish). Here is an interactive map with bus stops.

Purchase of tickets for the Havaist bus in Russian is available here .

By city bus

IETT city buses also run from the New Airport. This is the cheapest way to get to the city (it costs only 7 liras), but perhaps the most inconvenient, since you will most likely need to change trains. Of all the routes that go from here, not a single one goes directly to the tourist center. But you can take route H-2 to Mecidiyeköy, and then take the metro.

In order to use public transport, you need to buy a local Istanbulkart transport card. Read more about transport cards in Istanbul – later in the article, in the section about public transport.

By subway

While this option is not available, but in 2021 they promise to open a new metro station, which will allow you to get to the center of Istanbul by metro directly from the airport.


This option is one of the most comfortable ones. If you value time and convenience, you can order a transfer in Istanbul online, in advance. At the same time, you will immediately know the fixed cost and will be able to avoid the problem of finding a transport or taxi, discussing the price with taxi drivers, etc. The driver will be waiting for you with a sign at the airport, which will save you unnecessary headaches.

Book a transfer from Istanbul Airport.

Rent a car in Istanbul

If you want to travel around Turkey or around Istanbul by car and are an experienced and confident driver, you can rent a car .

How to get to Istanbul from the airport. Sabihi Gokcen

такси в Стамбуле

By Havabüs Shuttle Bus

These buses will take you from the airport to the city on one of three routes. One of them goes to Taksim Square . The other is to the Kadıköy pier in the Asian part of Istanbul (if you need to get to the Sultanahmet area, you can take a ferry from Kadıköy to the Eminönü pier. The third route follows to the Yeni Sahra stop, too in the Asian part of Istanbul, it is inconvenient to get to the center from there.

Schedule, prices, more detailed information can be found on the official Havabus website.

By city bus

IETT city buses – the option for the most economical. Routes E10 and E11 will take you to the Asian part of the city, to the Kadikoy pier area.

Transplants are required to get to the Fatih area and the historic center. Take route E3 or 122H to Levent metro station. And then take the metro (line M2) to the Vezneciler station, which is located near the Beyazit square.

You can also take the MR60 bus to the Pendik Yht terminal station. Change to the Marmaray train and take it to the Sirkeci train station in the European part of the city. It is located near the historic center.

In order to use public transport, you need to buy a local Istanbulkart transport card. Read more about transport cards in Istanbul – later in the article, in the section about public transport.

By subway

This option is not yet available, but the construction of the M4 line is ongoing, which will soon connect the airport to them. Sabihi Gokcen with other metro stations.


As you can see, almost all public transport options available at this time require transfers and certain inconveniences, and are also not very fast. You can always avoid difficulties with choosing routes and finding stops by ordering a taxi. But it is even more convenient, and most often cheaper, to order a transfer from Istanbul Airport, which will comfortably take you to the desired address. You can do this in advance, online.

Ordering a transfer will allow you to know in advance the fixed cost of the trip and not worry about waiting, finding the necessary stops, routes and stations, as the driver will be waiting for you with a sign at the airport.

Book a transfer from Istanbul Airport.

Rent a car in Istanbul

Many travelers do not limit themselves to exploring Istanbul alone, but plan interesting routes around the city’s outskirts and other cities in Turkey. In this case, renting a car in Istanbul would be an excellent choice.

City public transport in Istanbul

транспорт Стамбул

The public transport system in Istanbul is organized very conveniently. With its help, you can move between almost any part of the city. Moreover, in addition to traditional buses, trams and metro, you can use ferries, electric trains, funiculars. Such a variety of modes of transport in Istanbul is not surprising, given its relief and the fact that the city is divided by the Bosphorus.

It is convenient to use official mobile applications (for iOS, for Android) to plan routes and clarify information about public transport. Or offline route planner.

Well, for exploring the city and its attractions – our Travelry travel guide application.

как съездить в Стамбул самостоятельно

Istanbulkart Transport Card

To travel by public transport, you need a transport card Istanbulkart . It is a contactless smart card that serves as a travel document. There are different options for it – personal preferential (for example, for students, pensioners, disabled people, etc., they are registered and purchased in special centers) and anonymous, non-personalized, which are suitable for tourists. The card is valid for travel by any type of public transport: tram, bus, metro, metrobus (high-speed bus line), the Marmaray train (convenient for traveling between the Asian and European parts of Istanbul), city ferry or funicular.

You can buy or replenish Istanbulkart immediately after arrival at Istanbul airports, in special Biletmatik terminals, as well as at almost all public transport stops. Usually these terminals have instructions in Russian. Be careful – not all terminals give change.

When entering a vehicle, simply put the card to the reader. As you use transport, money for trips will be gradually deducted from the balance of the transport card. You can top up your balance in any of the same terminals.

During the coronavirus pandemic in Turkey, new security measures have been introduced, which, in particular, require you to bind the HES code to your transport card from January 15, 2021. You can do this by following this link.

And now about how tourists can get the HES code itself.

HES codes for tourists in 2021 in Istanbul in connection with Covid-19

Hes-код Стамбул ковид

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Turkey has special requirements for both local residents and tourists. To travel by public transport, check into hotels, visit some places of interest, registration of an individual HES code is now required. This measure was introduced to track the movements of sick people.

How to get a HES-code for a tourist in Istanbul?

There are 3 options for obtaining a code, but only one of them is suitable for foreign tourists, so we will describe it in detail. But for all three options, including the only option for foreign tourists, access to a local, Turkish number (registered in Turkey) is required – it will not be possible to get a code from a foreign (for example, Russian) number!

Tourist option . With a Turkish SIM card (not from a Russian number), you need to send an SMS to 2023 in the format: HES [space] your country code (if you are coming from Russia, then RUS) [space] your passport number [space] year of birth [space] surname. For example: HES RUS 12345678XXX 1989 IVANOV (for tourists from Russia). Or: HES GBR 12345678XXX 1989 SMITH (for UK tourists).

Options for Turkish residents or foreigners who have a residence permit . They can receive a HES code via SMS to the same number, but in a different message format, or request a code through the Hayat Eve Sığar mobile application (for iOS, for Android). Naturally, the code also comes only for local, Turkish numbers.

From March 15, 2021, an individual HES code is automatically generated when filling out a mandatory electronic questionnaire at the link, which must now be filled in by everyone entering Turkey