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Enjoy Istanbul - do not make our mistakes

Berlin, Germany
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Enjoy Istanbul - do not make our mistakes

A couple of days ago we came back home from a 5 nights stay in Istanbul. The trip had both nice and not so nice moments. Let's start with the bad ones, mainly so that other tourists can avoid the (unusually refined) traps we went into, and also to end in a positive way.

First and most important advice I would give is, if you go by taxi, it is NOT enough to check that the driver uses/switches on the taxameter. We had a perfectly honest taxi driver from the airport to Tünel who charged 50-51 TL something (the correct sum) and was very helpful despite (or because?) not speaking a word other than Turkish. He even bowed and thanked me when I just tipped him a few TL.

On the way back (from exactly the same spot and actually a bit shorter distance as it was a one way street, this time in the right direction), however...the taxameter showed 2,95 TL just when we drove off and I relaxed and thought I shouldn't be so suspicious. We had a fun chat with the driver who spoke a bit english and joked a lot. Arriving at the airport, I leant forward, still happy, and just froze when I saw the taxameter - 108,50 TL!! "What!? I don't even have that much lira left!" were the first words I said, and the taxi driver immediately suggested that my girlfriend step in back into the taxi and we go to an ATM. I started getting really angry and told him I know the price could never be more than 60 TL. He got very aggressive and we more or less started haggling loudly about the price, I finally threw 70 TL at him and slammed the door.

The second most important advice I would give is, when you dine in a touristy area, make a small note of what you order for which price. Decline anything you haven't ordered immediately (unless you do want to pay for it of course), like bread, olives, or dessert. This is probably (my guess) OK to accept in "normal" parts of town, but if you're in touristy areas, you are going to pay the price, and then some. Our bills were "spiced", but we didn't really realize it until afterwards.

Or shortly expressed, stay out of tourist areas altogether when it comes to dining...

The third and very general advice I would give is: Realize that Istanbul is a world metropolis with accomodation prices to go with it - we paid only 50 euro per night, but man what a dump it was! It looked good on pictures and even had a few good reviews (probably from the owner's friends..). We had booked a room with a terrace, arrived very late and were kindly asked if we could maybe instead consider staying in the bottom floor, just until tomorrow...we were disappointed but said "no problem". Next day in the afternoon I called about the room change, and was informed he had said "tomorrow" and that this was still just "today" - we had arrived at 1 AM in the morning...

So, another night on the ground floor without terrace in a dark alley where almost no daylight came through. By the way, in the evening at 10.30 PM someone dropped a cigarette butt from the terrace we had booked, when we were standing outside the building, nice to see it was used by someone at least.

After the two nights it was finally "tomorrow" and we got our terrace for the remaining three nights.

Anyway, if you want to stay "decent and central", I suggest you budget as if it was a Western European city, ie *at least* 80 euros per night.

Ok, so, some positive things:

The area we stayed in, Tünel, was very interesting, and actually more "alternative" than anything here in Berlin, which is otherwise known for such culture! The plaza around the Galata Tower offered a great view for people watching, it seemed everyone was there, cats, dogs, homeless, noveau riche, tourists, hippies, devoted mosque prayers etc.

It was interesting how even the inner city changed character quickly - walking up north towards Taksim it looked like any European city, with the in my opinion rather dull Istiklal caddessi being the artery between Tünel and Taksim. The tram between them is so slow it's quicker to walk. A metro line is being built southwards from Shishane and will mean a major improvement for tourists getting around the inner city.

South from the Galata Tower, it's steep downhill to the much more oriental area around the Galata bridge with many restaurants (do not eat "under" the bridge, apparent tourist traps and yet we went into one of them). From here you can either continue walking over the bridge or taking the tram all the way up to Sultanahmet with Hagia Sofia and other sights. Buy one of those cards, Istanbulkart, because it's sometimes enerving and time-consuming trying to find coins or small bills (almost) every time you transfer.

One area in Sultanahmet I liked, was the surroundings of the Topkapi palace, lots of greenery and good views across the water to the Asian side. Also a beautiful tiny cobblestoned street running cross between Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace, a hotel there would have been nice!

We later did the full Bosphorus cruise, departing from the southeast corner of Galata Bridge at 10.30 AM. It was nice, but in retrospective I would go for an evening tour instead, as Istanbul definitely looks much better in the night!

My tip for the full Bosphorus cruise if you still want to do that, would be to pack sandwiches for lunch as the restaurants in the village where you will spend a few hours are obvious tourist traps -we fell into one...can you imagine ;). Instead, eat your sandwiches when you have reached the ruins half of all tourists go to anyway, and where you more importantly have a grand view of the Black Sea. After that, walk down again to the highest located restaurant and have a few drinks there (not the food).

An area tha looked very nice but we found no time to explore was Besiktas, along the Bosphorus - the waterfront bars actually looked far more inviting. In fact I think already Kabatas is far more relaxed than around the Galata bridge.

We also went to Cevahir shopping mall on a day with rain, it was predictably huge, but very comfortable to reach with direct access to metro station Sisli, second station north of Taksim. Peoplewatching was very interesting here as well, as the mall is an obvious hangout for the middle-to-upper class. Very Western in character. Migros is a well-sorted supermarket on the underground floor. Remember imported wine is insanely expensive in Turkey, so test local brands or better yet, drink local beer instead. Personally I think the internationally sold Efes is perfectly ok, better than certain international brands from the Netherlands or Denmark at least ;)

Ok, those were a few impressions from Istanbul, both good and bad.

Summary: Don't be greedy - both prices and quality are on Western European level, which means if you find a bargain, it most likely is a rip-off instead.

Do make use of public transport and your own feet, buy an Istanbulkart.

Avoid taxis.

Raleigh, North...
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1. Re: Enjoy Istanbul - do not make our mistakes

Very helpful and unique perspective. Thank you for your trip report.

London
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2. Re: Enjoy Istanbul - do not make our mistakes

I agree with OP on dining, i recently came back from Turkey and had a same experience.

Dont take me wrong, its beautiful country and very friendly people but i cant lie saying Istanbul is a most honest of cities. As soon as you speak an english line, they know you are not local and they just try to rip you off. Perfect example is water bottle which cost .5TL everywhere but as soon as you say the Golden Word 'How Much', price goes to 2TL.

For me, money is not the problem but its matter of discipline and i bet 90% of tourists know on the spot that they are been ripped off but dont says a word due to various reasons.

Another experience i would like to share is mood swings of some vendors in Grand Bazaar. You go to their shop and they tell a price of 200TL, you start haggling and bring the price down to maybe 70-80TL and suddenly, you think if seller has come down to 70 from 200TL, you try your luck with some ridiculous price. Now sometime this ridiculous price trigger their mood swing and they start acting like you have just wasted their time and starts acting like you have joked with them. (who started this Joke and you can always say 'NO')

Everything i bought in Turkey, within 20min of buying, i realised that i have been properly ripped off considering i bought everything with 50-60% below seller initial price.

Some restaurants add some VAT on bill, but then where is my bill if you are asking me for VAT. They just come up with a number and add that on name of VAT.

This whole ripping off experience has put me off istanbul

Istanbul
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3. Re: Enjoy Istanbul - do not make our mistakes

Jugram, I must add something to your feeling about feeling "ripped off" when bargaining. If you don't like the initial offering price, you have the option, of course, of not buying. But once you counter the initial offered price with a counter-offer, your "bargained" price becomes a part of the deal. As a merchant, I would also feel that you were "playing" or wasting my time to continuously renege on a counter-offer. You always have the option of offering whatever price you may want to pay, and then the negotiating begins. But, in my opinion, once you have given your final counter-offer, do not waste the merchant's time, by seeing "how low can I go." The negotiating process is not a game for the merchant, nor should it be for the buyer.

Istanbul
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4. Re: Enjoy Istanbul - do not make our mistakes

You would be better off not ruminating about a few TL that you feel you may have overpaid. Be an educated shopper by knowing what the value of the item that you are intending to purchase. If you are satisfied with your purchase and the purchase price, let it stand like that. Use your precious time enjoying the sights of Istanbul instead of reliving the negotiating experience over and over again in your head. Do not try to reprice the same item with a different merchant unless you have the authentic interest in rebuying that item. RELAX!

Berlin, Germany
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5. Re: Enjoy Istanbul - do not make our mistakes

While not the least interested in bazaars and bargaining myself, it's not at all necessary to mention an own price suggestion, or even negotiate actively, to bring down the price of an item.

Whatever, personally I merely wanted to warn/advice other tourists visiting Istanbul so that they get a more enjoyable visit than we had. And, even if this misbehaviour and ripping-off is concentrated to the tourism business, I find it embarrassing that such a wealthy place feels like, well, Cairo in this respect. Great place otherwise. I'm an optimist and think things will improve greatly when public transport is being extended so that people get an even better possibility to avoid taking taxis. And much of that infrastructure extension seems to be only months away.

Surrey, UK
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6. Re: Enjoy Istanbul - do not make our mistakes

Sadly taxis are often an issue for visitors to Istanbul - and this tends to make people be on their guard for everything else, and then start to worry about a few lira here and there.

In most cases, it isn't a case of people trying to 'rip you off' - it is just that things are done differently. Haggling in bazaars is one of them. You are given a price, you give a counter price that is below what you are willing to pay and then you begin a process that generally means you will get the item for somewhere in the middle. If your offer is really unacceptable, the seller will not continue and will show you other items. If you don't reach an agreement, walk away. Sometimes the seller will call you back (if you are close to a price he will accept or if he is still playing the game!) other times he won't. This might seem a strange way of doing things to us, but it has its own rules! If you are happy with the price, buy it happily. If you aren't, don't buy it!

If anything is put on your table you haven't ordered, send it back or ask if it is included (bread often is especially in the tourist restaurants). Otherwise expect to pay for it. Remember that alcohol is expensive.

FInally Istanbul is a city that is flooded with visitors - and hotels are not cheap. It is no longer a cheap destination. That is the reality. If you are paying a cheap price, don't expect high quality. That said, most are basic but clean and friendly.

Washington DC...
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7. Re: Enjoy Istanbul - do not make our mistakes

Taxis are a problem as other posters have noted. Secondly, Istanbul is cheaper than Western Europe but it is no longer the bargain it was before. Between this board and the tripadvisor reviews I was able to find a good clean hotel that was budget but nice.

The point about paying for food reminded me of my first trip to Paris. My mom & I visited a cafe for breakfast were they put down a basket of fresh baked croissants at our table when we sat down. Thinking it was like America where you pay a set price for the whole basket we began eating. After eating 2 pieces each we find out they charge by the croissant! Ouch. So many countries share this practice.

Mount Dora, Florida
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8. Re: Enjoy Istanbul - do not make our mistakes

After our experiences last year in Sultanahmet I have stopped defending the restaurants in this area. What I am willing to say is that if you have been running all day long and you arrive at your hotel too exhausted to contemplate going anywhere else, there are a handful of places where you can get reasonably good food that is probably over-priced by only 30% to 40%. We stayed in Istanbul 5 weeks last year, and we ate in Sultanahmet five times.

We had much better meals, and much more reasonable prices by just walking into the adjacent neighborhood of Sirkeci. If you want to enjoy very authentic Turkish meals at great prices I recommend the numerous little restaurants in Hodjapasha Street.

As for the etiquette of negotiating prices in the Grand Bazaar, or really, in any environment, you have to negotiate with the amounts of introduce into the process. It is beyond rude to offer 50TL, reach some amount approaching your offering price, and then decide to reduce your offer. You simply do not do that. You do not do it when you negotiate the price of a home or a car or a refrigerator, and you do not do it when you negotiate the price of a pashmina in the Grand Bazaar. Of course, behavior like this will make the seller annoyed.

Taxi drivers are often problematic in Istanbul, just as they are in most large cities. In this case the OP did the right thing. He already knew the approximate cost of his trip. When you have this information, and the driver does something like double the price, you should remove your luggage and the rest of your party from the taxi and give the driver the appropriate fare. I would not negotiate. I would pay the 50TL I paid the first driver, and wish him well. No taxi driver is going to call the police to collect a rate that is clearly robbery.

For the most part I feel that most of my transactions in Istanbul are fair and honest. I recognize that tourism is a huge business in Turkey, and there are always people who will try to make more than their fair share of the tourist's money. It is no different anywhere else. When I visit Yellowstone Park, I am going to pay twice as much for an ice cream cone in the middle of the park than I would pay in my own hometown. The rules of supply and demand added to the logistics of putting ice cream in a less convenient location cause the price to be inflated. Whether it is Yellowstone Park, or Disney World or a tiny village on the Bosphorus that sustains itself on tourist purchases, you just pay more when you are part of a captive group of people.

In terms of the Bosphorus Cruise I have never had anything but an excellent sea food meal after visiting the castle and taking photos of the Black Sea. I certainly have never paid more for a meal than I pay in Sultanahmet. Perhaps if you have access to a kitchen you can prepare your own picnic, but I prefer to eat in a proper restaurant, and I understand I will pay more to do this.

I will not do it every night for five weeks in Sultanahmet, but I will do it once a year after our trip up the Bosphorus.

Kayakoy, Turkey
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9. Re: Enjoy Istanbul - do not make our mistakes

A shame Anders, that you come with very good advise for new visitors to İstanbul, but that you did not read this forum before going on this trip. All your experiences are mentioned by previous visitors, so hopefully yours will be read and put into pockets of newbies.

First you hotel, even if you are tired or not, always first ask to see the room before accepting a change in your room! İ hope you did not pay the same price for that basement room!

Taxi's: best ting is to write down the number on the side of the taxi, or take a picture. İn that way the taxi can be always traced down and you have better proof when you like to officially complain.

Your taxi surely asked to much for the return drive. Nevertheless İ do think to remember that every taxi has a starting fare. You never start with a zero.

Food: That is a habit in certain restaurants, but what you do not want you send it back. İ remember this from Padang in İndonesia. Your table gets filled with food, and you only pay what you eat. But just tasting was paying. Obviously the Turks are clever enough that many tourists are not aware or just too polite to not send things back and for them it is a sales tactics.

Good to see you are phlegmatic enough to not have this spoil your holiday. Personally İ call this typical holiday mistake, they tend to happen especially happen in the first two days, then you acclimatise to the "oriental atmosphere" wherever you are and you are more aware.

Cheers!

London
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10. Re: Enjoy Istanbul - do not make our mistakes

Totally agree with you cagcag about not ruminating about few TL and that's something I am trying to learn as i travel.