Tips for Travellers Visiting Istanbul for the First Time


Istanbul is a Turkish city straddling Asia and Europe over the Bosphorous Strait. The city was once the capital of the Ottoman and Byzantine Empire and dates back to the 7th Century. The old city holds a timeless beauty and charm that is a great attraction to tourists.

Istanbul is a major destination for visitors from the UK.

In light of the COVID-19 epidemic, and if you are visiting Istanbul for the first time from Britain or anywhere in the UK, there are some important things that you need to know before travelling.



Current Restrictions

The Turkish Government has introduced strict measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. Some of the restrictions have been relaxed somewhat, but you should be prepared as the Government might reintroduce them with little or no notice.

  • Everyone must wear masks at all times while walking around Istanbul
  • Public transport has capacity limits to ensure that passengers follow the set social distancing rules

Arrival and Departure

Situations around the world have changed dramatically, and most Governments have issued travel warnings restricting travel. Turkish international borders are open to all foreign travellers, who must meet the Turkish Immigration rules first.

Commercial flights have resumed, albeit on a country-to-country basis, which is coordinated by the Turkish Ministry of Health. The restrictions for travellers include:

  • All airline passengers must wear face masks and complete locator forms that the particular airline supplies. You have to provide the address of the place you will be staying as well as how to contact you.
  • The passengers must complete a COVID-19 screen on arrival to Istanbul. The screen includes a temperature check, and for any traveller with COVID-19 symptoms must undergo a PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) or swab test.

Visa and Immigration

If you are planning to travel to Istanbul for business or tourist purposes, you can travel visa-free for visits of at least 90 days. If you plan to stay in Istanbul for more than 90 days, you can apply for a longer stay visa or obtain a residence permit before the 90 days elapse. If working in Istanbul, you need to obtain the appropriate permits.

Not abiding by your visa or permit terms will get you fined, deported and banned from Turkey. If you are a citizen from the UK, you can apply for a Turkey visa from the UK online. E-visas are processed as soon as they are submitted, but it would be best to apply 48 hours before travelling to avoid delays.

Things to Do in Istanbul

For visitors from the UK, there is no shortage of things to do in Istanbul, whether on a tourist or work visit. Some of the places to visit are:

  • The Blue Mosque. Built in 1616, it is famous for the intricate blue tiles that cover its entire interior.
  • Topkapi Palace. Once the administrative headquarters of the Ottoman Empire, it a beautiful place, and includes the Harem, where the Sultan’s mother, his wives and concubines resided.
  • Basilica Cistern: An ancient reservoir it is located underground. It is cold, dark, and if you look carefully, you will find two Medusa heads.
  • Grand Bazaar: Its great kaleidoscope of coloured lanterns and hallways resembling a maze are a delight to shop in.
  • Spice Bazaar-Built in 1664, the Spice Bazaar is the largest market where you can get all types of spices, caviar, dried fruits, Turkish delights and much more.
  • Suleymaniye Mosque-An exquisite mosque, the Suleymaniye Mosque is 60 years older than the Blue Mosque and was constructed by Sultan Suleymaniye the Magnificent at the height of the Ottoman Empire.

Istanbul is one of the oldest towns in Turkey and is rich in colour and culture. With the COVID-19 pandemic, you need to be well prepared if it is your first time. Having the proper documentation and following all the government guidelines, visitors from Britain and the larger UK will have a great time in Instanbul.


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