This is The Most Ideal Istanbul Itinerary for Women
So, I arrived in Turkey. A girl with travel aspirations and a hunger for cultural education. I knew it would be an interesting place to explore, but I also knew it would not be as liberal as other places I have been and that the reins needed to pulled on my traveller style. I needed to blend in with Istanbul’s cultural foundation; I needed to conform as a woman. If you are like me, you need to check out our Istanbul itinerary and guide for women full of suggestions and sights perfect for your Turkey vacation.
Turkey Travel Basics and The Start of Your Istanbul Itinerary:
- Currently, some nationals are able to enter Turkey with just a valid passport for up to 60 days. Do check Turkey’s Visa website to determine if you require a visa! The last thing you want is to be refused due to lacking the necessary documentation.
- Visa costs differ depending on your nationality. The price is in USD, so ensure you bring US cash with you. The cost ranges between $25-$75 USD.
- Planning to shop? Keep in mind the limits to buy and take home with you! 600 cigarettes, 1kg quantity of coffee or chocolate, and up to 2L of alcohol depending on the alcohol percentage. Turkey randomly checks bags and if you have overage, they may confiscate it.
- Taking antiquities home is prohibited. Do not attempt to take pieces of ancient landmarks, or areas of great importance or you will be arrested for vandalism and theft.
- Make sure you purchase Travel Insurance! Read more about our favourite provider World Nomads.
Essential Packing List for Girls going to Turkey:
Planning my time in Turkey, I ensured I packed some essentials that would make my time spent in this glorious country where continents merge as stress-free as possible. When gathering your travel essentials, you can use my Istanbul guide to know what to bring with you:
- Comfortable walking shoes- There are many walking tours and districts to explore and without proper foot support, you will be hurting! I highly recommend comfy-soled shoes to make sightseeing as painless as possible.
- Pashmina – These are multi-functional and a must in our Istanbul itinerary. If you intend on entering any mosques, as women, you are required to cover your hair. Pashminas can double as a headscarf to meet this requirement. Secondly, if your pashmina scarf is a shorter design bring a couple! Pack one for your hair and another for your shoulders if you are heading there in the summer! They are compact, lightweight and fit easily in day bags.
- Capris – Are you travelling in the summer? It can get incredibly hot. Shorts are not ideal in some buildings as they are above the knee. Capris, are longer and are tailored to reach below your knees. Bring a pair of these and you should have no trouble entering holy buildings.
- Dresses of various lengths – The most versatile garment in a woman’s closet, dresses are perfect for numerous events and activities and are incredibly comfortable. Check out our article for 10 great ways to wear this wardrobe staple that takes very little room in your suitcase!
- Money Belt- Take normal precautions and keep your travel documents and money with you! Theft is not a big threat in Istanbul, but it is always wise to stay alert and not take silly chances.
- Camera equipment- With a cultural or historical monument around every corner, capturing these moments through a lens is essential! Pack extra batteries and memory cards just in case.
- International SIM Card – I cannot tell you how many times I have overpaid for phone usage overseas! Avoid this mistake with a SIM card that works in Europe. Just be sure that your phone is unlocked before leaving your home country.
- Female Hygiene products- Every country has different brands and products for female needs. I personally feel most comfortable using the brands I am used to! I pack a quantity of what I may require while overseas. You may want to consider this if you are uncomfortable trying new brands or have a sensitivity to certain material or fragrances.
- Bikini– Do you plan on going to the Turkish Baths? Some women prefer to wear bottoms in the various rooms. If you are one of those conservative ladies, do ensure you bring a bikini for this purpose. You can buy cheap sets at the baths, but if you bring one you already know fits, you are ahead of the game.
Istanbul Itinerary Essential Attractions:
The Spice Market
Also known as the Egyptian Bazaar, this iconic building in the heart of the city boasts 85 different vendors offering a variety of spices, delicacies, sweets, and other products complete with a personal consultation at each booth!
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The Blue Mosque
After being immersed in sugar and spice, plan a visit to the famous Blue Mosque. An architectural masterpiece, the mosque gets its name from the blue mosaic tiles within it. Beautifully hand-painted mosaic tiles cover the interior walls and at night visitors see a gorgeous blue coloured structure glowing through its many domes.
A central tourist attraction in Istanbul, the Blue Mosque, officially known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, brings thousands of visitors daily, and continues to operate as a mosque today for devotees. Built between 1609 and 1616, this beautiful building houses the tomb of former ruler Ahmen I.
What Girls Should Know before visiting the Blue Mosque:
- As it is a functioning mosque, do check the prayer times before arriving, as it closes for 90 minutes to the public. The first call is at sunrise and the last at sunset.
- Watch the entry signs. Visitors must enter at the west side of the building.
- Footwear is forbidden. Bags are provided for your shoes allowing you to carry them while inside.
- There is no entry fee into the mosque.
- Remember that handy pashmina from the packing list? Make sure you bring it with you! To enter the mosque all women must wear a scarf and cover their hair. If you forget your pashmina, free scarves are provided at the entrance.
- Ensure you wear conservative clothing. Be sure to wear a shirt to cover your shoulders with a maxi skirt or those handy capri pants that come down to your shins. Maxi dresses with a shrug or cardigan is also ideal. If you arrive with clothing deemed inappropriate, robes are provided for your visit.
- Be respectful with photographs. Do not use flash or take photos of individuals in prayer.
- Certain areas of the mosque are not open to the public. Do show respect and remain where tourists are welcome.
- Do not make noise. Treat the mosque as a holy building and act accordingly. Should staff or believers feel your behaviour is disruptive, they will escort you off the premises.
When inside the mosque, I was in awe of the beauty. The architecture, blue tiles and the acoustics were definitely impressive and demonstrating why it was classified as a UNESCO Heritage Site and must-see for anyone visiting Istanbul.
Grand Bazaar Shopping – An Essential on Your Istanbul Itinerary
The Grand Bazaar is world renowned for its bargain shopping and aggressive haggling. A novice to the art of haggling, The Grand Bazaar is just that – GRAND. Spend a few hours here exploring the winding alleys, peering through the secret doorways leading to the other side, and become mesmerized with the massive assortment of goods ready to be purchased by the curious traveller. Have a Turkish coffee, grab a pashmina, indulge in a lamp, or even a decorative hookah. It is wise to allot a minimum of 3 hours to browse and enjoy the ambiance within the bazaar.
Grand Bazaar shopping is an experience I’d like to keep to once. Uncomfortable with the act of haggling and my inexperience, I was intimidated by the constant hounding of retailers hoping to spark our interest in their products.
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I did learn the hard way on what to expect in the bazaar and how to conduct myself. One booth I approached as it was selling a handbag I liked. I opted to pursue the retailer for further information. He brought me and my husband to an unmarked room completely stocked with knock-off designer bags and luggage. One bag in particular I did fancy, until scanning the quality and learning the price. After a half hour of price exchanges and quality discrepancies, I finally had enough and vacated the room The shop keeper was extremely annoyed that we did not make a purchase and proceeded to follow us down several alleys expressing his distaste in us for wasting his time. This experience led to my immediate need to escape this labyrinth of harassing, stalking shop keepers.
It was unfortunate that I had such an experience during my Grand Bazaar shopping experience. The Bazaar is world famous and I’d been looking forward to exploring and experiencing it like any other visitor. Based on this, I have the following recommendations for all you lady travellers out there:
Istanbul Itinerary: What Girls Should Know Before Heading to the Grand Bazaar
- The hours of operation are 8:30-7 pm.
- Make sure to bring that money belt to protect your money and personal documents.
- Do NOT go with locals who offer private viewings of products! They will lead you to isolated alleys and try to sell you stuff. If you do not buy anything, they will harass you until you leave the bazaar! Take it from me that this was daunting!
- If you are able, go to the Grand Bazaar with a friend or male companion. You will not be bothered as much. While I was there, I was lucky to have my husband with me; however, standing outside the washroom waiting for him, I was bothered and had to duck back into the women’s room!
- Do not show interest in a product until you are ready to haggle and agree on a price.
Turkish Baths in Istanbul
After going Grand Bazaar shopping and taking in some gorgeous architecture and culture, why not relax at the Turkish Baths in Istanbul? You are in for a relaxing treat to soothe your achy traveller’s muscles. Neck cramps from the airline, hotel pillows, or upright bus seats? You definitely MUST have a treatment.
Not knowing exactly what to expect, I went into the establishment ready to enjoy this cultural experience. I stripped from head to toe and headed into the sauna room. The local men and women were there to greet and show you where to go. Once inside I lay across a large marble flooring with steam all around me. It was indeed relaxing and reminded me of the spas back home.
After 20 minutes of steam, staff equipped with a loofah and a bucket of soapy water come to you and begin washing you down. The women scrub you down from head to toe followed by dumping the water over your head to rinse off the soap. Once rinsed, you are then escorted to a fountain where you get your hair washed, then told to rest in the jacuzzi. Quite a liberating, relaxing and cleansing experience! My husband described his experience in the men’s baths to be similar. After the jacuzzi, I was escorted to another area and received an hour massage followed by a exfoliating facial- both relaxing and satisfying.
Istanbul Itinerary: What Girls Need to Know about the Turkish Baths:
- As with most spas, men and women are separated for this experience.
- Bikini bottoms are provided; however, you can bring your own if you feel more comfortable.
- Lockers are provided for your personal belongings.
- Make sure to bring toiletries such as a brush, deodorant, female hygiene products, etc.
- Prepare to be washed by the workers. Loofahs can be rough, so let them know if it is too coarse for your skin
- Make sure you take more than one towel from the staff! You will want one for your head when lying on the marble tiles.
- Come with an open mind of naked locals working on you in the bathing area, and prepare yourself for the experience of these women/men doing the traditional bathing rituals.
- Be quite careful with the massage. My massage was rough and caused damage to my shoulder that lasted and caused over 8 weeks of pain, stiffness, therapy and healing. The staff can be rough and unaware they are hurting you. Just advise them to stop and they will either lessen the pressure or stop completely.
- Spa treatments are also available for an extra price. Need a polish change on your toes for the beach, a manicure, or waxing? Inquire when buying your experience and they will tell you the additional cost.
- The gift shop offers traditional Turkish bath products including some gorgeous Hammam towels of every colour imaginable. Do take advantage and buy some authentic bathing items!
Istanbul Itinerary Must: Attend a Turkish Dance Show
Cleansed in body and mind, why not attend a traditional Turkish evening of dancing and dinner. Shows feature fire-eating spectacles and belly dancers, along with singing acts. It is a fun evening as they welcome visitors of all nationalities by singing their national anthems or traditional songs. It was a nice touch to hear the Canadian anthem, and Waltzing Matilda for the Australians when we were there.
Enjoy a Turkish Coffee
What separates Turkish coffee from the rest is how it is filtered during preparation. The beans are ground extremely fine then simmered in a pot. Usually served with a lump or two of sugar to offset the bitterness, Turkish coffee is best served piping hot with the grounds settled at the bottom. The experience is so special, that the art of making authentic Turkish coffee beverages is not considered a UNESCO experience! Enjoy a Turkish coffee in a cafes and restaurants all across the city with sugar or with sweetened milk for a creamier texture. You can’t miss his item off our Istanbul guide.
Topkapi Palace is a must on your Istanbul Itinerary
The Topkapi Palace is a wonderful historical building in the heart of Istanbul that was home to the Ottomon Sultans during the empire from the late 1400’s to the mid-1800’s.
The palace served as stately royal residence and hosted many a regal event. Nowadays, visitors enjoy a museum of artifacts, collections and Turkish antiquities. One of the most revered and protected artifacts housed inside is Muhammed’s cloak and sword. The Palace became a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1985. Hence, no Istanbul guide would be complete with this palace.
Hookahs and Hookah Bars
While in Istanbul, do give a hookah a try! Locally known as shishas or water pipes, many smoke hookahs culturally at various cafes and bars. You can order a flavoured hookah at the bar and smoke on your own, or engage in social smoking with fellow travellers. Social smoking utilizes a multi-hosed hookah of up to 4 individual mouthpieces. Once completed, respectfully tidy it up and ensure the mouthpiece is not pointing at the bartender or server.
Just be sure to avoid anything nicknamed “special shisha.” This has been spiked and you will not remember your evening. Take heed and only go into reputable bars and cafes and refuse anything on the road.
Final Safety Thoughts and Istanbul Guide for Girls to know:
- Respect anything adorning the Turkish flag. Anything showing disrespect in the eyes of the locals including wearing it as clothing or dragging it on the floor is considered highly offensive and is punishable with imprisonment.
- As football matches are massive in the country, ensure you do not wear any team colours as the rivalry is fierce and sometimes results in violence. Double check which teams are playing and avoid those colours.
- With most cities, mind your belongings and be weary of pickpockets.
- Avoid going into secluded alleyways in the Grand Bazaar and elsewhere
- Do not follow salespeople into isolated product rooms.
- Do travel in groups if possible, especially at night!
Istanbul as a whole was a wonderful experience. I was fortunate that my trip had a healthy combination of good and bad as it provided a well-rounded cultural experience. Hopefully, you can use the information above so you can make the most of your Istanbul experience and stay safe.
Thinking of expanding your vacation in Turkey? I highly recommend travelling to Ephesus. The city is jam-packed with history and things to see and do. Truly a bucket list tick!
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