Istanbul tourist traps and scams

Istanbul is an amazing and very safe city. Nevertheless, like any other very touristy city, there are some tourist traps, scams and hustles you better know for a good vacation in Istanbul. Many tourists have a wonderful experience in Istanbul and most of them don’t complain about some tricks or tourist traps that unfortunately still exist in the city. Don’t worry, any of those will be that terrible to ruin your vacation fully. We must say as well, that as in any other place in the world a wide majority of the locals are nice, friendly and very honest. However, in this article you will find a serious list of the bad practices that some cheaters do and how to avoid them. 

You can check here as well our general tips to save money travelling.

Taxi scams in Istanbul 

This is very much a classic in town. It deserves to be the number one of the tourist traps in Istanbul to avoid because of its endurance as one of the most avoidable cheats in Istanbul. Currently, Turkish authorities are aware of this problem and the bad image that it gives to the city and they are working on a regulation to avoid the taxi scams in Istanbul. Personally I have taken cabs in Istanbul in the last 10 years and the 100% of the times I did the taxi driver tried to cheat me. Moreover, they have tried with some of my relatives and friends as well in tourist visits. 

They try to switch to the night rate during the day, they will make a forced paid long tour or even they may try to exchange bigger notes for small ones to cheat with the change. They are experts on cheating and they have a long tradition on that. The good news is you can feel free of fighting them since they don’t dare to call the police when they are cheating.

Our recommendation: The best way to avoid the most common tourist trap in Istanbul is not to use a taxi since the public transport is excellent in the city. 

Avoid Airport transfers in Istanbul

When you land in any of the airports of Istanbul you will find many stalls offering transfers, taxis, cars or shutters to the center. Don’t take any of them. Last time in Sabiha Gökçen Airport we asked for a transfer and the man standing offered a private car for 130 euros that he reduced till 60 while we were scraping away smiling. Airports are far from the center, but public transport is excellent and connects all the airports of Istanbul with the downtown. It will cost a bit more than a euro to get to Sultanahmet, in the very center of the tourist area. Trams and metro are the best way to move around in Istanbul.

Don’t eat in Sultanahmet, the most classic of the tourist traps in Istambul

The prices in Istanbul can be very different and they may not be related to the quality of the food. You can pay from 50 liras in Üsküdar neighbourhood to more than 500 in Firuz et Kebab (probably the most overpriced place in Istambul) for a very similar meal in Sultanahmet. In the tourist areas, the restaurants are expensive and the food is not the best. They are the classic tourist trap waiting for the naive visitors. 

Never listen the customer recruiters 

Customer recruiters are sometimes annoying and always tiring. They will try to stop you, start a conversation and try to get you in their restaurant, bar or shop. But remember, they are doing their job, so be patient and never rude. Nevertheless, you have to always keep in mind that someone are paying them to convince you to get into a place that you never would if you had time to compare and decide by yourself. Think logically, if such a pressure is needed to make you in, maybe it is not your interest to enter. The best way to avoid these annoying practices is to make them non-profitable.

Shoe shine scam in Istanbul 

This is one of my favorites for being so old school and so clearly international. You are walking on the street and a shoe cleaner drops his brush next to you and expects you to pick it up and he starts cleaning you to overcharge afterwards. That was the friendly option. They can try to drop the brush on your shoe to get it dirty and try to overcharge afterwards. If you start arguing more of their colleagues, friends or relatives would suddenly appear to back the cheater up. The best is to keep walking and ignore them. 

If you need a proper shoe shine just go to those ones who didn’t try anything with you. They are normally honest but agree the price before and make sure the amount is for both of the shoes and not for only one. 

Courtesy snacks, one of the common tourist traps in Istanbul 

It is very common in tourist restaurants. You will receive snacks, bread and that sort of things you never ordered. In many countries, including indeed Turkey and probably your origin, those would be free since you never ask for that. Unfortunately, in tourist areas most likely they would take advantage of the misunderstanding. If you don’t want what they offer and you don’t want to pay for it just ask kindy to take that stuff away from your table when they serve it. 

You bargain, you lose

Good news is sellers are not very pushy in the bazaars. Neither are they in the Grand Bazaar, even being a tourist attraction. However, if you dare to bargain you need to know they are professionals of that and you are used to fixed prices. Personally, I think I have learned a lot of tricks and the basics about how to bargain in many cultures during my years traveling. Even so, I am very much aware when I try so about who in fact is the professional in the whole process. Moreover, I accept I will pay more than a local from the beginning. 

Currency exchange

Black market is bad. We know that. Nevertheless, in this Istanbul case, white market is close to being that bad too. Commissions and high in best-case scenario, and bad professionals (let’s name them that way) are spread around. The solution to avoid this tourist trap is to take a bit of cash from the ATM or exchange just once and a few and from then on just use the credit card. Credit cards are very much accepted. You must watch out always nobody takes your card away to copy it, sees your pin code or insert the amount in a different currency but Turkish Liras. 

Old Lira, New Lira

The Turkish old Lira was the official currency of Turkey until 2005. That year the Turkish government replaced them for the New Liras after a period of hyperinflation. As a tourist you have to check what they are giving to you as a change from the current Liras since it used to be a common trick to give the old ones some years ago. 

The unexpected tourist guide

There are some persons, official or not, that will try to offer their services as tourist guides. Even for any kind of activity you may need as a tourist. It is up to you to take one of those or not. My opinion is that you don’t need any of them to enjoy your experience in Istanbul. This is a wonderful city very easy to enjoy by yourself. One way or the other, keep in mind that some of them won’t hesitate to lie to you in order to present themselves in a good position to be hired. Check twice the information they randomly say to you such as this place is close today, this is not the best way or that is much better after because of the light or this sort of bla bla bla. 

The surprising photographer

At some point you are enjoying the views and a photographer comes offering a picture. Again, this is up to you. But just know they are not professionals and neither cheap. 

Free tourist maps

There are persons who still try to sell the maps or the printed information you can get for free in the tourist offices. Just take information from official sources and don’t contribute with these illegal businesses against the official efforts of the Turkish government to make Istanbul a welcoming city for tourists.  

Entrance tickets vs Museum Pass in Istanbul

This is actually not one of the tourist traps in Istanbul but tickets are expensive. A way to save money for good on that is to use one of the Museum Passes. The istambul Museum Pass includes 13 museums in 5 days for 700 Liras. Considering that only the ticket for Topkapi Palace with the Harem area is almost this amount that is a very good option. You will be able to skip the counter lines as well. Unfortunately, not all the atractions are included like Dolmabahçe Palace or the cistern. If you want all the atractions the best options are Istambul Tourist pass and Istambul E-Pass which are different cards to cover everything you may need in Istambul.

The welcoming tea

The welcoming tea is part of the traditional hospitality of the Turkish. When they prowl around a shop or they get into any kind of visit or business they offer tea to their customers or visitors. Unfortunately, some of the too much used to the tourists twisted at some point the tradition in order to use it as a tool to get money. In some places they will ask money for the tea or they will use it to retain you at the place and overcharge at some moment. 

Never get into a private club

This is not happening very often but there are some tourists that report they were cheated in some clubs where you suddenly find naked persons and drinks are crazy expensive for real. This scam can cost hundreds of euros on a bill for three or four drinks. If there are drugs involved in the process things would go worse. 

Healthy tourism and tourist traps in Istanbul

We never checked healthy services in Istanbul. Nevertheless, we have seen, listened and read stories from governmental sources about the diversity of the quality of these services in Istanbul. You will be able to see many tourists on the street on recent hair transplants. There are offers of packs which include the hotels, meals, tours at your election and the transplant of a concrete number of thousands of hair follicles. Unfortunately, there are many painful scams on this field so check twice the trustworthiness of the medical center and the concrete treatment you will receive. There are excellent health centers and hospitals in Istanbul but they are not the cheapest. There are also cheaty agencies that promise the tourist one concrete treatment and they contract at the same time another cheaper one with the health center. 

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