The influence of the upstream turbulence intensity on the flow characteristics downstream of a laboratory-scale horizontal axis tidal stream turbine is investigated in this study. Three test cases with the same mean velocity and different turbulence intensities are simulated numerically using the hybrid large eddy simulation/actuator line modelling technique. The mean velocity components, mean turbulent fluctuations, velocity deficit and wake extension are compared along the streamwise direction to examine the upstream turbulence effects. The inflow conditions are generated by the mapping method using the mean velocity and turbulent profiles experimentally obtained for a turbulent open channel flow. Comparing results for the mean velocity and turbulent fluctuations shows that the upstream turbulence level strongly affects the flow characteristics downstream of the turbine by influencing the tip vortices breakdown process and in turn wake recovery. The comparison also reveals that the ambient turbulence level strongly influences the velocity deficit but it does not significantly affect the streamwise velocity and the radial location of tip vortices in the flow.