Istanbul, the city where oriental and modern clash, sky-high minarets are the usual sight and small streets hide sweet shops and cafes at every corner. Once you go there, you will always long to go back! As I often visit Istanbul, I decided to put together a few tips to help you discover its many wonders.
Accommodation and Transportation
Think carefully where you will stay. It takes time to get to any of the tourist attractions so book a hotel or Airbnb in the vicinity. In the European side of Istanbul, stay close to Aya Sofya or if you choose the Asian side, book a hotel near to the Kadikoy ferry harbor.
As for transport, get an Istanbul travel card. You can use it for metro, bus, tram and ferry transport. One ticket is about 2.2 Lira and one Istanbul card can be used to check in more than one person.
It’s an option to rent a car, but I’d only advise it to those with Turkish driving skills. Traffic jams are common on most roads and parking can be tedious.
Going for just a few days? Here’s a selection of my favorite sights.
– Ortaköy neighborhood – Getting there might be a bit tiresome, especially during rush hours. Take the bus or track. Once there, take the time to check the Ortaköy mosque and the jewelry market nearby, where you can get a good bargain on delicate bracelets with the famous Turkish eye.
– Hagia Sophia § Sultanahmet Square – Buy tickets online for Hagia Sophia well in advance to cut the big queue. The cathedral is most famous for its sizes, as well as long-standing history.
– Balat neighborhood – the traditional Jewish quarter hides many authentic cafes and steep streets which reveal a beautiful view over the city. Getting there is not so difficult, but try and stay on the main streets as it might not be as safe.
– Do a Bosphorus sightseeing – You can hop on a ferry which leaves every 15-30 minutes and enjoy the breathtaking views of the Asian and European Istanbul over a cup of hot Turkish tea. It’s most beautiful during the early morning or sunset times. You can combine it with a short stay at the Asian or European side depending on where your hotel is.
– Shopping – there’s plenty of shopping malls around, so if you’re into shopping like me, check out brands like Koton, DeFacto, Madame Coco, Miniso, Penti and my absolute favorites Mudo and Ipekyol. Most brands are also situated on Taksim street in the European part of Istanbul. Among the most famous shopping malls are Mall of Istanbul, İstinye Park, Forum Istanbul.
– Galata tower – originally a Byzantine creation, the tower is one of the highest landmarks of Istanbul. Climb up and check the amazing view from the top or go in the evening to see it lit from within. I would advise that you check working times in advance not to be unpleasantly surprised if they close early that day.
– Istanbul Sunsets – You must definitely visit the Asian part of Istanbul to see how the locals live. You would be pleasantly surprised by the new and updated infrastructure, green parks and recent building areas. If staying over at the Asian side, don’t forget to roam around the seaside streets of Kadikoy and Moda neighborhoods. You will take amazing pictures and see cats being raised to a cult!
– Moda & Kadıköy – These two neighborhoods are indeed my favorite. There’s plenty to see there from typical and more modern food places to parks, hipster cafes, bars, and markets. So just spend a day to walk around the many tiny streets.
You already saw most on my list? Then take the time to also check the Basilica Cistern, Sultan Tombs in Hagia Sophia, Gulhane Park, and Topkapı Palace.
Eat and Drink
Now, here’s the real deal! The food in Istanbul! Below you will find a never-ending and constantly updated list of foods and drinks that you are sure to try at least once.
– Turkish breakfast at Mado or Cookshop. Start your day with a Turkish breakfast or you will regret it. It is lavish, colorful and nutritious, yet not heavy or oily, and gives you strength for the whole day. Most often what you’d see at such breakfast are fresh bread, olives, butter, vegetables, fried eggs with homemade sausage, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, cheeses and of course, Turkish tea. A small detail to note, if you don’t want any more tea poured into your cup, just place the teaspoon over the cup.
– Muhlama – An optional add on to Turkish breakfast which is served at a few places, this is a hot bliss of cornflower, butter, and molten cheese. Get lots of fresh bread to go with it.
– Turkish tea – drink it wherever, whenever. The social drink of the Turkish nation, it brings people together from early morning. They have tea at informal and business meetings, on the go or for a quick chat with a friend.
– Midye Tava – street food sandwich with fried mussels with a white sauce on top, possibly my favorite street food
– Midye dolma – The most famous street food after the Turkish simit, this is mussels with rice handed to you with the shell. You can see them at many street corners and be sure they are fresh.
– Simit – this circular bread, typically encrusted with sesame seeds, is the great companion of Turkish tea and found on the streets of Istanbul.
– Sultanahmet Kofte – meatballs in various forms and flavors is what Turkey is famous for. Sultanahmet kofte, for example, is a slightly spicy variant and is sold near to Hagia Sofia.
– Baklava, Turkish Delight (lokum), Asure, Kunefe are desserts to try at least once in your life.
– Icecream is nowhere as good as it is in Mado! I have been in Italy many times, and sorry for the Italian readers out there, but Turks know how to make it better.
– Lahmacun – also known as the Turkish pizza, this crispy crusty bread with minced meat goes perfectly with a glass of cold, foamy ayran.
– Balik Ekmek – Are you passing by a harbor or more precisely the Galata Bridge? Look around for the freshly made fish sandwiches. The fish used for this sandwich is the popular mackerel.
– Kokoreç & yayık ayran – a midnight kind of snack for the brave ones, served with a chilled foamy yogurt drink. The meat served in fresh bread consists of lamb or goat intestines.
– Waffles in Moda – If you’ve got a sweet tooth like me, definitely try the waffles at Kemal Usta. You can pile up so many fruits and sweets on top, you won’t see the waffle!
– Cig kofte – original translation means “fresh kofte”, or kofte made with fresh minced meat. Nowadays, however, the recipe has changed and meat has been substituted with bulgar wheat.
– Adana kebab – This kebab, if properly cooked is among my top favorites. It is a long, hand-minced meat kebab mounted on a wide iron skewer and grilled, served with grilled vegetables and ayran.
Peculiarities of Istanbul
To be prepared for Istanbul, bear in mind:
– Prepare for long travel from sight to sight. No matter if you are going by car or using the public transport, reaching from Sultan Ahmet to Ortaköy, for example, takes energy and time.
– Turkish drivers honk with and without a reason. Taxis, in particular, tell you they are passing by you and they are vacant by beeping twice.
– Get ready to be treated super well wherever you go from a street food shop to an exquisite restaurant. Politeness and good service are among the Turk’s best qualities.
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