Istanbul is hands down my favourite city abroad, so it is probably no surprise that I end up going back again and again. This was my third time there, sadly for a few days only, but I thought I would share some pictures and my absolute favourite places and things to do there. I have come here both in winter and summer and I can say both have their advantages. In winter it might be a little bit cold but there are way less tourists making a lot of programmes much more enjoyable – but Istanbul weather in the summer is just lovely (note that I am used to horribly hot and humid Taiwan weather) and so perfect for taking beautiful pictures all around.
There are some touristy things that might sound too mainstream – but they are in the guidebooks for a good reason. Istanbul is a city of amazing history and architecture, so I highly recommend you to take the time and visit the biggest, most beautiful mosques and places like the Topkapi Palace or the Galata tower. There might be an entrance fee here and there but they are all reasonably prices and definitely worth it.
An although it can get quite crowded, if you are after beautiful and good quality scarves for an amazing price, Turkish dessert or even jewellery, don’t skip the Grand Bazaar either! Bargaining with the merchants, drinking Turkish tea and coffee with them and walking through the aisles of the bazaar that is hundreds of years old is an unforgettable experience.
When it comes to neighbourhoods in Istanbul, you will most likely to be told to go to Sultanahmet – this is where Aya Sofia, the Topkapi Palace, the Grand Bazaar and all these things are. It really is very lively and worth seeing, but I still prefer the area on the other side of the Galata bridge (still on the European side): Beyoglu. It is the name of the bigger district and it includes areas such as Taksim or my favourite, Karaköy.
Karaköy has the many cafes overlooking the Bosphorus and the beautiful mosques on the other side, the most amazing (not over-priced) local restaurants and all the new trendy cafes and bars to spend your evenings and nights in. It has plenty to do, has the most interesting, artsy little streets and alleys, great food, amazing people and in my eyes it is just unbeatable.
It’s also just next to Galata which boasts the Galata tower – there is usually a long line, but consider waiting and going up to the top, because the view from there is just gorgeous.
I also quite like the other side of Beyoglu with Istiklal Caddesi and Taksim square. The historic Tünel takes you from Karaköy to one end of Istiklal, which has many many shops and cafes and restaurants waiting for you. It’s quite a long one but it’s worth walking through – although if you’re not such a fan of walking or just want the experience, you can just hop on the nostalgic tram that runs along Istiklal from the Tünel to Taksim square.
Oh my, the food!
One of the reasons why I love Istanbul so much is all the amazing food it has. By now we have tried quite a lot of places and quite a variety of foods, so I can confidently say I have my favourites figured out. I have a lot, but let’s see a few of the bests.
One place that I always keep thinking of when I am back at home is actually a little soup place in Karaköy. You walk in and they have almost 15-20 different soups that you can see in the counter. They have a list of their names behind on the wall but only in Turkish – but the staff is always very helpful when you ask them. It’s incredibly affordable and just so delicious, oh my God! Missing that soup already!
Another one is iskender, especially the one from Baydöner on Istiklal. If you are not familiar with Turkish couise, iskender is a long plate with cubes of bread laid down and with thin slices of meat on top, covered in tomato sauce – and yoghurt on the side. Once you get your plate another waiter will come with a pot of hot butter (or buttermilk? Not sure) and pour that over your meat as well, which will soak the bread underneath making it soft and making the whole dish the most delicious thing you’ve eaten in a while. No, it’s not good for you at all. But yes, again, it’s worth it. And here you can also just order a 1.5 or double portion plate and share with your partner – which is what we usually do as well.
And desserts for last: Mado. Mado is a café/confectionary store that has the best künefe and sütlac around. Our favourite is the pistachio künefe with ice cream and I also really enjoyed drinking their sahlep. The place has a great, elegant atmosphere and the way they serve everything is always spot on, couldn’t recommend this place enough. They have quite a few stores around Istanbul, but we like to go to the bigger one on Istiklal.
Get the most out of the Bosporus!
Having the Bosporus run across the city means lots of opportunities: you get have your breakfast and morning coffee on the riverside, looking at the blue water, the seagulls flying around or just people watching is one of the best ways to start the day here. But going on a cruise or even the ferry is also a great idea. If you fancy that, lots of companies organize cruises along the river: some just take you around to see everything, some serve lunch or dinner, some even have dance nights and other entertainment.
But as they can get a little pricey sometimes, I would say you should consider riding the ferry. We took the ferry from Karaköy to the Asian side, to the port of Kadiköy and it was many times cheaper and still an amazing experience. The boat was quite large and elegantly designed and the journey long enough to enjoy and take pictures but not too long to feel bored or overwhelmed. It really was a beautiful journey that lead to exploring the Asian side as well (about which I have to admit, I don’t know too much yet) so I am very happy we took that ferry and cannot recommend it enough. Istanbul’s public transport is pretty great, so get an Istanbulkart and use it!