Travel Guide: Istanbul
Istanbul is an interesting place. When I arrived, I felt a feeling that I don't typically feel: 'overwhelmed'. Istanbul has a population nearing 20 million people. The roads are packed with traffic, the sidewalks are crowded and the buildings are tightly stacked. Istanbul offered some of the best experiences for me, but also some of the most questionable. The history of the city is blatant and stands out. Istanbul was the capital of both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, so the city is well developed (and populated). However, Turkey has a troubled political situation and a questionable economy, so Istanbul has areas that feel somewhat sketchy. I've never been to a Muslim country, so I was surprised by Istanbul's 3000+ mosques and their loudspeakers, which recite Islamic prayers five times per day. My favourite highlights were (1) doing a tour of the Grand Bazaar that took us up to the roof for amazing views of Istanbul and (2) the multitude of stray cats and dogs that roam the streets (I love how animals can live in harmony with people within such a large city).
Food & Drink
1 Mikla • Mikla • A fine dining restaurant with a rooftop terrace offering the best views of the city. The tasting menu is focused on traditional Turkish plates and local wine. Did you know Turkey had wine regions?
2 Aheste • A fine dining restaurant with a rooftop terrace offering the best views of the city. The tasting menu is focused on traditional Turkish plates and local wine. Did you know Turkey had wine regions?
3 Mahkeme Lokantası • A fine dining restaurant with a rooftop terrace offering the best views of the city. The tasting menu is focused on traditional Turkish plates and local wine. Did you know Turkey had wine regions?
1 Ernest's • If you're looking for an intimate bar with great service and excellent cocktails, look no further then Ernest's in the Cok Cok Pera restaurant. The bar manager, Fatih, gave 10/10 service and great recommendations. He personally called Aheste to make us a last minute dinner reservation, and then walked us to the restaurant which was down the street!
2 Flekk • Flekk makes all their cocktails with organic produce from local growers. We plan to visit Flekk on our next trip to Istanbul, the Sløve cocktail comes highly recommended.
3 Just Bar • Although we did not get to try Just Bar, we hear it has some of the best live music in Istanbul. A convenient location and great cocktail selection are added bonuses.
1 Grand Bazaar • One of the largest and oldest markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops.
2 Spice Bazaar • The colours on display at the Spice Bazaar made it one of the most beautiful markets we visited. Bright yellow saffron, fragrant curry and masala, and hot paprika teased our senses. We would also recommend trying Turkish delights, caviar, dried fruits, and nuts on your visit to one of the oldest markets in Istanbul.
3 Kadıköy Produce Market • Ferry from the European side of Istanbul to the Asian side to get to this market in Kadıköy. Find the best fresh produce in the city and a vibrant neighbourhood with lots of restaurants, bars and shops.
Other Food & Drink
Other Food • Cecconi's, Il Cortile
Coffee Shops • Any cafe serving traditional Turkish coffee—it's unfiltered and highly caffeinated.
Activities & Attractions
1 Unusual Walking Tour • This tour was a highlight of our trip! It was an incredibly unique perspective through the eyes of a local guide, Selahattin. A few favourites included the Grand Bazaar rooftop and 007 locations, secret rooftop cafés with views of the entire city, visiting the back shops of the Bazaar where they melt and mold gold, and tasting the homemade Boza drink.
2 Hagia Sophia • The most important historical site in the Istanbul, one of oldest monuments of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hagia Sofia is an absolute must if you are visiting this city. We would recommend going with a tour guide to learn about its history and to make sure you get to see all of its special details. Our tour group was small and intimate, which is exactly how we wanted to visit this site.
3 Ferry across the Bosphorous • Take in the incredible views from the ferry while cruising down the Bosphorous. Also, cross the continental boundary between Asia and Europe. We recommend the ferry to Kadikoy where you can explore the markets, restaurants and area.
OTHER ATTRACTIONS (SITES, PARKS, ETC.)
Sites • Blue Mosque, Süleymaniye Mosque, The Galata Tower, Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahce Palace
Parks • Yıldız Park, Emirgan Park, Gülhane Park
Other Activities • Taksim Square and Istiklal Street for shopping, Turkish Bath/Hammam Spa
Galata (Beyoğlu), Karaköy (Beyoğlu), Taksim (Beyoğlu), Balat, Sultanahmet
HOTELS & AIRBNBS
A Cozy Studio Flat with Jacuzzi Free Wifi • This flat is located close to the trendy Galata and Karakoy neighbourhoods in the Beyoğlu district. The home sauna is a great touch after long day of activities.
H 10 Karakoy Hotel • In the heart of one of Istanbul's hippest neighbourhoods, Karakoy. 10 Karakoy is a modern 5-star hotel and great value for the price. Plus, art galleries, cool cafes, buzzing restaurants and late night cocktail bars are right at your doorstep.
H Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul At The Bosphorus • If you are looking for a luxurious stay in Istanbul, then the Four Seasons will be your choice. The hotel is a restored 19th-century Ottoman palace, and referred to as the 'palace between the continents'.