Istanbul is a rich and dynamic mix of cultures where food, scenery and fun are essential elements of the day-to-day life. So here’s a list – not coming from a tour guide but a fellow Istanbulite who loves to experience the city in all its glory.
1Spend at least a day visiting the Historical Peninsula.
Let me put it straight away that if you wish to visit many of the historical attractions of the city, one day just won’t cut it. But if you have limited time, a visit to Haghia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern, The Blue Mosque, Topkapı Palace and the Spice Bazaar should do it.
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2Bargain at the Grand Bazaar.
Being the world’s oldest shopping mall and an important center of trade since the Silk Road, you’ll find everything from jewels to carpets, souvenirs to imitation merchandise at the Grand Bazaar. Just don’t forget to negotiate 😉
More Tips from Locals: Top 15 Things to do in Izmir.
3Try Turkish coffee and have your fortune told.
The first coffeehouse in the world was opened in Istanbul back in the 15th century. Turkish coffee is an everyday beverage around here, often served with a piece of Turkish delight on the side. The bubblier, the better. And if you happen to be around Istiklal Avenue, a quick visit to Cafe des Anges (Melekler Kahvesi) may just show you what lies ahead based on an expert reading of your coffee grounds.
4Take a tour of the Bosphorus.
There are numerous mansions and attractions around the Bosphorus. So a Bosphorus tour is really one of the best ways to both experience and learn about the city on a limited amount of time. And there’s a tour for every budget 😉
5Stroll down Istiklal Avenue all the way down to Galata.
Start at Gezi Park, where the famous 2013 demonstrations were held. Keep walking on the main avenue (side streets are also very nice to experience) until you reach the “Tünel.” Don’t just stop there, keep going until you see the Galata Tower and take a peek around the city from the top if you have the time.
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6Try the variety of street food available pretty much everywhere.
Try simit (bagels covered in sesame seeds), stuffed mussels (mussels cooked with rice), fish and bread – famously served in Eminönü, dürüm (kebab roll/gyros), kokoreç (lamb intestines grilled in fire and usually served in a sandwich – it’s not at all gross as intestines are thoroughly cleaned), kumpir (baked potato with fillings of your choice), pilav (rice a la Turca, usually served with chicken or chickpeas on the street) and börek (pastries with minced meat and cheese and more). You will not be disappointed.
7Take the “Tünel” to Karaköy.
“Tünel” was the third oldest ever subway. It’s only one stop and will take you straight to Karaköy.
8Hang out in Karaköy.
Though Istiklal used to be the center of nightlife, in the last few years it’s slowly been shifting towards the up and coming Karaköy area. We believe this has to do with the cool independent shops, artisan cafes and great street art popping up everywhere.
9Eat a late night “wet burger.”
Unlike many cities, there are many 24/7 options available to those who wish to eat. After a night of partying, a “wet burger” (or more) is an Istanbul classic. It doesn’t look very appealing I have to admit, but once you take a bite, you’ll probably order a couple more.
10Take the ferry to Kadıköy.
Ferry is an everyday form of transportation for many Istanbulites who wish to get away from the hustle-bustle of crossing the bridge on a car. Don’t forget to feed the seagulls hungry for a piece of simit – it’s really something. And Kadıköy is the hip center of the Asian side, filled with cafes, independent shops and performance halls. Start from the ferry station, see the fish market and keep walking until you reach the hip “Moda,” an old neighborhood with newfound popularity.
11Get naked at a “hammam,” the historic Turkish bath.
When you’re in Istanbul, you’ve gots to go “hammaming” 🙂 Try the historic Cağaloğlu Hamamı or Çemberlitaş Hamamı.
12 Visit Eyüp Sultan Mosque at dawn.
As the Eyüp Sultan is a holy grail for Muslims, it is almost always filled with people. But if you really wish to see the magic of thousands coming together for the first morning prayer, try to make it there at dawn – especially on Fridays and/or the Ramadan.
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13Sip your tea at the Pierre Loti Hill, overlooking the Golden Horn.
The best view of the Golden Horn! And you can get there with an aerial cable car!
14Have a proper Turkish breakfast.
People in Turkey have a thing about breakfast and it’s usually a massive meal complete with cheese, jams, honey and cream, pastries, olives and many other local delicacies.
15Go on a shopping spree in the posh Nişantaşı district.
There’s a a lot of shopping malls with all sorts of merchandise in Istanbul, but if you wish to have the outdoor experience in a prestigious neighborhood, I suggest you go to Nişantaşı. Besides, it’s got that neighborhood vibe complete with its bakeries, back street gourmet restaurants, dog-walkers and florists.
16Go to an “ocakbaşı” or have the “fish-rakı” experience.
“Ocakbaşı” literally means “fireside” referring to how grilled meat a.k.a. kebab is cooked. So whether you’d like to taste the many kebabs this country has to offer, or prefer a seafood restaurant on the side of the Bosphorus, “rakı” should accompany for a proper dinner.
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17Overdose on sugar with Turkish desserts.
Overly generalizing, Turkish desserts come in two forms: with sherbet or with milk. To name a few: baklava, kadayıf, tulumba, şekerpare, lokma, künefe and revani would be the desserts prepared with the inclusion of sugar-water a.k.a “sherbet.” On the other hand, kazandibi, muhallebi, helva, tavuk göğsü (chicken breast pudding), trileçe (tri-leche) and Maraş style ice-cream are the most famous milky desserts. Yes we’ve a thing for desserts her in Turkey – and I’ve only named a few!
18Visit the Prince Islands.
Prince Islands, or just Adalar (islands) in Turkish are an archipelago of nine islands, some of which are uninhabited. A seaside getaway for most Istanbulites, the islands are off limits to cars. Filled with old Istanbul mansions, the islands are a great place to stroll around in a buggy or ride the bike on a quiet day away from the city.
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19BONUS: Check out Biletix for all major events.
“Biletix.com – Ticketmaster Türkiye” sells the tickets for many of the world class performances, sports games and events. As there’s always at least a few interesting things going on every day in Istanbul, be sure to check out the page as soon as you have your dates. Some tickets may all be sold out even before you arrive 😉