Have you always dreamed of jetting off to exotic destinations? Somewhere the air is cloaked in spices and shrouded in mystery? Istanbul has it all: flavour, history and culture, why not experience it for yourself? Whether you’re in Istanbul for just a quick trip or have a longer stay in mind, here are 10 tips for living the city like a local.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and never is that statement more true than in Turkey. Turkish breakfast is usually a drawn-out affair, a chance to enjoy and savour the flavours of the dishes and catch up with friends and family. A typical breakfast spread will consist of tomatoes, cucumber and olives with sliced cheeses and freshly baked bread. For egg lovers there are traditional menemen (Turkish scrambled eggs with tomatoes and peppers), herb-filled omelettes and fried eggs with sucuk (Turkish sausage). Pisi (traditional fried dough) are excellent dipped in kaymak (Turkish clotted cream) and honey or some local jams. There’s watermelon, rose and fig jams to tempt the sweet tooths out there.
In Istanbul, there are so many breakfast options, all with stunning views of the Bosphorus or the city. Check out the breakfast lovers’ favorite “breakfast street” full of cafes in Besiktas. Or stroll around Beyoglu until you find the perfect spot. Pierre Loti Hill offers spectacular views of the Golden Horn. On the Asian side, you can find restaurants that are chic and trendy in Kadikoy and Moda, while the Beykoz and Cengelkoy neighbourhoods offer more of a small-town feel with locally produced cheeses, jams and preserves on offer.
2. Walk Along the Bosphorus
The Bosphorus Strait joins the Black Sea in the north to the Sea of Marmara in the south. No matter where you go in the city, the sight of the Bosphorus is seemingly omnipresent. Ship and ferries cruise back and forth across the waters, fishing boats sprinkle the scene on the water. While on land, the playgrounds, walkways and seaside paths are full of walkers, cyclists, fishermen, picnic families and everything in between. Nothing will give you more of a sense of the different lives and pursuits of Istanbulites more than taking a stroll along the city’s life source.
For those seeking to get out of the city, why not jump on a ferry and explore the Prince’s Islands? These 7 islands to the south of the city are a short ride away. Each island has its own unique history and feel, but each has beaches, walking and cycling tracks, cute cafes and restaurants and hotels if you feel the urge to overnight.
3. Ferry Ride
Jumping onboard a ferry to cross the geographic points of Europe and Asia is a novel concept, and in Istanbul, a daily reality for many. Whether you’re going from Europe to Asia or vice versa, a ferry is one of the best ways to see the city. From your waterside vantage point, you’ll be able to take in the harmony of the old city and elements of modern life. The Dolmabahce Palace, The Maiden’s Tower, The Galata Tower, the Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Suleymaniye Mosque and Haydarpasa Train Station are all easy to spot, even for the casual tourist. Enjoying a fresh juice or a cup of tea and a simit (Turkish bagel) is highly recommended while you let the ferry sail on.
4. Arts and Culture
Istanbul is a living city and while many tourists and visitors fall in love with the city’s past, its present is definitely something to celebrate as well. There are dozens of small galleries and ateliers exhibiting their own unique wares, so going on a deep dive is recommended for those seeking a unique memento or something off the beaten track. There are, of course, many large art galleries, museums and culture halls that have specialised exhibitions and extensive permanent collections well worth perusing.
Istanbul has a thriving art scene. Don’t forget to check out the latest exhibitions in Beyoglu, Kadikoy, Emirgan, Maslak or Beykoz, where there are a number of large galleries and museums, each with revolving exhibitions and impressive permanent collections.
Istanbul has been a shopping mecca for thousands of years. Whether you’re interested in tracking down antique watches and jewellery in the Grand Bazar, following in the steps of spice traders in the Spice Bazar or digging out chic one-offs in local boutiques, Istanbul has it all.
The Grand Bazar is steeped in history, construction having commenced in 1455, only 2 years after the Conquest of Istanbul. The Grand Bazaar is located in Sultanahmet and is an easy stroll from the Blue Mosque. Down the hill, the Spice Bazaar is an excellent spot to sip some tea, enjoy some Turkish delight and bargain with sellers. Beyoglu, Nisantasi, Kadikoy and Levent offer more modern shopping options and malls for those seeking the latest trends.
When, what and how you eat is entirely up to you, but with so many choices, make sure you take the time to sit and enjoy! One sign you’ll see all around Turkey is “Ana Yemekleri” even for Istanbul city slickers, this is the clear sign for comfort food. Translating to “Mother’s Food”, these are a variety of dishes that are simple, nutritious and just like mom used to make. Whether you’re in the mood for Manti (Turkish ravioli), soup, dolma (stuffed peppers, zucchini, eggplant), meat, chicken or rice dishes, you’re sure to find something to satisfy.
7. Sweets & Turkish Coffee
Turks love a coffee break every now and then. Whether you're interested in sampling local Turkish Coffee, a thick, strong brew made to your taste; sweet (tatli), medium (orta) or plain (sade), slowly sipping and enjoying a little something sweet alongside. Or, if you fancy Italian-style coffee, there are coffee shops, cafes and patisseries (pastane) to satisfy your caffeine cravings and make a dent in your sweet tooth!
8. Live Music
Istanbul is a city full of life and nowhere is that more apparent than when strolling along the city streets. Often the bustling neighbourhoods of Beyoglu and Kadikoy have small festivals, with street artists playing a mixture of contemporary and traditional Turkish music. For evening shows, there’s often local and international artists touring and countless bars, pubs, meyhanes and concert halls have local acts booked almost every night of the week. No matter your musical taste, Istanbul will have something to tempt you onto the dance floor.
9. Enjoy a Meyhane
Meyhanes or taverns are found in almost every corner of Istanbul. Whether you’re in the mood for modern twists on traditional cuisine in an upscale restaurant, good food and a view of the sea or a more casual meal with friends, a meyhane night is highly recommended.
Usually, waiters will take around a tray of meze, so you can choose what your table will share. Fresh cooked fish or meat are typically shared with the table after the mezes have been devoured.
Istanbul has 3 major football teams (Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas), all of which play in the Super League and other European or international championships. Getting a ticket on game day might be difficult, but the experience is well worth it. Fans chant and sing long before and long after the match’s final whistle and being in the stadium is an experience that will stay with you long after you’re home.
Istanbul has delights aplenty for travellers to discover. Come, find out what makes this city so unique for yourself!