An American expat who has been living in Istanbul for the last 4 years. Interested in travel, exploring other cultures and eating great food along the way.
Istanbul is a city truly unique to all others. I arrived here 3 years ago on a night train from Bulgaria. As I stepped off the train, bleary eyed and disoriented I knew within minutes that this was a place I needed to explore. Three years later I am still constantly amazed by the depth and diversity of Istanbul and Turkish culture. Before you can begin your own exploration of this exciting and at times chaotic city, visitors to Istanbul should first prepare themselves for the new e-visa system. Previous visitors to the city may recall it was a simple process of purchasing your 90 day visa at the airport before entering passport control, the new system requires you to purchase your visa in advance from the e-visa website. Don’t be alarmed, the process is simple.
Once you have arrived in Istanbul prepare yourself for an incredible adventure in the world’s most popular tourist destination. More than likely you will first want to check out Sultanahmet, this is Istanbul’s “Old City” where some of the most magnificent UNESCO sights are located.
The Hagia Sophia museum, Blue Mosque and ancient city Cistern are all within a few minutes walk from each other. After seeing these locations I would walk over to the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar. Women should take care to avoid attracting unwanted male attention. In Western culture we tend to smile, make eye contact and nod at others to be polite. Those signals are often misinterpreted by some Turkish men as flirting. It’s important to make note of that and be firm if unwanted advances are made. This is also a very crowded area so it’s smart to keep your bag close.
There are multiple palaces from former Ottoman times which should be visited. Topkapi Palace, Ihlamur Palace and Dolmabahce Palace are all beautiful locations. I love Dolmabahce to sit near the Bosphorus and enjoy a tea while taking in the view. Another option for enjoying the Bosporus is to take a boat tour or for a cheaper option take a ferry over to the Asian continent and once again, drink a tea as is the culture and enjoy the incredible European skyline.
Check out my itinerary: Spend a Saturday Like a Local in Istanbul
Once in Asia the Kadikoy pedestrian walk way is a wonderful way to see one of the many open air bazaars. Take in lunch at Ciya, it’s particular favorite of locals and tourists alike.
Taksim neighborhood is best known for its shopping of mostly international chain stores as well as its infamous nightlife. Istiklal street is the main drag in Taksim, it starts at the revolutionary square, near the now famous Gezi park. You may be shocked to see how crowded this street remains even well into the wee hours of the morning. Its a great neighborhood to hear live Turkish music as most bars on the side streets have a musician every night. Retro Hamam, Beyoglu is a really popular spot for tourists to start their night. At the end of Istiklal is Galata Tower which is worth going to the top to check out the view. There is also some cool shopping in that area and if you get hungry I would recommend Gram Pera, it is one of the best lunch spots in Istanbul right now.
Taksim isn’t just known for its nightlife however, the near by neighborhood of Cihangir is very cool, there are many outdoor cafes and a wonderful place to have a late brunch. My favorite restaurant for brunch is Heirloom Cafe. Cihangir is also great for antique shopping and people watching.
Another great spot for grabbing a beer and listening to live music is the Galata bridge. It is known for its fish restaurants although I wouldn’t honestly recommend eating there, the bridge is better for drinking, music and watching the boats go by on the busy waterway. For fish restaurants here are some suggestions.
Istanbul has some outstanding high end shopping. Without a doubt the best neighborhood for this is Nisantasi. All the finest brands can be purchased on Tesvikiye street. Nisantasi also has some excellent dining, two particular favorites of mine are Kantin and Delicatessen although be prepared to pay the high prices the neighborhood demands!
This itinerary should keep your days pretty busy however if you have the time another area to visit it Bebek, Sarıyer or Rumeli Kavağı. These little fishing villages are wonderful. The architecture is unique to the rest of Istanbul, with grand white villas that make you feel as though you have been transported to Maine. Bebek is very chic, with a young and wealthy population. In Bebek you should expect Expensive nightlife and expensive restaurants.
During the day it's lively and a nice place to grab a light lunch while looking out at the water and then strolling a bit. The other villages are quite near each other. They are much less expensive and quite quaint and charming. There are so many things to see and do that one couldn’t possibly expect to see it all in one trip, however, that just gives the excuse to come back again, although I hardly think you will need much prompting!
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