15 May Istanbul Travel Tips
ISTANBUL SURVIVAL GUIDE
My impression of Istanbul: Literally lying between two continents, Asia and Europe, Istanbul is one of the most exciting cities in the world. In my opinion, it is right up there with stalwarts like New York, London, Paris.
What makes Istanbul so exciting? There are heaps of historical sites, world-class museums, an amazing culinary scene (click here to read about Turkish foods that I ate and loved!), pulsating nightlife, friendly people, modern and efficient public transportation, there are so many things to see, eat and do. What else would you expect from a city that has been inhabited for 3,000 years and ruled by, among others, Thracians, Greeks, Romans (who called it Constantinople) and the Ottomans!
Top things to See & Do:
There are lots in Istanbul! I did all of the following and strongly recommend that you don’t skip any. So, when planning, make sure you have budgeted enough days for sightseeing.
1. Aya Sofya
2. Basilica Cistern
3. Topkapi Palace
4. Blue Mosque
5. Süleymaniye Mosque
6. Istanbul Archaeology Museums
7. Grand Bazaar
8. Visit a hamam
9. Cross the Bosphorus and go to the Asian side and visit Kadıköy Market
10. Eat! (Turkish food is way more than kabobs). Click here to read about the Turkish foods I ate and loved!
How much time to spend in Istanbul? I think a week is just enough for a first-time visitor to see all of the sites listed above, eat some great food, check out the nightlife and not get too knackered.
Istanbul Travel Tip: Don’t miss Istanbul Archaeology Museum (#6 on my list above). Having been to many museums in many countries, this is one of the best-curated museums I have seen. Also, the museums are air-conditioned so they provide a reprieve from the heat and there is a really nice park where you can sit outside and relax with a coffee or tea.
Istanbul Travel Tip: If you are planning to visit a number of museums, buy the Museum Pass Istanbul. It is valid for 5 days and provides access to 12 museums.
Which area to stay in Istanbul?
Istanbul, a city of 14 million, is divided into a number of interesting neighbourhoods. There are 27 neighbourhoods in total.
If it is your first time to Istanbul, my travel tip is to stay in the Sultanahmet area. Yes, Sultanahmet is the touristy part of town but it also has the highest concentration of tourist attractions. Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Hippodrome, Basilica Cistern, Istanbul Archaeology Museum, etc., are within walking distance. So you can easily see many tourist attractions on foot.
Of course, there are many other interesting neighbourhoods in Istanbul. Once you have seen all the major tourist sites, and are ready to be more adventurous, you can start exploring other areas. Some of the more interesting areas are HorHor Caddesi (hang out and eat kababs with locals) Galata/Karaköy (famous red light district), Arnavutköy (regarded as Istanbul’s best-kept secret) and Kadıköy market on the Asian side.
Istanbul Travel Tip: While I recommend you stay in the Sultanahmet area, I don’t recommend you eat there, especially if you are a foodie. The food in the Sultanahmet area is geared for tourists. High on price and low on quality. So where to eat? Restaurants come and go and level of quality can change. What I recommend is that you do a food tour.
Click here to read more.
TURKISH FOODS YOU MUST TRY:
Of course, there is the usual kababs, but Turkish food is so much more. Here are some of my favourites:
1. Kuru Fasulye – a vegetarian dish, it is made with white beans, olive oil, onion and tomato paste. Cooked slowly, to me this was as good as any meat dish.
2. Menemen – Turkish breakfast dish made with eggs, tomato, green peppers, red and black pepper and oregano.
3. Midye Dolması– a popular (and very delicious!) street food. These are stuffed mussels with seasoned rice (cinnamon, pepper, currants) and served in their shells.
4. Kokoreç – lamb intestines, mixed with spices, wrapped around sweetbread (internal organs of a lamb) and cooked on a griddle. It is much tastier than it sounds!
5. Simit– Turkish ‘bagel’. It is a soft bread topped with sesame seeds (and sometimes poppy seeds).
6. Turkish Coffee of course! I liked mine half sweet.
7. Turkish Delights – but be aware that those from the touristy Sultanahmet area usually have too much sugar.
8. Baklava (see my warning for Turkish Delights above). Ask someone local where the good spot for sweets are.
Istanbul Travel Tip:
So how do you go about trying all of these wonderful Turkish foods listed above? How to find good restaurants? Do a food tour! As you have probably gathered by now, I love doing food tours in places renowned for its culinary tradition. One of the best food tours that I have ever done was in Istanbul. What is great about food tours is that in addition to introducing you to different types of local food, they can tell you where to find that is hygienic, authentic and delicious. If you stay in the Sultanahmet area, which I recommend you do because it is where most of the touristic sites are, don’t expect to find food that is delicious or authentic. Most restaurants in the area cater to tourists. But if you do a food tour, they can tell you where to find the hidden gems that locals eat at. Send me an email me and I will send you the name of the company that I did the fantastic food tour with.
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