Other than following Dalma’s lead and photographing the cats in Istanbul, here’s an interesting list of recommendations for stuff to visit, do, entertain yourself with, and eat should you find yourself in Istanbul…
Bosphorus Boat Tour
Takes off from Eminonu, look for the ‘Bogaz Iskelesi’ sign. The boat leaves at roughly 10.30AM, be there half an hour before to get good seats on the top of the boat. It goes towards the Black Sea and stops at a fort for lunch. Do go up the fort, the view is amazing. And then there are lots of fish restaurants by the shore. The trip ends around 4.30PM.
Walk underneath the Galata Bridge – the fishermen’s bridge. There are loads of small cafes and restaurants, and have Turkish coffee and maybe smoke some hookah there!
The best view is at sunset of course. Or go to Anemon hotel (which is right next to the tower and has the same view) to have a drink on the terrace floor at sunset. Just beautiful.
Dinner at Sofyali
A great restaurant, very close to Galata Tower and Anemon, but call to book a table outside if possible. They have a delicious fixed menu with loads of cold and warm starters, main course, fruit and drinks included. This is a good opportunity to try raki as well!
This area is very lively during the day and especially at night. There are lots of bars and live music clubs. A famous jazz club nearby is called Babylon.
- Hagia Sophia.
- Blue Mosque.
- Topkapi Palace (closed on Mondays) – also, a visit to Harem is recommended – a paid guided tour but it is worth checking out.
- Underground Cisterns.
- One of the Sultanahmet Koftecisi restaurants specialising in meatballs which are very tasty.
- Cagaloglu Hamami, a really famous hamam to check out.
- Hamdi – a great kebab restaurant at Eminonu but you need to call and book a table on the balcony as the view over the Golden Horn is beautiful.
- Either take a bus from Besiktas or you can take a cab to Rumeli Kavagi for breakfast at one of the cafes by the seaside. And then walk back towards Besiktas by the sea and stop at Bebek for a coffee, you’ll arrive at Arnavutkoy. Go away from the sea to check out the amazing wooden houses. Then you can either walk or get a cab/bus to Ortakoy (which has a great market on Saturday and Sundays. Definitely try the jacket potatoes (kumpir) there). Make sure you visit the Ortakoy mosque as well.
- Just before you arrive at Ortakoy you will walk by two really fancy clubs called Reina and Sortie. These are fancy places to eat and visit. You may want to return later!
- Just before Besiktas stop at Ciragan Palace, which is now used as a swanky hotel. It is gorgeous. Just walk in and look around or stop and have a drink.
- After you pass by Besiktas you’ll come to Dolmabahce Palace, the Sultan’s Bosphorus residence. It is not as impressive as Topkapi but it is still worth a visit.
- Asitane – restaurant serving old Ottoman style dishes which you can eat on the outside patio. Really good food although quite pricey.
- Leb-i Derya. The food is not typically Turkish but great as well as the view, situated very close to Galata Tower.
- Ismet baba. Fish restaurant on the Asian side of the Bosphorus – don’t get put off by the look from the outside – it’s the best fish in Istanbul.
- Mikla – one of the best – at the terrace of the Marmara Pera – definitely go here.
- Nuteras – from the same owners as Mikla and in Beyoglu as well. Amazing terrace and view, turns into a night club later.
Places to See
- A day trip to Prince’s islands (Buyukada is the one that is worth visiting amongst them). It is a great trip if the weather is nice. Make sure you take the horse drawn cart around the island and climb up to the monastery. You can also have lunch up there on the hill by the monastery. The food tastes amazing after all that climbing.
- Kariye museum (next to Asitane restaurant) – very famous with its mosaics.
- Rustem Pasa Cami – in the old city.
- The Greek Orthodox Patriarchy at Fener, and nearby there is a famous Bulgarian church made of iron and you could spend some time around there in Balat.
- Restaurants and bars at Taksim are great. For a good view you can go to ‘360’ or ‘Zoey’ at night at Galatasaray on Istiklal Caddesi. Apart from these fancy ones, you could always go to more traditional taverns (meyhanes) in Nevizade or Cicek Pasaji.
- Kumkapi is also very famous with its meyhanes as well – although a bit more tricky to get to with public transport. You could always take a cab from Taksim or Eminonu. Try Kor Agop in Kumkapi.
- Take a walk around Taksim during the day. It is pretty cool. You’ll get a feel of a Turkish city as opposed to Sultanahmet and Old City where it is all very touristy.
- For shopping you can go to Nisantasi where there is a high street with designer shops.
- Food to try: Manti (Ravioli like dish with mince meat – very good), Simit (the sesame bread they sell on the street. There are also lots of patisseries around that sell the same thing. It is a good snack.), Iskender Kebab (kebab on top of pita bread pieces with yoghurt and tomato sauce. The best of the kebabs.), Kumpir (baked potato stuffed with more potato and cheese with your choice of goodies on top), Kokarec (Turkish equivalent of haggis – get it from street stalls in Taksim), Borek (pastry stuffed with cheese, spinach, etc.)
- Egyptian Bazaar – an interesting spice bazaar.
- Grand Bazaar.
- Suleymaniye Mosque – it takes around 15 minutes to walk there but it is worth checking out.