Both Sides of Istanbul

Q.

Hi Shalome,

we’ve overnight booked a trip to Istanbul! We’ll be there for 5 nights. Our flights and accommodation are done.

If you have any tips let us know.

We definitely want to see the mosques but other than that – shopping and partying and bars and souks and local food is on the list.

Thanks!

Jasleen and Gurdish.

Hi Jasleen and Gurdish

Istanbul… wow what a great city! Exotic yet urbane, colourful, flavourful, and always welcoming. I have fallen in love with it a little more each time I’ve been there. I’m so glad you’ve decided to spend 5 nights there! I’m sure you’ll know the city really well by the end of your trip and it’s going to work its way under your skin.

Mosques and Sightseeing

The gorgeous wares of the Grand Bazaar

I’d recommend you stick to the major sights because even though you have a lot of time each of these will take up a good portion of the day and you don’t want to overload your senses.

Definitely see the gorgeous Hagia Sofia or Aya Sofya, once a Cathedral, later a mosque and now a museum. The sight of the yellow-gold painted and mosaic studded 105-foot central dome is one that is likely to be a lingering memory for you.

The Blue Mosque or Sultanahmet Camii (which is its official name) is covered in gorgeous blue tiles from the outside and is a working mosque and also contains a madrassa, a hospice, etc. Try and get here by mid-morning as the mosque remains closed during the 5 prayer times and enter from the Hippodrome. Entry is free as this is a mosque but do make sure you are appropriately dressed (women need to cover their heads) and are respectful towards the worshippers.

The sprawling Topkapı Palace is the stuff of dreams and brings any fantasies you have harboured about corpulent sultans, plotting viziers and giggling harem girls to life. You can hire an audio guide at the museum and if you plan on visiting the Sacred Relics section you will need to be appropriately dressed.

A wonderful way to spend a sunny day in Istanbul is to take a ferry across the glittering Bosphorus to the Asian side of the city. The longer ferry trip takes all day, starting at Eminonu and ending up at the fishing village of Anadolu Kavağı where you can lunch on fresh fish and visit Yoros Castle. Or you could do a shorter two-hour trip, which also includes the Asian side.

There are a few different Whirling Dervish ‘shows’ you can catch if you want. However, I’m really not sure how authentic these as true dervishes whirl in a state of trance in the hope of a mystical union with God. So, personally, I don’t know these can occur “every Thursday from 8pm” and would just skip them. However, if you’re not as cynical as I am here’s where you can go to watch them. 🙂

Shopping and Souks

Obviously you have to visit the covered Grand Bazaar often considered the ultimate Oriental Market but it may not be the best place to find bargains given that it’s aimed at tourists. The sights, sounds, atmosphere and witty sales people make up for it, though.

For great, independent boutiques featuring local designers try the Serdar-ı Ekrem Caddesi or street in the Galata area. This little cobble-stone street is home to a store that consistently shows up as having some of Istanbul’s best designer offerings (it even gets a thumbs up from Vogue): Lunapark, as well as a number of others. Check out this article by Culture Trip about other shopping areas in Istanbul.

Bars and Nightlife

Melt-in-your-mouth baklava awaits

Close to Serdar-ı Ekrem Caddesi, Istiklal Street in Beyoğlu is a popular area heaving with cafes, bars, international stores but also some local boutiques. Keep an eye out for the sweet red trams that rattle down this street.

AirBnb rounds up Istanbul’s 30 best bars and shows where they are on a handy map. The Telegraph has a short, curated list of Istanbul’s bars.

Local food

Obviously, you’ll want to fill up on kebaps and flaky baklava and here are some suggestions for where to get them:

Kebaps:
Zübeyir Ocakbaşı: Şehit Muhtar Mahallesi İstiklal Caddesi Bekar Sokak No: 28, Beyoğlu.
Beyti: Orman Sok. No:8 – Flory

Baklava:
Karaköy Güllüoğlu: Rıhtım Cad. Katlı Otopark Altı No: 3-4
34425 Karaköy

But also do try the lesser-known local offerings like böreks pastry stuffed with cheese, meat, spinach etc, served with tea in baklava shops and by a famous chain called Aslı Börek; simit, a sesame-covered pretzel; stuffed grape-leaf rolls or dolmas; and etli ekmek which is a pizza-style dish of bread covered with spiced meat actually from the city of Konya in central Turkey but so delicious that we ate it almost every single day we were there. You can find etli ekmek in Istanbul at Konyalılar Etli Ekmek (Şemsettin Günaltay Caddesi No: 150 / G Kazasker – Kadıköy. Near Lunapark.)

Most of these are also available at street food stalls so do try out as many as possible, all in the name of research, of course.

Remember to wash it all down with a cup of strong Turkish coffee or the sweet and tart Turkish apple tea.

LISTEN READ

‘Dostum’, by Zara

The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin; The Historian (partially set in Istanbul) by Elizabeth Kostova

Happy travels!

Shalome

Header: Senor Sosa@unsplash.com, Other photos: www.123rf.com