Best hotspots in Istanbul

 

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In July, I spent about a week exploring Istanbul with two friends from South Africa. Istanbul is such a great city to enjoy beautiful culinary delights and to explore the cultural sights. Its an amazing city destination and really unique to see the European and Asian sides. Read more

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It was an awesome girls trip. What started as a trip exploring the main sights in the city, ended up being a feast of flavours and food. My favourite type of travel actually!

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Here are my top tips for travel in Istanbul:

Where to stay?

I would say avoid the touristic Sultanahmet area where the Blue mosque and Hagia Sofya is located. Some friends advised me to stay around the Galata tower and in Cihangir as it is a trendy neighbourhood with lots of bars and cafes and cute little boutiques. Staying here is great if you have no problem walking up and down hills.We stayed in an apartment close to Taksim square in Cihangir and each morning we had to scale up a gravity-defying hill to get to the main street. It was worth it though, because i really felt like we were in an authentic neighbourhood and it was fun exploring each day. I also think Ortakoy and Bebek further up the Bosphorous could be great places to stay because these more upscale neighbourhoods have trendy bars and cafes and are very well connected by bus to the old part of the city.

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Best Breakfast and Brunch:

Well this was an important topic for me because I knew already much about the famous Turkish breakfast. My top picks are:

Kahve 6:

We found this place on the third day, but it was so good that after, I returned 3 times. Other reviews say this is the “nicest place in Cihangir and perhaps even on earth”! Well it certainly didn’t disappoint. Fantastic organic food, beautiful terrace and such care and attention to service. I highly recommend it.

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Van Kahvalti Evi:

This place is famous for the traditional Turkish meze breakfast. It really filling and delicious.

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The menemen is a must try.

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Mangerie:

Hidden away in the trendy Bebek neighbourhood overlooking the Bosphorous, it took some effort to find this place but once we found it, we were certainly rewarded handsomely! The salmon salad was the best I ever tasted and the chocolate brownie was utterly divine.We spent almost 3 hours eating and enjoying the view. Blissful!

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Dinners:

Antiochia:

Another tip from a friend brought us to this place. The koftes were outstanding. It was the best doner I tasted in Istanbul.

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Eleos:

Delicious Greek style seafood restaurant with impressive views over the city. The calamari is very good and the waiters spoiled us with many free drinks and even a birthday dessert (it wasn’t even my birthday!)

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Ciya Sofrasi:

Its quite a famous place for the best kebab in Istanbul and well worth the ferry ride to the Asian side. The one shop sells the salads and vegetarian main courses. The shop opposite sells the kebab. You can order the best from both worlds.Highly recommended.

Best rooftop bars:

Litera:

Beautiful place to have sundowners. We had some wine and a few tapas and they were delicious.  I think this was the only bar on this trip which served decent cocktails.

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Leb-i-Derya:

Stunning place to have dinner with a view. Nice wine collection but not so impressive cocktails.  Its worth it to come here just to enjoy the view.

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Other tips:

Try the Kumpir in Ortakoy down at the mosque where the little market is located.  This is a huge baked potato filled with lots of different toppings. It was amazing.

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Try the ice cream which seems to be stretchy and elastic. Its really delicious.

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The best Turkish delights can be found at Hacir Bekir in Kadikoy.

The best bakalava can be found at Karakoy Gulluoglu.

Don’t waste your time taking the touristic Bosphorous cruises, just hop on the passenger ferries leaving from Eminonou  to the Asian side and you can have the boat experience for a fraction of the price.

If you want to change currency, its cheaper to draw Euros or USD in your home country and then go to the Grand Bazaar. The change offices inside the Bazaar next to the gold and jewellery section will give you the best rates and smallest spread on changing currency.

The Chora museum is a wonderful example of Byzantine art. It is located far way in the Fetiyeh neighbourhood. Don’t be afraid to make the effort to see it, it is really beautiful. The best way to reach it is by bus from Eminonou. The conductor will tell you where to get off and its about 5 minutes walking from the main road.

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Haggling for carpets in the Grand Bazaar

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Baklava!

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The spice market

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The fish market in Kadikoy

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Tea shop in Kadikoy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Imagin Amsterdam

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Last weekend we decided to try out the special gin pop-up bar IMAGIN in Amsterdam. Gin is starting to become a big hype in Amsterdam and this bar, opened only for the month of august seems to be a popular place for gin lovers to enjoy their gintonics.

The bar is located on the top floor of the Roses Cantina and you need a reservation to get inside. The eye catching decor is the first thing you notice when you enter. Sponsored by Bombay Sapphire , the bar’s electic theme seems to be inspired by the Indian spice route, vintage movies and Pirates of the Carribean!

The menu only uses Bombay Sapphire gin and has some imaginative cocktail names. I found it to be good value at 10 euro per cocktail because in Amsterdam its difficult to find a good gintonic under 15 euro. The gintonics also passed the taste test, although I found it strange that the ice-cubes were crushed and not whole in the glass as this changes the taste of the gintonic.

While it was a nice evening out with friends, I won’t be returning to Imagin for two reasons. Firstly because the music is too loud. I felt like I was in a club and had to raise my voice to speak to the person next to me. This could be a nice place to have drinks before you go partying, but the concept of a sophisticated gin bar and loud clubbing music just didn’t work for me. Secondly, while the service started off good, by the end of the night I was really disappointed. The hostess came to ask us if we wanted a last round while we had just received our drinks and they were still full.  A few minutes later, I asked one of the barmen if I could still order a drink since I knew it would take time to make and I would be finished with my first one by then. He said “No  it’s not possible because we already made an exception for someone else”. I found this excuse really poor because it was the first time I asked and he made an exception for someone else anyway. I was particularly annoyed when I looked at the bar later and saw the barman mixing more cocktails. The waitress came over soon after and put the printed bill on the table. It was obvious that they just wanted to rush people out of there.

The bill had  a note on the bottom saying “Service not included”.  That’s certainly true.

 

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Spang Makandra

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My friend Rafael told me about this amazing Surinamese- Javanese restaurant in De Pijp back in 2010. Amsterdam is a melting pot of different cultures and I was curious about this kind of cuisine. We tried unsuccessfully to get a table one night for dinner but it was full. I finally made it one night after yoga class with my friend Helena . The restaurant is tiny and the tables are so close that its easy to brush against other diners. With an unassuming exterior, its not trying to lure tourists and their trip advisor reviews.We had the best Saoto soup there. The chicken with roti is also really tasty with such a wonderful blend of spices and heat. It really reminded me of home. I cannot recommend this place enough and I love bringing friends there. They don’t take reservations so go early if you want to secure a spot. There are also two other locations in Amsterdam Oost and Amsterdam West( Osdorp).

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Het Elfde Gebod- Best Belgian beer in Amsterdam

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Located at the beginning of the red light district, I discovered this bar quite randomly one day. There are many other websites which list the best places to drink Belgian beers in Amsterdam, but I have to say that this awesome hidden gem is my favourite.  Its an original brown cafe and entering inside is like stepping back into time.  The beer selection is magnificent and you can taste many delicious Belgian brews. I always enjoy the kwak here and the Karmeliet trippel is amazing.

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Sky lounge at Doubletree Hilton

 

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Located on the top floor of the Hilton hotel next to cental station, the Skylounge is a hip and trendy place full of expats and tourists.

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It gets really busy on the weekends and service can be slow. I recommend coming here just to experience the beautiful panoramic views of the Amsterdam skyline or for an afternoon drink on the terrace.

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