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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
Van Kahvalti Evi:
This place is famous for the traditional Turkish meze breakfast. It really filling and delicious.
The menemen is a must try.
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!
Another tip from a friend brought us to this place. The koftes were outstanding. It was the best doner I tasted in Istanbul.
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!)
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:
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.
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.
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.
Try the ice cream which seems to be stretchy and elastic. Its really delicious.
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.
Haggling for carpets in the Grand Bazaar
The spice market
The fish market in Kadikoy
Tea shop in Kadikoy