There’s no other place in the world like Istanbul. With such a strategic location across Bosphorus and on the crossroads between East and West, it was the capital of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires over the course of several centuries. Unsurprisingly, Istanbul is a top travel destination today; many tourists enjoy visiting this unique city which straddles both Europe and Asia.
It is difficult to talk about Istanbul without mentioning food. Turkish food is vastly underrated since döner kebabs, an affordable fast food sold by descendants of Turkish migrants in Europe, is the only Turkish food most people are acquainted with. There is a lot more to Turkish food besides kebabs; being the largest city in Turkey, Istanbul is naturally the top place to sample some of the best. Lokantası, a restaurant in the neighborhood of Karaköy, recreates traditional recipes along with casserole dishes as an “esnaf lokantası” tradition. Turkish cuisine is also well-known for the meats and dining at Nusr-Et, opened by celebrity chef Salt Bae, will be a memorable experience. For those with a sweet tooth, Turkey will be a delight with delicious desserts such as lokum (Turkish delight), baklava and kunefe; which can be found at Güllüoğlu, located in Karaköy. There is even a unique ice cream from the region of Kahramanmaras – eaten with a knife and fork!
All visitors to Istanbul will notice the presence of cats and the love for them is probably one thing that every Turkish person agrees on. In fact, this relationship inspired the 2016 documentary Kedi (Turkish for cat), which showcased the beautiful relationship between humans and these feline creatures. One local gave this beautiful quote in the film: “Dogs think humans are Gods, but cats know better. They are God’s messengers.” It is very likely that you will share the locals’ love for cats once you encounter them in Istanbul.
It is also easy for visitors to be wowed by the historic monuments in Sultanahmet and not venture out of the touristy neighborhood. It will be a shame though as Istanbul does have a lot more to offer. Adjacent to Sultanahmet are the two markets that can satisfy all shoppers’ desires – Spice Bazaar by the docks of Eminonu and Grand Bazaar, one of the largest indoor markets in the world. Traders had passed through these bazaars over centuries and brought goods from both the East and West. Today they are still bustling marketplaces, and you may pick up a bargain or two while hopping there. Across the Golden Horn lies the district of Beyoglu with Istiklal Caddesi located in the heart of the district. It is a pedestrianized thoroughfare, and this area is filled with boutiques, restaurants, bars and clubs. It’s probably the best place to monitor the pulse of the country and see how the locals dine and play.
If you are ever tired of the Istanbul’s hustle and bustle, there are pockets within the city where you can escape to. Take the cable car up Pierre Loti Hill in the neighborhood of Eyup and you will be treated to fabulous views of the areas around Golden Horn. With a large café area on the top of the hill, you can soak in the surroundings with some black tea, Turkey’s national drink. Another recommendation will be to visit Buyukada, the biggest of the nine Princes’ Islands located to the south of the city. Before boarding the ferry, do buy a simit (Turkish sesame bread) and try feeding the seagulls as the locals do. It is a charming island with pretty 19th-century buildings with horse carriages and bicycles as the main modes of transportation since motorized vehicles are banned.
The above is just a fraction of what Istanbul offers; it’s possible to spend weeks there and not see everything. Be prepared to fall in love with this amazing city by the end of your time there.