My husband and I came back about a week ago from a short break in Istanbul to make the most of the long weekend.
It was my second time in Istanbul so this time I went a bit further afield, crossing to the Asian side and going on cruises on the Bosphorus. I really love this city, its different neighbourhoods, its people, its food, its history, a destination I really recommend.
Someone said ‘where east meets west’ when they were referrifn to Istanbul and I couldnt agree more. I have been to the Far East as well as the West and Istanbul is unique in its way of mixing the two together. The city takes the best of both and makes for a wonderful escapade.
To help you plan for the best trip, here are my favourite spots in the city, from food, to shopping, to sights.
Top 5 sights to visit in Istanbul
- The Blue Mosque – just wow. Go for the tiles that give the mosque its name.
- Topkapi – the palace , its gardens and the harem are not to be missed.
- Hagia Sofia – now a museum the sometimes church, sometimes mosque has seen so much history and it is a humbling experience to go inside and absorb everything
- Yerebatan Cistern – a very photogenic place under Sultanhamet. This used to store the water needed for the sultan’s palace.
- Kariye Museum – some of the most beautiful mosaics I’ve seen.
We saw so many other places that are worth a visit but if it is your first visit to Istanbul, you HAVE TO see these ones first.
Top 5 restaurants in Istanbul
So happy that we bought ‘Where chefs eat‘ as it gave us some great recommendations:
- Karaköy Lokantası – so good we went twice. There is a great atmosphere, amazing service and we were the only “tourists”. God for the meze.
- Yeni Lokanta – best humus I’ve ever had. Right next to the famous shopping street, it serves local ingredients cooked in a modern way. We went for our last lunch, only because we could never find a table for dinner and we are so glad we did. We loved the space, the service and the delicious food.
- Dönerci Şahin Usta – I don’t eat lamb but my husband tells me it’s the best kebab he’s ever had. Don’t expect a restaurant, it’s simply a hole in the wall, usually with a queue outside. Only one choice on the menu: döner kebab.
- Tarihi Eminönü Balık Ekmek – it’s not a restaurant per se but this is not to be missed. Right by the Galta bridge, there are a few stalls selling fish sanwiches. It’s fresh and delicious and a great experience.
- For an authentic Istanbul lunch head to Uskudar in Asia and eat at Kanaat Lokantasi. This is where I had a dessert recommended by our Airbnb host, Tavuk gogusu, a milk pudding made with chicken meat, yes chicken! It was a delicacy served tot he Ottoman sultans apparently so I said I’d try, imagine my face when this turned up:
Top 5 experiences in Istanbul
- Watch the Dervishes whirl at the Galata Mevlevihanesi – yes it is touristy and I’m not one for tourist things but this is truly mesmerizing. I still don’t get how these guys can turn and turn and turn for minutes
- Visit a hamam – We didn’t go this time around but I did during my first visit and I lvoed it. My mother and I visited the Aya Sofia hamam
- Cross the Bosphorus – don’t book one of those cruises, just get a ticket on the city transport ferries and enjoy the ride
- Walk the Galata Bridge – fair enough, there is a tramway that could take you to the otherside but I really recommend walking the bridge as you get to see the amazing skyline, meet the fishermen who spend their days catching the tiny fish
- Watch the sunset from the Galata Tower – if you can deal with the crowds, try and reach the top of the tower for the golden hour.
Top 5 neighbourhoods
- Fener – Balat – we walked from the Kariye Museum to see the Fethiye Museum, a gem of a sight but rarely visited and from there we decided to walk around the neighbourhood of Balat. Fener and Balat are two quarters worth going to as you see centuries old building being turned into art galleries, it is the new place to be in Istanbul and we wished we had more time to explore. Maybe next time…
- Galata – this is where our flat was located. A cosmopolitan neighborhood with plenty to see, do, eat, shop and drink.
- Sultanhamet – most of the sights are there. There is much of an atmosphere but you will have to go there if you want to see the main sights.
Top 5 shopping places
- Grand Bazaar – the king if all bazaars. It’s been here for hundreds of years and has got streets, alleys, more than a thousand shops where you can find rugs, lamps, bags, clothes, jewels.. the list goes on.
- Spice Bazar – go for the experience. All your senses will be hit and you’ll probably leave with something. It’s great for gift shopping: turkish delights, spices, teas, oils – it’s all there.
- Istiklal Caddesi – the Oxford Street of Istanbul. Taking you from the famous Taksim Square all the way to Tunel, near the Galata Tower, it has all the clothes brands you need and there are a few atmospheric cafes dotted along the way to rest your feet and quench your thirst.
- Kadikoy – not too far from the ferry jetty, you will find a few street where there is a food market.
Other Istanbul treats
You can view a video of our Istanbul break here.