It literally is the place where eastern culture meets western culture and the mix is truly intoxicating. I was hooked as soon as I stepped off Turkish Airlines. It's been on the Bohemian Lifestyle list since the beginning but unfortunately at the time it was very unstable so I put it on the back burner until now and I am delighted to confirm that is not the case anymore, I couldn't have felt safer and the Turkish people were so friendly and funny. We only had three days to pack it all in which obviously was not enough especially when I knew I would end up in the Grand Bazar for the majority of that time but that's okay because I can't wait to go back. I've outlined the things we did below but there is an awful lot more to do and see in this enticing city. But if you are there for a long weekend like us than this list is good starting point for planning your first trip to Istanbul.
(Blue Mosque & Bosphorus river)
Where we stayed:
I did some research on the different areas before we did our Airbnb search and very quickly decided that Beyoglu was the one for us. It's just north of the Golden Horn, it is called 'new town' but it is hardly new as there has been a settlement there for over 2000 years. It is the heart of modern European Istanbul. Check out Istiklal Caddesi street, which is lined with stylish bars and restaurants and just short walk over the bridge will bring you to the Grand Bazaar and then onto Sultanahmet (& the old city) where most of the tourist sites are. We preferred to be close to the restaurants and bars so getting home in the evening was easier if you want to be closer to the cultural sites then you should opt to stay in Sultanahmet.
CasaloBueno#2 Apartment - Tatar Beyi Sk Galata Beyoglu
We were onto a winner when you we chose this apartment. Of course it had a bit of the bohemian vibe...but you knew that right :-) It was right by the Galata Tower which is simply stunning at night and there were great restaurants and bars all within 10 minutes walk. I wouldn't stay anywhere else in Istanbul. The hosts Doret & Izel could not have been more helpful if they tried. Would highly recommend this apartment, it sleeps 6, there were 3 of us so we each had a room to ourselves. At £89 per night and with such a great location this place really was a bargain. www.airbnb.ie/rooms/788715
(Galata Tower by night )
How to get around city:
If you are staying in Beyoglu you can walk to the tourist attractions at Sultanahmet within 20- 30 minutes or just jump on a tram. The tram system is really easy to navigate and it is super cheap. Taxis are also plentiful and very cheap so you will have no problem getting from A to B although traffic in Istanbul is manic all the time.
Top things to do in Istanbul:
- Grand Bazaar - Yes, of course after seeking the best meze Istanbul could offer, the next stop had to be the Grand Bazaar. My first impressions were that it is a more civilised, organised version of the Moroccan souks (between you and me that's one of things that draws me to the souks amongst other things) however, the beautiful textiles, rugs and exotic lamps made me love it nearly as much. You will also taste the best sweets in the world here... be warned!
- Blue Mosque
This is one of the world's most religious buildings. Blue because of the beautiful Iznik tiles (see pictured below) that decorate the whole interior of the mosque. Unfortunately, one of the walls had collapased just before we got to Istanbul so it was closed in order to repair the wall. However the outside is pretty remarkable too. I will definitely be checking out the inside of this historic building on my next visit.
- Hagia Sophia
Is one of the world's most stunning architectural wonders. It was originally a christian church and then converted into a mosque in 1453 since 1934 it has been a museum. It has withstood countless wars and earthquakes and a sight to behold so a must visit.
- Turkish Bath (Hammam)
When in Turkey, how can you not?! No stay would be complete without experiencing being soaped up, scrubbed and massaged at one of Istanbul's many Turkish baths. My recommendation is Cemberlitas Baths as it is hailed as one of the most beautiful and is a regular location for film and fashion shoots
Where to eat and drink
Where do I start, especially when I was already a huge fan of Turkish cuisine. So many great choices in Istanbul. Here's our list:
Best for dinner - Antiochia www.antiochiaconcept.com
This fabulous restaurant was our favourite of the trip, it is in the Beyoglu area. As soon I walked through the door I could tell this was going to be something special. The atmosphere practically hugs you. It's full of locals, I actually think we were the only non locals in the restaurant that night which of course is what you want and it is so cosy, you won't want to leave. Our Airbnb host recommended this place. I was so impressed with not just the food but the staff too, the service was just perfect. They even gave each of us a little gift at the end of our meal. It's a must if you are in Istanbul, you will thank me... I promise!
Best for breakfast or brunch - Cesme, Bazlama Kahvali
Ok, we might have queued for over an hour for this place and honestly I never queue for food ever but there was something about this cute traditional restaurant that we just ended up in the queue and didn't actually question the fact it was out of the ordinary for us to do this for any restaurant. It was obviously mean't to be because it was definitely worth the wait, so pretty and this food experience was very different from anything I had experienced before. This was as traditional as they come, this is how Turkish do breakfast and I loved it. It is their biggest/favourite meal of the day and I can see why.
(complimentary refreshments, queuing for food ain't so bad in Instanbul!)
(This was the spread, no menu choice here, everyone gets the same breakfast and what a perfect combo)
Best for lunch - Old Ottoman Restaurant
This restaurant was basic but very good and they have an outside area so you get to enjoy the glorious weather too. The staff were super friendly here too. Try the Testi Kebab, It consists of meat and vegetables cooked in a clay pot (‘testi’ means jug, in Turkish) over fire and it's a delicacy in Istanbul.
Best for coffee - Maya's Corner
This cute little cafe is worth visiting just for the beautiful explosion of colour. Close to all the tourist attractions so good place to refuel in between.
Best for drinks
- 360 - Put this stunning rooftop bar on your hit list. The views don't get much better than this.
- Leb-i Derya - another great place for rooftop drinks
- Navizade Street - check out this street it is lined with bars and restaurants. We went when the football was on and the atmosphere was ace
- Karaköy - also check out this funky neighbourhood with some cool pubs and cafe bar
(Karaköy - photo courtesy of my bestie Sinead Crowley)
We absolutely loved Istanbul, we felt so safe and everyone was super helpful and friendly, they want and need tourists back in this fantastic and interesting city so if you are at all thinking about going please just do it. We've already booked our return trip...it's that fab!!! Hope my blog has helped, have a great trip xxx