When TH and I did our epic European backpacking trip four years ago, Istanbul was on our list but just a bit too far to travel to by train. We’ve been itching to go ever since, so when friends from New York mentioned they’d be there in October, we tagged along. I was surprised at how modern the city was, full of high fashion, convenient public transportation, trendy bars and cafés, and in many ways — both look and style — it felt a lot like San Francisco. We were lucky to meet our friend’s friends who live in the city and who shared their favorite things to do. Here are some photos — I took so many! — and a few tips on what to do when visiting the Turkish capital.
- Visit a Turkish bath, such as the 16th century Çemberlitaş Hamamı baths designed by Mimar Sinan, who also designed many of the city’s mosques.
- Enjoy a full Turkish breakfast, including the delicious kaymak, the Turkish version of clotted cream, and a scrambled eggs dish called menemen. Van Kahvaltı Evi is lovely, in the cute neighborhood Cihangir, also home to a number of vintage shops and boutiques.
- A visit to the Harem at the Tapkapi Palace is really worth it; the rooms are exquisitely designed and give a real taste of the beautiful Turkish architecture.
- Have a meal of mezzes, complete with a bottle of Turkish raki, an anise-flavored liquor. Sofyali 9 is a charming restaurant in Asmalımescit, where the waiters bring the dishes around on trays, such as pickled chard and grilled eggplant.
- The exhibit space at Salt Galata is small but quite interesting. And the museum, along with a cute café and research library, are in the former 19th century Imperial Ottoman Bank headquarters, a truly impressive building with an extensive exhibit detailing the history of the Ottoman Bank.
- Definitely enjoy a guilty pleasure snack of a wet burger, covered in a thin tomato sauce and steamed. You’ll find them all over the city, especially near Taksim Square.
- Visiting the city’s picturesque and monumental mosques is a must. Entering the Blue Mosque can be difficult to time because it is still used for prayer and is often closed to visitors, but there is no charge to enter when open. Hagia Sophia is beautiful but has a hefty entrance fee and is under extensive interior construction.
- For a fresh fish sandwich snack on the waterfront, head to the Galata Bridge. On one side you’ll see a number of flashy boats docked with cooks frying the fish onboard. On the other side there is a small fish market, with a few stands that cook the fish up. Either way the sandwiches are simple: fluffy bread, lightly charred fish, and lots of onion and lemon.