To some Istanbul might not seem an obvious travel choice right now. With its recent political turmoil and more frequent terror attacks, some might be a little hesitant or even afraid to travel here. And I’ll admit Istanbul is not for the faint of heart. But for you intrepid travelers, if you are looking for a city full of ancient charm, beautiful people, and a fascinatingly seamless blend of east meets west look not one inch further than the city straddling two continents.
Istanbul is a sprawling metropolis with distinct neighborhoods and vibes. For the tourist in all of us the first stop is Sultanahmet in the old city. Here you will find the Hagia Sophia, (pro-tip: Hagia is pronounced ‘eye-E-ah’), the Blue Mosque, and a short tram ride away the famous Grand Bazaar. The Hagia Sophia has lived many lives: a Greek Orthodox Basilica, a Mosque run by the Ottoman Empire, and now in its present life as a gorgeous museum. The Blue Mosque, a 5 minute walk away, is one of the biggest and grandest mosques of the city, a dizzying jewel box of tile-lined domes.
Any souvenir you could possibly want can be found at the Grand Bazaar, a couple of tram stops away from the two mosques mentioned above. With thousands of stalls selling everything from Turkish delight to tea sets (per person Turkey consumes the most tea of any country in the world) to Persian rugs. Find knick-knacks for all assorted family and friends or snag something special just for you.
Alright guys. I’m about to venture into DANGEROUS territory. Food is near and dear to all of us, no? Here’s my incredibly humble opinion on the best places to get baklava and Turkish breakfast.
Take a stroll down to Karakoy from the crowded streets of Taksim, to get the flakiest, lightest, freshest, most soul-satisfying baklava at Karaköy Güllüoğlu Üretim Tesisi. Skip right on over the walnut kind, and go straight to pistachio. That is where baklava shines.
Picture it: after a night of slight over-indulgence on one of Istanbul’s numerous rooftop bars, your pounding head and queasy stomach need immediate respite. You need a full Turkish breakfast. What is that, you ask? A Turkish breakfast is a smorgasbord of warm fresh baked bread, a variety of cheeses and nut butters, olives, baked egg scrambles, and my personal favorite: kaymak and honey. Kaymak is lighter version of clotted cream and its served swimming a sea of golden honey. Whew. Even thinking about it gives me the shivers. Wash it all down with a freshly squeezed juice and the ubiquitous tulip-shaped cups of tea. Get the best in the lively neighborhood of Cihangir at Van Kahvalti Evi.
Istiklal Caddesi (Istiklal Street) is at the heart of Taksim. Here you can find all international comforts for shopping and food. The street is studded with chains like Starbucks and Mango, but also has mini-bazaars run by locals. Rooftops and terraces are a mainstay all over the city but especially in Taksim. An unassuming street-level storefront might be the entry to a gorgeous panoramic view of the Bosporous. The people-watching is some of the best in the world. There are also numerous incredibly talented buskers that can serenade with the best of them.
Cihangir (pronounced gee-hahn-gear) was my old stomping ground. My best advice is to get lost here. The winding streets are full of cafes, antique shops, and hidden nooks and crannies. Grab a coffee, pet the nearly domesticated street cats, and meander through the tangled maze of the old streets.
Wanderlusters this is but a brief overview of my favorite city. There are countless places to explore in Istanbul, use this as a jumping off point to your own beautiful adventure! Turkey is a perfect blend of the Orient and the European and a definite treasure of your travel bucket list.