Istanbul, a city I just can’t help but love. It’s East meets West, modern meets traditional, and a vibrant art, design and festival scene appeals to me. It just has a certain je ne sais quoi.
Lucky me, I was able to spend 10 days here on my recent Turkish holiday, passing my days wandering, exploring, relaxing and of course eating. While this list is by no means exhaustive, let me tell you about a few of my favourite experiences!
Start the day off with a cafe au lait and a fat-free egg and sausage dish at Mavra Cafe in the Galata district, one of my favourite design cafes in Istanbul. Grab a print copy of The Guide Istanbul, or check out the online version at: http://www.theguideistanbul.com/, and plan your day accordingly.
For a healthier option, head to Datli Maya in Cihangir, a cosy little space with a bakery downstairs and a small cafe upstairs. But don’t let the size of the cafe fool you, this place serves up a fabulous Turkish breakfast with delicious rose and cherry jams, and amazing cheese and bread!
And stops for baklava and tea are mandatory throughout the day!
In addition to the Istanbul Modern, Istanbul is filled with modern art galleries and I was lucky enough to be visiting in between the Biennale and the Contemporary Istanbul festivals. In other words, amazing modern art everywhere. We were even lucky enough to catch an exhibit of my favourite Turkish photographer Murat German at C.A.M. Gallery, who I discovered at the Marrakech Art Fair in 2011.
Top pick: SALT Beyoglu, several storeys of thought-provoking art exhibits
Yes, the Grand Bazaar is the main “shopping” district for tourists, but I was not really impressed. It may be that I live in the Marrakech medina so the organized shops and high prices were of little interest to me. Give me the crazy, the hustle and bustle, and the negotiating. That said, I found the Arasta Bazaar, located next to the Blue Mosque, to be a pleasant shopping experience.
But I’d much rather head to Galata area for cool little boutiques filled with local designers.
Top pick: LUNAPARK, filled with local designers and let’s just say it was a good thing one of my credit cards expired while I was on holiday!
Hop on the commuter ferry and head to the Kadakoy for lunch. Grab a semit and a tea and head up to the top deck to enjoy the views crossing the Bosphorus, knowing that your belly will soon be filled with Turkish deliciousness.
The delis in this district are also fabulous for take-out mezzes, preserved foods and the sweets shops have great Turkish delight and teas available at a lower price than the touristic Spice Bazaar. Buying food for just one meal was a challenge!
Top pick: Ciya Sofrasi
A trip to the hammam is one of the best beauty treatments on Earth. A full body scrub and massage followed by a swim and relaxation time is simply put, divine. Sultanahmet is filled with centuries-old hammams and I had no problem spending an afternoon in one! Or several afternoons.
Top pick: Cemberlitas Hamami
Despite spending 10 days in Istanbul, there are still many sited I would like to visit.
But the one site I simply loved was the Aya Sofia, a gorgeous church built during Justinian era then turned in to a mosque during the Ottoman times. Today it’s one of the most popular museums in Istanbul. It’s simply beautiful and the many mosaics are wonderful. Tip – unless you are very interested in the mosaics and history behind them, give the audio guide a miss.
As a non-Muslim I am not allowed to visit mosques here in Morocco, so I was excited to peek inside a mosque or two in Turkey, after all this was my second time in a Muslim country.
The New Mosque, located just steps from the Spice Bazaar, is beautiful and a welcome retreat from the fast-paced city.
And of course the Blue Mosque. Simply breath-taking.
We did wander past the Dolmabahce Palace, where the Ottoman Empire spent its last decades, and it looked beautiful. On another trip, I will visit. As well as the Chora Church and the Cistern. And more neighbourhoods.
A stroll through the very hilly Bohemian-feeling Cihangir with a few stops in the vintage/antique shops, brunch at one of the great cafes, in particular Datli Maya, provides insight in to the life of locals.
The old district of Sultanahmet is filled with architectural gems and little hidden secrets at every turn, but very touristic. Given the crowds everywhere, I explored very little sites. But one day I’ll go back as I’d like to see the Chora Church and the Basilica Cistern. This is where you’ll also find the Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Aya Sofia, Topkapi Palace, and some fabulously relaxing hammams.
My absolute favourite district, Galata, surrounding the Galata Tower, is filled with great little cafes, interesting buildings, and small boutiques where I spent a few Liras.
On a sunny day, take a walk along the Bosphorus and enjoy the view. Grab a semit, a friend and a cay and you have the ingredients for a perfect afternoon.
Pick up a copy of Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence, a fabulous love story with a rather shocking ending. Then head on over to the actual Museum of Innocence, imagining life as it would have been when the main character was visiting his beloved Fusun in her home that now houses the museum. I just love the concept behind bringing the book to life through a museum displaying the artifacts mentioned in the book. Visitors with a copy of the book are offered free entry.
But most of all, ENJOY!
Have you been to Istanbul? Did you love it as well? Any tips to add?