As promised last week, I have put together my top 10 list for Istanbul. The city is so immense that naturally this list isn’t going to cover it all.
But it’s a start with some of my tips and hidden little gems. So here we go…
10. Take a boat trip on the Bosporus. It’s a great way to get your bearings and enjoy the view along the way. We opted for the 2 hour trip, that goes up one side and then back down the other. We timed it for a late afternoon so that we could enjoy the views against the setting sun. There are other boat trips that you can take where you can jump on and off at the different stops and explore. That’s definitely going to be a must for my next trip.
9. Take a trip to the Asian side of the city for the day. One of the best lunches that I can remember having in the recent past was at Ciya Sofasi. We sampled cold salad plates, grilled meats and some of the freshest produce from the trip. The surrounding area really lets you see how the locals live. Explore the Beylerbeyi Palace (especially the gardens and views) and take a drive to the top of Camilca Hill for a fantastic view. You might want to consider hiring a car and driver/guide for your day trip. We located the guide (Isan Aknur) that guided Anthony Bourdain on his gustatory tour of Istanbul. Isan will make you laugh and show you a lot of non-touristy locations, tailored to your interests (food, design, history, etc.)
8. Try drinking Raki. It is an unsweetened, anise flavored alcoholic drink (sort of similar to French Pastis or Greek Ouzo) made of twice-distilled grapes and aniseed.
7. Visit Topkapi. This is a half day at least. Make sure to not miss the harem section (which was my favorite) and when you are exhausted have lunch at the restaurant. The view is spectacular.
6. Turkish towels. I will admit that I filled a whole suitcase with the most beautiful bath and hand towels. I loved the detailing and color options with the great tassel detail. I know that when I look at them hanging in my bathroom, I will have fond memories of the trip for many years to come.
5. Drink freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. This one actually happened by accident. I was seeking change from a street cart vendor that had piles of pomegranates. He talked me into a glass and I was addicted. They cut the pomegranate in half and hand squeeze it in a large juice press. The flavor is out of this world. The bottled grocery store variety here doesn’t even come close.
4. Hamam. Spending some time relaxing at a Turkish bath was the perfect way to pass an afternoon. I opted for the ritual/traditional service where I was scrubbed and exfoliated as I lounged on the hot marble slabs. I ended having the whole place to myself for the afternoon. I was so glad that a friend suggested Kilic Ali Pasa Hamam. Every detail was exquisite following a recent 7 year restoration.
3. The Spice Market. Vendors with cheeses, olives and stacks of spices. I found all kinds of spices to pack for my suitcase. I can’t wait to start cooking with these soon.
2. Explore the Cukurcuma section. One of the most charming areas filled with vintage and antique store. The standout favorite was A La Turca which was filled with accessories, rugs and hidden gems. Have coffee at Holy Coffee. Dinner at Munferit is a must (I can still taste the couscous with squid ink and sea bass with fennel!)
1. Hagia Sofia. After having studied it in art history classes and seen awe-inspiring pictures for years, finally seeing this majestic landmark in person was a dream come true.