Whenever I go visit a place I try not to be too big of a tourist. Of course, I’ll hit the main landmarks, but I am more interested in what the real culture of the place is and in order to understand how people there are and what their lifes look like, I try to get away as much as possible from the tourist route and look for the genuine. Istanbul is a very offering place culturally. Once again, I was charmed by the magical mix of eastern and western cultures.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN ISTANBUL
Here’s a list of my favorite, not so well known, but great things to do in Istanbul:
1. Go to one of the many tea houses. Turkish people love their tea, they will have it all day, every day and that’s why they have many tea houses and hang out places. My favorite place is on the back side of the cemetery in which Sultan Mauhmud’s mausoleum stands.2. Go to the Asian side of the city and enjoy the liveliness of the port area and the beautiful view of Istanbul across Bosphorus; stop for a tea at ane of the many cafes by the Maiden’s tower.3. There is a huge culture around the street food in Turkey, so you shouldn’t be afraid to try delicious pretzels filled with cheese or chocolate cream, pide (local version of pizza), corn, roasted chestnuts, ice cream, all sorts of pastries, freshly squeezed orange or pomegranate juice etc. from the many street vendors you’ll find all over town.4. One of the best free things offered in a city which relies on the income generated by tourism is the seminar on Islam offered every day in the information center of the Blue Mosque. It is not often you get a chance to meet locals in Istanbul who are not involved in the tourism industry, but are genuine and don’t expect anything in return to their generosity. The seminar is short, but very informative. Any questions will be answered and they also provide free literature on the subject.
5. You have to stop and pet the cats, the many many cats of Istanbul. They are everywhere, they are used to being around people and therefore are very friendly and enjoy the petting just as much as you do.6. All around the port area in the proximity of Galata bridge you’ll find many little restaurants, sit down or take away places that sell wonderful fish sandwiches or balık ekmek. The fish is very fresh and accompanied by delicious and just as fresh salads. My favorite ones are the little stands on the Taksim side of the bridge, the vendors prepare the sandwiches in front of you, take their time and make the whole process look like an art.
7. The Taksim area is the most hip and happening right now. It feels very European, but still has many Oriental accents. Visit the many modern cafes and restaurants, listen to all the street performers, go to the Galata tower and enjoy a different view of Istanbul.
8. At least once, gather around a table with some friendly people and have a traditional hookah (nargile). There are many touristy places that offer hookahs, but for a more authentic feel, go to a cafe destined to locals. The tobacco is really smooth and a hookah lasts for hours.
9. Visit the Archeological Museum. It is one of the best of its kind and has relics gathered during the Ottoman Empire from all over its surface. 10. See an active archeological site. By the enterance to the Yenikapı metro stop, you can see thousands of cases filled with goodies from the 7th to 11th century sunken ships and observe people still excavating more and more of them. This site was discovered once the works for the Bosphorus Marmaray underwater tunnel began and it is of major importance to the Turkish culture, as it revealed that Istanbul is a much older city than thought before, dating around 8500 years.
David wrote an article about Istanbul as well, you can find it here, on the True Nomads’ blog.