By Indira Kasaeva
If you ever have an opportunity to visit Istanbul or are looking for a new place to add to your 'wish list' then seize it while you can. A city where each little alley is filled with the history of the Ottoman rule and Ataturk (you will see him on massive posters everywhere), there is alot to see and keep yourself busy. If you know someone that lives there they you have an advantage as your experience moving around with a local will be very different than visiting the country yourself, however – even if you do choose to go yourselves, we have rounded up the best places to see, feel, experience and taste (I travelled with a local!) Istanbul at its best.
Çeşme Bazlama Kahvalti
This breakfast and lunch little café bursts with colors and flavours is a must-visit. Located in a nice neighborhood, Bazlama is one of the most amazing breakfasts you’ll have in the city. If you’re heading there on a weekend, be ready to queue the street for up to 30 minutes – but even that in itself is an interesting experience, and the food is definitely worth the wait. It has homey and artsy essence with smells of freshly baked bread, made right in front of you and a selection of home-made jams for you to try. Everything is sourced and produced organically is fresh off the gardens. For breakfast there is a set menu of various dishes, paired with tea. If you’d like another drink like a coffee- that would have to be ordered, but otherwise – you are just served. Mid breakfast a lady comes over with a massive tray of jams for you to choose a few to add to your table. Compared to other breakfasts it can be deemed on the pricier end – however the beauty of the place is what you pay for too. Very tiny in sizing you sit on a terrace overlooking the street, surrounded by beautiful colors and with a beautiful true growing right through the middle of a space that adds a certain charm and representation of the country’s approach to nature.
More details on Instagram: @bazlama.kahvalti
Good for: Breakfast
The Grand Bazaar
While you may get souvenirs around the tourist places of the city like the Taksim Square (another must visit), a traditional experience would be strolling the hallways of the Grand Bazaar. It’s one of the largest and oldest bazaars in the world. The architecture and evidence of times passed transports you to a different world where you can easily imagine how it looked like hundreds of years ago. Get lost in a world of wonders, and exotic things. Personal tip – find the alleyway with jewellery, you will see some mesmerizing gold-platted pieces of unique designs. A cherished treasure that will hold memories of your trip forever! I bought a bracelet and earrings without even bargaining – the price was just so good and have been receiving compliments every time I wear them. You will find here everything you could think of, however a good note would be teas and sweets! The vendors will treat you like family letting you try everything and you’ll savor some of the best flavors of Turkey!
Good for: Shopping
Nusr-Et Maçka Palas
No visit to Turkey is complete without stopping by Salt-Bae. We were taken to the “original and best” branch of the world-famous chain, and it truly didn’t disappoint! The meat is superb, same as the ambience and 5-star service. I’d also have to say the interior is very warming, and cozy despite the luxury atmosphere. If you’re going from Dubai, you’ll be pleasantly surprised, as it’s almost half price cheaper. This is a dinner worthy of some glamour, so bring out that dress for a special occasion. Best part of the dinner is the party, where suddenly an old classic starts playing, waiters start singing and by default so do you (includes small dances while you’re seated!). A great evening out for a romantic dinner with some action, or a small group of friends or family.
Good for: Dinner Note: Advanced booking is required.
Emirgan Sütiş Çengelköy
While there are a lot of branches for Sutis around the city, I’d recommend particularly the Cengelkoy branch. Opening grand views of the Bosporus, you sit on a terrace on the water and enjoy a finger-licking good Turkish breakfast. It’s one of the high-end places and yet, an experience so good, that we went back. Twice. If there’s ONE place you visit for a Turkish breakfast- it’s this – an iconic classic. The food is out of this world with home-made cheeses, honey, fresh vegetables, eggs and an amazing ambience. Come expecting to have a little wait, as it’s always packed!
More details on Instagram: @emirgansutis
Note: Wait to be seated outside
The most lavish palace you will ever lay your eyes upon, and a total #Must! From learning about the way of life of Sultans of the Ottoman empire, to experiencing the grandeur and craftsmanship – it’s one of the most distinct experiences to embrace the history of the country. Be prepared to walk a lot, as the territory is absolutely massice. It includes the palace, the Harem, vast grounds of territory with ponds and swans, insane views of the Bosporus canal, a drawing home and a beautiful glassroom café. Head to the palace in morning, and once you’ve experienced everything, walk to Limonluk Café located on the same grounds for a nice tea or coffee, and soulful conversation about everything you’ve seen.
More details on Instagram: @dolmabahce_sarayi
For a classy night out, the Turkish sheesha restaurant is the ultimate go to. Always crowded, and mostly with tourists, it has a great nightlife atmosphere paired with really good food and music. Arrive real early evening, as the later the longer the queue. If you’re lucky with a choice – opt for the tables next to the windows on the covered terrace to have a look out to the famous Bosporus.
More details on Instagram: @huqqa
Arada Blue City
If you miss home (Middle East) and want to find some comfort in a piece of Arabia in Istanbul, Arada Blue City is a beautiful restaurant. Featuring the favorites of Lebanese cuisine, one of the most amazing features is the decor and design. Veiled in complete blue it’s a wonderful ambience to enjoy great food to the tunes of Fairooz. The 2nd floor offers an amazing terrace, as always – with breathtaking views of the water.
For more details: @aradabluecity
The Tourist Checklist
Galata Tower – a tourist historical attraction, originally build by the Byzantines as lighthouse, during the Ottoman rule is was used as a dungeon, and later on as a fire tower. It serves as the typical tourist backdrop picture, but has great little shops all around for some souvenir hunting.
Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque – These are the two iconic symbols of Istanbul, located just across the square from each other. Wouldn’t recommend going in on a Friday midday, due to worshippers praying and being very busy. Best to allow those praying some (much needed) peace, and visit another day. Both are truly magnificent wonders full of history. Come in more modest clothing (arms and knees covered, no cleavage) and bring a scarf – otherwise you will be forced to buy sing-use dresses and scarves, which are hideous (and look terrible in pictures).
Hamam – for women, an absolutely necessity to experience a traditional Turkish bath, and don’t even think of leaving without trying it. Trust me, it’s not what you’ve tried anywhere else. You leave feeling like you move on a cloud, filled up with history, inspiration and skin glowing. While there are several all around the city, the one I visited one was of the oldest and barely had a sign. So sharing you a recommendation of a friend, which is Cagaloglu Hamam . You feel like a sultan’s wife and the design is unmatched!
For more information – visit the website here.
Taksim – the famous square needs a mention, filled with restaurant, shops, and cafes, it’s a great destination for peoplewatching. Worthy of a stroll, be ready to brace the crowds!