When you arrive in Istanbul you will no doubt be taken back by the many beautiful Ottoman structures that line the cityscape. The Sultan Ahmad Mosque or ¨Blue Mosque¨, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern and Grand Bazaar are among the most popular attractions, but if you’re looking to escape the crowds or experience something a little different there are plenty of other options.
See the not-so-common markets
The less visited yet equally, if not more enjoyable Spice Bazaar is well worth a see. Vendors line the inside and outside of the bazaar selling everything from spices and baclava to kitchen appliances and clothes. Most shops will be happy to let you sample their food, with some even insisting before letting you leave. It’s a great local experience and actually a little cheaper than the more well-known Grand Bazaar.
If you still haven’t had enough market action there’s a weekly Sunday flea market in Bomonti, around 2.5km from Taksim Square. Feriköy Antika Pazari is one of the biggest in Istanbul and has everything from stylish antiques to WWII memorabilia. I even managed to find an original Nintendo Gameboy, something which brought back memories of the many hours I’d wasted with my face buried into it’s screen. Make sure you try the delicious organic gözleme while there, and wash it all down with a fresh pomegranate juice.
Stuff yourself silly
When it comes to food you’re absolutely spoilt for choice in Istanbul. Not only are there a tonne of options but you really don’t need to spend a fortune to enjoy them, as most of the best eats will cost you next to nothing.
The simple yet incredibly tasty felafel is by far one of my favourites. A wrap with crunchy cabbage, fresh cucumber, zesty pickles, parsley, yoghurt and chilli will cost you around 5TRY, an absolute steal for such a satisfying feed.
Another favourite and perfect late night snack after a few too many drinks is the islak burger. These steamed burgers have a soft bun, coated in a delicious tomato sauce which breaks through to a juicy garlic meat patty. These are the definition of a guilty pleasure, but at 3.5TRY, who could possibly blame you?
You definitely can’t visit Istanbul without trying at least one kebap. Although everywhere, the best in my opinion is from a place called Mangal Keyfi. This eatery has a warm, inviting setting and very friendly staff, but the real star of the show is the food. The adana dürümler has perfectly crispy bread, fresh crunchy salad and juicy meat that’s perfectly spiced. Just be careful as it will be hard to stop at one, especially if you have an appetite like mine.
Raise a glass
There’s no shortage of friendly pubs, trendy bars and pumping clubs in Istanbul, it just all depends on how wild you want the night to get. For cheap beers and a laid back, relaxed vibe, there’s no better place than Papillon. This small, dimly lit bar hasn’t any signage out the front and is hidden up a fair few flights of stairs in Istanbul’s Taksim district. If you blink, you’re sure to miss it. Half-litre beers are a ridiculous 5TRY before 8pm, and a perfect way to start the evening’s festivities.
For great live music in yet another intimate and slightly hard to reach location, visit Leyla Teras, only a short walk from Papillon. Most nights see live Turkish bands playing mainly rock jams which are guaranteed to heat the night up a bit. Beer prices are quite standard at around 15TRY, but the rocking live music well and truly makes up for it.
If the crew are still kicking you should head to Babylon Bomonti in Şişli for some thumping bass and early morning shenanigans. One of the more popular spots in Istanbul, Babylon Bomonti is actually an old brewery which has been transformed into a pumping late-night venue and a must if you’re looking for somewhere to dance the night away.
Take a day trip
If you feel like you’ve seen everything you want to in Istanbul or just feel like escaping the city, head to Prince Islands for a relaxed getaway that will have you back before dinner.
Büyükada is the largest of the islands and by far the most popular. Catch the ferry across from Kabataş or Kadıköy for a measly 7.5TRY – it will take you just over an hour. Once you arrive, take a short walk into the centre of the main district and hire a bike. It will normally cost you 20TRY but if you’re looking for ways to cut costs and are game enough, claim you’re a student for a 5TRY discount.
There aren’t any cars on the island just bicycles and horse and carriages, so the roads are perfect for cycling. The best route to see the island is to follow the horse carriages away from the ferry wharf until you hit a t-intersection. Turn right and follow that road to circumnavigate the island and catch the most magnificent views across the sea. If you keep an eye out there’s also a dirt track leading up into the shrub which is sign posted. Lock your bike to the post and follow it past the helicopter landing pad for about 1km for a stunning view out towards the cityscape.
Once returning from your ride you’ll more than likely have built up an appetite, so take a wander along the water and check out what’s on offer. If seafood isn’t your thing, head back up into town where there’s plenty of other options available to you like lahmacun, pide, chicken kebaps and other Turkish specialities. You’ll be spoilt for choice, trust me.
Finish your day on Büyükada with a relaxed afternoon baclava and steaming glass of Turkish tea before jumping on the ferry back to Istanbul.