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Istanbul Travel Guide, Türkiye

Home to 15 million souls, Istanbul is indeed large, dense and multi-layered.

The best way to begin unraveling those layers is by getting to know the city’s many faces, its many neighborhoods.

As you explore, you’ll discover that Istanbul defies easy definition. It’s religious and secular. It’s traditional and modern. It’s shabby and glamorous.

After 2 months of “living” in Istanbul, we can confidently say: this is one of the greatest cities on Earth.

It’s not just historically and culturally rich. It’s a city with heart – so much heart that you’ll feel more welcome here than anywhere else (we did).

Istanbul taught us the meaning of the word hospitality. Use this city guide to discover the soul of living, breathing, heart-pounding Istanbul.

“If the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Şakirin Mosque, Üsküdar, Istanbul
  • When to Visit: The best time to visit Istanbul is in Spring (April – May) and Fall (September – Mid-November). We traveled to Istanbul in early October and stayed until late November. The weather was great, not too hot, not too cold. It was often overcast and moody – similar to San Francisco weather. It rarely rained.
  • Must-Visit Asian-side Neighborhoods: Üsküdar (District), Moda (Kadıköy), Erenköy (Kadıköy)
  • Must-Visit European-Side Neighborhoods: Nişantaşı (Şişli), Beşiktaş, Cihangir (Beyoğlu), Galata (Beyoğlu), Karaköy (Beyoğlu), and Sultanahmet
  • Where to Stay in Beyoğlu: Dreamer’s B&B (budget), Hotel Art Nouveau (midrange), or Tomtom Suites (luxury)

Getting around Istanbul

Şakirin Mosque, Istanbul

Public Transit

Public Transit is the best way to navigate Istanbul. It’s user-friendly and easy. It’s also cheap.

All routes (metro, bus, ferries) are integrated with Google Maps, so it’s easy to figure out how to get to your desired destination.

Buy an Istanbulkart transit card. You can buy these cards directly from ticket machines. And, you can load them up with cash at the same machine, or at kiosks throughout the city.

This will save you money on every ride. Instead of paying 5 TL per ride, you’ll pay 3 TL with this card. You can use the card on subways, streetcars, buses, and ferries.


Taxis

Sometimes, there’s no metro connection, so you’ll need a taxi to get from point A to point B. We recommend showing your taxi driver the address of your destination (the words, not the map).


Where to Stay in Istanbul

Beşiktaş, Istanbul

Beyoğlu

During our time in Istanbul, we stayed in five different neighborhoods and explored many more. Based on our experience, we recommend staying in Beyoğlu.

That’s the European-side district that’s separated from the old city by the Golden Horn.

By staying in Beyoğlu, you’ll have access to superb food options and interesting neighborhoods. You can easily get to Taksim Square, Beşiktaş, Nişantaşı (Şişli), as well as the important sites in Sultanahmet. You’re still central, but not in the tourist congested areas of the old city. Look for accommodation in the following neighborhoods: Pera, Galata, Cihangir, Karaköy.

Budget | Dreamer’s B&B (Cihangir) is a cozy bread and breakfast with clean and comfortable bedrooms. Located near transit, but also walking distance to Taksim Square, Dreamer’s B&B is well-situated for exploring. Cihangir is a very cool neighborhood with a thriving café scene and young urban culture.

Midrange | Hotel Art Nouveau is located in Pera. Here, you’ll be treated to unbeatable views of Galata Tower and the Golden Horn. Guests also have access to a hot tub, a Turkish bath, and a sauna. The rooms are beautiful!

Luxury | Tomtom Suites (Galata) offers guests beautifully designed and spacious suites inside a historic building. Fine-dining restaurant Nicole is housed in Tomtom.

Book your Stay in Beyoğlu.


7 Best Things to Do in Istanbul


1. Indulge in a Traditional Turkish Breakfast

Turkish Breakfast at Çeşme Bazlama Kahvaltı, Nisantasi, Istanbul
Turkish Breakfast, Çeşme Bazlama Kahvaltı

Turkish breakfast (kahvaltı) is a feast. It’s a huge assortment of cheeses, olives, vegetables, spreads, and breads. 

These foods are laid out in small plates, covering every inch of your table. Breakfast is accompanied by tea.

Where to Eat Turkish Breakfast in Istanbul


2. Get Lathered in Bubbles at a Hamam

One of the best ways to experience Turkish culture is by going to a Hamam (or Turkish Bath).

In a Hamam, which caters to tourists, you are guided through the process step-by-step.

An attendant will conduct a full-body scrub and soapy wash, and after you’ll feel revived and born anew. The whole pampering procedure takes about 50 minutes.

Massages are typically add-ons, and not included in the entrance fee.


Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı in Karakoy

We chose to experience a Hamam at Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı.

The bathhouse is segregated based on the time of day: women only between 8 am and 4 pm and men only between 4:45 pm and 11:30 pm. 

Everything is provided; you only need to bring a bathing suit bottom.

The bathhouse itself is stunning. It was originally built in the 16th century by Sinan the Architect as part of the mosque and school complex.

It took 7 years to restore the building.

Upon entering, you’ll be warmly greeted and treated to a refreshing drink. After you finish the Hamam ritual, you can relax in a comfortable resting area and order a juice, tea, or coffee. 

Reservations are necessary. 


3. Café Hope in Moda

Naan Bakeshop, Kadıköy-Moda, Moda, Istanbul

Moda is a neighborhood in Kadıköy district on the Asian-side of Istanbul. Here, you’ll find antique, thrift, and vintage shops along with many trendy cafés and eateries.

Moda is young and hip and it’s a great place to spend the day, or a few days, wandering about in search of your next coffee, or meal.

Read Next: Best Cafés in Moda


4. Shop in Nişantaşı

Shopping in Nisantasi

Nişantaşı is an upscale neighborhood in Şişli district. This European-side neighborhood is a dream destination for shopping. Streets are lined with boutiques and Turkish-designer shops.

You can easily spend hours getting lost here. If you’re in the mood for trendy eateries and third-wave coffee shops, this glamorous corner of Istanbul will offer you that as well.

Find out how to get to Nisantasi and where to eat in Best Restaurants in Nisantasi.


5. Travel Off-the-Beaten-Path in Üsküdar

Nevmekan Sahil library, Uskudar, Istanbul
Nevmekan Sahil

Üsküdar is a district on the Anatolian-side of Istanbul along the Bosphorus Sea.

More conservative than other neighborhoods, though no less welcoming, Üsküdar offers an exciting glimpse into everyday life.

Walking the promenade to the Maiden’s Tower vantage point is a must. Also, don’t miss out on Üsküdar’s modern and visionary mosques, like Şakirin Mosque and Marmara University Faculty of Theology Mosque. 

Learn More: Top Things to See and Do in Uskudar


6. Visit the Beşiktaş Saturday Market

Istanbul is famous for its markets and bazaars. However, many of these are unabashedly set up for tourists.

If you’re visiting Istanbul for the first time, you’ll definitely want to walk through the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market. But, if you want to see where locals shop for food and clothing, head to the Beşiktaş Saturday Market (Beşiktaş pazarı).

The multi-level building on Nüzhetiye Cadessi houses fresh produce, dairy, spice, and clothing vendors. You can find anything here. It’s vibrant, loud and colorful. Don’t hesitate to make a purchase.

Prices are clear and merchants are honest. From our experience, no one will try to take advantage of you, just because you’re foreign. The olives and cheeses we bought at the market were the best we ate during our whole time in Istanbul.

Address: Türkali Mahallesi, Nüzhetiye Cd. No:66, 34357 Beşiktaş/Şişli/İstanbul, Turkey (Near Ihlamur Palace)


7. Eat Lunch at a Lokanta

Lokanta Food, Istanbul

Lokantas, or “tradesmen’s restaurants,” are Turkish-style cafeterias. These casual eateries offer delicious, home-style cooking for workers throughout the city. It’s healthy fast food.

You’ll find that lokantas are very budget-friendly, so if you’re hungry around noon, ask a local where their favorite one is.

When you enter, you’ll simply voice (or point) at what you want (all the food is displayed). After selecting your plates, you’ll usually pay, before finding a seat. However, sometimes you’ll order at the counter, and a waiter will bring you your desired dishes.

When you walk into a bustling lokanta for the first time, you might be a bit overwhelmed. The line moves swiftly and you might not know what you want. In our experience, the servers were always patient and helpful, despite our deficient Turkish. They were just happy that you were there, and even happier, that you enjoyed their food.


Our Favorite Lokantalar in Istanbul


What to Eat in Istanbul

Çiya Sofrası, Kadıköy-Moda, Moda, Istanbul
Çiya Sofrası

Manti – Turkish-style ravioli. Usually filled with ground meat, and topped with yogurt. 

Lahmancun – oven-baked thin crust pizza with mixed, chopped lamb and beef meat and herbs. 

Ezme – diced tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic, mint, and sumac. This salad – dip can be spicy. It’s similar to salsa.

Ezogelin çorbası – Red lentil soup.

Adana kebabı – spicy and flavorful minced-meat Kebab. Adana is usually lamb. You can eat Adana in a dürüm (Turkish wrap), or on a platter. Eat Adana kebab at Adana Ocakbasi in Şişli (Osmanbey Metro Stop).

Dürüm – Turkish wrap filled with either döner kebab, or shish kebab. Eat dürüm at Durumzade.



Balkans Travel Guides


Istanbul City Guide: Off the Beaten Path

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Moon & Honey Travel is an independent blog created by two passionate hikers. We are able to provide free content to you, because of ads and affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these links, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Happy travels and happy trails,

Sabrina & Kati