In this piece, I wanted to prepare a list full of food and drink that’ll make you feel like a sultan in the city known as the “city of Sultans.” It’s important to do something other than just say, “go to the Haghia Sophia or the Blue Mosque or Basilica Cistern or the Topkapi Palace!” – You’ll end up going there anyway. Here are my five suggestions to enjoy Istanbul at its best:
1. Don’t skip breakfast
We have a saying in Turkey: “the path to one’s heart goes through the stomach”. In the land of delicacies you should start your day with a big meal. You can seat yourself at a marvelous table for an open buffet at a spot with the view of the Bosphorus (Like Divan Pastanesi in Bebek), you can try to sample börek (A Turkish pastry dish) shops, pide places (Turkish pizza) and breakfast halls which can be found all around the city … But don’t skip breakfast in Istanbul, make sure to try the wide variety of different tastes and atmospheres! Go ahead and try some of the famous breakfast halls in Rumeli Hisar (Kale Pastanesi, Lokma, Sade Kahve, Nar Cafe etc.), or Van breakfast homes in Cihangir, enjoy your cheese toast and linden tea at Mustafa Amca’nın Kahvesi on Istiklal, enjoy pişi (A Turkish fried dough specialty) at some of the breakfast places of Beşiktaş or grab a simit (Turkish sesame bagels) off street vendors to eat it along with feta cheese, tea or ayran (a Turkish Yoghurt drink).
2. Lose yourself
Take a stroll in the alley ways of Beyoğlu, Yeşilköy and Nişantaşı to explore, find little stores, boutiques and cafes off the beaten path, have a drink and continue shopping. There are loads of nice little cafes in Nişantaşı, Çukurcuma and Karaköy to discover, as well as many clothing stores in the back streets of Taksim where you can find retro clothes and second-hand sunglasses, or go to one of the several chocolate shops and ice cream parlors in Moda. You’ll find yourself on a journey through time and cultures where you take unexpected turns through streets in the historical districts of Istanbul like Balat, among others.
3. Breathe in the sea
Breathing in the fresh sea breeze is good for you especially when you’re in a very crowded city like Istanbul. Cleanse yourself of the stress of the crowds by taking a fresh breath of the sea breeze. Try a fish sandwich in Eminönü or Kabataş, enjoy baked potatoes in Ortaköy. Take a boat trip to Kadıköy, Üsküdar or the Islands and Kavaklar. You may take a sip of the delightful Turkish tea served in small elegant glass cups while enjoying the lovely view of Istanbul’s Maiden’s Tower, the Bosphorus Bridges, and Galata Tower. Take in all of the city’s seagulls, the sound of the waves, the noise of the old ship you are on. If you’re lucky you’ll get a chance to enjoy the music on one of the boats if there are street musicians playing local tunes on their accordions.
4. Watch the sunset
If you’ve made it to Caddebostan, historical Moda Pier or Galata Tower you’ll see the sunlight turn the spectacular silhouette of Istanbul into a lovely painting with the sun painting the sky and clouds a deep red. As they say, the sun sets in a thousand different ways in Istanbul, I’m sure you’ll agree with me!
5. An evening out
Other than the hundreds of incredible restaurants that serve the delicacies of Turkish and world cuisine, stop by a local restaurant (“esnaf lokanta”s) that cooks home-style cuisine and order as much of the rich choices of our local cuisine as you’d like. After dinner, drinking a cup of Turkish coffee for the night with some Turkish delight is the best way to end the day.
While in Istanbul:
Is the song “Istanbul, Not Constantinople” for you? Of course there are loads of other songs about Istanbul but let me pick one song for you: the magnificent debut album by Birsen Tezer is called Cihan and the song is “Istanbul”. You may also want to listen to the flute player Mercan Dede while you are walking through Istanbul, with its harmonies from the East that is particular to Sufi music exclusive to the East.
James Bond’s classic “From Russia with Love” (don’t let the title mislead you), “The World is Not Enough”, and “Skyfall” adventures take place in this city; Clive Owen in “The International”, Tom Hardy in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” stops by in Istanbul. If you prefer the touch of a Turkish director, you may watch “Uzak” (Distant, 2002) by esteemed Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan; Fatih Akın’s famous “Gegen Die Wand” which takes place both in Istanbul and Germany or his documentary “Crossing the Bridge”, “Anlat Istanbul” directed by 5 directors with a script by Ümit Ünal, Ferzan Özpetek’s movie “Hamam” connecting Rome with Istanbul or “Organize İşler” (Magic Carpet Ride, 2005) by Yılmaz Erdoğan adorned with beautiful scenes of Istanbul.
It is essential to read Ahmet Ümit’s novel “İstanbul Hatırası”. You can also add “Istanbul, Memories and the City” by Nobel Prize for Literature winner Orhan Pamuk to your list to discover more.