When the layover stars aligned and I decided that I’d be heading to Istanbul (en route to a far flung location) in a couple of weeks, I knew I had to crowdsource all the tasty things. And who best to do get the goods from? Our very own travel correspondent, of course! You’ve gone through all of her tips before, so you know this intel is quality. Thank you Alissa!!! – Tiff
Istanbul is one of my favorite cities that I’ve ever visited. It’s this incredible mix of traditional and modern, where elements of Europe and the Middle East blend to produce an atmosphere that is unlike any other. The markets are amazing, the architecture is phenomenal, and the food is beyond words. I stayed in Fener-Balat, a cozy little neighborhood of coffee shops and antique stores, where my friends live. Staying here provided a glimpse into the non-tourist side of Istanbul, and some of my favorite moments of the trip involved wandering this area, visiting farmers’ markets and catching up with friends over many cups of tea – spend 30 minutes in this city and you’ll soon realize tea and coffee are the vices of choice. Within moments of arrival, you’ll also quickly notice the plethora of street cats. Istanbul is known for their affection and respect for kitties, with dishes of kibble and water commonly left outside doorsteps. As a result, these are some of the cleanest, plumpest, and friendliest street cats you’ll ever encounter – expect them to curl up in your lap at cafes.
Here are some of the favorite things we did:
- Oldest Turkish delight shop: This place is legitimately the best Turkish delight I’ve ever had. Granted, most of what I’d had before was free samples on layovers in the IST airport BUT I still argue that this is the best. With the shop first opening its doors in 1777, I am pretty sure it’s the oldest as well.
- Baklava: My friends were quick to warn me that they had to to find delicious baklava in Istanbul… in fact, they said it was gross. Whaaaaaaat? I took this on as a challenge and proceed sample various baklava establishments daily, at the end of the trip concluded: Ya it’s kinda….. wet. We did some Googling and learned that Turkish baklava is different than Lebanese, the former uses sugar water (hence the soggy) while the later uses honey. Try lots and see what you think, despite the wetness, I still found it yummy and loved just having a piece with a Turkish coffee and watching the world go by. This place is across from the Turkish Delight place and I would highly recommend. It’s gorgeous and you feel like you are back in time and fancy.
- Turkish breakfast: EVERYONE HAS TO DO THIS! Go here and order the biggest breakfast thing, and also order the egg dish with sausage and also order the fried doughnut things and the cheesy bread. Drink lots of tea with it. The neighborhood around here is also really special.
- Kepbab at Durumzade. Bourdain ate here, so you know it’s the best.
- Kunefe: There was this little cafe near the grand bazaar where we had phenomenal meat… and my friend was like, eat this you will die happy. It was kunefe and it was unreal. It’s fried cheese covered in honey and crushed pistachio. Keep an eye out for this treat!
- Drink raki. It’s so strong, you’ll get so drunk and then like an hour later you’ll feel great. We drank lots of raki after the bathhouse and I’d recommend this as well.
- Karakoy Lokantasi – this is a fancier resto, but still actually not expensive. It’s beautiful on the inside (one word: turquoise) and the food was phenomenal.
- Lahmacun: this is like a Turkish pizza (but not at all) and it SO FREAKING DELICIOUS. Mincemeat on flatbread and then you put lots of greens and herbs on top, roll it up and munch. You’ll see them all over, be sure to eat one.
- Blue Mosque (above) and Hagia Sophia, obvs. It’s unbelievably magical.
- Turkish bath! We did ours in the neighborhood where we stayed at a very locale place, but can imagine the higher-end, historical bathhouses are also amazing. It’s a pretty incredible experience, who doesn’t want to have their skin scrubbed back to baby softness
- Do Asian side and European side, they are so different. The Asian side is really hip and a great place to bar hop at night and hear live music.
- Hipster time in Karakoy, lots of little boutiques and cafes!
- Wander Grand Bazaar, here you will find all the Turkish bath towels you’d ever want!
- There are also these cisterns near the Hagia Sophia that are pretty spectacular.
All photos by Alissa Pries. Please request permission for use. We are not liable for costs incurred for last minute flights of fancy to Istanbul.