Istanbul is the largest and most popular city in Turkey, though a modern city, it is still full of traditional vibes and brimming with culture at every corner.
A cheeky fun fact is that Istanbul is the only city in the world that is spread over two continents; it is separated by a body of water called The Bosphorus Strait which straddles both Europe and Asia.
NEED TO KNOW:
Local currency: Turkish Lira (TRY)
Transport: Taxi, tram, metro, bus – uber is not widely used in Istanbul
I did a 3-night weekend stay from Friday to Monday and booked my flights and hotel separately.
WHERE TO STAY:
Besiktas – Best for luxury hotels and restaurants that are overlooking the water. Though this area is not close to the historic peninsula, it is quickly accessible to the waterfront and you can take a ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul. Similar areas are Nisantasi and Ortakoy.
Sultanahmet – This area is best for first-timers to the city as it is in walking distance to Istanbul’s unmissable spots. It is close to The Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque, Spice Bazaar, Basilica Cistern and more. Whilst Sultanahmet is a bustling area, it is quiet on the nightlife side.
Beyoglu – A great area for those interested in nightlife as it is full of bars, nightclubs and restaurants.
Other great areas to consider are Taksim, Galata and Bazaar.
I stayed at the St.Regis Istanbul which is situated in Nisantasi; a very cosmopolitan and luxury feel with great views of the water, it was also fairly quick and easy to get to most places.
Other hotels in Istanbul that I would recommend are:
- Four Seasons Istanbul at the Bosphorus
- Sumahan on the Water
- Georges Hotel Galata
- Witt Istanbul Hotel
- 10 Karakoy
WHAT TO EAT:
Cesme Bazlama Kahvalti
Cesme was recommended to us by the hotel concierge when our first choice for Sunday brunch was fully booked. I was hesitant because I hadn’t seen it on any ‘must visit restaurants’ lists, however, this restaurant took me by surprise and was easily one of my favourite spots on my trip.
Cesme serves a traditional Turkish breakfast which has a set menu and costs around 75TRY (£7.50) per person. The breakfast consists of Turkish eggs, bread, cheeses, salad, potatoes, olives, tahini, hummus, olives, fresh Turkish doughnuts and more.
The waiter came round with warm fresh jams, honey, and chocolates for you to dip your doughnuts and bread in. As if that wasn’t enough, the waiters constantly came round with more bread served plain, stuffed with spinach or cheese, fresh lemonade and Turkish tea.
Everything at Cesme was freshly handmade, including the bread and jam, and it tasted divine.
As it is a walk-in restaurant with no reservations, there is usually a queue. Despite this, the queue moves quickly, and we were seated in around 15 minutes. Additionally, as it is a set menu, the food came quickly after being seated. I highly recommend!
This restaurant is located on the Asian side of Istanbul and required a boat ride to get there.
The settings were beautiful, overlooking the sea by the Istanbul Bosphorus coastline.
Being a seafront restaurant, the menu was Mediterranean style seafood. I ordered a prawn starter and seafood linguine main course. The food was nice but it honestly didn’t wow me.
Whilst the food was mediocre, I really enjoyed the ambience of the restaurant, the views and the boat ride, it was a lovely evening and experience.
The meal was quite expensive by Turkish standards and I paid around £55, but this must factor in the free boat ride too and from the restaurant and you pay for the nice views.
I would recommend for the experience but maybe don’t order what I did lol!
Zuma is a well-known contemporary restaurant which serves modern Japanese cuisine. It is also popular in London and it made sense to have it on our restaurant list.
As expected the food was divine. I had the prawn tempura maki rolls as a starter, beef ribs and garlic broccoli as a main, and the famous Zuma melt-in-the-mouth chocolate fondant cake to finish.
Zuma Istanbul was very affordable as compared to London. In London, a three-course meal with several cocktails can easily set you back £100 – £150 per head whereas I paid £50 for the same in Istanbul.
I enjoyed it so much that I went back the next day for a second time and this time replacing the cocktails, with mocktails I paid £40 for my three-course meal and drinks – need I say more?
Spago by Wolfgang Puck
Having visited other Wolfgang Puck restaurants and being really impressed, I was really looking forward to dining at Spago.
The restaurant offered an amazing sky view of Istanbul and great drinks. Although the food was nice, it didn’t live up to my Wolfgang Puck expectations.
I would still recommend as it was nice, but not the Michelin star-worthy food that I was expecting.
If you’re a fan of cocktails and you visit, I recommend the ‘Peace on Earth’ – I would go back to Spago for that drink alone.
Four Seasons Sunday Brunch
I wanted to attend the Four Seasons Sunday brunch after hearing amazing reviews but unfortunately, it was fully booked. The brunch is served in the afternoon and consists of multiple cuisine brunch buffet overlooking the Bosphorus. If you plan on brunching here make sure you book early.
More restaurants that were on my list:
- 16 Roof
- Paper Moon
- Galvin Nistanasi
- Cecconi’s, Soho House
- You can also try your luck at Nusr-Et. As Istanbul is Salt Bae’s first restaurant location and he is Turkish, there is a good chance he might be around for some salt sprinkling action!
You simply cannot come to Turkey without trying some traditional Turkish cuisine, my must-try dishes are:
Baklava – an extremely moreish sweet dessert made of layers of filo pastry stuffed with chopped nuts and held together with syrup or honey. I like my Baklava warm with vanilla ice cream, how do you like yours 😉 ?
I bought some Baklava to take back to London from a popular dessert shop called Hafiz Mustafa 1864.
Kebab – We’ve all had a kebab – but have you really tried a kebab until you’ve tried it the traditional Turkish way? Whether you are a Doner, Kofte, or Sheesh kebab type of person, you have to try it freshly made as Turkish street food.
Turkish Apple Tea – Apple tea is the national tea of Turkey and tastes like hot apple juice. It is a big part of Turkish hospitality and I was offered a cup almost everywhere I went – including in the Grand Bazaar and after my spa treatment.
Gozleme / Bazlama – Both Gozleme and Bazlama are Turkish flatbreads made from unleavened dough, the former is made with fat and the latter is made without. The bread is often stuffed with meat, cheese and spinach.
WHAT TO DO:
Taht is a rooftop which overlooks Istanbul offering insane views. The rooftop is set up for photoshoots with traditional Turkish rugs, pillows and shisha.
If you’re not scared of heights and birds then Taht is perfect for beautiful scenic pictures of Istanbul.
Entry is 100TRY (£10) and includes tea and time on the rooftop to take pictures. If you require a professional camera and photographer, you can pay more.
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is over 500 years old and one of the largest covered bazaars in the world. The bazaar contains over 60 streets and more than 4000 shops.
You can buy all sorts of things in the bazaar including ceramics, scarves, Turkish teas, sweets and spices. You can also get gold and silver jewellery, Turkish rugs and handmade crafts.
The bazaar is usually jam-packed full of people, however, due to Covid-19, it was very empty when I visited. I bought a Turkish eye bracelet as a trinket.
If you visit don’t forget to haggle as prices are sometimes tripled if you are a foreigner.
The Spice Bazaar is a vibrant market full of edible goods that visitors can taste before they buy.
There are hundreds of colourful and fragrant spices on offer. You can also buy dried fruits, Turkish sweets, coffees, teas and more.
What is a trip to Turkey without indulging in a hammam bath? Hammams were first found in Arabia but made popular by the Turkish.
A hammam scrub and massage is exactly what the body needs on a holiday and Turkey is made for it. A hammam treatment consists of an exfoliation scrub, rinse and massage as well as relaxing in the bath and steam room.
There are plenty of hammam baths in Istanbul, some are very old and traditional. Because I was on a tight schedule and for a luxury feel, I visited the spa in my Hotel which had its own hammam bath.
If you’re seriously craving a beachside you can get to the beach in an hour from Istanbul city centre.
There are several beach clubs including Solar Beach which is situated on Kilyos beach and is a regular host to festivals and night parties. There is also a variety of activities such as water sports, rock climbing, volleyball etc.
Istanbul has a really good nightlife and you’re guaranteed a night of fun no matter what type of music you are in to.
Being a fan of Afrobeats, Hip Hop and RnB, the Hip Hop night at Blackk nightclub was the perfect choice. The club was glam, not too big (I dislike huge clubs) and had an open rooftop with views of Istanbul skyline.
I didn’t get a chance to visit the Blue Mosque however it is a must-visit whilst in Istanbul. It is one of the only mosques (out of more than 3000) in Istanbul with 6 minarets.
It is known as the Blue Mosque due to the blue tiles that decorate the interior and is one of Istanbul’s most iconic historic sights attracting thousands of tourists.
There are several cruises you can take on the Bosphorus Strait which provide a great overview of both the European and Asian side of the city.
There is a long cruise which lasts six hours and goes all the way to the Black Sea. Or you can choose shorter cruises which last anywhere from one to two hours, and include visits to different historical sites and neighbourhoods.
There are loads of places to visit in Istanbul, a lot more than I managed to visit in my short time. If you want to take in more of the history of the city then you can also visit the below:
- Basilica Cistern
- Hagia Sophia
- Topkapi Palace Museum
I had a great time in Istanbul and I endorse this city for long or short trips. There is so much do see and do in this welcoming and bustling city.
If you have been to Istanbul, or anywhere else in Turkey, or you have any questions, feel free to comment below.