6 Fun Things to Do in Istanbul Turkey
Where East meets West.
We visited this fascinating bridge between Asia and Europe one week after the coup attempt of 2016. All was quiet on the Western/Eastern front. If anything, the nation became more united after the incident.
Istanbul is old school and new school. Mammoth-sized mosques, quaint Catholic churches, old style buildings and cobblestone roads dot the city. But McDonald’s, The Hard Rock Cafe and modern clothing retail shops are in ample abundance too.
The people of Istanbul are friendly, engaging and helpful. I recall someone asking Kelli and I if we were lost. He shared directions and went back to his work without looking for potential customer in his store. Genuine. Refreshing. This was the norm around the city.
Note; many folks in Istanbul speak fluent English so getting around and interacting with locals is a piece of cake. Double note; getting around is also a piece of cake because the public transit systems is world class.
If you are visiting Istanbul soon these are 6 rocking things to do.
1: Visit the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia
No trip to Istanbul would be complete without a trip to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.
Both massive monuments sit in the same square. Of course, this heavily touristed area has all types of eats, shops and the requisite things to do one would expect of such spots.
We enjoyed a little glass of Turkish tea while being pitched rugs from a shop owner close to the complex. He even met Michael Bloomberg and sold him a rug. Impressive. But he gave up on us when we explained digital nomads would not buy a rug to lug around the world.
Both wonders awe you with their scale. The attention to detail wows even the most jaded tourist.
Note; you need to wear long pants and cover your shoulders to enter each place of worship. Long dresses suffice for women too.
2: Enjoy a Vegetarian Buffet
OK; maybe not a full veggie buffet. But the majority of dishes we found at haunts down back alleys in Istanbul seemed to be veggie fare.
Kelli and I discovered an excellent buffet style Turkish restaurant on Istiklal – which rocked – but really stepped into brilliant eats while cruising the alley ways of Istanbul. We found a fabulous buffet not 2 blocks from our apartment. For about $3-$4 per person we feasted on large, nutritious, sumptuous Turkish vegetarian food, light but heavy with chick peas, tomato sauces and hearty potatoes.
Toss in a hunk of bread and we were in heaven.
Really though, you never lack for food choices in this gem of a city. Western chain restaurants, Turkish kebab, Turkish buffets, Italian, whatever….you have it all in Istanbul.
Make sure to get a Turkish ice cream from the street performers masquerading as vendors. These colorful characters will play you while making you crack up at their slight of hand and prankster nature.
3: Chill by the Bosphorus Strait
Every night was a Bosphorus Strait night.
We walked to the water for our evening constitution. And to watch kids dive from a low hanging bridge into the water. I am not kidding. Although I only saw the kids do this one night. Perhaps the handsome, fit, Abercrombie and Finch type cops were on to their shenanigans.
Men fished for sardines. Locals feasted on fresh caught seafood from makeshift stands, styrofoam boxes and heating mechanisms positioned beside the prep table.
Folks chilled out on park benches while boats transported waves of commuters making their way around the city.
The Bosphorus churned wildly as an endless stream of big and small boats hustled through the strait, each boat captain displaying miraculous depth perception in navigating these things in a high traffic, impossibly narrow body of water.
4: Stroll Istiklal Street
Perhaps the most famous road in Istanbul.
We rented an apartment 2 blocks from Istiklak. Which meant lots of strolling up and down this cool-looking street that connects Taksim Square to the neighborhood by the Bosphorus Strait.
Shops, shops and more shops greet you. Restaurants with Turkish (kebab eats litter the area by Taksim Square) and Western fare, clothes stores and even movie theaters grace the road.
This is a walking road all the way; only emergency vehicles and shop owners – and the odd taxi – drive on Istiklal so it is pedestrian friendly.
A trolley cruises through once in a while, adding to the charm of the area.
5: Savor Turkish Coffee
I fell in love with Turkish coffee during my stay in this town.
Usually, a small glass filled with the delicious liquid was enjoyed in my apartment. You can also wander through town to find coffee shops just about anywhere.
How it is served: imagine a tiny little shot glass. Imagine said glass filled with rich, but curiously enough, sweetly tinged coffee. Add 1-2 sugar cubes – if you dig sugar – or enjoy the coffee plain. After circling the globe and trying coffee around the world for 6 years, hands down, Turkish coffee is the best on its own.
Sip coffee in your apartment. Or if you are sitting on a little plastic chair at a coffee shop in the streets of Istanbul, watch passerby as you savor this delicious Turkish treat.
6: Visit Taksim Square
Kelli and I spent many afternoons in Taksim Square.
This is pretty much the meeting point in the city.
We visited Istanbul one week after the coup attempt of 2016. The square was beehive of activity, with patriotic celebrations occurring there regularly.
The size and scale of the place is inspired. Stroll around, enjoy the monuments and views of surrounding Istanbul and grab yourself a simit while you are there.
Keep an Eye Out….
Pssstt…since there are SO many things to do in this awesome city I will publish a new post down the road diving into more activities in town.
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