1. Try Turkish Breakfast
Turkish breakfast should be your favourite meal! If it isn’t, it will be soon. Here are some of my favourite places to get it in Istanbul:
Van Kahvaltı in Cihangir, Beyoğlu
A huge breakfast with a dozen plates of vegetables, cheese, delicious cream and honey and various other delicacies. Do not forget to order some menemen (scrambled eggs) and fresh orange juice! For only 30 TL (less than 10 EUR).
Privato in Galata, Beyoğlu
A bit more pricey at 40 TL, but with unique Turkish ‘village’ dishes, including various types of pancakes. Plus, this little place looks very attractive, if you are an instagrammer!
Naga Putrika in Moda, Kadıköy
If you are visiting the European side of Istanbul then this is somewhat of an expedition (c. 1 hour) but it is worth it! Here you can choose between several regional breakfasts, including Anatolian and Kurdish.
Bonus: the entire Beşiktaş ‘breakfast street’ (head toward Sinanpaşa Mah. and have a wander)
2. Go to a hamam
For the hip backpacker, just ask a local friend which hamam would be the cheapest to visit, and any will do! However, if you owe yourself a birthday treat, try some of these historical places:
Hürrem Sultan Hamamı, right in the centre of Sultanahmet
The price-tag is astronomical (starting at 100 EUR), but you get what you pay for. These baths were built in the 16th century for Roxelane, the wife of Sultan Suleiman. For years it served as a carpet shop, but it was newly refurbished and reopened in 2011.
Çemberlitaş Hamamı, at Çemberlitaş, also in Sultanahmet
If you prefer to take it down a notch (more like 200 TL, 50 EUR), try this historic bath designed by the famous architect Sinan. Opening times here are pretty good and it is a lot more reasonably priced than Roxelane’s baths!
Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı, across from the Tophane tram stop
Last but not least, this is my favourite hamam: its rehabilitation won the Europa Nostra Award for cultural heritage last year. Pro tip: Book an early slot, so you can hang out and drink cool drinks for hours after your bath!
3. Visit the Prince’s Islands
This is really not as complicated as it looks! Either walk up to the ferry dock at Eminönü (left-hand side, if you are coming from the Grand Bazaar), or take a ferry to Kadıköy and look for signs that say ‘Adalar’. The journey takes around 1 to 1.5 hours.
Büyükada, the big island
This is the biggest and most popular island. Avoid it if you aren’t a fan of crowds; but go there for bigger attractions, such as hiking up a mountain and visiting the St. George monastery!
Heybeliada, saddlebag island
You can do this on any of the islands, but rent a bicycle or a horse buggy (make sure the horse looks happy and well-fed please!) to go around. This island also has excellent and slightly less busy private beaches, if you happen to visit on a beautiful day!
4. Go underground!
Did you already hear about kahvaltı, hamamı and the adalar? Did you know that other than all the things overground, Istanbul has also a whole lot going on below its streets.
The Basilica Cisterns in Sultanahmet
Okay, maybe you did hear of these before. These are 6th century water reservoirs commissioned by Emperor Justinian. It makes for a lovely cool break on a hot day. Please be sure to spot the head of Medusa!
Kadir Has University in Fatih
Now that you have gone underground, make a tour out of it! This university used to be the Cibali tobacco factory, and nowadays it is also a museum; but previously it was a hamam and home to the ‘dark fountain’ cistern. Even if you cannot go into the cistern (opening times are fuzzy) you can admire it from the floor of the University cafe.
The Yenikapı Byzantine Shipwrecks (which you can currently learn more about at the Archaeological Museum in Sultanahmet)
Whilst digging for the new metroline, workers stumbled across what would become one of the largest excavations in the world. Between 2004 and 2013 archaeologists uncovered layers ranging from Neolithic to Ottoman, including 8 remarkably well-preserved Byzantine merchant’s ships.
5. Go shopping
If you’ve had enough of the sightseeing, I can also recommend some places besides İstiklal Street and the Grand Bazaar for the Turkish shop-till-you-drop experience:
If you prefer brands like Louis Vuitton, trendy restaurants and quirky boutiques, then try this fashionable district just a couple of stops on the metro from Taksim square.
Or would you like a more typical Turkish experience? This is specifically a Wednesday (morning) market, so do not miss it! The streets will be filled with all varieties of affordable undergarments you ever wanted to buy. And stop by a Syrian bakery whilst you are there, please!
Zenobia Homan is a qualified archaeologist and inquisitive adventurer, currently a policy researcher. Also cartographer, game designer, Latin tutor and music teacher. Interested in affordable vegetarian street-food, friendly couch-surfing and anything ancient. Originally from Holland, but went to uni in the UK, and now living in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Always learning a new language.