Visit Istanbul and discover something of a stewpot city: escape on a boat trip along the Bosphorus after a busy morning charging around the city’s museums, or forget the bustle of the bazaars while lying on temperate marble in a Turkish bath.
The city caters for all budgets. Along the Bosphorus, witness plenty of bling strutting into the super clubs and red carpeted bars. But for those of you on a budget, consider staying in a cheap Istanbul hotel or hostel and save your change for the bazaars or these cool things to do in Istanbul…
1. Turkish Baths
Divided into male and female baths, you can easily spend time relaxing and opening up your pores here. Many are beautifully designed and the marble feels wonderful against your skin. Pummelled, exfoliated, massaged, rinsed and steamed, you’ll return to the outside world feeling you need never wash again. Be sure to check out the centrally located Sultanahmet baths for a truly authentic experience.
Puffing on a bubbling hookah pipe is a fantastic way to while away a couple of hours watching the world go by. Nargile Salon is a good choice where you can select from a variety of flavors – fruit tends to be the most popular. Throw in a cup of tea and you can spend as little as 14TRY in two hours.
The Grand Bazaar contains a whopping 4,000 shops within 60 streets. You will discover an Aladdin’s cave of rugs, antiques, trinkets, jewellery, leather goods and probably a kitchen sink too (although these are not suitcase friendly). Some great designer boutiques have been popping up here of late so it’s not all tat for tourists! A trip to the Spice Bazaar will excite your senses, and close-by is Haci Bekir, the shop where turkish delight was apparently first created.
4. Boat Trips
Now it wouldn’t be a holiday without a boat trip. Guided tours cruise for a leisurely two hours up and down the river. Best done on a balmy evening, prices start at 20TRY and depart daily from 10:30-6.30. Alternatively, if you are short of time, opt for the cheaper and faster commuter boat.
If you want to keep the beautiful river divide between Asia and Europe in your sights, stay in the Marmara Guesthouse. Run by a traditional Turkish family, breakfast is served on the terrace with views overlooking the Bosphorus and Hagia Sophia.
5. The Blue Mosque
The courtyard in the Blue Mosque is the largest in Turkey and only the mosque in Mecca can compete with its six minarets. The opulence continues inside with tens of thousands of blue tiles adorning the walls. Tourists are admitted through the north entrance. Shoes must be removed, while women must dress respectfully and wear headscarves.
On warm evenings a rooftop terrace is ideal so head to 360, a bar, restaurant and club on top of the historic Mısır apartment block in Istiklal. Babylon is Istanbul’s popular live music joint. Down the backstreets of Tünel, catch anything from jazz to electronica, world to golden oldies. This club is always a step ahead and attracts breaking acts.
If you want to be close to some of the best Istanbul nightlife, Chambers of the Boheme is located in the lively Taksim quarter. The owners have given great attention to detail and rooms are beautifully furnished.
7. Hagia Sophia Museum
Hagia Sophia, originally a Byzantine church with an exemplary and archetypal dome, was transformed into a mosque after the arrival of the Ottomans. A mihrab and minarets were added over time but since 1935 the place has been home to a dazzling museum.
Just along the road, Nobel Hostel has been voted ‘Best Atmosphere’ by HostelBookers customers in the past. Close to all the main attractions, they have both private and dormitory rooms and also a nice terrace bar with backgammon and chess boards.
8. Istanbul Modern
The gallery is housed in an old customs warehouse on the waterfront in Karaköy. Some permanent pieces includes a glass staircase suspended with steel chains by Monica Bonvicini and in the library, an installation of hanging books by Richard Wentworth. The somewhat overpriced bistro offers picturesque views across the river and the gallery also has an art-house cinema.
9. Princes’ Islands
If it’s beaches you’re after, make a worthwhile day trip out of town and take the ferry across to the Princes’ Islands. You will find sandy coves, no cars, idyllic picnic spots and bike hire to complete a figure of eight cycle ride around the island. Ferries depart regularly from Kabatas and the journey takes around 90 minutes to reach the larger of the islands, Buyukada.
Variety is the overpowering spice of life in this city. You can survive on cheap eats from small street vendors selling the ultimate kebab, tasty flatbreads called lahmacun and sweet baklava treats. For a more upmarket dining experience, try the wizard gastronomy of chef Dilara Erbay at Abracadabra beside the Bosphorus.