This post is a list of my favorite places in Istanbul, that I almost always tell people about when they ask me for touristy recommendations. So I think sending out a link to this post is more sustainable that jotting the places down every time for every person, so here it is.
FIRST AND FOREMOST, there’s a phone application that will be your best friend when it comes to getting around using public commute or however: TRAFI. Public transportation network in Istanbul is pretty wide, you can reach almost every corner of the city with it [except at night]. So don’t worry if the places mentioned below are somewhere too far for you, you CAN reach there easily, just use the internet.
Also, buy a public transportation card for each person from the airport, right before the exit from the metro. It’s cheap and needed for the metro, big buses, trams and ferries. You can only pay cash in the dolmus (mini buses) and taxis.
To clear some basics first, Istanbul is divided between Asia and Europe, separated by the bosphorous. Both Taksim and Sultan Ahmet are on the European side and they are seperated by Halic (like khalij in Arabic), which is different that the bosphorous.
- Buyuk Valide Han: has to be one of absolute favorite places in Istanbul. Basically a rooftop on one of the hans on the hill in Eminonu, open to the public, probably shouldn’t take kids or someone whose afraid of heights [although I’d say it is very safe]. Try to be there when the Maghreb azan calls out, for extra magic. A selfie on the corner dome is a must and don’t forget cikerdek and munchies. In Eminonu, you must have the balik ekmek [fish sandwich] and some lokum, pastirma and cheese from the spice bazar. Eminonu is also a wholesale market and really just a downward, less touristy extension of the grand bazar.
- Vefa: a bit of a dodgy neighborhood downhill from Sulaymaniye mosque. Most of the buildings there are torn down, but it has 2 very nice mosques with interesting backgrounds and a great Boza place with a cup that AtaTurk HimSeLf HaS UseD on display with the exact time and date. Boza is interesting to say the least [I don’t really know what it’s made of but I’m guessing chickpeas], but not something to have in big quantities, so maybe sharing a cup is a good idea. The picture below is of the mosque that used to be a church and what’s beautiful about it is how obvious that is. There’s also a theology school in that neighborhood.
- Garipce: a small village about at hour away from the city center [taksim]. Great place to have breakfast by the beach/port, buy baladi honey and eggs and pet stray dogs. It overlooks the Bosphorous still and is close to the new bridge up north. The picture is a small portion of what you can see from the beach there. It’s definitely not touristy and might come off as dull to many people, but it is one of my favorite places still 🙂
- Balat/Ismailaga camii: If you walk straight up the hill from Fatih street, you’ll reach Ismailaga camii. Nothing extra special that I know of about the mosque, but the whole neighborhood around it is ultra-religious. Make sure you’re very modestly dressed if you go there [long sleeves, loose pants], not that any one is going to say anything, but just out of respect to the people there. You can buy sufi robes, in case you want ones… Again, nothing touristy about this neighborhood, but it was one of the most interesting places I’ve been to in Istanbul.
Also, if you walk further you’ll reach Balat, which is also a bunch of dodgy streets but I liked the art scene there. I remember seeing a little shop that sells handmade costumes. You walk downhill from Balat and reach the Halic coast where you can take a bus towards Eyup.
- Sakirin Camii: modern mosque in Uskudar, also said to be the first mosque designed my a woman. Every thing is so round and abstract, and the chandelier is supposed to be rain drops as I’ve been told.It is right next to one of the biggest and oldest turbesi [cemetry] in all Turkey: Karacaahmet Turbesi.There are many other modern mosques you might want to visit, if your bored with all the ottoman ones: Sancaklar camii, Yesilvadi camii, Altunizade camii, and Atasehir camii [also known as darth vader mosque but not officially].
- Yenikoy/Tarabya: Along the European coast just before cayirbasi and sariyer. If you’ve seen the fancy houses that overlook the bosphorous and wondered what they look like from the street side, then you should go to yenikoy [though many of these houses are also along the Asian Coast]. There is also a greek church, that’ll probably be closed. Tarabya and further north is a great place to walk and chill by the bosphorous (I hate to say it but “like in the Turkish series”).
- Uskudar views: When you get off the ferry in Uskudar, Mihrimah camii will be right in front of you [there are two Mihrimah camiis in Istanbul by the way, the other one is in Edirnekapi]. You might want to check out the long stairs behind the mosque for a view of the bosphorous and the mosque from top from one side and of the house cascade [in picture below] from the other side.The other great scenery you can get in Uskudar is from the cafe by the water next to Kiz Kalesi. Be there at sunset and don’t fall prey to the pricey things many people will try to sell you while you are there. Buy some cikerdek, simit and halva from the street sellers on the sidewalk before you take a spot on the cushions, because they’re much cheaper than the ones that you’re going to be offered while sitting. [shown in the horizon below: Galata tower and minaret of Sulaymaniye mosque and I think Dolmabahce also]
- Rumeli feneri: Another little underrated village in Istanbul, on the northern coast of European Istanbul by the Kara Deniz [black sea]. Only one bus reaches it every 30 minutes, but it is worth the inconvenience. There is an old famous lighthouse on the edge of the cliff where the village center is. There’s a good fish restaurant there with a view to the port below. You might see some cows herding on the streets and lots of cow poop.
The best part of Rumeli feneri is the fort there. Rumeli feneri is the entrance of the bosphorous from the north which explains the fort and the light house. Not the safest walk on the fort if you are wearing heels but the Turkish people seem to know their steps well. There was a quite high part that I was slowing crawling up, because if you fall you get crushed by the sea side rocks, but some Turks were gracefully walking up while carrying children and wearing skirts. Anyways, the area around the castle is quite nice and picturesque, grass and sea-side cliffs and rocky beach. You’ll probably see lots of fishermen, couples and boys just chilling.
- Edirnekapi wall: So there is another Mihrimah camii, besides the one in Uskudar, that is in Edirnekapi, most easily reached by bus from Fatih. Behind the mosque there is also a flight of stairs you need to take (always interesting stairs behind Mihrimah’s camiis). They’ll take you up Constantinople walls which used to guard the city. The view there is 360 degrees panoramic overlooking the mosque from top and the western part of the city. There’s also a Malaysian restaurant close by that I wouldn’t really recommend unless you know you like Malaysian food.
- Kadikoy: an area on the Asian side just south to Uskudar, easily reachable by ferries from the European side. I like it because there are loads!! of food options and a dominant hipster scene. My favorite was the pide and lahmacun place. I don’t know the name but all they do is pide and lahmacun, so you can imagine how pro they must be. There’s also a Breaking Bad themed cafe that a fan would love. You can find your way to Moda (google it) and have a nice walk by the rocky sea back to the ferry station.
Istanbul is a very diverse city that’ll satisfy anyone! My kind of activities were stroll, eat, pray and chill with a view. If you think you like other things like shopping/clubbing/museums, you might want to check TripAdvisor or some other source.