Book a weekend break (although non workaholics would do well to throw a sickie either side) and see for yourself where east really does meet west…
Most of Istanbul’s big blockbuster sights are situated in the Sultanahmet, over on the European side. As a first port of call, make a beeline for the breathtaking Byzantine Emperor of Hagia Sofia (the former Orthodox cathedral turned mosque, that is now a museum) and the Blue Mosque – so called owing to the colour of its handmade Iznik tiles. Don’t forget to dress appropriately: it’s mandatory for men to wear trousers (no mater how hot it is) while women should cover their head and shoulders. When hunger pangs kick in, seek out the world famous Pudding Shop over on Divan Yolu. Run by the Coplan brothers, this was the gathering point for travellers heading overland to India back in the sixties.
Once you’ve ticked off Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, seek out Topkapi Palace which was built by Mehmet 11 in 1459 as a retreat for Ottoman sultans. Feeling a tad exhausted after all that sightseeing? It’s time to try a Turkish hamman – aka a place dedicated to well being and relaxation. Cleansing takes place in a chamber: expect an invigorating scrub followed by lots of slathering. For an insight into Ottoman era Istanbul, TNT recommends Gedikpasa Hamami.
Wondering whether to send your first night in town? It’s got to be the Galata quarter which was, for a short time back in the 13th century, a colony of Genoa. Dominated by the famous Galata Tower, the always buzzing neighbourhood is home to an excellent array of cafes and rooftop terraces – we love 360Istanbul. This award winning bar is the perfect place to try raki (the aniseed flavoured spirit that’s wildly popular with locals).
Make for the 15th century Grand Bazaar – home to a staggering 4,000 (and counting) shops and stalls. Temptation abounds and, if you’re anything like TNT, you’ll stagger back to your room laden with knock off leather jackets, jewellery, Aladdin-esque curly slippers and cushion covers. Even if shopping is your idea of hell, the Grand Bazaar is a great place to order a refreshing mint tea or ayran (a ridiculously popular salty yoghurt drink) and enjoy the prime people watching. For a post shopping sugar hit, head to the atmospheric Spice Bazaar (sometimes referred to as the Egyptian Bazaar) where you’ll find stalls selling colourful cubes of lokum – aka Turkish delight. After something more savoury? For lunch on the run, the freshly baked sesame seed coated bread, sold from wheelbarrows outside the Spice Bazaar, taste divine. Even better? They only cost a couple of Lira.
If you’re still in the mood to shop, cross the Galata Bridge and hit Istiklal Caddessi, a pedestrianised shopping street that’s lined with both boutiques selling trinkets to remind you of your visit and all the big name international chains. Then take a cruise down the Bosphorus – the 30km straight connecting the Black Sea with the world and dividing the continents of Europe and Asia – for Instagram worthy views of Istanbul’s amazing skyline.
Feast alongside the locals on traditional Turkish and Ottoman delights at a meyahne (tavern) for peanuts prices. Be sure to save room for the sweet baklava – pastry soaked in honey that is worth piling on the pounds for.
However if you want to hang out with the Istanbul crowd, Ortaköy – on the banks of the Bosphorus – is where it’s at. This trendy waterfront destination boasts a cornucopia of hip bars, but the hottest ticket in town is arguably Angelique. The stunning rooftop terrace is the perfect spot to sip a well crafted cocktail, and start planning your return…
DO SOMETHING SIMILAR
Into Instabul Ways
Travel from Vienna, Austria all the way to the colourful city of Istanbul, Turkey on an incredible Eastern European adventure crossing through the countries of Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. See Dracula’s Castle, have breakfast in Sofia at local cafes, see Vienna by bike and live Plovdiv alongside locals. Take three weeks to complete your trip or stay longer and enjoy your time in these beautiful countries! Find out more at www.tnttoursearch.com/tours/into-istanbul-ways
Bite size break Istanbul
Experience an in-depth insight into Istanbul’s vibrant local cuisine on this short but sweet food exploration of this ancient city. Explore the aromatic Spice Bazaar, visit the ancient Aya Sofia, sail down the Bosphorus and wander the streets of this great city all the while tasting its diverse and delectable food treats. Make it happen at www.tnttoursearch.com/tours/bite-size-break-istanbul
Istanbul Local Home Foodie Tour
Spend an evening dining with a modern-day Turkish family whose genuine sense of hospitality is known world-wide. Walk through the historical Sultanahmet streets among picturesque wooden-houses and call in on a Turkish tea house where you can play backgammon and smoke Nargile (Turkish water pipe) with the locals. For the full low-down, visit www.tnttoursearch.com/tours/istanbul-local-home-foodie-tour-urban