Istanbul was one of my favorite cities from this trip. It was so big that I wish we would have stayed longer. Although the weather wasn’t great, the people and experiences made up for it.
Fun Fact: Istanbul is the only city in the world to border 2 continents. Part of the city is apart of Asia and the other is part of Europe. It was also home to 3 different major Empires. The Byzantine, the Roman, and the Ottoman.
Surprisingly, this city is extremely hilly, we found ourselves out of breath quite a few times going all around. We ended up taking a bus from the Airport into the city. It was extremely affordable (3 Euros) and simple. It’s quite the trek to get into the city from the airport, so this is the best way to approach it. From there we walked a decent distance to the hostel we stayed in. We stayed in the Karakoy area. I highly recommend the area as it is a very central point if you want to walk to Takism square or across the bridge. Once we checked in to our nice hostel, Cheers Midtown, we went to a coffee shop down the street. Gamsız Öküz Cafe was a great place to relax as it was down a smaller street. We even had a couple of cats come hang out with us to take a nap, which of course made Rainier beyond excited. I think it was at this point, we knew we would really like this city. We endued up walking by, what I thought was a shop and was actually a restaurant called Varuna Gezgin Café. It looked like it was a library that they decided to turn into a restaurant!
This was my favorite city to get lost in! At no point did we feel unsafe and there were so many areas that you could spend days exploring. The hardest part was making a decision on where we would want to eat, as if it was ever easy though. This is such a massive city and a dominate location in the region.
The following day we started by going to the Galata Tower. We walked around the tower for a bit, but couldn’t rationalize paying to go to the top. It was a bit more expensive, especially for a cloudy day. After doing a bit more research we found a lunch spot with amazing views and fantastic food. The staff was also so much fun, they were so excited to have us since they were a newer restaurant. They kept on bringing out different food for us to try and really wanted to hear what we loved. The place was called Rakofoli Ocak Başı. I highly recommend it for the views alone.
The Grand Bazaar has been in operation since 1461 and has over 5,000 shops. The amount of spices, sweets and accessories you see everywhere is amazing. Everything consists of such vibrant colors that is surreal. You wander around with everyone trying to sell you something. The Bazaar seems to stretch along forever in all directions. We ended up grabbing some meats, cheese and bread from a nearby spot and going to the Gulhane Park. We had a kind of picnic there with the assorted food we picked up along the way. It was a nice long park and I recommend checking it out if you are in the area, however, it does not need to be a destination.
Another fun spot we went to was Zulu Café in the Karakoy area. We went for tea and sheesha. We ended up watching the local soccer team, Galatasaray, playing a Champions League Match there! It was a cool experience to be in a city where such a big match was being played. I could see Rainier’s eyes glazed over as we found ourselves watching sports for the first time in a month.
There are so many incredible Mosques in this city. I recommend seeing the main ones like the Blue Mosque, where you can actually go into the Mosque. When we were visiting it was in the process of being renovated, but still was incredible to see. As a reminder for any Muslim significant sites, women need to be fully clothed. Right across from the Blue Mosque is Hagia Sophia which was previously a Greek Orthodox Church. They make up a big area which also includes a 16th century Turkish bathhouse or Hamam. Since Istanbul was the capital for so many major empires (Constantinople and Byzantium), there are some incredible historical artifacts and monuments that had been moved there over time such as Obelisk of Theodosius.
One of our favorite areas of the city to explore was called Balat. We took the public bus there and it completely worth it. I had no idea about this area, but Rainier of course had it top on this list and I was not disappointed. The colors of the buildings are so vibrant and it almost has a kind of hipster vibe to it. Keep in mind, I don’t have one of those fancy cameras and I’m completely inept at editing anything. I wish the pictures could do more justice for this amazing area. In this area there are Jewish, Greek and Armenian communities that make this such a diverse area. There is a synagogue, churches and mosques in this small area. This is one of the areas that I wish we could go back and get more lost in.
As for some of the food we recommend, they have a type of Turkish Pizza that is delicious. It is called Lahmacun and its extremely flavorful, similarly is also Pide which is even more like a pizza.. As for other foods, Doner is a signature delicious meal. I also recommend trying different Meze, which are cold dishes that usually comes as a platter. Lastly. I highly recommend the different assortments of Kababs, especially the Testi Kabab which is served inside of a clay pot that they need to break into.
Side story: Below is a picture of me at 5am leaving the city. As I mentioned earlier in the post, this city is extremely hilly! We had to walk 1 km to get the to bus stop. I had zero intention of taking a taxi 1 km. After 10 minutes of walking up these hills, and Rainier on the verge of crying from exhaustion… I realized this was a mistake. So one thing led to another and there I am carrying both suitcases up this hill. Can’t have every part of a trip be sunshine and rainbows.
Overall, Istanbul was one of our favorite cities on our entire trip, and we would love to go back there!!