EAT & DRINK
Fresh juices- On every corner, and in every neighborhood freshly squeezed juice is plentiful! The most common juices you’ll find are orange and pomegranate, but specialty shops will have all sorts of fruits available. I love to order it “mixed” (orange + pomegranate). It’s about 5TL a glass, or about a $1.50.
Fish restaurants- Some of the most delicious and fresh fish that I’ve ever had has been in Istanbul. They serve the fish whole and perfectly grilled, with a half alemon to drizzle on top. Avoid the touristy spots under the Galata bridge, and head for one of the locals' favorite spots. Here are some of my favorite spots that I’ve been to with friends from Istanbul.
Karışma Sen- I went here on my most recent trip with a Turkish friend who recommended it. It’s right near Sultanahmet, so very easy to take a cab or walk. I’d recommend trying as many of the Meze’s as possible, and of course, the grilled fish.
Sunset- On the modern side. Very fancy with delicious food, beautiful people and incredible views of the city.
Istanbul Halic Sosyal Tesisleri- A delicious and classic Turkish fish restaurant, right on the Bosphorus.
360 for drinks- This restaurant/bar has 360 degree views of Istanbul that are stunning. I like to go just before sunset, order one of their signature cocktails (the food is nothing to write home about), and sit outside to enjoy the views on their patio. Watching the sun cast a golden hue on the beautiful domed architecture of the mosques, while listening to the day’s last call to prayer echoing all around you is nothing short of magical.
Pera Palas for afternoon tea- One of the oldest and most storied hotels in Istanbul, this is where Agatha Christie's 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express was written, and where Ernest Hemingway and Alfred Hitchcock frequented on their trips to Istanbul. The afternoon tea is everything you could ever hope for and more. Perfect and beautiful little pastries, homemade confections, delicious tea sandwiches, and perfectly brewed pots of tea all set in a spectacular room with a singing pianist. Being here for tea time makes you feel like a character in the Wes Anderson movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Here are some photos from one of my visits- the pink velvet furniture, waitresses uniforms, and tea cakes are all drool worthy.
Asitane restaurant- The restaurant serves Ottoman cuisines, and more specifically, they strictly follow historical recipes directly from the Royal Palace. The dishes and flavors here are like nothing you have ever tasted before (think roasted whole sea bass stuffed with walnuts and rose water dressing). In fact, they specialize in rediscovering “forgotten flavors”, combinations of foods that were served only to the Sultans around the 1600s. The last time I had lunch here, I tried to order a cappuccino at the end of the meal- they replied that they couldn’t make it because milk frothers didn’t exist in the Ottoman times.
Tip- Asitane is located right next to the Chora museum (also on my list), so I’d recommend making a reservation for the restaurant on a day that the church is also open for viewing.
Gulluoglu Baklava- Multiple locations and some of the best Baklava in Istanbul. Delicious with a Turkish coffee or tea.
Cengelkoy Kokoreccisi- A famous little restaurant on the Asian side renowned for their stuffed mussels. You can stand outside and help yourself to a heap of these tasty little mussels. The rice stuffing has all sorts of herbs and spices, and the flavors are delicious with a little lemon drizzled on top.
DO & SEE
The Museum of Innocence- Based on the famous book, The Museum of Innocence, by Orhan Pamuk. It's my favorite book and has become a favorite of everyone that I’ve recommended it to as well. It is the most enchanting story about a wealthy man from Turkish society, who falls in love with a shopkeeper, and basically becomes so hopelessly in love with her that he creates a museum out of objects that remind him of her- I won't give anything else away! The museum actually exists and is one of the most hidden gems in Istanbul. Everyone I know who has gone has ended up going back again and again because it is so moving. If you have time, you should buy and read the book before you leave, and don’t forget to bring your copy to the museum for free entrance (one book = one ticket to museum).
Photos below are from the entrance of the museum, and yes those are cigarette butts! The writer collected over a thousand cigarette butts from the ashtray of his beloved.
Beyoglu (neighborhood)- The neighborhood surrounding the Galata Tower, and one of my favorite spots in Istanbul. It’s a great place to stay, and also a fun area to walk around for shopping, dining, nightlife, and more. There is a world famous jazz club called Nardi’s in this area. Definitely buy tickets in advance if you’d like to go, because they tend to fill up.
Cihangir (neighborhood)- A very cool neighborhood filled with vintage and antique shops design stores, great little cafes and restaurants and art galleries. It feels a little bit like the West Village in Manhattan. More here.
Istanbul Modern Museum- This world class museum has an impressive permanent collection of Turkish artists and also rotating contemporary shows. Every time I go there is something new and fascinating happening here. I’d also really recommend visiting the museum cafe/restaurant for a drink or coffee. The views of the Bosphorus River are lovely.
Chora museum- You will have to take a taxi to get here, but it is worth it. It is an old Christian church with some of the most beautiful mosaics in the world. Make a reservation for Asitane before you go (at least a couple of weeks in advance) because they are located right next to the museum.
All of the popular monuments- The Aya Sofya, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern- they are all must-see and absolutely breathtaking sites.
The Grand Bazaar- The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest shopping centers in the world, and is the best place to find the perfect carpet or Kilim to bring home with you. It can be a bit overwhelming, as many of the shopkeepers will hassle you until you come into their shop. They’ll always offer something to drink, and I’d recommend the apple tea- it is sweet and delicious! It is so much fun to sit back, sip tea and listen to the different stories about the Kilims and the regions they are from. It’s nearly impossible to leave the Grand Bazaar without at least one new Kilim. Tip- they can often ship the carpet home for you, or pack it into it’s own little bag, all airplane ready. Tip 2- Definitely negotiate over the price of the carpet, but keep in mind that if you do make an offer and they accept, it is considered rude to not follow through with the purchase.
The Spice Bazaar- The Spice Bazaar, also called the Egyptian Bazaar is home to spices, teas, natural cosmetic products, and many other great and Turkish staples. I love the selection of natural sea sponges and loofahs and always end up going home with at least a few new Turkish cosmetic products. There are delicious teas for whatever ails you, and spices you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Not many people realize that there is a garden and pet bazaar right next to the spice bazaar. I love strolling through there to see the animals, and the interesting and different plant species.
Kurukahveci Coffee- Located right next to the Spice bazaar- this coffee is some of the best in the world. There is always a fast moving line of locals lined up outside to buy their weekly coffee. You can view the beautiful and efficient operation through the glass windows- coffee being roasted and ground, and young men making and stacking neatly wrapped paper packets of the aromatic product.