Monday, June 15, 2009


I get tons of emails asking me for recommendations in Istanbul. I decided to post it here, so that I can just direct them to my blog.

To start with, you can't imagine how horrible the traffic is in Istanbul. You will find that cabs are pleasantly cheap here. A ride in a cab will probably cost you as much as you would pay to a bus as a family.


Sultanahmet is where the old city is. Most of the historical sites are here:
(it will take 2 days to finish it)

Topkapi Palace will take at least half of your day. If you are visiting at winter time, wear warm stuff because it is extra chilly in the harem due to the marble walls.
Hagia Sophia is an old church/mosque, now a museum. It is one of the wonder's of the world.
Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Cami)
Water Cistern (Yerebatan Sarinci)
Istanbul Archealogy Museum

You can take a 10-15 min walk to Misir Carsisi (spice bazaar) from here.

If there is something I can't emphasize more, it is the importance of getting a guide in Sultanahmet. In Topkapi and Ayasofia it is a must. It makes a huge difference. I strongly recommend getting a guided tour of the Blue Mosque as well.

The guides will find you at the entrance. Otherwise ask the ticket booth. You can try to work out a deal with the same guide for the three spots.

Other sites worth visiting are:
Istanbul Modern (Istanbul Modern Art Museum)
Dolmabahce Palace (I like it better than Topkapi Palace because it remains furnished )
Galata Kulesi (Galata Tower, where the first man known to fly jumped off from)


Beyoglu/ Istiklal Caddesi - The liveliest part of the town and the heart of underground culture. Many night clubs, shops and many many many many people!!! It is a favorite spot for both the tourists and the locals. There are many unique book shops, second hand stores, art studios hidden in the streets branching off of Istiklal.

*** I found a site where they orderly listed things to see as you are walking down Istiklal. It is a very good resource. You must get a print out before going to Beyoglu.

Taksim Square marks the beginning of Istiklal, and Tunel marks the end. Tunel is a very popular hang out for the young and hip. Asmali Mescit Street in Tunel is full of bars I could recommend:
Here are some nice venues if you are below 30:
Babylon - live music everyday
Babylon Lounge - latest and everlasting hits
Otto - DJ performance
Novo - DJ performance
Parantez - a bar with great mohitos for only 8 TL (2009)

If you like jazz, Nardis Jazz Club is one of the best jazz clubs in the city. It is even further down Tunel, close Galatasaray Tower. Ask people to direct you towards the Tower, and once you are there, ask for Nardis.

Line is a modest fun bar with a live band which gets everyone to dance to pop rock. Opposite from it is Hayal Kahvesi. Both venues play similar music but the crowd at Hayal Kahvesi is slightly older and has better air circulation. I can not comment on which band is better because there is a different band playing each night. It has a cover charge of 25 TL on Fridays and 30 on Saturdays but you get a free drink with it. Plus, if you are crowded or if it past 2 (they close at 4), you can negociate. It is close to the French Consulate, on the upper side of Beyoglu. Walking down from the consulate towards Tunel, you will see a Mc Donald's on the left. Around it should be Büyükparmakkapı St. A little further down on Büyükparmakkapı, it should be on your right. Alternatively, ask for Mojo which is the neighboring bar.

On Istiklal, there is an amazing restaurant called 360.
It is costly, but it is worth the view and the food you will get.

Haci Abdullah is a good spot for a quick eat. They have traditional Turkish food, but the bill will similar to eating at 360. If you have time and want to treat yourself, go to 360. However, if you want to eat Turkish home cooking in a traditional setting, go to Haci Abdullah.

Vegetarians have a hard time in Turkey. Zencefil is one of the rare restaurants that offer yummy vegetarian food. It is not on the main street, so locating it may be challenging. Find the French Consulate on Istiklal Ave (on the upper end close to Taksim). Walking towards Tunel, take the first right after the consulate. Then, take the first left. Now you should be on Kurabiye St. Walk about 100 m. It should be on your right.

Fransiz Sokagi (French Street), which is also known as Cezayir Sokagi, is also a nice place to eat or to have a drink. The food won't blow your mind, but the street has a nice, cozy feel.

Cicek Pasaji or Nevizade (also in Beyoglu) is where you should go for a traditional Turkish tavern experience. Live traditional music and maybe a belly-dancer with traditional Turkish food as well as Raki ( very strong Turkish alcohol) is what makes up a tavern experience.
Boncuk in Asmali Mescit has good food but there is no live music. To reserve, call 0212 245 31 69-70. Another tavern you could go to is Cumhuriyet Meyhanesi. They are short on the spectacle side as there is no music, but you get to sit at the tables where Ataturk and his friends frequently discussed national matters.

Take a walk in the Barkac Street next to Galatasaray High School. There are nice art galleries, antique and vintage shops, where you can hunt for design treasures! This street leads to Cihangir.

Cihangir - is a cute bohemian neighborhood overlooking the Bosphorus. Although it is more popular among the performing arts proffesionals, it is the house to many artists, journalist and writers among which are Orhan Pamuk, the recipient of numerous literary awards, including the Nobel Prize in Literature 2006 and Sinan Cetin, the producer of full-length films and television series, and foremost, commercials.

It has colorful streets with little cafe shops and boutiques. Cuppa is my favorite place for brunch in Cihangir. Fresh fruit juices and smoothies, organic sandwiches and all sorts of breakfast food.

Ortakoy - is especially cute on the weekends with the bazaar set up on the streets. It has cozy and laid-back vibe. Here you can visit the Ortakoy Mosque, right by the sea. There is a synagogue and a church which are still in service. Sometimes they will let you in, sometimes they won't depending on their mood. It is worth a try.

Here, I recommend to eat either at Lavanta or House Cafe. You can ask people on the street once you get there. Everyone should know.

Also, you can do a boat tour of the Bosphorus. This tour will take an hour whereas if you hop on the the ones that depart from Eminonu, you will be trapped in boat for four to five hours. Do NOT take the long tour as you will be stranded under the sun staring on bare hill tops after the second hour.

Bebek - This is one of the fancier neighborhoods along the Bosphorus. There is very little to do besides sitting at a cafe and watching people. You could go there for a coffee or dinner. People are very conscious of their appearances here. Casual-chic would be the proper style to dress.

Nisantasi - The fanciest neighborhood of Istanbul. Old, French style buildings, high brands, crowded bars and restaurants, and of course pretty girls make up the streets. Zanzibar in Reasurans Passage is a pricey but good place to have delicious thin crust pizza. As everything else in Nisantasi, it is on the expensive side.

Prince Islands
Take a ferry from Kabatas or Eminonu ports to the islands of Istanbul. They are very remote and pretty. Looking at the architecture in Buyuk Ada (Buyuk Island), you can imagine how pretty Istanbul used to be once upon a time. Cars are not allowed on the islands. Rent a bike or take the horse carriage.


To buy authentic Turkish stuff visit the Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi). Carpets, leather jackets, jewelry, spice... Also the capital of imitations of branded bags, shoes, watches, etc.. You should absolutely NEGOTIATE!

Besides, check with your hotel reception to go to one of the local's bazaar. Each neighborhood has a bazaar once a week. Check with your hotel where they are. It is a good opportunity to buy textile at a shockingly low prices. Again, you can negotiate here but not as tuff as at the Grand Bazaar.

Shopping malls I can recommend include:
Istinye Park


You should absolutely get a "kese" (kind of peeling) at a Turkish Bath (hamam). The most popular ones are Cemberlitas and Cagaloglu Hamams. Check again with your reception to find the Turkish bath they recommend.

Since you are in Istanbul you should have dinner at the following places:
For an best of the Turkish Cuisine, go to Konyali at Kanyon. I highly recommend the "Tandir".

NY Times selected Istanbul the gastronomy capital of 2008. Three restaurants that they recommend are:

Will be back with a list of places to stay...
Kybele Hotel is in Sultanahmet. It is a cute, conveniently located hotel which I think you would enjoy. Their number is +90 212 511 7766. Email: Website:


Sinan Kolat said...

rajib said...

You missed out Cumhuriyet Meyhanese in Beyoglu which you recommended (the one frequented by Kemal Attaturk) ?

duygusar said...

Right!! Will correct it right now!


Kaya Tilev said...

how about the islands, and eating meze on the sea with raki!