A TOUR OF
Even the shortest trip to Turkey’s largest city will leave a lasting impression. Here Türker Tozar and John Atkin give their tips on what to see, eat and do on a whistle-stop stay in the city
“If the earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital,” reckoned Napoleon Bonaparte. The only city in the world spanning two continents, Istanbul has always been at a crossroads, a meeting point of influences and cultures. It still is.
BREAKFAST LIKE A KING
Start your day the Istanbul way, with a breakfast like the locals. Turkish breakfast consists of cheese, eggs, olives, tomatoes, cucumber, jam, honey, sausage, pastries, bagels, even soup. Menemen is a great choice, a traditional dish of eggs, tomato, peppers and spices. Cheese and meat are optional extras, just don’t ask about onions – debate over their inclusion divides the nation.
A trip across the Bosporus is a fantastic way to get a flavour of the city, crossing continents in next to no time. No need for a lengthy tour or dinner cruise, simply head to Eminönü, grab a snack and take a seat on the top deck of a boat to Kadıköy. The 30-minute journey takes you right past the Sultanahmet, with fantastic views of the Old City’s best-known buildings. Once you arrive you can head straight back but, better still, have a look around the artsy Asian district first.
EXPLORE THE OLD CITY
Istanbul’s Old City, Sultanahmet, is home to Istanbul’s most famous attractions. Perhaps best known is the stunning 17th-century Blue Mosque, the only mosque in Istanbul adorned with the maximum six minarets. Opposite the Blue Mosque is the Hagia Sophia, which held the distinction of being the largest church in the world for 900 years before it was converted into an imperial
mosque. It is now a museum. Just to the north-east is Topkapı Palace, an expansive museum dating back to the 15th century. It is teeming with religious relics – Moses’s staff, King David’s sword. Note, though, that Topkapı is closed on Tuesdays.
SHOPPING IN THE BAZAARS
The colourful, labyrinthine Grand Bazaar is the heart of Istanbul’s Old City. It started life as a small vaulted market in 1461 and spread to envelop neighbouring shops. Nowadays, the Grand Bazaar is the biggest in the world, with more than 3,000 shops. Unless you have a compass, you’re going to get lost – but it isn’t a bad
The Blue Mosque
place to go astray, a throng of treasures, tourist tack and tea. The Spice Bazaar in Eminönü is also very popular, with the vast array of colours and artistic displays producing Instagram nirvana. It is also known as the Egyptian Bazaar (it was built with the Ottoman Empire’s revenues from Egypt).
TRY A TURKISH TEA
Tea is an indispensable element of Turkish culture and hospitality. It is served in small tulip-shaped glasses held by the rim. You can choose the strength – koyu (dark), tavşan kanı (literal meaning: rabbit’s blood) or açık (light) – and add sugar, but milk is not the done thing.
BUSTLING IN THE CENTRE
A stone’s throw from the Beşiktaş Stadium, Taksim Square is the centrepiece of Istanbul’s New City. It’s home to the Republic Monument, a multitude of hotels and restaurants, and forms the northern limit of Istiklal Street, a 1.4km pedestrian avenue though the historic Beyoğlu district. At weekends, Istanbul’s most popular thoroughfare can throng with three million visitors per day. If it all gets a bit much then there’s a tram that rattles along from one end to the other; or take a detour into the Çiçek Pasajı (Flower Passage) or Beyoğlu Fish Market.
Summers in Istanbul are hot and humid. Walking along the banks of the Bosporus in the evening, with a gentle breeze, has long been popular among locals, particularly with the city’s bridges lit up and providing spectacular views across the river. In recent years visitors have cottoned on, too. To really fit in, stop at one of the roadside kiosks for some grilled or boiled corn and munch as you stroll.
WHAT'S ON THE MENU?
The myriad influences on Istanbul have helped cultivate a tasty melting pot. Restaurants outside the more touristy areas generally specialise so see what you fancy and follow your nose/phone recommendations. To help make your selection:
Döner Seasoned meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie invented in Bursa in the 19th century, moving humanity on from the dark days of mere horizontal cooking. Typically served with pita, rice and vegetables.
Köfte Meatballs. Variations include içli köfte (rolled in wheat) and çiğ köfte (a spicy vegetarian option). Tarihi Sultanahmet Köftecisi, located opposite the Blue Mosque, is famous for grilled meatballs.
Meze Appetisers similar to tapas (pictured). Favourites include fava (mashed broad beans), köpoğlu (fried aubergine) and muhammara (red pepper dip).
Kebab Not to be confused with döner, kebabs are seasoned lamb, beef or chicken grilled on skewers, served on bread and topped with yoghurt and tomato sauce.
Lahmacun ‘Turkish pizza’. A thin, crispy round of dough, like a pizza, topped with seasoned mince and rolled up to eat, not like a pizza.
Baklava Classic Turkish pastry, filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with honey.
Pide Gondola-shaped dough filled with just about every combination of ingredients you can think of.
Börek Baked puff pastry filled with combinations of cheese, vegetables
Simit Bagel with sesame seeds, popular at breakfast.