We all know the song ‘Istanbul, not Constantinople’.. don’t we? I apologize in advance if that gets stuck in your head like it does in mine everytime I come across the word Constantinople. The city of Istanbul is as old as its earlier name suggests, which means everywhere you go you’re likely to find Instragammable history lessons. From Hagia Sofia to the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, the thermal water terraces in Pamukalle to the Greece like Alacati, Istanbul itself is flushed with a variety of terrain, activities and culture. This summer I got the chance to visit the country that had fascinated me for years. While we were there we got recommendations from a bunch of people; my husband and I took some but decided to explore mostly on our own!
How to get there: Istanbul usually ends up being a stopover for people on their way to other places. If you’re planning to solely explore Turkey, which is highly recommended, take Turkish airlines which takes you directly to Istanbul. Their new airport is worth a mention, I have to say.
We were there for eight days of which we spent most of our time in Istanbul but took a flight to Cappadocia for their well-known hot air balloon ride. A week is a long time for one city and we could have explored other parts of Turkey but Istanbul has so much to offer for a first time visitor and I didn’t want to leave any stone unturned.
What do to: The historical areas to go to are all in the Sultanahmet area and can be covered in a day. The Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern and Topkapi Palace are walking distance from each other. Istanbul is big on art and once you’ve had enough of being a mall rat, a trip to the local arts scene is a must. The Salt Galata, Istanbul Modern and Museum of Innocence are all located close to each other. The latter was the most interesting of them all - a first of its kind museum made in a house from 1897, visualing the characters and chapters of a novel written about an upper-class man from Istanbul in the 1960s and 70s. It’s a fascinating walk through real vintage pieces collected from people living in the city, which evoke the spirit of an older Istanbul.
To get a feel of the city’s music scene we dropped by at a well-known jazz place called Nardis Jazz club it’s a cosy little place that’s been around since 2002 and has a live jazz band perform almost every day of the week. If jazz music isn’t your thing, relaxing in a hammam after a long day’s walk might be what you need. Istanbul is dotted with hammams but the Kilicali Pasa Hamami, which was recommended to us by a local, is the one to visit. Get scrubbed down in a historical building and come out feeling like a new born!
In Cappadocia, we were welcomed by the magical terrain of its fairy chimneys. We explored the land by ATV’s in the evening and woke up the next morning to get an aerial view of the place in a hot air balloon ride that went up to a 1000 meters. If you give yourself a few days here, you can also go horseback riding which is an extremely popular activity in Spring.
What to eat: We’re all big foodies so believe me when I say my best meal was on the Asian side and made the long journey there totally worth it. Ciya restaurant, (featured on Chef’s Table on Netflix), has three branches located around each other. The restaurant opened me up to the myriad vegetable dishes Turkey has to offer. But if you want a Turkish kebab, go to the Anthony Bourdain approved restaurant called Durumzade. Besides that, I really enjoyed my dinner at Sunset Grill and Bar for the quality of food and the views. Beyaz Firin Etelier, Delicatessen and Mangerie were some really good brunches – when you go there ask for their Sucuk which is a delicious local sausage! Have Turkish dumplings at Bodrum Manti, which has many branches in the city, Aheste is a good spot for dinner around the Istiklal and Galata Tower area and Cardak Doner is the place to go for a solid doner meal in Bebek!
Where to stay: Istanbul is a huge city and each neighbourhood has its own vibe; we wanted to stay in two different parts during our stay. Our first hotel was Nish Palas in The Unbound Collection by Hyatt at Nisantasi. It’s a small boutique hotel located smack in the centre of the shopping district. Stay here if you want to shop your heart out and have the best shops in the city around you but not really do any of the other touristy stuff. Our hotel in Cappadocia was called Carus Cappadocia and was a real gem. Generally, hotels there are a bit older and quite small but this one had opened two months ago and had a great restaurant, bar, wine cellar and an indoor cave pool which really was a dream come true. Our second hotel in Istanbul was The House Hotel, Karakoy – a renovated 19th-century Ottoman-era bank building that had a lot of history of its own. It was ideally located right next to the metro, walking distance from Istiklal street and right next to Galata Tower. I’d recommend this hotel to a first timer in Istanbul because it was easily accessible by public transport.
Shopping in Turkey: I loved that people on the streets of Istanbul were generally well dressed, thanks to their local boutiques and retailers that offer great things for reasonable prices! I would say skip the grand bazaar unless you want to buy counterfeit bags (which I do not recommend). We explored the shops in Nisantasi, Bebek, walked down Istiklal and then found a slightly empty mall to get our Zara, Sephora, Nike and Adidas shopping out of the way. ADL, Oxxo, Beyman, Gizya Gate and Cassete are some of the more memorable local stores you must look in to!