What are some of your favorite memories of Istanbul?
I visited Istanbul for a friend’s bachelor trip back in early 2010. I use the word “trip” instead of “party” because we didn’t go to Istanbul to spend wads of money on SD&A. Sure, I’d be lying if I said that debauchery wasn’t on the agenda; of course it was. It’s just that Istanbul has far too much to offer the first-time visitor for it to be spent wavering between being inebriated and battling a hangover.
Some of my best memories of Istanbul are playing backgammon at random hookah cafes, eating street food like mussels stuffed with rice and pine nuts, venturing into the sleazier part of town called Aksaray, and trying to convince bouncers of many a club, including Blackk and Supperclub, to let eight stags through their velvet rope.
The great thing about Istanbul is that you can do “touristy” things without feeling like a tourist because locals wander the Grand Bazaar, awe at the Topkapi Palace, and enjoy a sunset cruise on the Bosphorus, too. Those who live in Istanbul are proud of their city and seem oblivious to the tourist-local divide.
How would you spend 36 hours in Istanbul?
Your first day in Istanbul will most likely be monopolized by the big three attractions, all of which are walking distance from each other – the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii), and the Hagia Sophia. Many recommend spending as many as five hours at the Topkapi Palace but two will have to do on this layover. Definitely visit the Harem, which requires you to purchase a separate ticket. In the evening, grab a fish sandwich from the Eminonu pier before hopping on a cruise on the Bosphorus. At night, I recommend dinner at 360 Istanbul followed by a night out at either 360 itself, or a club in Ortakoy. For a more traditional and potent night out, go to a meyhane for mezze and raki.
The next day wander around Beyoglu, which is home to the popular pedestrian Istiklal Caddesi and Galata Tower. There are lots of small art galleries and cafes to be found around Galata so follow your curiosity instead of a map and you’ll be well rewarded!
What kind of practical information should first-time visitors know about Istanbul?
Probably the simplest way to get from the airport to Taksim Square is by the Havas bus. It leaves fairly frequently, say every 15-20 minutes. Taxis are easy to flag down and your best bet for late-night food is Istiklal Caddesi which houses a couple borek and shawarma joints.
What are some precautions that people should take while exploring Istanbul?
Don’t drink raki, Turkish anise-flavored liquor, on an empty stomach. You will be in pain the next day.
Any other indispensable pieces of advice to share?
Istanbul was a European Capital of Culture in 2010 but this distinction should be the city’s for years to come. Istanbul is the most beautiful city that I’ve ever visited and I can’t wait for the opportunity to go there again!
If you’ve had enough of history then head to the Istanbul Modern to remind yourself of the present and catch a glimpse of the future through installation and new media art.
Though fairly overpriced, the restaurants and cafes on the lower level of the Galata Bridge are the perfect vantage point to gaze at the minarets and domes of the Sultanahmet skyline.
You will probably walk up and down this street tons of times during your visit to Istanbul. The southern part of this pedestrian street has a number of bars with outdoor seating. A very lively and friendly atmosphere.
Probably the best English bookstore in the city.
This pizza place is located very close to the hotel I stayed at and serves what might just be the best pizza in town. Highly, highly recommended!
Serving dozens of different types of baklava, this Istanbul institution is definitely worth a visit. Do yourself a favor and get a box to go while you walk the city – you’ll burn the calories as you explore!
This was the only club that my friends and I could get into, so we ended up there two nights in a row! It didn’t really live up to the hype but maybe that’s because we went when it was still cold outside. It’s supposed to be bumping during the summer.
360 is popular for its rooftop view of the city, great food and weekly dance parties. I preferred partying here to Reina – the vibe was more chill and the music much better!
THE live music venue in Istanbul.
I stayed at this hidden gem of a place and loved every square foot of it. This boutique hotel offers reasonably priced suites each with its own theme and character. Sure beats staying at a chain!
My friends and I stumbled on a row of hookah cafes in Tophane while on our way to the Istanbul Modern. You can spend an entire afternoon here smoking sheesha, playing backgammon and drinking apple tea.