Istanbul is one of the most magical cities in the world. You could spend months here dedicating yourself to sightseeing but still not cover everything there is to see and do, and this is perhaps the reason why many visitors return to visit her again and again. Most people visiting will tick off the “big” sights when they visit – the Hagia Sophia Museum, the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace, and this is important – no trip to Istanbul is really complete without seeing these. However, if you have some more time to spare, here are 10 ideas of other things to expand your Istanbul experience:
- Get a scrub down in a Turkish Bath – don’t let the thought of getting your clothes off with strangers put you off this incredible experience. A visit to a Turkish Bath (hamam) is amazing and you will never feel as clean again in your life. First you’ll get a vigorous scrub down by the bath attendant, then it is followed up by the attendant dropping a luxurious layer of suds onto you and commencing a brief but fabulous sudsy massage. Everyone else is too busy worrying about themselves, and to the attendants you are just one more grubby tourist in need of a good scrub. It’s a great thing to do at the end of your trip to wash away your traveller’s grime, and trust us, you won’t regret it.
- Catch a ferry to Asia– as most guide books are fond of pointing out, Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents – Europe and Asia. You can easily catch a ferry from Europe (from either Eminönü, Karaköy or Beşiktaş) over to Kadıköy on Istanbul’s Asian side. In Kadikoy, you will have a chance to have a chance to see daily life away from the major tourist attractions. Make sure you take a walk around Kadıköy’s fruit and vegetable and seafood market – it also has some amazing bakeries and delicatessens, and is just a few minutes walk from the ferry terminal.
- Visit Istanbul Modern – located on the shore of the Bosphorous in an old warehouse Istanbul Modern is the city’s cutting edge contemporary art gallery with an international reputation for excellence.
- Visit the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts – Located in the former palace of Ibraham Paşa which overlooks the Hippodrome, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts displays over 40,000 items depicting daily life from the 8th – 19th centuries and has a vast collection of oversize carpets. Well worth a visit.
- Do a cooking class – chances are you will love the Turkish cuisine and be hoping to cook some dishes when you get back home, so why not spend a relaxing morning or afternoon getting a head start on Turkish cooking techniques. Most classes will include a drink with your meal, and it’s a great way to spend an afternoon.
- Take a walk to Ortaköy – a former fishing village on the shores of the Bosphorous, Ortaköy is a popular neighbourhood with locals because of its postcard views, and great cafes, bars, boutiques and nargile cafes. On a weekend there are popular handicraft markets, and so you can go and do a bit of shopping and then sit and chill out by the water. Strangely, it has also gained fame as the home of kumpir (filled baked potatoes) and you’ll see lots of people buying kumpir and eating them on seats in the square, taking in the Bosphorous views. Also located on the square is the beautiful Ortaköy Mosque which was designed by one of the architects who designed Dolmabahçe Palace. To get there, catch the tram from Sultanahmet to Kabataş (the last stop on the line) then get out and walk (around 40 minutes) or catch a taxi along the road that runs parallel to the water towards the big bridge that runs between Europe and Asia. Ortaköy is just before the bridge and you will see a sign with a little arrow pointing to the right that says “Ortaköy Meydane”.
- Have a sunset drink on a rooftop – Istanbul has one of the most beautiful skylines in the world, and there is no better way to look at it than by enjoying a drink at sunset from a rooftop somewhere. Many buildings in Istanbul’s old city and Taksim areas have terraces, and we highly recommend finding one for sunset and take the time to enjoy the panorama. You’ll forget the hustle and bustle on the streets down below you, and it is pure magic. Don’t forget to have your camera charged and ready to go!
- Visit Caferağa Medresesi (Medresseh) – Dating back to 1559, once upon a time this was a religious school. Today it is a cafe and cultural and arts centre. The former classrooms surround a shady courtyard, and you can sit and have a coffee or a cool drink and watch the artists work on various different types of traditional Turkish handcrafts /arts such as calligraphy and ceramics. It’s located in a small cobblestone street just behind the Hagia Sophia, and just back from the tram line.
- Visit the Book Bazaar – located in a courtyard between the Fesciler entrance of the Grand Bazaar and the Beyazit mosque is the Sahaflar Çarşısı – the book bazaar. Here you will find hundreds of tiny book stalls selling second-hand books, new books, religious books, textbooks, novels, foreign books and more. There has been a book bazaar on this site for centuries – in Byzantine times it was a book and paper bazaar and it continued to be a main site for selling and distributing books during the Ottoman Empire.
- Wander around the Çukurcuma neighbourhood – this is Istanbul’s antiques district and an up and coming neighbourhood. Here you will find charming antique shops, vintage clothing shops, cute coffee shops, an art gallery and the Museum of Innocence, established by famous Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk when he was writing the book of the same name. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon and will give you a glimpse into Istanbul’s growing “cool” area. To get there, find your way to Galatasaray High School on Istiklal Street in Taksim / Beyoglu, then walk down the street behind it, heading downhill towards the water. About a third of the way down you will see Çukur Cuma Cadessi, turn right here and you’re in the right place. You could easily spend half a day here browsing around and enjoying the colourful surrounds. Don’t forget to grab a coffee at one of the area’s great coffee shops before you head home.
P.S.: If you are interested in booking a trip to a Turkish bath or doing a cooking class whilst in Istanbul, have a look at our Day Tours page over at the Fez website.