We all know how to be a tourist when we travel. How to see the most popular sites and marvel at the ancient ruins. That’s not so hard. But how about trying to experience a city as a local? Now that’s a little bit more difficult. Well I have written this post based upon my trip to Istanbul, where I experienced the wanders of this amazing city through the guidance of a lovely friend and local Istanbuller. Here you’re guaranteed to find some of Istanbul’s hotspots and best activities to help you walk in the shoes of a trendy Istanbuller.
1. Take a Boat Trip on the Bosphorus
Sailing down the Bosphorus is one of the best ways to see Istanbul, as you get to witness the stunning views of both the Asian and European side of the city. When in your life will you ever get to be in both Europe and Asia at the same time? This is an Istanbul activity not to be missed.
In a city filled with remnants of an ancient civilisation there are an unlimited amount of sites to see such as the Topkapi Palace, Çiragon Palace, the European Fortress, the Rumeli Hisare Fortress and numerous Mosques. Not to mention the architecture to be admired, such as picturesque seaside mansions on the Asian side, which have maintained their original styles and constructions.
There are an abundance of companies offering a tour on the Bosphorus to all the eager tourists. But how do you know which ones are a rip off? Highly recommended is the Sehir Hatlari (http://sehirhatlari.com.tr/en) which is Istanbul’s official ferry system. They offer a full Bosphorus cruise both ways, a one way Bosphorus cruise, a short cruise and a moonlight cruise, which is only offered in the summer months. For more information on the different options click here.
Full Bosphorus Cruise Double way (approx. 6 hours): 25TL (9€ / $11)
Full Bosphorus Cruise One Way: 15TL (5€ / $7)
Short Cruise: 12TL (4€ / $5) – Half price for children under 12 years old
Moonlight Tour: 20TL (7€ / $9)
Now if you have a bit of cash on the side and you’re looking for an extra special experience, I highly recommend renting your own private yacht. From a private yacht on the Bosphorus you will get to see Istanbul’s seaside areas up close, whilst you relax in the comfort of your own private boat. With a drink in hand of course.
What Does it Come With?
The boats offered are beautiful luxury yachts that will make you feel like royalty for a day. Generally they come fully equipped with a driver, deck staff, certain drinks and a pick up/drop off service from your hotel.
Why is it Better?
The private boat is the best for comfort, flexibility and enjoyment. You have complete freedom to plan your trip the way that you want and enjoy the experience with your friends or family, away from crowds of tourists. If you want to stop for lunch at one of the excellent fish restaurants on the Asian side, you can and the boat will wait for you and take you where you want after.
It goes without saying it will set you back slightly more than 10€ like the public boats. Prices can range between 300€ – 400€ depending on what company and which cruise option you choose. It can be up to 600€ if you choose to hire the boat all day. However, if you are a family looking for a special experience to share together, or a group of friends who are willing to share the costs, this option won’t disappoint.
A well recommended company is the Zoe Yacht Bosphorus Cruise. You can also ask your Hotel for a private charter recommendation. (We booked ours with the Four Seasons Hotel on the Bosphorus and were picked up from there).
2. Eat, drink and enjoy on the terrace of the Four Seasons Bosphorus
The Four seasons terrace by the Bosphorus is magnificent. The exterior architecture is impressive, the gardens are bursting with deep greens and bright purple flowers and to top it all off you get to sit right on the Bosphorus. It’s definitely a must see purely for the view.
You can attend brunch on Sunday from 12pm till 3pm which offers a wide variety of food from Italian and Turkish cuisine. Alternatively, you can opt for the à la carte breakfast option Monday through to Saturday, or come for Lunch or dinner on the Aqua restaurant’s terrace. If you’re not feeling so hungry or it’s a bit out of your price range, just go for a coffee, (and a cake if you’re feeling cheeky), it’s a welcome escape from a long day of sight-seeing.
Where: Aqua Restaurant, Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus, Çiragan Cad. No. 28, 34349 Istanbul
Breakfast: 7am – 11am
Lunch: 12pm – 3pm
Dinner: 7pm – 11pm
Brunch: Sundays 12pm – 3pm
Telephone: +90 212 381 4000
3. Eat, stroll and relax at the seaside area of Bebek
Bebek is a trendy coastal neighborhood whose European flare, oriental touch and upper class atmosphere make it a great place to waste the day eating, strolling and people watching. This is where you’ll find all the classy Istanbuller’s taking their Sunday stroll’s by the sea after their world class brunch (it explains the horrendous traffic to get to Bebek).
Lucca Style: Restaurant/Bar
Lucca is a hot spot for the uber trendy, a restaurant during the day and bar/club at night. For the Istanbuller’s it’s a place to see and be seen, but it also offers excellent food, great cocktails and a trendy vibe. Lucca has been dubbed the “immortal hotspot” by The Guide Istanbul, view article. Lucca offers a wide variety of international style food with a Turkish touch. It’s a must see during the day and on the weekends, as it’s a regular night spot on the Istanbuller’s social calendar. It’s a must see if you want to experience life as an Istanbuller!
Cevdetpaşa Caddesi No. 51/B, Bebek
Monday: 12pm – 2pm
Tuesday – Sunday: 10am – 2am
Telephone: +90 212 257 12 55
Website used to be here but it is currently unavailable.
Brunch in Bebek:
My top pick for brunch around Bebek is Asskkhave. Assk means love in Turkish, and like all the locals, you’re sure to fall in love with this place. It’s a hidden sanctuary amongst trees and water, with a spot directly on the Bosphorus. It has a great menu of creative egg dishes, traditional Turkish, vegetarian breakfasts and sweeter options such as the classic pancakes. It’s relaxed and cool vibe makes it the perfect place for a long Sunday brunch. It’s also a romantic dinner option!
Where: Muallim Naci Cad. No:64/B Kuruçesme, Besiktas, Istanbul
When: 9am – 12am
Tel: +90 212 265 4734
For more information on the top ten best breakfast spots in Istanbul click here.
In a city with a population close to 15 million people life can get hectic. On a sunny day the Istanbuller’s tend to take a coastal walk around the affluent areas of Bebek and Arnavutköy. After your Sunday Brunch in Bebek, head to the seaside and take a relaxing stroll along the coast line.
Where: Bebek, Arnavutköy
When: A nice day
4. Experience Shopping at Istanbul’s Ancient Bazaars
Spice Bazaar/Misir Çarsisi:
Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar has been the center of the spice trade in Istanbul for centuries. You can get amongst it and bargain with the Turkish for delicious dried fruits, thousands of different spices and tea such as the amazing Turkish apple-flavoured tea (make sure you try it – it’s delicious!).
Where: Misir Carsisi No. 92 Eminönü – Fatih/Istanbul
How: Tram – Eminönü
When: Daily 8am – 7:30pm (Closed for religious holidays)
Grand Bazaar/Kapali Carsi:
The city’s Grand Bazaar has been around since the 15th century and is definitely an experience. It’s worth going to just to marvel at the interior architecture. However beware it’s a haven for tourists, especially as it was named the most visited landmark in 2011.
How: Tram – Beyazit-Kapali Çarsi
Metro – Vezneciler
Monday – Saturday 9am – 7pm
(Closed Sundays and bank holidays)
6. Feel like an Istanbul celebrity and party at the trendiest spots
Istanbul is really a hot spot for nightlife with some amazing outdoor clubs, which is testament to the fact that Istanbuller’s really know how to enjoy life.
Reina and Anjelique:
Reina and Anjelique are two of Istanbul’s most well known and glamorous clubs. Both are situated in prime locations on the Bosphorus boasting amazing views from the twinkling lights of the bridge and the Asian side. Don’t like Istanbul’s traffic? Don’t worry, these clubs are located directly on the water, allowing you to cruise up on your boat and park right out the front (if that’s the sort of thing you’re into). Both restaurant/clubs have huge outdoor areas perfect for the warm summer nights. Reina definitely takes the cake for the most beautiful and lavish design, but beware the amazing view and decor reflects the price tag. Both clubs aren’t cheap.
If you’re not into the lavish, flashy and expensive nightlife style, Reina and Anjelique may not be your ideal clubs. But the views and design of the clubs are still amazing so it could still be worth checking it out!
Where: Ortaköy Mh. Muallim Naci Caddesi No:44, 34347 Istanbul
Restaurant: Monday – Sunday 7pm – 10pm
Bar: Monday – Sunday 11pm – 5am
Tel: +90 212 259 5919
Where: Salhane Sok. No 5 Ortaköy, Istanbul (Located in a three story mansion, each level with a different music style)
Bar: Monday – Saturday 12am – 5am
Restaurant: Monday – Saturday: 6:30pm – 12am
Tel: +90 212 327 28 44
Ulus 29 is another local hotspot whose gastronomic restaurant is one of the best in Istanbul. Ulus 29 is hidden up the hills of Istanbul, away from crowds of tourists and the bustle of the city and boasts an amazing view overlooking the glittering lights of Istanbul and the Bosphorus. Here you can dine on an excellent menu of sushi or Turkish cuisine and international favourites.
Not only is the food and the view worth the taxi ride, but after 12pm on weekends the terrace bar and adjoining club opens for the trendy locals and international names to let down their hair and let loose. It is one of the most sought out places in Istanbul and is world-renowned for the excellent dining and nightlife experience. Unlike some of the other big named clubs in Istanbul, Ulus 29’s club is indoors with darker lighting, lower ceilings, and a more underground cool vibe.
Where: Adnan Saygun Caddesi, Ulus Parki Içi, No 71/1, Ulus
Dinner: Monday – Sunday 6:30pm
Lunch: Monday – Friday 12pm – 3pm
Club: Friday and Saturday nights
Closed for summer: 19th of May – 15th of September
Terrace Bar: Open every night. ‘Tuesdance’ held every Tuesday for music lovers.
Telephone: +90 212 358 29 29
Fenix is a stylish new restaurant and bar opened by the same owners as Ulus 29. Yes there may be month long waiting lists for dinner, but if you can get a table you can expect a modern gastronomy such as Asian fusion and French seafood. The décor is impressive with Moroccan influences mixed in with a modern edge. Fenix is a great place to go to enjoy the cool atmosphere over a few drinks and some excellent food.
Where: Nispetiye Caddesi No. 79, Etiler, Istanbul
Sunday – Wednesday 12pm – 2pm
Thursday – Saturday 12pm – 4am
Telephone: +90 212 265 55 88
Indigo is a favourite for lovers of electro and house music. With different big international djs and local household names playing on a regular basis, Indigo is known to have the best line up in Istanbul. If that’s the type of music that tickles your fancy then Indigo Istanbul is definitely a club you should check out. Check their website for the dj line up details.
Where: Tomtom Mah, Istiklal Cd. Akarsu Sk. No. 1-2-4-5, Beyoglu
Friday & Saturday 11pm – 4am
Closed in summer
Telephone: +90 212 244 8567
Price: $ – Tickets can be bought for events on the website
6. Get a traditional Hammam spa treatment!
This is an activity that is practiced by Istanbuller’s on a regular basis and is worth the experience. I had my Hammam experience in our hotel, The Edition Istanbul, which was very enjoyable. However, I have heard that the public Hammam’s are more traditional and cheaper, so I would recommend testing out a traditional Hammam in a place such as Çemberlitas Hamami which was built by a Sultan in 1584 and is well recommended. The experience is just as much about the amazing architecture and design as it is about the treatment itself.
What’s it all about?
The Hammam experience is all about rejuvenation, relaxation and will leave you feeling great. The traditional Hammam is performed by a person of the same sex as you, and includes full body wash, deep exfoliation and a massage. You begin the session in a hot room to allow your body to sweat, and finish the session in a relaxation room where you can stay to rest and even take a nap.
Where: Vezirhan Cad. No: 8, Çemberlitaş, 34440
When: Daily 6am – Midnight
Telephone: +90 212 522 79 74
Self-service: 55TL / 20 € / $25
Traditional: 80TL / 30€ / $35
Additional treatments available
For a summary of the best Hammam spa treatments in Istanbul click here.
For more information about the Hammam treatment process click here.