10 vibes from İstanbul

like locals

Have you always dreamed of jetting off to an exotic destination? Somewhere the air is cloaked in spices and shrouded in mystery? İstanbul has it all: flavor, history, and culture. Why not experience it for yourself? Whether you’re in İstanbul for just a quick trip or have a longer stay in mind, here are 10 tips for experiencing the city like a local.

Breakfast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and never is that statement truer than in Türkiye. Turkish breakfast is usually a drawn-out affair, a chance to enjoy and savor the flavors of the dishes and catch up with friends and family. A typical breakfast spread will consist of tomatoes, cucumbers, olives served alongside a variety of sliced cheeses, and freshly baked bread. For egg lovers there are traditional menemen (Turkish scrambled eggs with tomatoes and peppers), herb-filled omelets, and fried eggs with sucuk (Turkish sausage). Pisi (traditional fried dough) are excellent dipped in kaymak (Turkish clotted cream) and honey or some local jams. There’s watermelon, rose, and fig jams to tempt the sweet tooths out there.

There are so many breakfast options in İstanbul - all with stunning views of the Bosphorus or the city. You can check out Kahvaltıcılar Sokağı (Breakfast Street), a breakfast lovers’ favorite haunt, full of cafés, in Beşiktaş. Or stroll around Beyoğlu until you find the perfect spot. Pierre Loti Hill offers spectacular views of the Golden Horn. On the Asian side, you can find restaurants that are chic and trendy in Kadiköy and Moda, while the Beykoz and Cengelköy neighborhoods offer more of a small-town feel with locally produced cheeses, jams, and preserves on offer.

Walk along the Bosphorus

The Bosphorus Strait joins the Black Sea in the north to the Sea of Marmara in the south. No matter where you go in the city, the sight of the Bosphorus is seemingly omnipresent. Ships and ferries cruise back and forth across the waters, fishing boats sprinkle the scene on the water. While on land, the playgrounds, walkways, and seaside paths are full of walkers, cyclists, fishermen, picnicking families, and everything in between. Nothing will give you more of a sense of the different lives and pursuits of İstanbulites than taking a stroll along the city’s life source.

For those seeking to get out of the city, why not jump on a ferry and explore the Princes’ Islands? These seven islands to the south of the city are a short ride away. Each island has its own unique history and feel, but they all have beaches, walking and cycling tracks, cute cafés, and restaurants and hotels if you feel the urge to overnight.

Ferry Ride

Jumping onboard a ferry to cross the geographic points of Europe and Asia is a novel concept, and in İstanbul, a daily reality for many. Whether you’re going from Europe to Asia or vice versa, a ferry is one of the best ways to see the city. From your waterside vantage point, you’ll be able to take in the harmony of the old city and elements of modern life. Dolmabahçe Palace, the Maiden’s Tower, Galata Tower, Topkapı Palace, Ayasofya-i Kebîr Cami-i Şerîfi (Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque), the Blue Mosque, Süleymaniye Mosque, and Haydarpaşa Train Station are all easy to spot, even for the casual tourist. Enjoying a glass of fresh juice or a cup of tea and a simit (Turkish bagel) is highly recommended while you let the ferry sail on.

Arts and Culture

İstanbul is a living city and while many tourists and visitors fall in love with the city’s past, its present is definitely something to celebrate as well. There are dozens of small galleries and ateliers exhibiting their own unique wares, so going on a deep dive is recommended for those seeking a unique memento or something off the beaten track. There are, of course, many large art galleries, museums, and culture halls that have specialized exhibitions and extensive permanent collections well worth perusing.

İstanbul has a thriving art scene. Don’t forget to check out the latest exhibitions in Beyoğlu, Kadiköy, Emirgan, Maslak, or Beykoz, where there are a number of large galleries and museums, each with revolving exhibitions and impressive permanent collections.

Shopping

İstanbul has been a shopping mecca for hundreds of years. Whether you’re interested in tracking down antique watches and jewelry in the Grand Bazar, following in the steps of spice traders in the Spice Bazar, or digging out chic one-offs in local boutiques, İstanbul has it all.

The Grand Bazar is steeped in history, construction having commenced in 1455, only two years after the conquest of İstanbul. The Grand Bazaar is located in Sultanahmet and is an easy stroll from the Blue Mosque. Down the hill, the Spice Bazaar is an excellent spot to sip some tea, enjoy some Turkish delight, and bargain with sellers. Beyoğlu, Nişantaşı, Kadiköy, and Levent offer more modern shopping options and malls for those seeking the latest trends.

Lunch

When, what, and how you eat is entirely up to you, but with so many choices, make sure you take the time to sit and enjoy! One sign you’ll see all around Türkiye is “Ev Yemekleri.” Even for İstanbul city slickers, this is the clear sign of comfort food. Translating loosely to “Home cooking” (literally “Mother’s Food”) these are a variety of dishes that are simple, nutritious, and just like mom used to make them. Whether you’re in the mood for manti (Turkish ravioli), soup, dolma (stuffed peppers, zucchini, eggplant), meat, chicken, or rice dishes, you’re sure to find something to satisfy.

Sweet & Turkish Coffee

Turks love a coffee break every now and then. Whether you're interested in sampling local Turkish coffee, a thick, strong brew made to your taste either sweet (tatli), medium (orta), or without sugar (sade), slowly sipping and enjoying a little something sweet alongside, or, if you fancy Italian-style coffee, there are coffee shops, cafés, and patisseries (pastane) to satisfy your caffeine cravings and sweet tooth!

Live Music

İstanbul is a city full of life and nowhere is that more apparent than when strolling along the city streets. Often the bustling neighborhoods of Beyoğlu and Kadiköy have small festivals, with street artists playing a mixture of contemporary and traditional Turkish music. For evening shows, there’re often local and international artists touring and countless bars, pubs, meyhanes, and concert halls that have local acts booked almost every night of the week. No matter your musical taste, İstanbul will have something to tempt you onto the dance floor.

Enjoy a Meyhane

Meyhanes, or taverns, are found in almost every corner of İstanbul. Whether you’re in the mood for modern twists on traditional cuisine in an upscale restaurant, traditional cuisine with a view of the sea, or a more casual meal with friends, a meyhane night is highly recommended.

Usually, waiters will take a tray of meze around so you can choose what your table will share. Fresh cooked fish or meat are typically shared with the table after the mezes have been enjoyed.

Football

İstanbul has three major football teams (Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe, and Beşiktaş), all of which play in the Super League and other European or international championships. Getting a ticket on game day might be difficult, but the experience is well worth it. Fans chant and sing long before and long after the match’s final whistle. and being in the stadium is an experience that will stay with you long after you return home.

İstanbul has delights aplenty for travelers to discover. Come, find out what makes this city so unique for yourself!