There are a few things you absolutely must do when in Istanbul. Visiting the Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia), the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar top most people’s lists. These are all located in Sultanahmet, the most touristic region of the city. However, beyond the beaten tourist path, there are many lesser known things to see in the ancient city of Istanbul. The northern neighborhoods (like Sariyer, Emirgan and Bebek) have a lot to offer, and are just a beautiful bus trip along the Bosphorus away from the comfort of Sultanahmet. If you decide to venture away from the old city, here are some places you should go. The 25E bus will take you past most of these locations, but beware–the bus often goes at a sna il’s pace because of the traffic along the Bosphorus. However, you’ll have beautiful views the entire time. These are listed from south to north, but you might want to start at the northern point with breakfast and work your way back down the shore.
It might seem strange to visit a Starbucks in Istanbul, but the Starbucks in Bebek, a trendy village along the Bosphorus, is outstanding. They have a beautiful back deck that extends practically into the Bosphorus, and you’ll see the upper crust of Istanbul here. Apparently many Turkish movie stars hang out in Bebek, so you might even have a celebrity sighting.
After enjoying a drink at the Starbucks, just wander in Bebek. It’s a very unique part of the city with a totally different feel than Sultanahmet. You’re just meters from the Bosphorus the whole time and there are numerous boutiques, shops and restaurants to check out. This is an expensive neighborhood, so be prepared to pay if you want to eat a meal here. Otherwise, just enjoy the atmosphere and keep your eyes peeled for celebrities!
If you’re visiting in April, count yourself extremely lucky–you’ll get to witness the gorgeous tulip festival at Emirgan Park. There are thousands upon thousands of tulips planted in various configurations and it’s outrageously beautiful.
Even if you miss the tulip festival, you won’t be disappointed with this stunning urban park. There are a few restaurants located within the park, but the real attraction is the decorative ponds. They are surrounded by rare species of plants and dotted with fountains. The park is over 100 acres, so you won’t run out of places to explore. There’s also beautiful views of the Bosphorus from the park.
This ancient castle is one of the most overlooked and underrated attractions in Istanbul. Its entrance fee is just a few dollars, but the views and history are astounding.
The castle was built in the 1400s to control traffic along the Bosphorus. There’s a lot of history at Rumeli Hisarı, but the main reason I recommend the place is the view. It’s a bit treacherous to trek around the castle because there are no railings, so be careful and wear sturdy walking shoes. Once you get to a high place, you’ll have an unmatched view of the Bosphorus and one of the bridges that crosses it. As an added bonus, very few tourists venture to Rumeli Hisarı so you’ll find some peace and quiet.
Kahvaltı in Garipçe
Turkish breakfast is more than just a meal, it’s an experience. Comparable to a late brunch in the U.S., kahvaltı involves a huge spread of food and hours of conversation. There’s always tons of fresh vegetables (especially cucumbers and tomatoes), many different types of cheese, an endless supply of bread, fresh olives, menemen (scrambled eggs with lots of yummy additions) and of course, bottomless cups of tea. The real star is kaymak, which is a creamy, buttery spread soaked in honey.
The best place in the city to have kahvaltı is Aydın Balık, a restaurant far from the city center (approximately 30 km, to be precise). The restaurant is in Garipçe, a small fishing village that borders the Black Sea. They have a large deck that is just meters from the sea, and it’s the perfect place to spend a few lazy hours in the morning. You can get to Garipçe by bus or taxi–just ask around or check out the bus schedule at iett.gov.tr. Breakfast will cost $7-10 USD per person.
Venturing away from the typical tourist spots can be scary, but Turkish people are well-known for their friendliness. Many people speak English, so don’t be afraid to ask for help if you don’t understand how to pay for the bus, where to get off or even which bus to take. Be brave, and always carry your hotel address and some cash to grab a taxi back if needed. Above all, be adventurous and open to unexpected detours. There’s so much to see in Istanbul. Happy travels!
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