Honeyed baklava piled high, stuffed mussels, hot “balik ekmek” (fish sandwiches) and crunchy fried “hamsi” (anchovies) … Istanbul must rate amongst every food-obsessed traveller’s best places to visit EVER.
It’s also the perfect place to soak up thousands of years of history and check out contemporary culture too, with a cool art and design scene contrasting with the Ottoman architecture and winding cobbled streets.
To avoid the longest blog post in blogging history, we’ve come up with our Top 5 Edit based on some of the highlights of our recent trip. And we’ve tried not to make every tip food-based – yes, we did manage to get up to a few things besides eating. Seriously though, go with an appetite!
1. The simple life. Stroll along the atmospheric banks of the Bosphoros in Beyoglu, a buzzing cultural area known for its fantastic street food and delicious local snacks. Sip a fresh pomegranate juice squeezed by hand by strong men before your eyes, and eat a steaming hot mackerel sandwich made with the catch of the day while you walk. The banks of the river are lined with little seafood cafes if you fancy stopping for a proper meal.
2. Indulge in a traditional Hammam – we loved Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami for its stunning architecture, serene calm and the fantastic ladies who will scrub and polish you to perfection. Originally built in 1880, this hammam has been brought right up to the 21st century with a recent renovation. You are welcomed with a glass of soothing tea before changing into your Peshtemal, or hammam towel. These are really lovely to buy and take home too – perfect for the beach or gym as they dry super quickly and come in lots of chic designs. You can wear a bikini underneath if you prefer! Then relax in the steamy heat of the hammam before the soap scrub and massage begins. It’s pretty vigorous but stress relieving at the same time! The hammam ritual costs approx £40 for a supremely relaxing experience and squeaky clean skin. www.kilicalipasahamami.com
3. Check out Neolokal, an amazing new restaurant housed in a cutting edge glass cube atop Salt Galata, an impressive art gallery in Karakoy. Maksut Askar is a celebrated “new generation” Turkish chef known for re-creating traditional Turkish dishes with a contemporary twist. Neolokal pays homage to local and sometimes almost forgotten ingredients of Anatolia – we loved his lamb and beet “Borani” with salted yogurt and lamb sauce. The gallery is pretty cool, too, as are the rooftop views. www.neolokal.com
4. Venture underground and check out the Basilica Cistern, a spooky subterranean world of underground water ways built in 532. Tread the walkways and marvel at the majestic columns and the sheer feat of engineering it must have been to create such a structure in Byzantine times. Spot the hidden heads of Medusa and the ghostly carp floating below you. www.yerebatansarnici.com
5. Hop across the water to the Asian side of the city and discover one of the sweetest streets in Istanbul, İcadiye Caddesi’ne. A quiet street, lined with little family owned restaurants, it’s an enticing jumble of quirky eateries, a lot of which only fit one or two tables. Go with no plans and choose the one you like best/the one that has space, to while away your evening and chat to locals over dinner.
Hope we’ve inspired your next trip!