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Weekend Tasks: A Guide to Istanbul

Istanbul has been on our “must see cities” lists for far too long, so when the opportunity arose for a whistle stop weekend, we jumped at the chance!
We stayed for four and half days which was plenty of time to take in this otherworldly ethereal place.

Top Tips for your trip:

Where to stay: we stayed at the Hilton Bomonti – a welcoming, large hotel with great views across Istanbul. Slightly out of the centre, you need a taxi into the heart of the city, but at 21 lira (about £8) it was an easy, if not slightly hair raising ride! There are of course many more independent and boutique hotels in and around the city that cater for all budgets, from travelling students through to the affluent Turks on a weekend break.

Places to visit:

The Dolmabahce Palace, the former administrative centre of the late Ottoman Empire and latterly home of Kemal Ataturk (the founding father of modern Turkey) and also where he spent his final day on earth. An interesting, if not slightly eerie experience through the palace.

Galata Tower & Galata Bridge – Watch the fisherman lining the bridge in the shadows of the Mosque on one side and under the famous Galata Tower on the other. The Galata Tower area is rapidly becoming full of interesting and exciting new designers and their boutiques – take time to wander the back streets and find some real treasures.

The Grand Bazaar – Be assailed by overwhelming smells of spices, cay (tea) and Oud, browse the stalls at your leisure and enjoy the surprisingly peaceful approach to a bustling market!

Taksim Square and Istiklal Caddesi (Cadessi means road) – Take a classic red tram from Taksim square all the way down the Oxford Street of Istanbul

The Blue Mosque – This breath taking architectural beauty is as incredible from the outside and it is on the inside. Be sure to dress appropriately (ladies take a head scarf) and make sure your ready to remove your shoes. Take a stroll through the square following your visit and be entertained by the men serving ‘gloopy ice cream’ or Dondurma to give its correct name!

The ferries from Kabatas are a great way of hopping from Asia to Europe and see the rich variety of city from the middle from the Bosphorous hop off at Iskele to experience a fishing village, Turkish style

The Basilica Cistern – an eerie underground cistern system, used in the filming of James Bond’s from Russia with Love are a cool escape from the bustling city streets above right in the heart of the ever-popular Sultanahmet district.

Where to Eat:

Beyoglu – the ‘Soho’ of Istanbul, with a plethora of bars and clubs including some quirk alfresco establishments set up in old tunnels and alleyways. For dinner, if you can find it, Tavanarasi is a hidden gem, literally down an unsigned alley and up 6 floors in a rickety old lift, this local restaurant was a true treasure, mostly full of locals drinking only raki with their food (see below).

The area of Bebek is very much up and coming – try Fumee, the staff could be more helpful and friendly and if you book, be sure to request a balcony table overlooking the water. The fish is incredible and a short stroll down the cobbled street after dinner will lead you to a perfect spot for an aperitif – Assk Café – meaning ‘Love’ in Turkish, this place is lively, cool and tucked away, full of the young, beautiful and wealthy!

A little further along the coast from Bebek is Ortaköy where you will find a small clutch of restaurants and bars on a waterfront piazza alongside the smaller but nonetheless impressive Ortaköy Mosque. The House Cafe is right on the waterfront and serves a good range of western and local specialities.

Local treats:

  • Kebabs
  • Kumpir (Turkish jacket potatos), just be sure you have some to share them with
  • Borek – a cheesy, pastry and spinach delight, this is hard to come by after the 1pm lunch runs
  • Baklava
  • Pide – the Turkish pizza – steaming hot, cheap and filling – meat and vegetarian varieties
  • Islak Burgers or Wet burgers – If you’re feeling brave.
  • Raki – the alcoholic drink of choice – best diluted with a little water and plenty of ice. This is definitely an acquired taste
  • Dondurma – a gluey ice cream available in four flavours, chocolate, strawberry, vanilla and caramel.

Stop at one of the hundreds of local street side cafes throughout the city and be sure to try the numerous varieties of Cay (tea). Apple is the classic choice, just be prepared to leave the sugar out of this cup

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