If you’ve already done the mainstream tour of Istanbul, including major sights like the Hagia Sophia and Topkapı Palace, it’s time to spend some time among the locals. Check out our tips for a unique day in Istanbul’s popular neighbourhoods.
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Start out the day in the bohemian Cihangir neighborhood, popular with both artists and expats. Datlı Maya specializes in traditional Anatolian recipes made with fair trade and sustainable resources. For breakfast, indulge in a homemade simit (sesame bagel), three different kinds of cheese, zahter powder from Antakya, olives from all over Turkey and varieties of oregano marinated in cold-pressed olive oil from Ida Mountain, alongside fresh tomatoes, peppers and cucumber.
From Cihangir, it’s a short walk to reach the Çukurcuma neighbourhood, known for its many antique shops. One popular store is A La Turca, an old Istanbul home filled with antique carpets, textiles, chairs, ceramics, furniture and artworks that all seem to exude a regal air.
A visit to the Çukurcuma neighborhood would not be complete without visiting the museum of Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk. Based on his novel of the same name, The Museum of Innocence is a collection of poignant antiques from the 1970s that not only tell the story of forlorn love but also of an entirely different era in Turkey. If you’ve read the book, you’ll happily recognize the details in every display; if not, you’ll still be mesmerized by the glimpse into 1970s Istanbul.
If you head down the hill from Çukurcuma, you’ll come upon one of Istanbul’s coolest neighborhoods right by the Bosphorus. What used to be one of the city’s most important ports and centres of commerce is now a collection of trendy cafés and boutiques, as well as a few hidden historic churches and schools. Make sure to drop by Bey Karaköy for some Scandinavian aesthetic-inspired menswear and Mae Zae to purchase jewelry, clothing and accessories by some of Turkey’s best designers.
At this point, you’ve probably begun to feel your appetite spike once more, so head into Karaköy Lokantası (the neighborhood’s best restaurant) to eat some classic Turkish home cooking in a very modern atmosphere. One must-try dish is the hunker beğendi composed of slow-cooked lamb cubes over a bed of smoky and cheesy eggplant purée.
Now that you’ve satiated your appetite, you can make your way across the Galata Bridge, a very opportune time to shoot some memorable photos of Istanbul’s idiosyncratic skyline. Watch the fisherman try their luck as well as the ferries that glide by at every hour of the day.
Once you’ve made it to the other side, it’s time to explore one of Istanbul’s lesser-known but tremendously historic neighborhoods. Stroll down the Golden Horn and enjoy the view before you make your way into Balat/Fener, marked by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, also known as the Church of St. George. From there, you can explore the historic neighborhood, which used to be populated by the city’s bourgeoisie Greek Orthodox families. Check out our neighbourhood guide to make the best of your visit.
To end your beautiful day in Istanbul, drop by Agora Meyhanesi, one of the city’s oldest taverns, open since 1890. The Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Turkmen and Zaza chefs in the kitchen are the reason behind a menu that is not only eclectic but also excellent every single time.