“I always feel like Istanbul has its own rhythm. Try to listen to the city when you go there. You will definitely hear a melody either a chuckle of a kid, a salesman shouting, or some music from a cafe.” For the purposes of my trip and this post, sound advice, tips and suggestions for things to do came from a fellow Souldier, Gökcen Tuncer, who is a Turkey native currently living & studying in Sweden.
Over a delicious vegetarian dinner in St. Petersburg, a new friend was explaining how the truth can be revealed but never explained. Because every experience is so personal and unique to each individual, the only way to fully understand and appreciate what someone is talking about is by doing, seeing, tasting, touching, and smelling it for yourself.
This immediately made such clear sense the minute I set foot in Istanbul. The city is a treat for all 5 senses, and although I will do my best to try and convey my experiences, the only way you’ll understand what I felt and loved about the city is to see it and live within it’s realm for yourself.
Straddled between two continents, there is certainly a middle eastern presence thriving within European flavored architecture. The mixture makes for an incredible ambiance that I don’t know can be found anywhere else in the world.
My time in Istanbul was spent completely alone. So far, everywhere I’ve been, I’ve hung out/seen the sites with new friends I’ve made in hostels, but I knew Istanbul was special. It was a city I wanted to be completely alone with and get to know on my own terms.
When you go to Grand Bazaar, don’t let the salesmen trick you. That Bazaar is quite nice but expensive for both Turks and tourists. Always know what you’re paying for, and don’t pay more money for something than you think it’s worth. Tourists are conditioned to pay face value for souvenirs, gifts, and the like, but Turkey is a country that loves to bargain. Also, when you go, always take note of where you are because the Grand Bazaar is like Ikea in the sense that you won’t get out if you don’t know where you’re going.
Turkish boys are casanovas. They are funny and sweet, but love to be casanovas so try not to get hypnotized by their handsome looks.
The metro is the safest form of transportation as well as the shuttle buses to/from the airports. Given the crazy traffic at all hours of the day, it’s best to avoid using the taxis to save money, time and nerves. As a solo female traveler, it’s fine to walk around on your own as there are people on the streets at all hours of the day. Do take the necessary precautions, and if at any point you feel unsafe, stay in public places and don’t be afraid to ask someone to walk you back to wherever you’re going.
All of that being said, because Istanbul is such a crowded city, ALWAYS keep an eye on your purse or belongings.
Istanbul is a food-centric city. Nearly everything I found, from Turkish and Mediterranean to American and Italian, was cheap, delicious, and healthy. As you know, it can be rare to find food that accomplishes all 3 of those things.
Among the things you must try include kebabs, Shisha/Hookah (Nargile in Turkish), baklava, Turkish coffee, and stuffed mussels. You can find varieties of all those things on Istiklal Street which is the main drag that extends up to Taksim Square and down to the Galata Tower and Galata Bridge. A few more things to add to the list are tea, gelato, and fruit from the fruit stands.
In the middle of Istiklal Street, there is a bakery called İnci Pastanesi (Pearl Patisserie), and it is one of the oldest places in Istanbul. They only produce profiterole, and quite frankly, you can’t go wrong with a dessert like that.
Do not leave without trying Sultanahmet Meatballs in the historical peninsula, chicken pudding at Kismet Muhallebicisi per the recommendation of Jodi over at Legal Nomads, or a massive Turkish breakfast at Namli Gurme Karakoy which includes several types of white and yellow cheese, vegetables, omelets, and olives.
Turkish people are some of the nicest and most welcoming I’ve ever met. According to Gökcen, if they like you, the first thing they will ask you will be if you want tea. As I’ve noticed, the whole city are coffee and tea addicts, and they love to hug. The apple tea, in particular, is my favorite.
Even though the men can be pushy, forward, and smile like they have a hidden agenda, it didn’t phase me. Their approach and attitude didn’t differ much from anything you could experience from American men. Turkish women, on the other hand, will treat you like family, granted that you treat them with respect, kindness, and attempt to speak their language. The way they interact with one another is so sweet and endearing and something to be admired.
Picking a taxi driver can be like playing roulette. You never know what you’re going to get. One minute they could be sweet and helpful, the next they could be grumpy con men. Sometimes they are so nice that they never stop talking and sometimes they can be too grumpy if the distance that you want to travel is too short. They can drive like maniacs, and it’s important to settle on a price before you get in so you don’t end up losing more money than expected.
It is widely known that Turks love to bargain. It’s almost like a sport, and maybe men use their suspicious smiles and sweet talkin’ to get more money out of you. Don’t fall for it. Always bargain, negotiate for a better price. It IS possible to beat the Turks at their own game.
It’s fairly common to see kids walking the busy streets trying to sell you water or souvenirs. It’s a brilliant marketing tactic because you can’t say no to their innocence. The kids are just as devious as their parents, but you can’t help but love it.
Things to Do
- Visit the Galata Tower
- Go the the observatory deck of the Sapphire Tower, standing 236 meters tall with a 360 degree view of Istanbul
- Take a ferry out to Princes Islands and spend the day exploring
- Visit the small shops and markets of Ortaköy where you can enjoy ice cream on the water. Ortaköy is an old district on the European side and it means Middle Village in English.
- Take the Bosphorus tour by boat from Ortaköy
- Beat the heat by spending a day indoors at the Istanbul Modern Art Museum
- Find shopping and cheap eats on Istiklal Street. There is a historical tram passing through Istiklal that is fun to ride, if you have time.
- Taksim Square
- Take a tour of the Dolmabahce palace
- Basilica Cistern
- Walk around Istanbul University
- Test your bargaining skills out at the Grand Bazaar
- Take a tour of Topkapi Palace and Bukoleon Palace
- Put your camera to work at the Spice market(s)
- Visit the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Suleymaniye Mosque
- Dare to try a Turkish bath
The most famous Turkish baths include:
Entrance fees cost around 20-40 Euros, and if you want a peeling and/or a massage, you’re looking at 50+ Euros.
After consulting my Lonely Planet book and Gökcen’s suggestions of things to do, I realized that I had not booked enough time in Istanbul although I did manage to see almost everything on the European side. Spending 1.5 weeks in Istanbul was merely scraping the surface, but I can already understand why the many female travel bloggers before me are so charmed by this city. I know that it is certainly a place I will be visiting many times in my life.