Istanbul is a bustling and vibrant city in Turkey. It is the only city in the world that lies in two continents, in both Asia and Europe. It has a rich history being part of the Ottoman Empire and now a tourist hot spot. Istanbul is comprised of different districts that can almost feel like little cities in themselves.
There really is an endless amount of things to do and see, it is really impossible to list them all. I was lucky enough to stay with the most amazing family through an exchange program through http://www.workaway.com which I highly recommend for an exciting travel experience that gives you an opportunity to stay with locals and save on expenses. I was so lucky to get to go and see places that only locals would know. I had some of the most amazing meals and always in awe of Istanbul’s skyline.
I want to note that I never felt unsafe in this city or anywhere I went in the country. The people are friendly, the food is amazing and the landscape is truly something so unique and special. Do not let the media exaggeration stop you from experiencing somewhere as special as Turkey.
As I previously said there is simply too many places to see to list here but I will tell you some of the best areas and places to see in Istanbul, Turkey.
Galata Tower is located in the Karaköy area of Istanbul, near the famous Taksim Square. It is a medieval tower designed for military purpose. It stands at 9 stories and 220 feet high. It is now a well known landmark in the city. You can go up to the town and walk around the top for amazing views. You do not need to book ahead to go up, but most of the time you will find a queue to go up. If there is a wait, it is worth it to see at least once.
The Black Sea
The Black Sea is a great place to head to for some relaxation and great seafood. It is also a great escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. There are many different areas that you can to go along the black see to enjoy some sandy beaches and good restaurants. I was lucky to get to join the family I stayed with for a few meals on the Asian side of Istanbul near the black sea, but there are also spots on the Europe side to enjoy as well. If you are a nature lover or just want a change of scenery, this is a great place to go. You may not see this in most travel guides, but it is definitely with seeing in my opinion.
This is probably the most popular neighborhood in the city as it is home to the most well known landmarks of Istanbul. Also close by this area is the famous Grand Bazaar, which is also worth a walk through.
Hagia Sofia & Blue Mosque
The Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque are two other historical must see landmarks in the city. The great news is they are also right across from each other, making them easy to see at the same time. To me, there is something magical about both of these structures. In photos they look amazing, but setting my eyes on the Blue Mosque in person really had me in awe. I honestly enjoy the outside look of it even more than the inside. The inside is also worth seeing, it got its name for the blue tiled walls in the interior. The Hagia Sofia is also impressive. The Hagia Sofia came from the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. It was first constructed as a church, then into a mosque and now it is a historical museum. Both of these structures are stunning, don’t miss them during your visit. I suggest going during the weekday and in the mornings. The blue mosque is closed during some times of the day because of prayer. Also to note, in the blue mosque women must cover their hair, bring a scarf with you.
The Basilica Cistern is also right around the corner from the blue mosque and Hagia Sofia. It is also worth having a look at. It is a cistern that was built beneath the street. It was built during the 6th century. It was previously used to be a provider of water for the palace and other places in the city. Large beams were built to support it. The low lighting and eery feel make it a great walk through and good for capturing some photos.
Ortaköy is a neighborhood on the European side of Istanbul. The highlight of this area is a beautiful mosque on the edge of the Bosphorous. There are also many markets, teahouses, restaurants and shops to wander around in this area. It is a great place by day and where you will find most of the well known night clubs come alive at night.
I did not spend a lot of time in Kadıköy, but the short time I did I really like the vibe here. It is a residential neighborhood on the Asian side of the city. Here you can also find cute boutiques, hip cafes & bars, and a great place for Anatolian food. There are also great views across the Marmara sea, where you can see the Blue mosque in the Skyline across the distance. It is a more artsy and eclectic area
This is a great area near the Bosphorus next to the Galata Bridge. Here you can wander through the spice market. Another mosque is home to this area, it is called Süleymaniye. You will also find some good eateries here, cafes, and shops to look through. The Galata Bridge is also worth walking over, giving you awesome views of the city.
This is the area right below Galata and Taksim square. Besiktas is another great area in Istanbul with many things to do. It is filled with cute cafes, restaurants and pubs. There are several universities nearby, which makes this place really come alive at night time. Wander down the side streets to find many bars and restaurants with curbside seating and a great ambiance.
Unfortunately I did not quite make it to this area myself, but many of the locals did recommend checking out this part of the city. It is not far from the Galata Tower. You actually just keep walk down hill from the Galata area to find it., it is just to the left of the Galata Bridge. It is a great place to kick back with a beer at the bars or have some Shish-a.
Balat has become a very popular neighborhood for locals and tourists alike. It is one of those places in Istanbul that is perfect for some instagram worthy shots. Balat Istanbul is iconic with its pastel painted houses that line the cobblestone streets. There are also cute cafes, restaurants and little shops to enjoy as you wander through this cute neighborhood in Istanbul.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of the best areas in and things to do in Istanbul. Istanbul is such a vibrant city with so much to offer. I have included some of the main attractions here but my advice is to wander the side streets of Istanbul to find great food, cute cafes, street art and a glimpse of all the local life. Istanbul is also a very diverse city giving such a wide variety of things to do and see. Istanbul is one of my favorite cities I have visited and I know it will be yours too.
by Courtney Brady