I just turned back home from the beautiful turkish city Istanbul. It was my first trip to Turkey, so I really didn't know what to expect from that multicultural city. We spent 5 nights in the area of Karakoy, which apparently is becoming Istanbul's hotspot.
Istanbul is divided into 3 main areas :
- Eminönü & Fatih
- Beyoglu & Besiktas
- and the asian shore Üsküdar & Kadiköy.
Eminönü & Fatih
Eminönü and Fatih are located in the older part of Istanbul, which is famous for its mosques and lots of historical buildings like Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia. It was the first area I visited on our first day in Istanbul. We spent a whole day on that side of the city, and we could have spend another whole day to check out every corner on the west-side. Among the mosques you will find countless streets filled with markets, the Grand-Bazaar and the famous Spice-Market. At different times a day you will hear the prayers through the speakers who are attached on the mosque's towers. For myself it was the most interesting and unique part of Istanbul, and it's the place where you certainly will feel like a total stranger.
Beyoglu & Besiktas
We stayed at the hotel Grandiva in Karakoy, just across the Galata Bridge at the modern part of Istanbul. In my opinion it was the best spot for a hotel. You could reach the old part of Istanbul within a 10-minutes walk, and it took the same time to reach the Galata Tower. From Galata Tower, it's easy to get to the Istiklal avenue, a super long avenue, which leads to the popular Taksim area.
It felt like, that the modern area had culturally less to offer than Eminönü, but still there was so much to check out: too many restaurants, different spots where nightlife takes place, an endless shopping street, streetfood-stalls, and many historical buildings.
The neighbourhood of the Galata Tower was packed with a diversity of people, the youngsters, the hipsters, the older generation, the hippies. In the evening many people were sitting on the pavement around the tower to chit-chat, and share food & drinks.
While walking down the less attractive Istiklal avenue, you had the choice between hundreds of restaurants, from every price-range. After dinner, we hit the Taksim block, which was filled with quite a diversity of bars and smaller clubs. Arsen Lüpen would be an interesting bar to check out. On thursday nights, they host a jam-session, where everyone can join the stage, to play an instrument or sing with other musicians. No entrance fee, some crazy dancing and lots of fun!
On our second last night in Istanbul, we met a lovely local girl who brought us to the nightlife-heart of Karakoy which is located on Mumhane street and Kemankes street. It was the hippest part we discovered in Istanbul, and i'm pretty sure, the next time I'm gonna visit Istanbul again, this will be the place I'm going to hang out every night! It's the most attractive nightlife spot, and it's packed with too many beautiful people.
At the Grandiva Hotel we had the chance to get delicious breakfast in the morning. However if you miss the breakfast-hour, check out the Güney restaurant next to Galata Tower. It offers a variety of typical turkish breakfasts, for an affordable price of course! And you get taken care of by some turkish hipsters :).
On our third day we planned walking towards the Bosphorus Bridge, but it was just too far away from out hotel. At the first ferryboat station, we decided to buy a ticket to get to the asian side of Istanbul faster. As a total stranger in Istanbul, we didn't thought about carrying our passport.
We opted to check out one of the 9 princes' islands. Büyükada is the biggest one. A ferry ticket to the big island was around 6 turkish liras [2 euro, 3 us$]. A bargain! But we didn't know it would take us 2 hours to reach the island! 2 hours with too many people aboard, and we got a free sunburn. If you get the chance to catch a direct ferry from Istanbul to Büyükada or the other way around, it will still take you an hour at least.
Different travel-websites recommended to visit at least one of the islands, and considered Büyükada and Adalar as a must-see. I wouldn't recommend the island of Büyükada to anyone. It definitely was a beautiful place. So many beautiful victorian houses, no cars allowed on the island, lots of nature and parks, and great views of the ocean. But that was all it had to offer. The pier-area, where you get off the ferry, is packed with too many tourists, and every shop-owners wants you to buy food, drinks, and just any kind of presents. Once you get out of that mass of people, you're slowly walking into the silent streets of the city.
But there are just too many horse-carriages on the streets of Büyükada. The constant noise of the horse-shoes ruins the vibe of the island. Most restaurants look very touristic, most people you will walk by will be tourists, and the shops are tourist-traps as well.
If you love hiking or if you are into floral photography, it's definitely a place to check out. If you prefer the city life and hunting for must-see-spots of Istanbul, I wouldn't recommend you "Büyükada".
My thoughts about Istanbul
To be honest, the first 48 hours, I didn't have the feeling of being welcomed by the turkish people, especially the turkish men. It wasn't as bad as in Moscow, but still I had mixed feelings for Istanbul. Most of the men were unfriendly, not helpful towards tourists, some bumped into you without apologizing, even at the bars or restaurants, there was barely no communication. You could hardly notice a smile on their faces.
Things changed when we went out at night. Different hours, different people. It was quite easy to get into conversations with the locals. Especially with girls. Most of the women & girls, religious or non-religious, were super friendly, and totaly helpful. They showed us different places in the city, and introduced us to the turkish cuisine: turkish coffe followed by a coffee-ground-clairvoyance, the delicious streetfood mussels, turkish Ayran [iced water, yogurt, salt], and other turkish street food specialties.
We met many lovely turkish people! And during my last hours in Turkey, when we headed back to the airport, I felt like I needed to get back to Istanbul very soon! There's still so much to discover, so many turkish dishes to check out, and too many lovely Turks to meet.
- The taxi-ride from Atatürk airport to the Galata Bridge takes about 35 to 45 minutes, and costs around 50-60 turkish liras [20 euros, 24 us$].
- Food is cheap. Booze isn't. A menu at a touristic restaurant [entree & main dish] with water and a glass of wine mostly costs around 20-30 euros [26-34 us$]. Longdrinks costs 25 turkish liras [7-9 euros, 10-11us$]. Cheapest drinks would be water, softdrinks and beer.
- A single ticket for the tram-ride in the city center costs 4 TL [1.3 euros, 2us$]
- A one-way ferry ticket costs around 4-6 TL.