As devastating as it was to hear of the initial surge of Covid-19 related deaths in China a few months ago, I never did expect it to become a global pandemic that would significantly alter our lives for the forseeable future. It’s honestly indescribably awful to hear of deaths day in and day out, as well as watch nations struggle to cope with the unending pressure to make the right choices. It’s the main reason I didn’t really want to post about trivial things like food and travel, because, you know, firstly there’s a lot on people’s minds that are more important, and secondly, we can’t really go anywhere anyway. However, now that it’s clear this thing is around to stay for a little while, I feel as though posting for the sake of producing much needed light hearted content, especially for activity inspiration when this is all over, isn’t really the worst idea. Also, I’m going borderline insane from boredom and miss writing on here.
At the start of February (before the crisis took hold of Europe), I went to Istanbul with Chris, my boyfriend and main travel buddy, and although I would recommend going during a warmer season (April to September), we were quite lucky in that it was 14oC with blue skies for most of our trip. Though there is definitely a lot to cover in a city that sits both in Europe and Asia, I decided it would be useful to collate a list of 10 things you absolutely must do and see whilst at Istanbul, containing both mainstream and off the beaten track activities. Enjoy!
- Have a full Turkish breakfast at Lavender Kafe
I’m not really a breakfast person, but Turkey can make anyone a breakfast person because it’s more akin to a feast. Try the full breakfast works at the adorable Lavender Kafe near the Galata Tower: it has an excellent selection for a more than reasonable price. Trust me on this one.
2. Climb the Galata Tower
Providing an excellent panoramic view of Istanbul, as well as a great insight into its history, this tower is definitely a must see. Make sure to get there very early as queues can be quite ridiculous in peak season!
3. Visit the Hagia Sofia Mosque
Built around 536AD, this gorgeous mosque has gone through centuries of architectural tweaks and it really shows. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jesus in the glass stained windows of a mosque covered in Arabic prayers dedicated to Allah! Definitely worth a quick visit.
4. Taste some amazing Turkish desserts at Hafiz Mustafa
Turkey is well known for its desserts (ehem, baklava) and Hafiz Mustafa has every conceivable dessert known to the country, from the famous Kahramanmaras ice-cream to Kaymakli Ekmek, Asure and Kunefe. If you love sweet treats, you’ll definitely find one (or ten) thing that tickles your fancy on the 20-odd page menu.
5. Delve into the Basicila Cistern
The largest of numerous cisterns beneath Istanbul, and a location used in the 1963 James Bond film From Russia With Love, the Basilica Cistern is an architectural feat and a perfect spot for all the history buffs. 10 points to anyone who can get a photo that isn’t stupidly blurry from the poor lighting.
6. Try Shisha at Harabbe Cafe
There are hundreds of Shisha places across the city, but one kitsch place stands far above them all. Tucked in the back of an alley, this little haven has an amazing selection of food, drinks and shisha flavours, and offers both an outdoor and indoor seating area laden with cushions and edgy decorative features.
7. Wander around Topkapi Palace
I’ve seen a lot of impressive palaces on my travels, with ones in Venice and Tokyo really standing out, and wasn’t expecting to be blown away whilst in the taxi to Topkapi. Boy, was I wrong. After walking through the numerous gates, I was shocked to see such stunning buildings and landscaping perched against the Bhospurus watefront. As if the grounds weren’t beautiful enough, the interior design was some of the most magnificent I have ever seen. You aren’t really allowed to take pictures in there, so I couldn’t get many photos, but I’m sure there are more dotted about online.
8. Cruise on the Bosphurus
Even if you have nowhere specific to go, hopping onto any of the routes (for as cheap as 50p per way) across this vast sea is definitely a treat, especially because most boats serve tea on board! Buy some ice-cream beforehand, or simply have a nice cuppa and enjoy the view.
9. Go shopping on Istiklal Street
Rivalling Oxford Street and 5th Avenue in length, Istiklal Street is a long, long, street. But hey, long walks aren’t all that painful when filled with copius amounts of stores and restaurants to visit! Besides, there’s a cute albeit useless tram to look at on the way..
10. Chomp a famous kebab delicacy at Hamdi Usta
You could fall over and accidentally land on the doorstep of a kebab joint pretty much anywhere in Turkey, but one place that really stayed with me was Hamdi Usta on the Uskudar watefront (with a great view of the Kiz Kulesi by the way). Although a little annoying to get to, I recommend making the trip as it serves the one and only Cökertme Doner: tender lamb doner served on a bed of straw fries and baba ghanoush. They have quite a few delectable variations, as well as the standard kebabs you might expect at a Turkish restaurant. My pictures don’t do it justice, since I just wanted to eat immediately, but hey, you win some, you lose some.