Now may not be the best time to write posts about Turkey, given the situation in the region, but Istanbul is on the must-see list for many people, so I’m just going to list out my top ten. Disclaimer: I am not going to mention night clubs, and partying because that’s not my area of expertise. This list is in reverse order of preference (I like saving the best for the last).
10. Taksim Square: No matter what time of the night it was, this place was bustling and alive. I don’t know how the vibe of the place is right now, but while I was there in May it was just brilliant to watch.
9. Public Transport: I love it when the public transport system in a city is easy to use and well connected. I loved the street trains that took you to all corners of Istanbul. It was great fun to explore the city with them.
8. The Blue Mosque: You’re going to read reams and reams about this from elsewhere, but let me just add my two cents and say you definitely must check it out.
7. Restaurants under the Galata Bridge: When you walk by the Galata brige during the day, you will see people taking time off to fish. And then under the bridge, you’ll get accosted by servers from the numerous restaurants. The way they were lined up, I think you should just go and eat at the one that gives you the best deal, because I’m fairly sure most of them had the same owner / kitchen! Eating on the banks of the river is pretty awesome though.
6. Street Food: There is no point spending money in restaurants in Turkey. The street food is way better than anything else you’re likely to get at a restaurant. Turkish pizza (called pide), is quite yummy and you can get the plain cheese version or the one with all kinds of meats thrown onto it. And of course, there are the kebabs too.
5. Turkish Hamams: At some point I will dedicate a whole other post to the hamam experience, but at this time all I will say is, put aside your modesty and try it out. You’ll come out feeling more squeaky clean and relaxed than you’ve felt in a long while.
4. Ayran: This may just be my Middle East upbringing, but if you’ve not tried Ayran, you should. Nothing beats a cold glass of buttermilk on a hot day. You are going to get more sight seeing done if you take the time out to drink some of this!
3. Nargile: Istanbul is filled with cafes that have Nargile, the water pipe. If you’re with friends, I’d strongly recommend spending some time catching up over Nargile and hot Turkish tea. Before you know it, the afternoon would have passed by and it will be dinner time.
2. The Bosphorous Cruise: Before I went to Turkey a friend of mine told me that if there is one thing I must do there, it’s to go on this cruise, and boy was he right! The cruise is beautiful and you get to see a lot of the sights too. Also, if someone tells you to go to Princes Islands, give it a miss because it’s extremely crowded and not worth the trip.
1. Basilica Cistern: This is hands down the best thing I saw in Turkey. The effect of the lights over water underground is surreal and just beautiful. As a bonus, you get to see a statue of Medusa (if, like me, you’ve spent half your life being compared to her, it’s fun to stand next to the signboard that says ‘Medusa’ with the arrow pointing to you).
I must end by saying that while Istanbul is a great city, it still wasn’t the best place I visited in Turkey. So if you decide to plan a trip, make sure you go beyond Istanbul, and explore more of the country (and hopefully, I will get around to posting my favorites from the other parts of Turkey too).