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16.09.2019

A local's travel guide to Istanbul

First time travelling to a big city where you don’t speak the language can be intimidating, but Turkish people are well known for communicating with their hands, gestures and very frequently, çay (tea). 

But if you are ambitious about saying more than Hello (Merhaba) and Goodbye (Güle güle), then read 15 Essential Turkish Phrases for Travellers. 

We hear this question frequently from travellers: is it safe to travel to Istanbul? 

To answer it once and for all: it isn’t any more dangerous than other big cities. Don’t flash your cash or try to break up drunk fights and you’ll be fine. Besides, travelling from London to Istanbul is incredibly easy with direct flights from Heathrow, Gatwick, and Stansted. 

Read more about things to do in Istanbul and how to use public transport in Istanbul on our Istanbul Guide

Istanbul is where East and West collide 

Embracing both Europe and Asia, Istanbul truly is one of the best cities you can visit. It boasts ancient Roman, Greek, Venetian and Ottoman history, which is visible to the eye with the incredible buildings that remain as their legacy. 

Istanbul owes its incredible architecture to these empires and its cultural diversity to the merchants from all around the world who decided Istanbul was the greatest city to be in, in the 14th century (possibly today as well!) 

So once you check Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, Süleymaniye Mosque, Sultan Ahmed Mosque and more incredible places off your list, you should go where Istanbul’s locals are. 

Read our local’s travel guide to Istanbul to discover the best places to go in Istanbul. 

Where to eat in Istanbul 

Food is definitely the first thing that comes to mind when talking about travelling to Turkey. If you are travelling from London to Istanbul, you are probably familiar with some great Turkish restaurants serving kebab, doner, soup and perhaps, mantı. However, the food in Istanbul is different and incredibly diverse as Turkey has many different regions with different ingredients. 

How to find vegan and vegetarian food in Istanbul 

Many ‘esnaf lokantas’ will have cheap and delicious food including various vegetable dishes. Locals who work in the area visit these smaller buffet style restaurants that offer many choices of homemade food during lunchtime. 

If you are looking for something with a cozier setting, try: Zencefil in Taksim, Vegan Community Kitchen Cafe in Taksim, Dün in Moda or 700gr in Moda. 

Best desserts to try in Istanbul: 

People are crazy about baklava, and the best baklava in Istanbul is made by Güllüoğlu in Karaköy. Established in the 1800s, the family business started when Güllü Çelebi went to Damascus and Aleppo to learn more about making baklava. When he returned, he set up the business and his family has been making this delicious dessert ever since. 

If you are a chocolate lover, visit Asuman in Moda to indulge in incredible desserts with melted chocolate and a selection of artisan chocolate. 

For a larger selection of desserts, you can go to Baylan in Kadıköy. 

Where to eat fish and meze in Istanbul 

Turks like to say ‘I’d eat my father if he was caught in the sea!’ (meaning, you would literally eat any kind of seafood). So you should definitely experience the most Istanbulite thing to do: drink rakı, have meze and seafood with friends on a weekend. 

We recommend to Akın Balık in Karaköy, Asmalı Cavit in Beyoğlu or Suna’nın Yeri in Üsküdar to eat fish and meze in Istanbul. 

Bonus recommendations for best places to eat in Istanbul: Çiya Restaurant (as seen on Netflix series Chef’s Table) and Limonlu Bahçe

Street Food in Istanbul 

Don’t forget to snack on all the good street food in Istanbul found mainly in Beyoğlu and Ortaköy area: midye dolma (stuffed mussels), roasted chestnuts, simit (sesame bagels), ıslak hamburger (wet burger), kumpir (jacket potato) and kokoreç. 

What to see in Istanbul 

You should visit Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, Grand Bazaar, and Blue Mosque of course, but what about the places where the real, living local stories hide? 

Salt Galata 

Ara Güler Museum 

Street Art in Istanbul (In Karaköy, Kadıköy, Sarıyer) 

- Sahaf (Second hand bookshops, in Kadıköy and Beyoğlu)  

Kadıköy Tuesday market 

Where to stay in Istanbul 

It’s better to avoid certain neighbourhoods in Istanbul, and if you like mixing with the locals, you should avoid Sultanahmet area as well. Although it’s a central area that’s close to most of the historical buildings, you would explore the Turkish lifestyle much better in the following neighbourhoods: Galata, Karaköy, Kadıköy, Beşiktaş, Ortaköy or Beyoğlu. 

What to do in Istanbul 

Going out in Istanbul is especially fun if there is an event on. These can be found usually on Facebook or on Turkey’s biggest online ticket service website biletix.com

Music venues in Istanbul 

Salon IKSV organises great culture, art and entertainment events in Istanbul. 

Zorlu Center hosts theatre, arts, dance events and more. You can also view Zorlu tickets on Resident Advisor. 

Babylon is another great music venue in Istanbul hosting disco, techno and alternative music events. 

Bars in Istanbul 

Kadıköy, Moda: Zeplin, Arka Oda, Fil 

Taksim, Karaköy: Peyote, Jolly Joker, Fosil, Raw 

Bebek: Backbar, Alexandra Cocktail Bar, Ayı 

Bonus: Enjoy rooftop views in Balkon Restaurant & Bar and Arsen Lüpen

There is something new to do in Istanbul every day, so don’t just follow the tourist crowd but mix in with the locals. People in Turkey love meeting foreigners, and making friends would come easy! We wish you an incredible trip. 

If you are after cheap flight tickets from London to Istanbul, contact our office on (0208) 661 1805.