A wealthy city excursion includes both unique sites and well-known classics. From soaking in the beauties of Sultanahmet to trying your hand at Turkey’s world-renowned glass art, Culture Trip has put up a list of things to do in Istanbul.
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See Sultanahmet and the Old City
The Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern, and the Blue Mosque, among Istanbul’s most famous historical sites, are located in Sultanahmet Square. The entrance of the Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s largest covered bazaars with over 4,000 shops selling everything from rugs to jewellery and more, is about a 10-minute walk from this plaza. Sellers offering traditional Turkish foods such as freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, simit (a circular bread typically covered in sesame seeds), and roasted water chestnut can be found all through the plaza. Sultanahmet Koftecisi, a restaurant serving delicious grilled kofte since the 1920s, is just a short walk from Hagia Sophia (meatballs). Plan your sightseeing in the Old City very early in the morning to avoid the crowds and lines that build outside significant attractions. Escaping the groups in the high season, which runs from the end of May to the end of August, is an excellent reason to visit in the spring or fall.
Get to know hipster Istanbul.
Get to know the hipper side of Istanbul by getting lost in the labyrinth alleyways of the city’s up-and-coming neighbourhoods after you’ve seen all the significant landmarks. Take the metro to Osmanbey (one stop from Taksim) and walk to Teşvikiye, placed right behind the Teşvikiye Mosque. Petra Topagaci, a local favourite with a chic Parisian vibe, serves superb third-wave coffee and homemade chocolates. Visit the Milli Reasürans Art Gallery to see work by local painters and photographers, and then spend the evening at Efendi Bar, where Istanbulites meet for an after-work cocktail or to kick off the weekend. If you want to visit Teşvikiye on a weekday and sit at one of the cafés that line the streets, go on a weekday. On weekends (especially when the atmosphere is pleasant), the entire area is packed and getting a seat is challenging. So, apply for a turkey e visa.
Check out a contemporary gallery.
The art scene in Istanbul has moved away from the city centre to more commercial areas such as Dolapdere and Mecidiyeköy. Visit Dirimart Dolapdere, a modern art gallery in a 1,000-square-meter (10,765-square-foot) space built by Markus Dochantschi (founded Studio MDA in New York). Then head to the Mecidiyeköy neighbourhood to take a look at Pilevneli’s newest gallery, an exhilarating avant-garde structure designed by French architect Robert Mallet-Stevens and commissioned by Mustafa Atatürk, Turkey’s first president. The structure was destroyed in 2012 and is now reconstructed in its original aesthetic. Houses some of the top contemporary art shows in the city.
Head to Princes’ Islands
Take a ferry to the Princes’ Islands, which are just a short distance from Istanbul. You may visit the more laid-back island of Burgazada instead of the always-bustling, the more oversized island of Büyükada, where most travellers go, to avoid the holiday crowds. Most Burgazada’s residents were initially city people who left their jobs to start companies on the island. Have a cup of coffee at Four Letter Word Coffee and then visit the concept store 3 Things on an Island, which sells locally manufactured goods and is right next door to the coffee shop. In the summer, go to Burgazada and swim in Madam Marta Koyu, a quiet cove on the other side of the island where inhabitants like to sunbathe on the beach and even camp.
Explore Turkish gastronomy
From little backstreet cafés serving up the best regional dishes from all Turkey to fine dining and more modern versions of classics by up-and-coming chefs, Istanbul’s gastronomy scene is varied. Take a cooking class at Cookistan in the multi-ethnic Kurtuluş neighbourhood to learn how to make Turkish food. Ingredients can be purchased at some of the area’s oldest markets, including three Saturday-only organic bazaars. You’ll get a hands-on lesson in preparing six different dishes once you’ve collected your ingredients. Following that, indulge in a communal dinner of home-cooked dishes accompanied by raki (a popular anise-flavoured alcoholic drink). Turkish Flavours, which offers casual cooking sessions with experienced locals in their own homes, is another popular venue for a cooking class in Istanbul. Students work together to prepare traditional Turkish dishes, which they share over a meal accompanied by Turkish wines. Turkish Flavours also conducts Istanbul Food Walks, which take visitors through the city’s top gourmet markets and shops for an authentic flavour of Istanbul.
Create world-renowned Turkish glass art
The Istanbul Glass Oven is a cultural centre dedicated solely to glass art. The centre is the country’s largest and best-equipped, and it hosts frequent workshops. It is located in a tranquil haven by the Riva River. The Turks were once known worldwide for their glasswork, which flourished during Ottoman rule in the 16th century. Today, this heritage can be seen in galleries, bazaars, and the work of local artists all around Istanbul. You may learn about the whole process of creating glass art at the Glass Furnace, from the basics of how hot glass is made in a furnace to making colourful beads out of glass that can be used as jewellery or creating glass animals through flameworking. Both beginners and experienced artists are welcome.
Enjoy some live music.
The music culture in Istanbul represents the city’s wide cultural makeup, and Babylon has long been the city’s most important local music venue. Despite leaving its prominent position in the heart of Beyoglu, they continue to present some of the best concerts in their new (and larger) location Babylon Bomonti. They usually showcase Istanbul artists such as psychedelic ensemble Baba Zula and vocalist Gaye Su Akyol, housed in a restored beer factory.
Discover the city’s street art
Anyone who has walked down Istiklal Street has probably noticed the numerous paintings on the walls. One of the reasons the city’s street art scene is thriving is the annual Graffiti Istanbul Festival. Local and international artists can paint building-high paintings across the city because the group cooperates with the government. On the Asian side, the enormous Painted Istanbul pieces can be found in Yeldeirmeni, whereas on the European side, they can be found in Sawyer. Look for local artist Leo Lunatic’s renowned panda bear, Max on Duty’s colourful cats, and Croatian artist Lonac’s image of a young woman sitting in contemplation. Street Art Istanbul is a helpful app that will guide you through beautiful art.
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