Istanbul - my best tips for this vibrant City

A series called "Dream Cities in the Middle East" with a blog about one of my favourites: Istanbul. You will get my best tips for attractions, hotels, cafés and restaurants.

Amman, Beirut, Istanbul. Three metropolises that I love.

A wonderful but precarious region.

I have always loved the Middle East. Egypt, Jordan, Israel, the Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. There is so much to see and to do – from culture to adventure, history and beaches. And exotic bazars, delicious food (also for vegetarians)! Also, the climate in winter is very pleasant and you don´t have to fly that long from Central Europe. If there was only political stability in this region! But – let`s leave politics and all the turmoils apart and have a look at three cities which I have visited over the past few years. Amman, Beirut and Istanbul. East meets West. Different cultures and religions clash which is one of the reasons why I like them.

Istanbul - a few good reasons to visit

Well, Turkey. Sad to see how this gorgeous country is currently losing ground with regards to humanity, democracy and freedom. Ethnic problems and the fight against terrorism come on top. 2016 will see another sharp drop in international tourism, a real pity. And there is so much to do and see in this country with its vibrant city of Istanbul, one of the most beautiful in the world. Europe and Asia, Occident and Orient, old traditions and Western lifestyle – this makes up for an exciting mix. And beautiful architecture. Good hotels. Tons of restaurants, shops and nightlife. Ankara is the capital of Turkey but Istanbul remains THE centre in every respect. As a Turkish friend told me – if you want to be SOMEONE, you need to live in Istanbul and no other city. – A nice way to learn more about this city and its history is to read „Istanbul“, written by award-winning Orhan Pamuk, maybe the best-known local.

Grand Mosque in the backdrop
One of the most famous views of Istanbul

Gezi Bosporus Hotel

I have stayed in this nice boutique hotel close the the famous Taksim Square which shortly after my visit became famous since the riots took place there – right in the heart of the city. From here you easily reach most of the city`s spectacular sites. I hardly used any public service or cabs, I found Istanbul walkable and safe (I went there in early 2014). Sure, you must walk down Istiklal Caddesi – a boulevard with beautiful but partly run-down buildings, cafés, restaurants and shops – from kitsch to the unavoidable international brands to designer shops. And people. This street is always crowded, even at night time. Just right for people watching!

Main shopping street in Istanbul
Beautiful buildings on Istiklal Caddesi

Galata Tower - one of the major Sites in Istanbul

From there it is just a short walk down (easy but you may consider to take a cab on your way back if you don`t like to walk up all the time...) to the charming area around the Galata Tower – a 68 m icon which was built by the Genovese in 1348 - yes, this guy is pretty old! Needless to say you should climb this tower (relief – there is a lift) and enjoy the view. You will see this gorgeous city with a 360 degree panorama viewMarmara Sea, Bosphorus, Golden Horn and the hills with the old town. Simply gorgeous. When I was taking my tourist pictures, threatened by a fat seagull trying to get some food, all over sudden the muezzins were calling for the prayer. A chant all over the city – goose bump moments!

A mix of old and new
Galata Tower view from Suleymaniye Hill

Melting Pot Galata

And the Galata neighbourhood is full of surprises. Little boutiques, cafés, vintage shops and interesting architecture. Take your time to stroll around and sip a coffee. Genovese, Jews, Greek and Russians – they were all here long time before you came. Today Galata still is a very exciting melting pot. Love it!

A very interesting neighborhood
Galata Tower and old buildings

Cukurcuma District

Just a short walk away is Cukurcuma (who invented this complicated language??) – again with an interesting mix of old and new and the picturesque restaurant lane Cezayir Sokak which reminded me a bit of Montmartre in Paris. Nice in the evening but desperately crowded.

Many cafés
Street Scene in Istanbul

Shopping in the old bazar

Cross the Galata Bridge, take pictures. Full of fishermen and floundering little fish in buckets – they should get a coup de grâce instead.

If you walk over the bridge, you will see the boats which may take you on a tour. Buy a delicious bagel from one of the street vendors. Admire the Süleymaniye, probably the most beautiful mosque in Istanbul, and visit the old bazar with traditional clothing, jewelry, exotic spices and much more.

Shopping local stuff
The colourful old bazar in Istanbul

Sultan Ahmed - Istanbul´s most popular neighbourhood

Now you are close to the possibly most popular area of Istanbul – Sultan Ahmed with the famous hippodrome (yes, the recent terror attack happened here, so sad). During my stay in February I loved to sip my espresso on a terrace – a bit chilly but sunny. And such a nice and historic area. The Blue Mosque, the Obelisque, the Hagia Sophia and at the end the highlight – the world-famous Topkapi Palace with its beautiful park and an uncomparable view. I could have spent days in this area. Needless to say there is a wide array of restaurants and shops. You may enter the mosques and I recommend to do so. A pretentious decor and devotional believers – after all, you are in a Muslim country with many religious people.

One of the major attractions in Istanbul
The Blue Mosque in Istanbul

A quick visit to Levent

Well, since I am very interested in modern architecture I went to see Levent, the financial district which houses Sapphire of Istanbul and the IsBank Tower, the city`s tallest buildings. Together with a huge and state-of-the-art shopping mall this area could easily be in North America. A nice contrast after all the historic areas and easy to reach by subway.

The modern face of Istanbul
Cool shopping mall in Levent

Istanbul Tips from a Local

Kurban Tuncay, a 28 year old engineer, born and raised in Istanbul. He was kind enough to provide his personal tips which you will find below. Kurban is also a talented photographer - check out his Instagram page:

Not far from Cihangir (see below) you will find Karaköy, recently the most popular district. It is close to the Modern Art Museum. After a long visit of the Modern Art Museum have coffee and a piece of cake in this wonderful neighbourhood.

So picturesque
Coffeeshop in Karaköy - ©Kurban Tuncay

And of course - dont forget to visit Cihangir, the most popular and cosmopolitan district in Istanbul. Beautiful cafés, restaurants, shops, design stores. A lot of Turkish artists, singers, theatre actors and CATS live here - a real bohemian ambiance with all these people (and the cats ;-)).

Istanbul is full of cats
A typical inhabitant in Cihangir - ©Kurban Tuncay

Sit down in the Cihangir Kahvesi and drink Turkish tea under century-old sycamore trees. And for watching an amazing Bosphorus view, go to Cihangir Merdivenleri (upstairs).

Typical Istanbul
Cihangir - ©Kurban Tuncay

No doubt I will go back to Istanbul one day. And I will definitely check out the coffee places recommended by Kurban, can`t wait!

How to get to Istanbul

The new award-winning Istanbul Airport is located on the European side and can be easily accessed by public transport. The distance to downtown Istanbul (Taksim Square) is 40 km. Istanbul Airport can currently be reached from 249 cities in 110 countries. 

How to get around in Istanbul

Istanbul offers a great network of public transportation including buses, subways, train and tram systems. Due to its location on the Bosphorus, ferries and sea buses are also a practical means of transportation - in particular if you wish to go from the European to the Asian side of Istanbul. 

Historic means of transport
Streetcar in Istanbul

Where to sleep in Istanbul

Apart from the Gezi Bosphorus Hotel, I can also recommend the Hilton Istanbul Bosphorus Hotel - a classic 5-star hotel with fantastic views of Istanbul. - More hotel options in Istanbul

One of the best hotels in town
Hilton Istanbul Bosphorus Hotel


One of the famous landmarks in Istanbul
Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul


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