Have you ever wondered why people return to Istanbul time and again, even after they’ve seen the big sights like Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque? Istanbul is far more than the tourist attractions, as amazing as those places are. It’s no wonder that the European Union named Istanbul a “Capital of Culture,” with its melding of Ottoman memories and new European trends into a unique, multifaceted city.
You’ll find chic boutiques next to bohemian cafes from over 100 years ago and ancient architecture mixed with fabulous modern structures like the Şakirin Mosque in Üsküdar.
There is less distinction today between the Asian and European sides of the city, as both locals and visitors hop back and forth to take advantage of the best of all worlds.
In addition to checking out our blog post on customs in Istanbul, like the food, that make the city so attractive, read on to learn a bit more about the “real” Istanbul from a typical resident’s perspective.
The Waterfront is the Place to Be
It’s not just visitors to Istanbul who seek out the best views; locals love to find the perfect spot to take in a panoramic vista of their city. One of the best ways to do this is from the waterfront.
Locals love to sail the Bosphorus, and you too can take a cruise to see the city from the water. Another way to get a Bosphorus view is to take a tip from the locals and use one of the dozens of Istanbul ferries to avoid car traffic during the city’s busiest hours.
For a more tranquil approach, try settling for an afternoon or evening in one of the city’s many waterfront cafes. Whether it’s a fish restaurant or a teahouse under the Galata Bridge, you’ll find plenty of area residents lounging, conversing and soaking up the golden-pink glow of sunset.
If you’re a meanderer, the Bebek neighborhood is a perfect place to start a walk along the Bosphorus. You can stroll to the Rumelihisarı fortress and open-air museum, browse in bookstores and sweet shops and people watch to your heart’s content — just like the locals.
We Love to Stop to Eat and Drink
Of course, all that walking builds up an appetite, and the people of Istanbul have stopping for a snack or small meal down to a science. Other than throughout the month of Ramadan, when it’s not polite to people who are fasting to eat in public during the day, you can find hundreds of street vendors and small shops offering any kind of treat you want, from fruits and sweets to stuffed pastries.
Try a simit, a bagel-like baked snack, with a cup of Turkish tea or thick, dark coffee, or a grilled fish sandwich. In the Ortaköy area near the Bosphorus Bridge, be sure to try kumpir, a loaded baked potato and one of Istabul’s top street foods. When you’re ready to give your feet a rest, stop at a meyhane for mezes, which are platter samplings of appetizer-type food, with a glass of anise-flavored Raki or a cold Turkish beer.
Shopping Isn’t Just for Tourists
The people of Istanbul love to shop, as the number of bazaars and stores demonstrate. After touring the Grand and Egyptian Spice bazaars, think about heading to some spots popular with the locals.
The Nişantaşı quarter is sure to please shoppers looking for upscale stores and designer labels. Galata and Beyoğlu also have many fine shops with stylish Turkish clothing, jewelry and accessories. In the warm weather, souqs pop up with tables of hip bags, eyewear and pendants.
If you enjoy books, head to the Sahaflar Çarşısı, the secondhand book bazaar near the Beyazit Mosque. You can find gently used and antique books there, as well as calligraphy supplies and stationery.
Flowers Are an Art Form Here
We adore flowers in Istanbul too. Istanbul has several beautiful city parks, especially Emirgan Park, which becomes a riot of color in April and May during the Tulip Festival. Did you know that the tulip, so commonly associated with Holland, actually originated in Turkey and was a major part of the economy in centuries past?
Giving flowers to your host or hostess at a private meal will always be heartily appreciated. To shop for flowers like the people of Istanbul do, try the Flower Market behind the Spice Bazaar, where you can get potted plants and cut flowers of just about every variety.
For directions or transportation to any of these spots or other local favorites, our Concierge Department will be only too happy to assist you. Contact Hotel Büyük Keban today to make your reservation for your stay in Istanbul, and we can have you feeling like an Istanbul insider in no time!