Istanbul, Turkey – Travel Diary

Those of you who know me well have probably heard me prattle on endlessly about my love for Istanbul. It’s probably my favourite city in the world and I simply, cannot get enough! Last year, I managed to talk Mr Man into going back for our fourth visit…

We spent three days in the city followed by another three days in Alaçatı (blog post to follow next week) and we had the best time. I nearly didn’t bother writing a post because I’ve done multiple recounts of my trips so far but after flicking through my photos I just couldn’t resist sharing.

I’ve split the post into the individual days, starting with what we did before following on with food recommendations.

Enjoy!

Day 1 – Asian side

Istanbul is separated into two halves by the Bosporus – the European and the Asian sides. For the first time, we decided to stay on the quieter, more residential Asian side.

tea at the maiden's tower, istanbul, turkey

One of my favourite things to do is simply sit by the waterside, sip on Turkish tea and watch the world go by. There’s something so calming and peaceful about it and it reminds you how important it is to slow down from time to time.

tea at the coast, istanbul, turkey

Wherever you are in Istanbul, you’re never too far from great food! I adore exploring the markets with all their colours, smells and flavours – dreaming up possibilities for delicious recipes.

olives, market, asian side, istanbul, turkey

^ Mountains of olives in all shapes, varieties and sizes!

fresh fish, market, asian side, istanbul, turkey

^ Fresh seafood, no doubt, caught earlier the same morning.

baklava shop, asian side, istanbul, turkey

Turkish delight galore!

baklava shopping, asian side, istanbul, turkey

Beautiful street art:

street art, asian side, istanbul, turkey

Maiden’s Tower

Based on a small islet off of the coast of the Üsküdar neighbourhood, this structure was originally used as a watchtower.

maiden's tower, istanbul, turkey

Now, it’s a tourist attraction, offering up beautiful views of the city with a cafe/restaurant inside too.

ortakoy from the maiden's tower, istanbul, turkey

^ I used my zoom lens to focus in on Ortaköy, a beautiful neighbourhood we visited on our previous trip.

It’s also a perfect place to sit and watch the sunset.

sunset, maiden's tower, istanbul, turkey

There are lots of waterside cafes where you can grab some snacks and drink all the Turkish tea your heart/belly desires with these stunning views.

nighttime, maiden's tower, istanbul, turkey

Kebapçı İskender

This restaurant only serves up one dish: iskender kebab. Smoky, slightly charred, tender lamb meat, cooked on a spit, drizzled in rich tomato sauce, served up with a generous dollop of yoghurt, tomatoes and charred green peppers to cut through the richness.

iskender kebab, kebapçı İskender, kadikoy, istanbul, turkey

Oh, and did I mention, they come over with a pan of sizzling hot, browned butter and pour it on top! Absolutely delicious!

 

They also serve up a starter/side of charred aubergine pulp, mixed with olive oil and tomato sauce. Yum!

aubergine starter, kebapçı İskender, kadikoy, istanbul, turkey

The perfect end to the meal – Turkish tea!

turkish tea, kebapçı İskender, kadikoy, istanbul, turkey

Çiya Sofrası

Capturing regional recipes from all around the country, chef Musa Dağdeviren really helps you appreciate that there’s so much more Turkey has to offer beyond kebabs.

starters, Çiya sofrası, istanbul, turkey

^ The mezze counter. Served by weight.

Çiya sofrası, istanbul, turkey

^ Lots of options to pick from!

meat cooked in intestines, Çiya sofrası, istanbul, turkey

^ Not for the faint-hearted. Stuffed intestines.

mezze, Çiya sofrası, istanbul, turkey

And for dessert, candied pumpkin, drizzled with tahini and walnut crumbles – served with tea.

candied pumpkin dessert with tahini, Çiya sofrası, istanbul, turkey

I’ve also since discovered that this restaurant has an episode of Chef’s Table dedicated to it on Netflix. Definitely worth a watch!

Mis Tantuni

Cheap and cheerful, we stopped at this place for a quick (and delicious) snack.

meat sandwich, mis tantuni, asian side, istanbul, turkey

Spiced meat, parsley, tomatoes all nestled in fluffy bread.

lamb meat sandwich, mis tantuni, istanbul, turkey

Dürúmcü Nihat Usta

We stopped for an afternoon snack here and picked up a couple of chicken tantuni wraps – chicken chunks cooked with spices, tomato and fresh herbs, ideal with a carton of ayran to wash it down!

chicken tantuni wrap, dürúmcü nihat usta, istanbul, turkey

Meshur Dondurmacı Ali Usta

If you have the time, take a walk through the pretty neighbourhood of Moda and stop for some ice cream at Ali Usta.

ali usta, ice cream, asian side, istanbul, turkey

Cherry and kaymak (clotted cream):

cherry and clotted cream icecream, ali usta, asian side, istanbul, turkey

Pistachio and kaymak:

pistachio and clotted cream, ali usta, asian side, istanbul, turkey

Day 2 – Island Hopping

We spent our second day visiting the beautiful Princes islands. They’re about an hour ferry ride away and make for the perfect day trip to escape the chaos of the city.

ferry ride, istanbul, turkey (2)

As the ferries run hourly, I can’t recommend checking the schedule and planning timings in advance enough – particularly if you want to visit multiple islands like we did!

Heybeliada

Our first stop was the third island, Heybeliada.

heybeliada island, adalar, princes islands, istanbul

^ Stunning, just that shade of blue-green water alone! ❤

horse and carriage, heybeliada island, adalar, princes islands, istanbul

The islands are non-motorised so you have a couple of options – rent some bikes (it’s quite a challenging cycle as it can get pretty steep the further away you get away from the coast, especially when it’s so warm!) or a horse and carriage (they’re not too pricey, the horses look healthy and well looked after, and they’ll also stop en route to give them a break / some food and water).

house, heybeliada island, adalar, princes islands, istanbul

^ I mean, imagine living here

island views, heybeliada island, adalar, princes islands, istanbul

Absolutely stunning.

view over heybeliada island, adalar, princes islands, istanbul

^ Views from the top of the island.

After our ride, we stumbled upon a street market and picked up some delicious cherries 🍒:

cherries, market, heybeliada island, adalar, princes islands, istanbul

and juicy peaches 🍑:

peaches, heybeliada island, adalar, princes islands, istanbul

views from heybeliada island, adalar, princes islands, istanbul

Then headed on to the next island.

ferry station, heybeliada island, adalar, princes islands, istanbul

Büyükada

Next stop, Büyükada, the biggest and busiest of the Princes Islands.

view from büyükada island, adalar, princes islands, istanbul

I wish I’d taken some more pictures of the town centre to show you guys but like I mentioned, I wasn’t really planning to turn this into a blog post! It’s pretty, a little busy and has a small town kinda vibe.

pastry restaurant, büyükada island, adalar, princes islands, istanbul

Here we stopped for lunch at a little cafe serving up a variety of pastries and breads, stuffed with everything from cheese, to aubergines, to lamb.

pastries for lunch, büyükada island, adalar, princes islands, istanbul

And for dessert – ice cream! The best flavours were kaymak (clotted cream) and almond caramel crunch (not featured, sorry didn’t take a picture!)

icecream, büyükada island, adalar, princes islands, istanbul

Kınalıada

Our final stop, where we spent the afternoon chilling, was Kınalıada, the first island the ferry stops at.

views, kınalıada, adalar, princes islands, istanbul, turkey

It’s typically the quietest island but still has some touristy shops and stalls:

shopping, kınalıada, adalar, princes islands, istanbul, turkey

I love coming here, it’s so peaceful.

views of istanbul from kınalıada, adalar, princes islands, turkey

The island has a great pebble beach where you can watch the waves lapping the shore.

pebble beach, kınalıada, adalar, princes islands, istanbul, turkey

waves, kınalıada, adalar, princes islands, istanbul, turkey

^ I mean, just look at how clear the water is! I definitely had a picture similar to that set as my phone wallpaper for a long time!

istanbul from kınalıada, adalar, princes islands, turkey

^ And the view of Istanbul in the distance isn’t half bad either!

clear waters, beach, kınalıada, adalar, princes islands, istanbul, turkey

Apologies, I took so many pictures of the pebbles and water and simply couldn’t choose which ones to share so you’re having them all!

bubbly waves, pebble beach, kınalıada, adalar, princes islands, istanbul, turkey

So tranquil, did I mention, we walked to the end and basically had the beach to ourselves!

kınalıada, adalar, princes islands, istanbul, turkeyAnd here’s a little video for you too:

^ Hypnotising!

Oh and aside from the beach, there is quite a residential vibe about the place – with gorgeous houses like these ones:

houses, kınalıada, adalar, princes islands, istanbul, turkey

Aren’t they just the prettiest?

beautiful houses, kınalıada, adalar, princes islands, istanbul, turkey

And with that, we headed back to the ferry station to wait for our ride back.

views from kınalıada, adalar, princes islands, istanbul, turkey

panorama view from kınalıada, adalar, princes islands, istanbul, turkey

We left relatively early so had loads of room, the later you leave, the busier the ferries get!

ferry to adalar, princes islands, istanbul, turkey

Seagull coasting along with our ferry:

seagull, ferry to adalar, princes islands, istanbul, turkey

Day 3 – European Side

The third day we spent running errands (read: shopping for ingredients to take home), exploring and eating our way around the European side.

walking down the galata bridge, istanbul, turkey

Suleymaniye Mosque

This beautiful mosque with four minarets and ten balconies was built between 1,550 and 1,557, by the Sultan Süleyman.

courtyard, süleymaniye mosque, istanbul, turkey

The architecture is simple yet breathtaking.

entrance, süleymaniye mosque, istanbul, turkey

^ The courtyard

prayer hall, süleymaniye mosque, istanbul, turkey

^ Prayer hall

inside süleymaniye mosque, istanbul, turkey

Domes and arches

architecture, süleymaniye mosque, istanbul, turkey

Beautiful!

inside suleymaniye mosque, istanbul, turkey

I love the creative implementation of symmetrical geometry.

geometric ceiling designs, süleymaniye mosque, istanbul, turkey

And because it’s set on a hill – the views are pretty special too:

view from süleymaniye mosque, istanbul, turkey

Spice Bazaar

Shopping for spices is one of my favourite things! I love the colours, smells and flavours! Feel free to try before you buy – you want to make sure you’re getting good stuff after all.

spice bazaar, istanbul, turkey

The shopkeepers are all very friendly and invite you in to sample their selection but after multiple visits, I now make a beeline for the hazer baba shop and grab my usuals.

spices, spice bazaar, istanbul, turkey

spices at the spice bazaar, istanbul, turkey

Koska

My one stop shop for Turkish delight!

turkish delights, koska, istanbul, turkey

Double hazelnut is where it’s at! 😉

turkish delight, koska, istanbul, turkey

^ There are soo many options! ❤

Basilica Cistern

This grand underground ‘sunken palace’ was built to store water, to supply the city over the hot summers. With over 300 columns, stretching 9m high, it really is an incredible sight.

basilica cistern, istanbul, turkey

You walk across the raised wooden platforms – beneath you, fish swim in the water. These were used to check the water – if the fish were alive and well, the water was drinkable, if not, they didn’t risk their own lives…

columns, basilica cistern, istanbul, turkey

It has the capacity to store 80,000m3 of water!

medusa column, basilica cistern, istanbul, turkey

At one end of the cistern, there are two medusa heads – one placed sideways, the other, upside down.

medusa heads, basilica cistern, istanbul, turkey

It is unknown why these were brought here.

Oh, and here are some random shots that I took:

strees of istanbul, turkey

^ Street views

doner kebab, street food, sultanahmet, istanbul, turkey

^ Street side kebab

sofrasi restaurant, sultanahmet, istanbul, turkey

^ I always wish I were able to eat more in Istanbul!

mosques, sultanahmet, istanbul, turkey

^ The blue mosque in Sultahnamet

hagia sophia, sultanahmet, istanbul, turkey

^ Hagia Sophia

hagia sophia, istanbul, turkey

^ And again, from the boat

istanbul skyline, turkey

angel, street art, istanbul, turkey

^ More street art

shop, spice bazaar, istanbul, turkey

^ A beautiful shop in the market

red tram, taksim, istanbul, turkey

^ the little red tram in Taksim

Bread And Water Cafe

This little place, not too far from the Grand Bazaar is cute and quirky, serving up a variety of drinks and shisha/nargile. It’s a nice place to escape the crowds to chill out for an hour or two.

shisha, bread and water cafe, istanbul, turkey

I love the variety of lights hanging from the ceiling.

bread and water cafe, istanbul, turkey

Konak Cafe

Good service and an amazing view over Istanbul, this cafe serves up decent breakfast options.

menemen with cheese, konak cafe, galata, istanbul, turkey

^ Eggs menemen with cheese

breakfast platter, konak cafe, galata, istanbul, turkey

^ Breakfast platter with cheeses, deli meats, breads/pastries, dried fruit, honey, jam and so much more!

view from konak cafe, galata, istanbul, turkey

^ View from the terrace

seagull, konak cafe, galata, istanbul, turkeybird, konak cafe, galata, istanbul, turkey

^ Our feathered friends who were keeping a close eye on our food!

Eminönü Börekçisi 

A little hole in the wall type place, serving up alllll the borek.

pastry shop, eminönü, istanbul, turkey

I opted for a tomato and potato filled one. It doesn’t sound like much but often the simple things are the best, you know?

tomato and potato pastry, pastry shop, eminönü, istanbul, turkey

Gala Kokorec

You probably just wanna eat here and not ask too many questions.

gala kokoreç, istanbul, turkey

They serve up a mean sandwich…

intestine sandwich, gala kokoreç, istanbul, turkey

… of spiced spit-roasted intestines.

Islak burgers

There’s a street off of Taksim square where there’s a row of takeaways all selling islak burgers –  fluffy white bread rolls are slathered in a garlicky, slightly oily, tomato sauce before being kept in a glass steaming box making it soft and wet…

islak burgers, taksim, istanbul, turkey

Deeeelicious!

islak burger, istanbul, turkey

Lezzet-i Şark

This place is on my must-visit list every single time. It’s an unassuming place, cheap, cheerful and really bloody good!

ezme salad, lezzet-i Şark, istanbul, turkey

^ Ezme salad ❤

lunch at lezzet-i Şark, istanbul, turkey

Chicken shish served with bulgar wheat and a lamb durum in the background.

kunefe, cooked over hot coals, lezzet-i Şark, istanbul, turkey

^ Oh, and make sure you leave space for the kunefe, it’s out of this world good, traditionally cooked over coals.

kunefe, lezzet-i Şark, istanbul, turkey

^ Gah, I can’t even! Syrup soaked, cheese based, buttery, shredded pastry dessert, topped with pistachios. (Soaked might give off the wrong impression, it wasn’t too sweet, in fact, it was just right, the perfect balance)

Antiochia concept

Funky little restaurant near Taksim serves up incredible mezze, made with fresh ingredients.

chicken shish, antiochia concept, istanbul, turkey

Lamb chops in the background…

dinner at antiochia concept, istanbul, turkey

And for dessert, incredible crystallised pumpkin chunks, offset with a drizzle of tahini and topped with toasted walnuts. Perfectly balanced and delicious.

kabak tatlisi, candied pumpkin dessert, antiochia concept, istanbul, turkey

Karakoy Gulluoglu

This is one of the oldest (and in my opinion, best) places to get your baklava fix. It’d be wrong not to squeeze this into any trip!

baklava, karaköy güllüoğlu, istanbul, turkey

A mixture of sticky baklavas served with kaymak (Turkish clotted cream) and Turkish tea to offset the sweetness.

baklava with kaymak, karaköy güllüoğlu, istanbul, turkey

And finally, we were treated to this spectacular sunset on our final day:

sunset, eminönü, istanbul, turkey

And quite a stunning boat ride back to the Asian side too!

sunset ferry ride, istanbul, turkey

On to the next half of our trip – Alaçatı!

flight to istanbul

– Kay

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