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.
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.
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.
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.
^ Mountains of olives in all shapes, varieties and sizes!
^ Fresh seafood, no doubt, caught earlier the same morning.
Turkish delight galore!
Beautiful street art:
Based on a small islet off of the coast of the Üsküdar neighbourhood, this structure was originally used as a watchtower.
Now, it’s a tourist attraction, offering up beautiful views of the city with a cafe/restaurant inside too.
^ 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.
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.
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.
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!
The perfect end to the meal – Turkish tea!
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.
^ The mezze counter. Served by weight.
^ Lots of options to pick from!
^ Not for the faint-hearted. Stuffed intestines.
And for dessert, candied pumpkin, drizzled with tahini and walnut crumbles – served with tea.
I’ve also since discovered that this restaurant has an episode of Chef’s Table dedicated to it on Netflix. Definitely worth a watch!
Cheap and cheerful, we stopped at this place for a quick (and delicious) snack.
Spiced meat, parsley, tomatoes all nestled in fluffy bread.
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!
If you have the time, take a walk through the pretty neighbourhood of Moda and stop for some ice cream at Ali Usta.
Cherry and kaymak (clotted cream):
Pistachio and kaymak:
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.
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!
Our first stop was the third island, Heybeliada.
^ Stunning, just that shade of blue-green water alone! ❤
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).
^ I mean, imagine living here
^ Views from the top of the island.
After our ride, we stumbled upon a street market and picked up some delicious cherries 🍒:
and juicy peaches 🍑:
Then headed on to the next island.
Next stop, Büyükada, the biggest and busiest of the Princes Islands.
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.
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.
And for dessert – ice cream! The best flavours were kaymak (clotted cream) and almond caramel crunch (not featured, sorry didn’t take a picture!)
Our final stop, where we spent the afternoon chilling, was Kınalıada, the first island the ferry stops at.
It’s typically the quietest island but still has some touristy shops and stalls:
I love coming here, it’s so peaceful.
The island has a great pebble beach where you can watch the waves lapping the shore.
^ 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!
^ And the view of Istanbul in the distance isn’t half bad either!
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!
So tranquil, did I mention, we walked to the end and basically had the beach to ourselves!
And here’s a little video for you too:
Oh and aside from the beach, there is quite a residential vibe about the place – with gorgeous houses like these ones:
Aren’t they just the prettiest?
And with that, we headed back to the ferry station to wait for our ride back.
We left relatively early so had loads of room, the later you leave, the busier the ferries get!
Seagull coasting along with our ferry:
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.
This beautiful mosque with four minarets and ten balconies was built between 1,550 and 1,557, by the Sultan Süleyman.
The architecture is simple yet breathtaking.
^ The courtyard
^ Prayer hall
Domes and arches
I love the creative implementation of symmetrical geometry.
And because it’s set on a hill – the views are pretty special too:
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.
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.
My one stop shop for Turkish delight!
Double hazelnut is where it’s at! 😉
^ There are soo many options! ❤
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.
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…
It has the capacity to store 80,000m3 of water!
At one end of the cistern, there are two medusa heads – one placed sideways, the other, upside down.
It is unknown why these were brought here.
Oh, and here are some random shots that I took:
^ Street views
^ Street side kebab
^ I always wish I were able to eat more in Istanbul!
^ The blue mosque in Sultahnamet
^ Hagia Sophia
^ And again, from the boat
^ More street art
^ A beautiful shop in the market
^ 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.
I love the variety of lights hanging from the ceiling.
Good service and an amazing view over Istanbul, this cafe serves up decent breakfast options.
^ Eggs menemen with cheese
^ Breakfast platter with cheeses, deli meats, breads/pastries, dried fruit, honey, jam and so much more!
^ View from the terrace
^ Our feathered friends who were keeping a close eye on our food!
A little hole in the wall type place, serving up alllll the borek.
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?
You probably just wanna eat here and not ask too many questions.
They serve up a mean sandwich…
… of spiced spit-roasted intestines.
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…
This place is on my must-visit list every single time. It’s an unassuming place, cheap, cheerful and really bloody good!
^ Ezme salad ❤
Chicken shish served with bulgar wheat and a lamb durum in the background.
^ Oh, and make sure you leave space for the kunefe, it’s out of this world good, traditionally cooked over coals.
^ 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)
Funky little restaurant near Taksim serves up incredible mezze, made with fresh ingredients.
Lamb chops in the background…
And for dessert, incredible crystallised pumpkin chunks, offset with a drizzle of tahini and topped with toasted walnuts. Perfectly balanced and delicious.
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!
A mixture of sticky baklavas served with kaymak (Turkish clotted cream) and Turkish tea to offset the sweetness.
And finally, we were treated to this spectacular sunset on our final day:
And quite a stunning boat ride back to the Asian side too!
On to the next half of our trip – Alaçatı!