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Istanbul 101: Beginner's Guide

When to visit, What to eat, Where to go

Photo by Pedro Szekely on Flickr

Visiting Istanbul offers an immersive journey through centuries of captivating history and vibrant culture, where the East and West seamlessly converge. The city's awe-inspiring architectural marvels, such as the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, transport you to a bygone era, while the bustling Grand Bazaar and aromatic Spice Bazaar tantalize your senses with exotic treasures.

The Bosphorous strait gracefully divides the continents, providing enchanting boat rides and stunning panoramic views. From savoring delectable Turkish cuisine to embracing the warmth of its people and partaking in captivating festivals, Istanbul promises an unforgettable adventure that intertwines ancient traditions with contemporary charm.

What to Do in Istanbul?

Photo by me, Hagia Sophia from afar

A city with more than 2 millennia of history, Istanbul has a lot to offer. The main attractions of the city are around Sultanahmet Square (the old Roman Hippodrome) in the old town. I have a whole other blog post on Sultanahmet so I won't go into much detail but make sure to visit the iconic Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern, Sultanahmet Mosque, and more.

An obvious highlight to any trip to Istanbul is the Bosphorous, the beautiful strait linking Europe and Asia. Make sure to check out the Bebek/Arnavutkoy area for a coffee or lunch by the coast. The old neighborhood of Karakoy, across the Golden Horn from the Old City, is another must visit destination in the city. Make sure to visit the historic Galata Tower (pictured below), take the historic Tunel Funicular to Beyoglu, and grab a coffee by the Bosphorous at Galataport.

Photo by me, Galata Tower from Karakoy

When to Visit Istanbul?

Istanbul experiences a temperate Mediterranean climate, so you can visit year round. But the best seasons (as far as weather is concerned) are spring and fall. Summers tend to get quite hot (in the 30°s C) and the months of July and August are by far the busiest tourist months of the year. There are also quite a lot of festivals, concerts, and other events in the summer so it may be worth bearing the heat and the crowds. Winters, on the other hand, could be relatively cold and rainy, and since school is in season there's likely to be a lot of traffic.

Istanbul winter, photo by Pi István Tóth on Flickr

Another thing to keep in mind is the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. A significant percentage of the population observes the fasts for the full month, and the entire city is on holiday for a week after for celebrations. Although Istanbul is quite lively and interesting during this month (and not much can beat the "iftar" feast by the Bosphorous after sunset) quite a lot of establishments tend to close down during Ramadan. Take this into account before making any plans.

Where to Eat in Istanbul?

Adana Kebap, Photo from Wikimedia

This is a question that's near and dear to my heart, as I absolutely love food, and Istanbul is perhaps my favorite Foodie Destination. I've already written some blog posts on this subject:

  1. Fine Dining in Istanbul

  2. Best Meat Restaurants in Istanbul

  3. Best Kebabs in Istanbul

  4. Istanbul: What locals eat, and where

Briefly, make sure to have fish by the Bosphorous, indulge in some Turkish Kebabs, and take in the view when you're enjoying some of my favorite food in the world.


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