Istanbul is a city of wonders, rich in history and… Yes! Taste! A Day in Istanbul won’t be enough to get a full grasp of its beauty but it will certainly be a great way to introduce yourself to the culture of Turkey.
City of tastes for soul and body
Originally, Istanbul was not on my itinerary.I was flying back from Vietnam and had a connection in Istanbul to reach my final destination- Sofia. While already waiting at the gate to board, a Turkish Airlines representative approached our party ( I was flying with my friends) and asked whether we would give our seats away to a family with an emergency that needed to fly right away. They offered us to rebook our flight to the next day and give us about EUR 400 and a hotel room in the center of Istanbul close to Taksim Square. We were not in a rush of course and easily agreed, especially because we loved the idea of exploring Istanbul for a day.
Before we knew it we were strolling down the streets of this beautiful city, where good food and coffee are always just feet away.
First of all, being, even for a day, in Istanbul for the first time might be a daunting experience even for an experienced traveler. The country is beautiful but somewhat specific in the culture than the west. I tried to compile a list of few things you could do in Istanbul and some tricks that I figured out on the go myself.
Getting from the airport to the city.
Just walk out of the airport – ignore the people inside trying to give you a ride – and you’ll see the official taxis lineups. In about 30 minutes. That is considering there is no traffic. The taxi will take you to Sultanahmet for about 54 Turkish lira. A ride to Taksim or Galata will take a few minutes more and will set you back for 67 Turkish lira.
Exploring the city
Sultanahmet is a great place to start. It is a beautiful square which puts you right in the middle between the magnificent Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar.
The Bazaar also is known as Kapalacarsi and is a historic network of indoor souks and market streets. They have everything from leather, fabrics, jewelry to gifts and food. Its an absolute must experience. People from neighbor countries very often spend a day in Istanbul just to visit the bazaar.
Taksim Square is the city center of Istanbul today. In the middle of it, there is the so-called Republic monument. Taksim is district full of nightlife, shopping and dining experiences. From there you can get a tram to Istiklal Caddesi, the main pedestrian street with a lot of boutique stores, music, crafts, and bookstores as well as hotels and restaurants.
Certainly, while in Istanbul, you should NOT miss enjoying some quality coffee, handcrafted sweets and of course Kebap
One of the best places we found for traditional Turkish food was called Lale Iskembecisi which was very close to Taksim Square.
Iskenender kebap is by far my favorite of all dishes… besides the sweets. The dish consists of doner kebab prepared from thinly cut grilled lamb. It is then topped with hot tomato sauce over pieces of bread and generously soaked with melted sheep butter and yogurt.
My friends tried the Ali Nazik Kebap. There was grilled smoked eggplant puree mixed with yogurt and topped with tender lamb stew. It was served with rice pilaf and grilled vegetables aside. It looked amazing.
Ayran is one of the best partners to any kebap. If you are not familiar with the drink- it is yogurt with water and a little bit of salt. Very delicious and thirst clenching.
We were too full to move for a while but we kept going.
Next, we found a coffee shop hidden the small streets just off the main avenue. We have had the best coffee of our stay so far. Turkish coffee is a little bit different than espresso or regular drip coffee. It is prepared with sugar and cardamom in a small copper pot. They bring the coffee to boil over hot sand. If you are like me and you don’t like sugar in your coffee make sure you say you specify beforehand.
Honestly, you can skip everything else. Just go to Hafiz Mustafa.
Next stop- Hafiz Mustafa. A place for having the most delicious sweets of today and the old days. This place was like a Lego store … but for sweets. Everything- Baklava, Lokum, Kadaif, milk pudding, Turkish coffee, tea. We were in heaven. Food coma is to be expected. It is located in the Sultanahmet area and very close to the Galata bridge. While the service was not top notch, the food for sure made up for it.
In the afternoon we hopped on the train to the Forum shopping mall. The station is right in front of the mall. It’s called Kocatepe.
It was pretty cool center with a dinosaur exhibition, it also seemed like they are running some VIP events and terrace parties. The Forum is home to the only Cinemaximum cinema with 16 saloons.
And last but not least, right before we head to the hotel we went for some souvenir shopping. More like baklava and lukum shopping!
We also recharged at the Vitamin stand.
Turkish airlines provided us with rooms at the Grand Yavuz Hotel Istanbul, which was nothing special but the location was amazing! Right in the middle of the old part of Istanbul.
A day in Istanbul is definitely a trip you should try to do at least once. The city is absolutely stunning. The food, coffee, and tea are probably the best there is in Eastern Europe. Definitely happy that we got to stay, and exchanged our tickets for an unforgettable delight for the body and soul.
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