If you’re visiting Istanbul, I recommend booking a hotel on the European side of the city, near the Taksim Square area. We stayed at Hotel Opera, which offered amazing service, spacious and beautiful rooms, fantastic breakfast buffets and a gorgeous rooftop terrace. With a view of the Bosporus River from our room, we were happy to lounge by the window while snacking on syrupy sweet baklava and taking in the view.
The Taksim Square area is the culinary and nightlife hub of the city, with an amazing array of restaurants and bars to visit once the sun goes down. Whatever your delight, you can find it here: we devoured dishes like beef kebab, humus, spicy tomato salad, apple tea, rice and beef koftas, Turkish delish and fresh eggplant dip. The cuisine was to die for!
As this implies, my boyfriend and I are both big fans of food, so we highly enjoyed (and recommend) a visit to the Cooking Alaturka cooking school. For €60 per person, we spent over five hours learning to cook five courses of Turkish food. Our menu included yoghurt soup, zucchini and feta pancakes, beans with tomatoes and olive oil, lamb on smoky eggplant puree, and walnut-stuffed figs in clove syrup. It was a fun and fantastic experience that’s definitely one of the most memorable aspects of our holiday.
There is one main tourist area of town: Sultanahmet. Here, the old town of Istanbul is located, as well as the major attractions, like the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia, the Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar and the Sultanahmet Mosque. We spent about two days in this part of town, and while it’s beautiful, its restaurants are more costly and tourist-oriented. For this reason, we were happy to return to Taksim Square for dinner each night.
If hamams are your interest, there are no shortage in Istanbul! However, most are single gender only – though as I was traveling with my boyfriend, we naturally wanted to go together. The Suleymaniye Hamam is one of the only in the city that allows males and females to experience the hamam together, which is great for traveling couples. The 90-minute visit goes for €35 per person and includes a bathing suit for women, towel for men, time in the steam room, soap scrub and massage (though these went by very quickly). Still, it was a fun activity for us to enjoy the culture.
Istanbul was a true adventure for the senses, and without hesitation I recommend a city trip to anyone who hasn’t been!
Text: Lydia Parafianowicz