I expected to fall in love with Istanbul. I did not. I did have a really fun time, though.

Where to explore

Taking a boat on the Bosphorus is basically mandatory. There’s no need to pay for a touristy cruise when there are so many ferries. We spent a day in Büyükada exploring (and getting lost) with friends. As with any car-free island, it has a lot of local character. Adalar is a cute waterfront village full of cafes and the walk up to the Aya Yorgi Kilisesi was lovely.

streetlife in the village of Adalar turkey

horses grazing in Adalar

Sure, see the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar, but find some local bazaars and marketplaces, too. Çukurcuma is the antique district and offers plenty of things to check out, even if you’re not going to be bringing rugs home with you.

istanbul marketplace

The number of domes and palaces you see is up to you — you could easily spend a week seeing them all or you could make a quick detour on your other explorations.

istanbul turkey golden dome architecture

Wherever you go, you’re sure to befriend some street cats (and dogs!) along the way.

stray cats and dogs in Adalar

What to see

istanbul museums

While everything is in English, the museums of Istanbul lack the polish we’re used to from Europe and North America. If you want to learn the background of the works you’re looking at, you’d be advised to download a book or do your own research beforehand. There’s certainly no shortage of research materials in any language.

istanbul museum displays

Aside from the obvious attractions, Istanbul has some great modern art galleries. I loved the Istanbul Modern.

It feels superfluous to talk about Istanbul attractions. We’re talking about the wonders of the world here and there’s no shortage of sources to point you in the right direction. I saw the top ten and am very happy I did.

Where to work

I’ll admit I didn’t get a lot of work done on this trip, since I was traveling with my mom, but I still scouted out some spots to for remote workers.

I love coffee shops that are also bars, so I’m a fan of Urban.

If you can’t get enough of the cats, you need to go to Kaktüs Kahvesi.

Holy cafe ☕️#coffee #coffeetime #cukurcuma #cafe

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Holy Coffee feels like you’re working in your living room at home, if you happened to be hosting a bunch of random expats. Wifi, snacks, cats.

Where to eat and drink

getting dinner with my mom in istanbul

Istanbul is one of the few places where it seemed like every meal we had was a good one. I’m a sucker for even the most basic Turkish breakfast and love gritty coffee, so I was in heaven. Istanbul is a city of lovely patios and rooftops, so there are lots of opportunities to enjoy good weather.

istanbul waterfront

Münferit is the bar of the moment. It looks like it could be in Brooklyn (or any hip city), but still has a distinctly Istanbul feel. More than one person suggested this spot when I was asking where to go.

turkish ravioli

Even if you’re not traveling with a German teacher (like I was), it’s worth visiting the Goethe Institute for the Litera Bar. Istanbul is a city of amazing views, but this spot has an exceptional one. Check the institute schedule, since there’s often great programs.

Одно из главных стамбульских развлечений-катание на корабликах. Например, можно попасть из Европы в Азию всего за 30 минут! А по пути можно любоваться морем, открывающимися видами Стамбула, пить чай из бардаков, есть симиты, ими же кормить сотни чаек и делать невероятные снимки. Такие корабли входят в систему общественного транспорта Стамбула, соответстенyо проезд можно оплатить Istanbul card. И, что примечательно, добраться в другую часть света стоит меньше 50 рублей.

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The stalls and carts near Eminönü are one of the best spots for cheap eats and good views. For something a little more…indoors…try Müdavim Lokantasi or Fasuli.

I did not go to Ortaköy for their famous baked potatoes. I had one in Sheepshead Bay and it was awful. Please go and tell me if it’s worth the trip.

Practical matters

There’s no shortage of hostels and hotels in Istanbul. We stayed in a middling hotel that I wouldn’t recommend. Next time I find myself planning a trip to Istanbul, I’ll be booking a place on Flipkey.

Before my trip, I was told how liberal Istanbul was, how totally safe it was for women, and how gay friendly it was. Coming from New York, it didn’t feel that way to me. While I didn’t feel unsafe at any point, it certainly wasn’t comfortable.

The friends who assured me it was comfortable were locals and Istanbul is certainly liberal compared to the surrounding areas. We each have our own idea of what’s normal and comfortable. If you’re used to liberal New York (or more liberal than Toronto), you’ll experience a less liberal side of the liberal world. Keep your knees covered.

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