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Our Istanbul Travel Guide for First-Time Visitors: Part 2

Mornings in Istanbul

Picture this: the sun rising over the beautiful city of Istanbul, casting a warm glow over the ancient buildings and bustling streets. You can start the morning in a very relaxed way and either just have a small breakfast, such as a simit on your hand, or enjoy a hearty, large Turkish breakfast. For example, I’m a huge fan of scrambled eggs with sucuk (Turkish garlic sausage). It may sound unconventional at first, but believe me – you have to give it a try!

images: Igor Sporynin, Zeki Okur

Add a steaming cup of traditional Turkish coffee or some fragrant çay and you’re ready to start the day! Take a moment to savor the flavors and aromas of your breakfast, and feel the energy coursing through your veins. Istanbul is a city that never sleeps, and there is always something exciting happening just around the corner. So get out there and embrace the possibilities that await you in this dynamic metropolis. Let the sights, sounds, and smells of Istanbul awaken your senses and inspire you to make the most of every moment. And we had a lot of plans for this day.

Explore Pierre Loti – a hidden gem in Istanbul

If you’re looking for a hidden gem in Istanbul, explore Pierre Loti, which is not a typical tourist attraction. Perched on a hill that is actually a cemetery, this spot offers breathtaking views of the city and the Bosphorus. When you visit the Café named after a French author and former resident of Istanbul, you may have to fight for a good place in the first row, but it’s definitely worth it for the great view. The Golden Horn, an approximately 7-kilometre-long inlet on the Bosphorus, is a stunning sight to behold from this vantage point. The journey to the café itself is an experience as you walk alongside the serene cemetery and lush greenery (normally it won’t take longer than 20 minutes). Once you reach it, the bustling atmosphere will energize you as you take in the stunning views of the city and the Bosphorus. Enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee or tea while soaking in the beauty of Istanbul from this unique spot. 

Traditional Lunch with Turkish Meze

Are you prepared to dive headfirst into an undeniably genuine Turkish culinary escapade? Seek no more than the numerous classic Turkish taverns (meyhanes) spread across the vibrant city of Istanbul. We made sure to treat ourselves to a delicious lunch consisting of  Turkish Meze, a selection of small dishes that will tantalize your taste buds. Normally, they are paired with wine or even the traditional Turkish drink, rakı. Of course, that doesn’t mean you HAVE to start drinking that early. 😉

images: Lala Azizli, Busra Salkim

Marvel at the wide array of options, from olives to dips prepared with nuts like Muhammara, Şakşuka (Sauteed vegetables), Kısır (Bulgur salad), stuffed vine leaves, fava (bean puree), mussels, marinated fish, Babagannuş (Pureed eggplant and tahini dip) – definitely one of my favorites – and so much more. When in Istanbul, a day devoted to exploring the city’s culinary delights is a day well spent. Let this traditional lunch experience be a highlight on your Istanbul itinerary. Trust us, you have to try that at least once on your trip. A way to a one’s heart is through his stomach. So, go ahead and immerse yourself in the vibrant flavors and aromas of Istanbul and fall in love – you’ll find that every bite tells a story of this rich city’s history and culture. 

Kadiköy and the Asian Side of Istanbul

After our lunch break, we hopped on a ferry bound for Kadiköy, nestled on the Asian shores of Istanbul. Exploring this side of the city is an absolute must for any traveler. It’s a different vibe from the European side, with a more local and authentic feel. The harbor area is vibrant and full of energy, especially in the evenings. This area is very lively & bustling, full of bars where mainly young people and students hang out. It’s a little less touristy compared to the European side but comes to life especially in the evening. 

Near the harbor, we discovered a wonderful promenade perfect for leisurely strolls. The sunset casting its golden hues over the horizon was simply breathtaking, etching a memory that will linger forever. And in true Istanbul fashion, as I savored the view, a friendly cat leapt onto my lap, seeking a cozy spot to enjoy the moment alongside me. It was a truly perfect day, encapsulating the essence of Istanbul’s magic.

An Evening in Nişantaşı

While Kadıköy offers a vibrant atmosphere, we opted to return to Nişantaşı for a different dining experience. Madera Restaurant, conveniently located near our hotel, promised a sophisticated culinary journey. It didn’t disappoint. To round off our dinner, we savored the finest pistachio-filled baklava, a hallmark of Turkish sweets, and I ventured into trying Künefe for the first time—a crispy dessert filled with cheese, truly a unique delight. The Turkish are renowned perfectionists when it comes to creating sweets, and each bite was a testament to their mastery.

When you visit Istanbul for the first time you will be blown away from its culinary scene, catering to all tastes, from international cuisine to street food and local delicacies. Istanbul’s fame for its meat dishes, like İskender kebap, a mouthwatering blend of sliced döner kebab, tangy tomato sauce, warm pita bread, rich sheep’s milk butter, and creamy yogurt, was evident here. Countless praises about Istanbul’s cuisine were echoed by friends of mine who have visited the city, and now, having experienced it firsthand, I understand why.

videos: Emporium-Magazine (Iskender, Turkish Meze, Baklava and Künefe)

As we made our way back to our hotel, we couldn’t help but feel grateful for the amazing experiences we had in Istanbul. From the bustling streets of Kadıköy to the refined atmosphere of Nişantaşı, this city has so much to offer in terms of culture, history, and culinary delights. It truly is a destination that has something for everyone, and we can’t wait to come back and explore more of its treasures in the future. 

Daytrip to Büyükada

If you find yourself with a couple of days to spare in Istanbul, we have the ideal day trip suggestion for you! We took advantage of the chance to escape the hustle and bustle of the city with a day trip to Büyükada. Situated just a ferry ride away from Istanbul, this small island offers a tranquil retreat from the urban chaos. This small green paradise in the midst of this vast metropolis actually deserves its very own article.

To reach Büyükada, we boarded a ferry, opting for the normal state ferry to soak in the scenic journey. Although it took almost two hours due to multiple stops, the leisurely ride allowed us to appreciate the stunning views of the Marmara Sea. Alternatively, visitors can choose the faster ferry for tourists, albeit at a higher cost.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by the charming ambiance of Büyükada. The island is adorned with houses dating back to the 19th century, giving it an old-world charm where time seems to stand still. Colorful and lively streets lined with small restaurants beckoned us to explore further. One of the island’s highlights is its prohibition of cars, offering a peaceful atmosphere ideal for relaxation. We opted to tour the island via bike rentals, allowing us to leisurely pedal through Büyükada’s picturesque landscapes. However, for those seeking a more traditional experience, horse-drawn carriages are available for island tours.

As we cycled around the island, we marveled at the serene beauty of it, stopping at various points of interest along the way. Quaint cafes with waterfront views provided the perfect spots to enjoy a traditional çay, while taking in the island’s tranquil ambiance. As the day drew to a close, we boarded the ferry back to Istanbul, basking in the glow of a magnificent sunset. Büyükada’s serene beauty left an indelible mark, providing us with a memorable escape from the urban rush and a glimpse into Istanbul’s tranquil side. 

I captured the sunset of our last evening in the video below – it was the perfect ending to this beautiful trip, leaving us with cherished memories of Büyükada’s serene beauty and Istanbul’s vibrant energy.

video: Emporium-Magazine

Discover how we spent our first day and explore our Istanbul travel for first-time visitors part 1!

Frequently Asked Questions for First-Time Visitors of Istanbul

When is the best time to visit Istanbul?

For first-time visitors to Istanbul, it’s recommended to check for the high seasons and weather conditions. Generally, summer is the peak season with pleasant weather and vibrant atmosphere.

Which airport should I land at in Istanbul?

Istanbul has two main airports – Atatürk Airport on the European side and Sabiha Gökçen Airport on the Asian side. While both are accessible, Atatürk Airport is closer to the city center, making it a more convenient choice for first-time visitors.

What are the must-visit attractions in Istanbul?

Istanbul is rich in historical and cultural tourist attractions. Some must-see sights include: Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), Topkapi Palace, Grand Bazaar (Grand Covered Bazaar), Galata Tower, Basilica Cistern, Dolmabahce Palace, Rumeli Fortress, The Beylerbeyi Palace, Istanbul Bosphorus Boat Tour

What kinds of payment are accepted in Istanbul?

It’s advisable to carry cash as not all places accept credit cards. However, you can generally use Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Maestro cards in most establishments.

What should I wear while visiting Istanbul?

You can wear typical European dress styles when exploring Istanbul. However, when visiting mosques and tombs, it’s important to dress modestly. If needed, you can borrow appropriate clothing and headscarfs from attendants at the entrance.

Is it recommended to visit Istanbul during Ramadan?

Exploring during Ramadan presents an incredible opportunity to immerse yourself in a rich cultural experience full of unique events and customs. It is crucial to show respect and understand local traditions during this sacred time. While visiting as a tourist, you can still soak up all the city has to offer, just remember to be mindful and avoid eating or drinking in front of those who are fasting as a sign of respect.