Feel at home: Your local guide to the perfect day in istanbul
welcome to istanbul
Istanbul is a massive city, with 2 International airports, 5 metro lines, and 14 Million people- it’s a lot to take in! And while we like to live like locals when we travel, in such a big city it can be really daunting and difficult figuring out what is actually local and what is just another tourist trap in disguise. I knew it couldn’t be done alone, so I recruited two of the best girls for the job, Zeina Atamish and Ebru Irgören. Together, armed with boundless enthusiasm for the city and matching lipstick, we took to the streets of Istanbul to live as the locals do.
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Meet the Locals
“I will show you the Istanbul I love!” -Zeina Atamish
Raised in: Jordan
Lives in: Istanbul
Zeina arrived to Istanbul from Jordan one year ago with low expectations, and then fell in love with the city that never sleeps. She’s always the life of the party and has a knack for bringing people together from all over the world. She’s a hajabi (that means she wears a hijab- a head covering) Iraqi girl out to change people’s perceptions of girls who wear hijabs, and is the living example that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Oh, and she has a degree in Chemical Engineering and an MBA in Business.
Raised in: Holland
Lives in: Istanbul
Born and raised in Holland, Ebru moved to Turkey to discover Istanbul and become a local. A Turkish Girl at heart (and by DNA), Ebru spends her days exploring Istanbul’s neighborhoods, charming local restaurant owners, and earning her degree in International Law. Ebru is the only one of us Three Musketeers who speaks fluent Turkish, and consequently spends her days bargaining with Taxi’s for us, or hilariously translating what people are saying about us when they think we can’t understand.
From: LA and Israel
Raised in: LA and Israel
Lives in: Around the World
Born in Santa Monica, CA and spending summers with family in Israel, Alyne spends her days in Istanbul pretending she’s not half-Israeli (it’s a problem there) and eating all the food. She had the good fortune to meet Zeina and Ebru through a mutual friend (Nas Daily) and after 2 days, decided to move in with them for 3 weeks. She’s falling in love with Istanbul, its pace of life, and the mix of people there. She literally moved to Eastern Europe from San Diego because she wanted to eat cheese pastries (burek) every day.
The Breakdown: A Local's Day Istanbul
(Easily formatted so you can print it out)
Head to Secret Rooftop Spot
Walk by the bosphorus
Ferry ride to Üsküdar
Rest up and look sharp
Grab DINNER on the side streets (Syrian Food or Doner)
Eat all the Street food: Chestnuts, Corn, Turkish Ice Cream
Split a Taxi to Besiktas for late night WAFFLE
Breakfast in Besiktas
We start with Breakfast in Beshiktas. Beshtiktas is where everyone, especially poor college kids, head for a lazy breakfast. The streets are filled with little restaurants that all serve essentially the same menu, so don’t stress, just take a seat and enjoy. Besiktas offers the same amazing Turkish breakfasts that you’d get anywhere else in Istanbul, but for some of the best prices (since it’s a very student-y area). A good breakfast will run you just $3 and a really massive one will top you out at around $8.
What to Order:
Turkish favorites are an overall breakfast spread (pictured), Menemen, a delicious egg, pepper, and cheese dish, Gozleme, which is essentially a handmade, turkish quesadilla, and fried pastries, filled with nutella or potato (we heard they have zero calories, so chomp away). We also suggest ordering Zeina’s favorite: a side of honey and sweet cheese to spread on your bread. It’s only around .85 cents.
Graffiti Stop in Besiktas
Because what more is there to life than amazing graffiti that makes for the perfect Instagram shot? Choose your favorite graffiti (it’s right by all the breakfast spots, you’ll see it as you walk) and give all the onlookers a show as you post. The lighting is gorgeous in the morning, and the graffiti is really something!
Istanbul's Secret Rooftop
Istanbul has a stunning skyline along the Bosphorus, but it can be difficult to get a good shot. Enter, the Secret Rooftop of Istanbul. This place is a word of mouth sensation, and while it’s still someone secret, word is getting out. Be prepared to stand in line for over an hour, as many of the people taking their photos don’t seem to care that there’s a line, and take their sweet sweet time. Luckily, there’s usually some entrepreneurial spirit that has tea and drinks that he carries on offer around the rooftop. Entrance to the rooftop is paid to a man sitting on a chair and is 1 Turkish Lira, or 30 cents.
Pro Tips: Grab a Turkish Flag from the market down below for a really gorgeous shot full of nationalistic spirit. Try a few different poses to be sure you’re happy with your photo. Don’t show up right before sunset, the line WILL move incredibly slowly thanks to selfish people, and as infuriating as it is, just come early enough that the sun doesn’t set on you.
How to find it: Type Buyuk Valide Han into your GPS, and once you’re there, ask a local to be sure you’re going up the correct staircase. It’s up the alleys behind the Spice Bazaar.
Ferry ride to Üsküdar
Grab the ferry to Üsküdar, departing from Eminönü and Beşiktaş. Enjoy the sea breeze and view of the coasts of Istanbul as you sail across the Bosphorus from Europe to Asia. (Istanbul is located half on the continent of Europe, and half on Asia- so you can visit both in one day!) The ferry is a steal, ringing in at only 2,15 Turkish Lira (Currently around 75 cents) with the Istanbulkart and 3 Lira (or $1) with a token. The ferry ride lasts about 15 minutes or so. Full Ferry schedules and helpful information can be found here.
Living la vida Local : Nightlife in Istanbul
“Freedom is the most precious feeling, so let’s get lost. Why is getting lost such a negative thing? Getting lost for me means I get to see new places and new places make me smile! Life is all about happiness so try to chase it! Don’t have high expectations, let new destinations surprise you. People with expectations are those who get disappointed. ” -Tom Grond @TravelTomTom
Try the Turkish street food, Kumpir! Running at around 15 Turkish Lira a Pop (or $5), kumpir are baked potatoes whose insides are creamily blended with butter and LOADED, and we do mean loaded, with a variety of toppings. From veggies to sausage to slaws, you can choose as much as you want. They may not be the most photogenic of foods, but they certainly are filling and delicious.
Head home to take a rest, a rinse off, or a nap! Once we’d all napped or caught up on work or with family, we’d get together in one room and put on our makeup together. While this is not a requirement for a perfect locals day in Istanbul, this is what many of the locals do, and it’s a fun time to talk, make plans, and choose choose coordinating outfits and lipsticks together (okay it sounds lame but coordinating lipsticks make you look great in group pictures together :p ). Guys might want to skip the lipstick step though, maybe coordinating outfits would be cute :p
Walk the streets of Istiklal! While Taksim may be Istanbul’s main square, attached to it is Istiklal, the primary promenade.While not Istanbul’s fanciest neighborhood, and a bit touristy, a lot of locals come to mill about and be in the center of the action. It’s an amazing street to just feel the energy of the city. You can stop for tea along the way, shop in one of many stores, or listen to some of the many street musicians performing along the way. Hint: We would mention taking a photo with, or riding the iconic red tram down the street, but that wouldn’t be very local, now would it.
Local Dinner in Istanbul
What to Order:
Meat lovers can get a rice dish with meat on top, or a massive chicken wrap that comes with a side of the best garlic mayonnaise ever. Vegetarians have a lot of appetizer options, from the traditional hummus, tabbouleh, and babaganoush, to some walnut based dips (ask your server for options). For a main course, order the spiced rice, which comes topped with cashews, raisins, and a side of spiced yogurt. Drink the local Ayran, a sour yogurt drink, or just water if you have a sensitive palette.
How to get there: Walk from Taksim Square down Istiklal. When you reach the big white mall (ask a local if you’re confused about which it is), turn right. Go down the road until you reach a cross street. It’s the last restaurant on the right before the cross street. As an alternative, on the way there, you’ll pass a Doner Kebab shop, also on the right, which has great prices, service, and food. It’ll cost you around $1.25 for a fresh Doner Kebab wrap, and a bit more if you order a plate of sides and salads.
For Dinner, head straight from your walk down Istiklal street to the best kept secret in Istanbul: A small Syrian restaurant down a side street. It’s a hole in the wall place, with indoor and outdoor tables (by the street). It’s VERY local, we’ve never seen any tourists there, and it’s always bustling. Servers are funny and friendly, which makes the experience all the more enjoyable. If you order main courses, drinks, and appetizers, split with a group, it will run you only about 15 Lira, or $5 a person.
“”Who needs friends when you have street food?”” -Zeina Atamish
“When you are tired and broke and no one is free, Istiklal is the place to be.” –Zeina the poet
When you’re low on cash and company, street food meets the travelers trifecta of cheap, easy and delicious. “The street vendors are always so nice to talk to. Really, they were my friends so many times on the nights I had no one to go eat with. ” -Z
“Be happy be good, chestnuts on Istiklal is the best food” –Ebru
Most Americans have only heard of chestnuts, (chestnutsss roasting on an open fiiiiire”), but now you can actually eat them! Grab a bag of freshly roasted chestnuts for just 10 Turkish Lira or $3 from one of many street food vendors on Istiklal.
“Why have one when you can have two?”
Istanbul is famous for it’s turkish ice cream vendors, who give you ice cream and a funny performance (running you around 10L or $3). But locals flock to chains like Burger King and KFC for their tasty soft serve cones at just 3L ($1).
Waffles in Ortaköy
While waffles may seem like a strangely American thing to be eating in Istanbul, they are a super common street food here. Head to the neighborhood of Ortaköy, where locals grab waffles (or Kumpir) late into in the evenings (they are open often until 2 am in the summer). There is an entire street with waffle and kumpir stands all lined up. Covered in nutella, fruits, nuts, and other toppings, we recommend smothering your waffle in kiwi, and if you are as militant about getting real nutella as I am, make sure you ASK for it! And say REAL NUTELLA because they call a normal chocolate spread nutella if you can believe it ;p Cost: A fully loaded waffle is usually 15 Turkish lira, or $5. You can grab them folded to go, or sit at a cafe to enjoy.
Where: The neighborhood of Ortaköy by the Bosphorus.
Goodbye to istanbul
Now you’re set to live a day in Istanbul like the locals do, keep in touch with us via facebook or instagram! Planning a trip? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out this free Trip Quote Request Form. Want more? Check out our other interview with National Geographic photographer and instagram giant, Michael Christopher Brown, World Traveler Shazia Chiu, or Luxury Yachter Eric Goldring. Traveling in your golden years? Check out our updated travel tips for Seniors!
Thanks for Reading! Meet the Author-ess:
Alyne Tamir is a 27 year old person who went to University and also got a great SAT score in high school that 10 years later is still her life’s greatest accomplishment. She has been to over 50 countries, and especially loves Eastern Europe and the Balkans. She worked in Viral Video marketing, and has now semi-retired to work in Digital and Social Media. Currently based in Istanbul, she literally moved to Eastern Europe because she wanted to eat cheese pastries every day. She incidentally knows a lot about travel, and can be reached via the internet at:
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