Kilic ali pasa hamami. (PHOTO: Marisa Crous)
Planning a trip to Istanbul? If not, then maybe you should be. Here's just a few reasons why:
1. It's cheap for South Africans.
2. There is a direct Turkish Airlines flight from Cape Town and Johannesburg to Istanbul every day. (Duration is almost 11 hours).
3. Istanbul has SO much to offer.
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To elaborate on the third point...
The city of Istanbul is like a home-made samoosa, packed with flavour. Despite the city's overcrowded nature, it's easy to escape the traffic by walking around the different neighbourhoods, each with its own unique charm.
Set on the European shore of the Bosphorus, it has both historic attractions like the Dolmabahçe Palace in the south and Bebek area in the north to discover. It's an area full of life. If you like the idea of a smaller-scale Times Square, subtracting the McDonald's and adding in street food, then you've got a winner-winner, chicken-dinner.
Besiktas Square is ideal for grabbing a quick and cheap bite from a vendor - from a kebab for 5 Turkish Lira (R13) or a few mussel shells filled with a mixture of mussels and rice for about 1 Turkish Lira each (R2.50). It's the perfect place to go if you want to have authentic Turkish food, without spending much in the process or falling into a tourist trap.
(Mussels filled with mussels and rice. PHOTO: Marisa Crous).
I also loved the area sitting just above the square, about a 5 minute walk, where you'll find artisan coffee shops (Turkish coffee culture is legit), like SOLD, which sold me the strongest cup I've probably ever had.
Sitting very pretty on the shore opposite Besiktas is Kadiköy. This cool, young, up and coming 'hood is the centre of the Anatolian side of Istanbul, or Asian side. Markets, bars and restaurants line the streets; and it has recently become Istanbul's nightlife hub, so be sure to set aside an evening to party here.
(Get lost in the streets of Kadiköy. PHOTO: Marisa Crous)
Also eat at Basta! - a modern take on Turkish street food. Packed with flavour.
Cihangir and Karaköy in Beyoglu district
"Taksim Square is not what it used to be 5 years ago," a local tells me. Unfortunately, I was in Istanbul 5 years ago and didn't get to see the square because of the 2013 uprising. But nonetheless, I visited Taksim Square this year, and was not impressed. Overrun, super commercial and just downright tourist-trappy, Istiklal Street is like any other big city's high street, I suppose.
Luckily, I veered into a side street in an attempt to escape the masses and ended up discovering the Beyoglu district...
(Beyoglu district streets. PHOTO: Marisa Crous)
It ended up becoming one of my favourite parts of Istanbul. Get lost in the streets as you stop by quirky cool coffee shops like Müz (below), dash into a design shop or munch on some local pastries like börek cheese pastries. Bakeries everywhere!
Head to Karaköy at night rather than in the day for its street food and hip eateries and bars.
(Go for a drink or a coffee in the busy Karaköy area. PHOTO: Marisa Crous)
Undoubtedly, this is Istanbul's most colourful 'hood. I won't stay here necessarily, but a day visit and a 2-hour walk-around is definitely an itinerary-first.
Grab a freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice from a vendor, take a selfie at the rainbow stairs next to Incir Agaci Kahvesi and grab a cold brew at one of the kahve (coffee) speciality shops like, Cumbali Kahve.
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On my first-ever trip to Istanbul, I stayed in this historic part of town. It's perfect as this old city really draws you in.
(Stand in awe of historic buildings. PHOTO: Marisa Crous)
You are in close proximity to the main attractions like the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar, and can observe locals enjoying their chai (tea) while engaging in a game of backgammon.
(Have some apple tea. PHOTO: Marisa Crous)
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