The only city in the world that straddles two continents: Istanbul (map). Its strategic position on the Bosphorus, a strait that connects the Black Sea with the Mediterranean Sea, was a prized possession since ancient times. Many wars were fought in this area and Istanbul (or Constantinople as it was then known) was occupied by a succession of empires. Each left their mark on the city, many of which can still be seen today; from the magnificent Roman Cisterns and the Galata Tower to the majestic Hagia Sofia, the exotic Topkapi Palace and the breathtaking Dolmabahçe Palace. Istanbul’s colourful past, its stunning location at the crossroads of East and West, and its bewildering mix of cultures make it one of the most fascinating destinations in the world. Once you’ve seen the major sights, consider these tips to experience Istanbul like a local.

A Bosphorus cruise is a must-do in Istanbul!

Ten ways to soak in the local flavour of Istanbul

Is Istanbul more European or more Asian? The argument on that never ends, but it doesn’t really matter – the city is distinctly Istanbul. Here are ten ways to soak in the city’s local flavour.

1. Travel by dolmus

Hop on a dolmus (a small bus) and cling on! The bus driver collects money, counts change, talks on the phone and smokes while he drives. For a more tranquil experience, mingle with commuters on the municipality ferry from Eminonu. The ferry route offers unrivalled panoramas of the city skyline as it zigzags between the European and Asian banks of the Bosphorus.

The minarets of Istanbul seen from the ferry at sunset.

2. Have a Turkish meal

While in istanbul, try kahvaltı (breakfast, pronounced kah-val-tuh), mezze (appetizer) with fish and a leisurely dinner in Bebek.

3. Cross the Galata Bridge

Watch the day go by on the Galata Bridge, Istanbul’s famous bridge that crosses the Golden Horn. This is particularly calming after a close shave on the dolmus. The stunning minarets of the  Hagia Sophia, Blue and Süleymaniyeh mosques and the Galata Tower form a striking backdrop while the spice-filled air, the anglers, and the traffic on the bridge and the many boats plying the Golden Horn below will keep your senses tantalised!

Anglers on the Galata Bridge.

4. Browse around the Spice Bazaar

Forget the Grand Bazaar, go to the Spice Bazaar and the lively local market surrounding it. Refresh yourself with freshly squeezed Pomegranate juice.

5. Experience a hammam

Get scrubbed in a Hammam (Turkish bath). Cagaloglu and Cemberlitas in Sultanahmet have been visited by celebrities, but try Galatasaray in Beyoglu, more popular with residents.

6. Fancy a game of backgammon?

Play backgammon and drink coffee with patriarchs along the Golden Horn, an inlet of the Bosphorus. Hungry? Call one of the pretzel paddlers over. Watch the colours of the Golden Horn turn into a shimmering gold when the sun sets.

Patriarchs chatting.

7. Join locals at a shisha café

Smoke shisha late into the night while people-watching in Ortakoy. This district has blossomed into one of Istanbul’s most vibrant nightlife and entertainment areas, so there’s plenty to see as you sit back.

8. Hop across to Asian Istanbul

Take it down a notch at Kadıköy, across the Bosphorus on the Asian side of Istanbul. There are shops and restaurants galore, and you won’t have to jostle with tourists. It’s also a fantastic spot to see the skyline of Istanbul at sunset.

Istanbul skyline at sunset.

9. Sip on raki

Drink raki (Turkish anise-flavoured spirit) and ayran (Turkish yogurt drink)! These are Turkey’s national drinks. Yes, the Turks also have good coffee and tea, but these are in a class of their own!

10. Dine with locals

Finally, have a feast with locals. Turkish people are some of the most welcoming and hospitable people I know, and there’s no better way to get to know them and the local cuisine than dining with them in their home. Alternatively, join a local for a food tour of Istanbul where you’ll visit markets and eateries only locals know about.


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13 Responses

  • Hi Simge,
    Wow, thank you for your comment and your local tips! I greatly appreciate it. 🙂

    Best regards,

  • As a local in Istanbul, I would pretty much say “yes these are the stuff YOU MUST DO in ISTANBUL”. Well done you got a fine, interesting list Keith 🙂
    For Foodies out there please do try; Turkish White Cheese (Beyaz Peynir) and Turkish Old Cheese (Eski Kaşar) along with Turkish Rakı. Rakı also is a must with fish & meze (as Keith wrote).

    For wine lovers; I would recommend Kavaklıdere brands since it is one of the oldest producer in Turkiye.

    For a long bike ride; visit “BuyukAda” with the ferry from Beşiktaş or Kadıköy. If you happen to visit in Spring or Summer, you may also bring your swimware to tan and swim at Buyukada beaches.

  • Hi Kellie,
    Thank you for your kind comment. With regards to your question, you’re welcome to write an introduction on your blog and link back to this post. I’d prefer that above reproducing this post on your blog in its entirety.

    Thank you.

    Kind regards,

  • Hi,
    I stumbled upon this brilliant post and wondered if we could have permission to reproduce it on our blog?

    We are a small group travel company, but our blog is an educational space where we regularly feature guest bloggers, such as yourself.

    If you’d be keen, please let me know. You can take a look at our blog here, so you can see the sorts of posts we usually feature


  • If you haven’t tried it before, you should visit a Turkish hammam one day and go for the full scrub/wash/massage. It’s an incredible experience! You’ll love it.


  • Love tip number 10, to live like a local. I find more and more people turning to this type of rental to enhance their vacations and have a whole new experience. Read a lot of it saving lots of money too,plus u get more space than a hotel. Roomorama is a great site for this. Cheers

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