How To Have A Holiday In Istanbul For Nearly No Money
The Debrief: Follow Nick Grimshaw and Daisy Lowe and head to the Turkish capital of cool
With the sparkling blue waters of the Bosphorous, cheese, ancient history and all night warehouse partying, there's a reason everyone you know is going to Istanbul at the moment. Forget what you think you know about Turkey, it’s not going to be like that at all. It will be about 97% cooler than that. You’ve probably still got some questions you’d like answered so we answered them for you.
Where will I stay?
On the European side...
Galata, Tunel, Cahengir are all in the province of Beyoglu which is where most of the hip young things in the city live. Cihangir in particular is almost comically hipster but it sure is nice to wander round and look at designer lighting.
If you want to do shots with other travellers and stay up late then a hostel like Bahaus (notoriously fun times) in the old town or the awesomely named Sumo Cat is a safe bet. If you're looking for a cheap place to lay your head that doesn't involve wearing flip flops to the bathroom, Myra Pera is a bit like a Holiday Inn (if they were really stylish.) The one in Galata is really close to the action and 20 odd quid a night.
If you’re more of a self caterer there are loads of reasonably priced AirBnbs, particularly in Cahengir. Or a stylish flat in Tunel, right next to this adorable 19th century train that pootles up the hill for a more genteel vibe.
On the Asian side
If you’re OK not to be super close to the action on the Golden Horn (where all the old stuff is), you like ferries and you want to get a feel for the young heart of the city, Bebek is kind of like the Brooklyn of Istanbul. It's 20 minutes across the water by ferry in Asia (bet you didn't know Istanbul was split across two continents did ya?) but you'll get much more of a feel for the local culture. Bebek, Moda, Kadikoy are all on the whole cheaper than the main drag to stay in, and if you can hack the travel, you're much more likely to meet friendly local Turks your age.
What should I do?
If you don't go Hagia Sophia you are an idiot because it is one of the most incredible historical sites in the world. Once a stronghold of the Roman Empire, sacked by the Ottomans it's a bit of a jaw-dropper. You definitely shouldn’t miss the Basilica cistern, or the Blue Mosque (don’t wear hot pants and croptop there, yeah?) or Topkapi Palace either. They're touristy as hell, but that's because they're mind bogglingly awesome and riddled with history. Topkapi in particular is dripping with juicy stories about horny Ottoman sultans and their hareem, so worth getting an audio guide.
If you fancy a bit more of an alt cultural experience then take yourself to a hamman for a bit of Turkish rough and tumble. If you're not comfortable getting your tits out in front of strangers you might not enjoy this loads. Basically it's like going to a spa but you're given a bath and a scrub and you just lie about like a big, fragrant baby. Hammam ladies seem to all have inexplicably large breasts they are quite bossy but once you get into the swing of things (quite literally in the swing of their bosom) it's relaxing and liberating all at the same time.
If it's an authentic Hamam you're after, Cagaloglu is quite utilitarian and will cost you about 15/20 quid. If you're looking for more of a tranquil spa vibe Killic Ali Pasa Hamam is a bit more pricey at about £30, but you get free tea and there's a waterfall, so...
Where will I go out?
You probably think you know what Turkish nightlife is like, but when it comes to Istanbul you might be wrong. There are so many really exciting places to get pissed and dance you wont have enough time to see them all.
If you spend a night on the Asian side have a couple of cocktails at Mangerie rooftop until they get too pricey. Once you’ve got your buzz on head to somewhere like Dunia for all night chill. While you’re there, try some Raki; its’ the local drink that tastes a bit like sambuca with a side of gherkin water, but after 3 or 4 you’ll find it surprisingly palettable.
Stick in Beyoglu for al fresco chilling, rooftops and booze. Don't stray too far from the main drag in Taksim/Tunel and you'll find plenty of places. Karakoy is also excellent for drinks. You wont get any hassle round here. It's much more relaxed than you'd think. If you're proper clubbing, The Hall is a 'space.' But if you really wanna rub shoulders with Istanbul's trendies go straight to Cihangir (Istan’s answer to Hackney) where at 4am at Minimuzikhol will still be going strong.
Will I get a tan?
Istanbul can be a bit bonkers weather wise, but going in the height of summer is not advisable because you are going boil like a sweaty lobster. Late May/June things are creep up to the mid twenties, but by July August you could be taking early thirties. If you do decide to go in the summer you might be desperate to be by some water. The Princes Islands are an absolute jewel for sea swimming and a peaceful break from the hustle of the city. They’ll take you a full say to explore.
The rest of the year things are almost as unpredictable as the UK when it comes to damp and windy conditions but don’t let that put you off. There so much to do its not really a problem. When the sun does shine it’s freakishly bright so you’ll get your vit D fill.
What should I buy?
Advance warning: if you go to the Grand Bazaar or the Spice Market you are probably going to lose your shit and spend all your money, but there's not much we can do about it. There are so many wonderful colourful things to buy, but a lot of it will be ephemeron. Don't say we didn't warn you when you spend your last £20 on a fake ivory smoking pipe in the shape of a mermaid.
However, in the alleyways of the 15th Century Grand Bazaar keep your eyes peeled for boxes of lovely tarnished silver jewellery, organic soaps and gorgeous Turkish cotton throws and dressing gowns. Apparently Ralph Lauren and Jasper Conran source loads of their homeware buying in there, so you won't be going far wrong.
The market at Kadikoy (in Asia) is generally more food based but it's such a mad, beautiful, amazing experience you have to go. You will inevitably fill your boots with dried foot and multi-coloured olives. Luckily for you the exchange rate is really good at the moment.
What can I stuff my face with?
Remember that (particularly if you're on the Asian side) not every meal is going to be a massive piss-up as quite a few restaurants aren't licensed for booze. Oh and definitely do not drink the tap water anywhere you go.
Cheap as chips
Once of the great things about Istanbul food is there's a fantastic street food culture and none of it is shit. For about 20p you can get a hot bagel type thing called a simit, so even if you run out of dollar you're not going to do hungry.
Turkish pizza (called 'Pide') is a classic lunch for a day of sightseeing and won't set you back more than £3/4. If you are hanging you must immediately purchase and can of coke and an Islak burger. It is a hangover food so dirty and delicious you won't fail to be revived.
You’re right by the sea so you probably should eat some fish. Lucky for you there are a ton of places to find it. Ignore all the hassly restaurant touts on the water front and head straight to Kandilli Suna'nin Yeri in Cadessi where you are so close to the Bosphoros you're practically in it. You can also get some cracking good fish on the shores of Moda on the Asian side.
For kebabs go t0 Zubeyir Ockabasi in Beyoglu.
Sod it prices
If you're feeling like making it rain, or you've just managed to beg some more money off your Mum then get your hungry self to the following places immediately: The Lemon Tree. Upmarket meze mind-blowing noms. Aheste; the food here is ridiculously delicious. It's sensitively Turkish without being poncy. They have two restaurants and you will never want to leave either of them. The one in Pera is just down the road from the new Soho house to you can hobnob with the cool kids.
Like this? Then you might also be interested in:
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