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As one of the world’s most popular destinations, Istanbul certainly has its fair share of touristic sights. Sultanahmet – the city’s historical part – has some truly awe-inspiring attractions. Of particular note is the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and underground Basilica Cisterns, all architectural masterpieces in their own right – they help form the very identity of the city.

Locals know this, and you know this, too. So, once we’ve ticked these off our list and escaped the throngs of tourists, how can we tap into the pulse of the real, energetic Istanbul as a local might? Here are a few places you can start off.


Cruise the Bosporus – From Eminönü, right by the Galata Bridge, you can take a ferry tour down the length of the mighty Bosporus. I recommend the lengthier, ‘Full Bosporus Cruise’, which will take you all the way to the mouth of the Black Sea for a mere 25 TL, with many interesting sights along the way.

The ferry terminates in the quiet, touristic town of Anadolu Kavağı, where you can stop for some fresh fish and a swim in the Bosporus, or take a hike up to the hill to ‘Yoros Castle’, a ruined Byzantine stronghold, from where you can watch boats sail in and out of the Black Sea.

Note: Make sure you take the official ferry service – Şehir Hatları – here’s the schedule. There are tons of rogue companies who will try to swindle you!



Get lost in the exotic Spice Bazaar – The Grand Bazaar’s little brother, this local market is smaller, but far less touristy. Also located in Eminönü, the Spice Bazaar is the perfect place to get a dose of exotic sights, smells and tastes, although when I visited, I didn’t actually buy anything – it’s fantastic for people watching and street photography. You may even be offered some traditional Turkish apple tea by the store-owners. Keep in mind, however, that their main motive is to sell you their produce!


Try Turkish street food – One of the cheapest and tastiest snacks to try in Istanbul is ‘Balık ekmek’ – literally fish in bread, served with tomatoes and onions. You’ll hear fish vendors shout this term all along the Bosporus. The traditional spot for this is by the Galata Bridge in Eminönü. However, avoid the restaurants underneath the bridge, which tend to overcharge.

Instead, cross the bridge towards Beyoğlu, where you’ll find the Karaköy fish market – worth a visit alone for its intriguing selection of freshly caught seafood. Further in, there are rows of fairly ramshackle restaurants where can buy the city’s cheapest Balik Ekmek at 5 TL. These are true local hangouts. You even get the privilege of watching your chef fry your fish on an open grill. Enjoy the sunset over the Bosporus with a fish sandwich in one hand and an (optional) can of beer in the other.


Drink with the locals by the Galata Tower – No trip would be complete without a little recklessness. Those moments of thrill and excitement often form long-lasting memories. Sure, public drinking isn’t that ‘crazy’, but it is, technically, illegal. That doesn’t stop hundreds of locals from socialising, relaxing and drinking by the steps leading up to the well-preserved Genoese ‘Galata Tower’, which is worth a visit alone for its breath-taking views of Istanbul. This spot is great for mingling with locals – who knows, you might even be invited to tag along on a Turkish night out!

The area lies within ‘Beyoğlu’, which can be found across the Galata Bridge. If you want to escape the touristic Sultanahmet, this is the place to stay. It has a youthful and artsy vibe, with arts and crafts shops lining its quaint, winding streets. The famous İstiklal Avenue leads to Taksim Square, and you can hop on a historic tram to the bustling commercial hub, or simply shop and dine in the countless stores and restaurants along the street.


There you have it! While museums and historic sites can be interesting, it’s the off-beat experiences where you’re fully immersed in the culture and energy of a place that form the lasting, nostalgic memories of your trip.

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