Hidden gems in Istanbul you need to see, an introduction
To truly experience Istanbul, take the time to explore the city’s backstreets. As you move around the city, you’ll be greeted by unusual discoveries such as Suriye, boasting the largest “retro” store in the world (it might just be the largest). You’ll also want to spend some time in the tea garden at Hazzopulo Pasiji. Hanging grape vines hide this location from most visitors. You can also explore Avrupa Pasaji if you want to purchase true Turkish antiques.
Once you have your hotel in Istanbul, you will want to explore, you should consider starting at the beginning. This means viewing Million. You could easily walk past this marble column without noticing it, but the column meant everything to Istanbul, because all measurements within the city started from this point.
Hidden food stops in Istanbul
We can’t reveal some of Istanbul’s hidden gems without letting you sneak a peak at two wonderful food gems. First, there is Istanbul Eats. Using an app or a guide, you can explore food treasures throughout the city that probably won’t make the tourist brochures. You’ll also be able to find tea houses. During your travels, you’ll also pass shops that the locals enjoy. Also on the list of gems should be Tavanarasi. From seafood to vegetarian dishes, this restaurant is well known for low prices by the locals, but the food is fabulous.
Since we already mentioned tea, we would suggest a cup at the Setustu Tea Garden at Gulhane Park. The open air tea garden boasts views that might include a dolphin and panoramas of much of the city. Tea is served in a traditional Samovar, or teapot. Once you have strained a cup and perhaps added a bit of sugar, you can sit back and enjoy the view.
Another gem is the Karabatak Cafe. The karabatak is a symbolic bird to Istanbul’s residents and you’ll probably be able to watch many diving for fish while you enjoy local treats in a warehouse that has been transformed into something in between a college fraternity house and a second-hand store with no apparent decorator’s touch. Bring a book or laptop to enjoy.
If you want to enjoy a panoramic view of the city of Istanbul and a stunning sunset, take the time to visit Camlica Hill. You can picnic or enjoy dishes at a small selection of restaurants and many writers and artists have been inspired to greatness by the views of the city.
Walking in the city and other cultural aspects
Many cities around the globe have some form of an art walk and Istanbul is no exception. You can schedule an art walk and enjoy your guided tour through the city’s art treasures with an English speaking guide who will generally move at your pace. You can see pictures of some of the attractions on Instagram, but we think this would spoil the surprises that await you in the varied contemporary and historic art treasures housed within the city’s walls.
There are many well known museums in Istanbul, but our favourite gem is the Panorama 1453 History Museum. This museum uses sound, artefacts and a huge (really, really huge) painted mural to introduce you to the 1453 siege on Istanbul and the battles that led to the collapse of the city.
Finally, we suggest that you visit the Rustem Pasha Mosque. This octagonal gem is not remotely as famous as it’s cousin, the Blue Mosque, yet it is stunning in its own right. Designed by architect Mimar Sinan during the Ottoman era, the mosque has extraordinary blue and red wall tiles and a red floor, accented with amazing wood carvings and inlay. Apparently, the red tiles were usually reserved for the wealthy because of the challenges in making them and rarity of the red dyes. We’ll leave the rest of the mosque’s secrets to you to discover.
Book lovers absolutely must visit the Book Market. In a courtyard near the Grand Bazaar, the market features dozens of small stalls with thousands of book titles. You can explore all genre of books, many in English. In a unique historical twist, the market sits on the site of the original book and paper market, dating back to the Byzantine period when merchants clustered based on their wares. If you are really “in the know,” you’ll also find a small section of the market through a small gate where coin dealers are set up.
Istanbul has always been hotly contested because of its geographic location. Nations knew that controlling Turkey meant controlling the travel between the Far East, the Middle East and Europe. During these rebellions, religions were often squashed or forced into hiding. One tiny sliver of historic Greek Orthodoxy still remains at the Crimea Memorial church. You may know that the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox religion resides in Istanbul. If you happen to the church on a Sunday, you will see a brightly coloured procession and service attended by many of Istanbul’s remaining Greek Orthodox.
However, I was surprised how much I enjoyed Istanbul’s Maybeshop. You can’t quite call it an art gallery, but you can’t also call it a store. What you will notice is that artisans use all manner of recycled materials to create objects that you can observe or buy. I couldn’t resist a Turkish record that had been heated and molded into a snack bowl.
There are many other hidden gems waiting for you to discover while in Istanbul. In my experience, the city is safe and embraces its “gateway” status by embracing its diversity and visitors benefit from a people who have played host to so many cultures for centuries.
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