Istanbul is the halfway point between the East and the West, straddling Europe and Asia like a stripper on a pole.
It is a huge city of nearly 20 million people, set on the banks of the aqua-blue Bosphorus strait. Crazily chaotic, incredibly old, and with a thousand things to do and see, Istanbul is definitely worth visiting and partying in.
The city’s culture is a blend of European mercantilism and architecture mixed with Middle Eastern hospitality and values. There is really no place like it. The food is amazing, from dürüm wraps you buy on the street to beautifully-arranged morsels at its most elegant restaurants and everything in between. It is also probably the only place where you can hop on a boat in Europe and be in Asia in less than 20 minutes.
Stay in Nişantaşı (pronounced Nishantashay), Ortaköy, or by Taksim. Nişantaşı is the nicest neighborhood with really good shopping, Ortaköy is on the water and has a ton of really cute cafes, restaurants, and clubs, and Taksim is smack in the middle of everything and has a lot of the usual hotel chains you see anywhere. Up to you, either one of them would be cool.
There are two main bazaars in Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar which is also sometimes called the Egyptian Bazaar. Both are worth visiting but are also pretty touristy.
The Grand Bazaar is enormous. Gold, leather, carpets, and silk all have their own sections. But beware, there is also a ton of cheap and fake shit sold in the Grand Bazaar and you will probably be a little bit hassled by the sellers. But it’s still a great place to shop if you can sidestep all the bullshit, and especially if you’re a good haggler. I once picked up three 100% silk scarves for 70 lira which is like $27.
The Spice Bazaar is mostly just food and drinks, like Turkish delights, spices, and teas. It’s fun to wander around, eat free samples, and look at all the pretty colors. Buy some salad spice, it makes boring chopped vegetables delicious. Make sure you haggle here as well.
Wander around Sultanahmet
Sultanahmet is the old part of the city. If you’re into cultural shit, check out Hagia Sophia, a really old cathedral, the Blue Mosque, a really big and pretty (you guessed it!) mosque, and Topkapı Palace where the sultans used to live.
There are nine islands just outside of Istanbul in the Bosphorus. You can get there by ferry from Kädiköy or you can take a private boat tour. Cars aren’t allowed on the islands so people get around on horses and pull shit around in horse-drawn carriages, which is pretty fucking cool to see. There are a ton of little restaurants, hotels, beach areas, and stuff so it’s definitely worth doing a day trip out. I’d actually recommend going there instead of going to the Asian side. It’s cool to be able to say that you took a boat over to Asia, but there isn’t really anything to do over there. The islands are way better to visit.
The Turks love brunch. A typical thing to try is menemen, which is eggs cooked with tomato sauce. Check out Aşşk Café which has two locations, one in Nişantaşi and one by Bebek with really sweet views of the Bosphorus. If you can’t get a table, wander up to the Bebek neighborhood, it has a ton of brunch places.
This is a tower in the Galata neighborhood. The views of the city from the top are amazing. You will get squished by hordes of other tourists, but go up anyway. You and your Instagram followers won’t regret it.
Istiklal is the main street that connects Taksim square to the Galatasaray neighborhood. It’s lined with stores and it’s fun to just walk around, window shop, and explore the neighborhoods.
Shisha by Tophane
There is an area with a ton of shisha bars clustered together in the Tophane neighborhood close to Taksim. Go here for a really authentic experience of smoking shisa, drinking tea, and chilling like a Turk.
Bars by Taksim
There are tons of bars around Taksim. There is one street that is literally lined with nothing but bars, on the left hand side if you’re walking down Istiklal away from the square. Try rakı, a Turkish liquor that you mix with a little bit of water. Disclaimer: I refuse to accept any responsibility for your actions after you take down a glass or two.
Istanbul is a city with a club for every single type of music or person imaginable. There are a few of the fancier and more high-profile ones in the Ortaköy neighborhood such as Reina and Anjelique, where Istanbul’s rich and famous hang out. Lucca in Bebek is similar. Around Taksim are clubs with EDM, like Propaganda and Indigo. There is also a pretty big gay club scene if you’re into that.
The very best drunk food in the entire world is sold on Istanbul’s streets – mussels. They cook them in the shell with rice and spices. They are freaking delicious and cost next to nothing, I think you get 5 for something like $1. Also, you can stuff your face and have no regrets the next morning, mussels are pretty healthy.