Last week was a special one for me, that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. After nine months, I finally reunited with two of my friends that I met during my study abroad semester in Canada. Both of them are living in Istanbul, a huge city that I knew almost nothing about up until recently. The fact that I got to explore this city together with my friends means that I was able to discover some insider spots that I normally wouldn’t have seen. So here is my insider’s guide to Istanbul.

Note: I still visited some touristy places too, so don’t get confused by that.

Topkapi Palace
Located in the old town of Istanbul is the famous Topkapi Palace. The area is quite big and you can easily spend one and a half hours or longer there. I especially liked the mosaic art that was spread all over the palace. 

An insider's guide to Istanbul

Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia, also located in the old town is a former church, later a mosque and now a museum that attracts thousands of visitors each day. In my opinion, this is definitely a must-see when visiting Istanbul. Make sure, however, that you don’t go there on a Saturday like I did, because it was extremely crowded.

Basilica Cistern
Only a few meters away from Hagia Sophia, you can find the Basilica Cistern, an underground chamber. The entrance is quite cheap, yet if you only have a short time in Istanbul, there are more interesting places to see, in my opinion.

Grand Bazaar
Like the aforementioned, the Grand Bazaar is located in the old town. It is not only the most popular bazaar in Istanbul but also one of the oldest and largest markets in the world. As you may expect, this place is very touristy, yet worth a visit. You can get almost anything from jewelry, clothes and antiques to tea and food there. I bought some Turkish delight, which is, according to my friends, fresher than at most other stores in the city. Note: the grand bazaar is closed on Sunday.

Now we’re moving on to the fewer know spots of the city (at least by tourists).

Aga Kapisi
This one is a restaurant not far away from the Grand Bazaar. We went there at noon and only for drinks because my friends wanted me to try Sherbet, a typical Turkish drink made out of different fruit juices, herbs and syrups. Another reason why we went to that restaurant is the view over the city.

Heybeliada is an Island that is easy to reach by ferry. Although we went there on a sunny day, there weren’t nearly as many people as in every other part of Istanbul’s mainland. We did some kind of geocaching there, which was one of my highlights of the whole Istanbul trip. You can do this every weekend and only have to pay a very small amount of money for the map that you need. 

Dem Karaköy
This one is a very popular Cafe in Kadikoy-Moda, a district of Istanbul. They offer a wide range of tea flavors from all over the world as well as different kinds of cheesecakes, including a vegan and glutenfree option. 

The seaside of Kadikoy-Moda
I think there isn’t too much to say about this place. You can go there for a walk or just sit on the rocks and enjoy the view like we did. 

Caddebostan Dalyan Park
This park is also directly at the seaside, however, in another district. We went there to have a little picnic while watching the sunset, but you can also rent a bike or go for a run. If you’re lucky you can even see dolphins there! 

Bosphorus Ferry Tour
The Bosphorus is a strait between Asia and Europe. On both seasides of the city are several sights that you can observe from the near during this ferry tour. Although I have taken several ferries during my stay anyway, I was glad that I’ve done this tour. Try to do it on a warm day, so that you can stand directly at the boat’s rail and enjoy the sunshine, instead of sitting inside. 

Maiden’s Tower
The Maiden’s Tower is a small lighthouse on a tiny Island, just 200 meters away from the mainland. Therefore, you get there within just a few minutes by a small boat from Üsküdar. There are various legends about this lighthouse that you can read more about when you’re there. Apart from that, you can enjoy a nice view from the top of the tower.

Kuzguncuk is a neighborhood in the district of Üskudar, which is known for its colorful houses. It’s a bit isolated from the rest of the city, but still a cute and rather quiet place to visit.

Emirgan Park
There aren’t many green spaces in Istanbul, but the Emirgan Park is one of these few exceptions. It is most likely the quietest place I got to see on Istanbul’s mainland. My favorite part of this park was a pond with some ducks and turtles in it.

In the end, I can say that Istanbul is definitely worth a visit and also even more affordable than I expected. However, my favorite part of this trip wasn’t sightseeing but spending time with my friends again and making new memories together.

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