Istanbul – A charm of its own.

When you think Turkey, Istanbul is the first thing that comes to your mind, and the reasons for that are endless. Connecting two continents with its Bosphorus bridge, the city is Asia and Europe at once, with a charm like no other.

A great example for that is Hagia Sophia, which was once a Greek Orthodox basilica, later a mosque, and today a museum and an important landmark in Istanbul visited by millions of tourists every year. The museum is a beautiful symbiosis of the Byzantine and Ottoman influences that have marked the Turkish capital, and a live example of the rich mix of cultures that characterizes the city. (a must-see!)

interior of Hagia Sophia
interior of Hagia Sophia

The best way to discover Istanbul is to wander its streets – with a cup of hot wine in your hands when it’s wintery. I was lucky the friend I was visiting was staying in one of Istanbul’s coolest areas, Cihangir. Located near Taksim square in the Beyoglu district, the neighborhood of Cihangir was known to be the nerve center of protesters, artists, actors, writers, and expats, hence the bohemian feel of its beautiful narrow streets filled with laid-back bars and cafes. Antique and book stores are other common sights in the area. Oh, and cats, a lot of cats!

Cihangir streets
Cihangir streets
Cihangir neighborhood
Cihangir neighborhood
Cihangoir
Cihangir cats!

My favorite part of the day was walking the streets in the morning waiting to fall in love with the next breakfast place that will offer me the best of home-style Turkish breakfasts. Must-try dishes are the simit (a bagel-like roll encrusted with sesame seeds) and the menemen (scrambled eggs with tomatoes and peppers). Oh, and don’t forget that Turkish coffee, and if possible, a view that gives you a glimpse of the Bosphorus. That’s what I call a perfect morning!

Turkish breakfast
Turkish breakfast

Another beautiful landmark to visit in the neighborhood of Beyoglu is the Museum of Innocence. Based on the fiction novel of Orhan Pamuk, “The Museum of Innocence”, the actual museum is a collection of the objects that were used by the novel’s characters. I really recommend reading the book first though; one of my favorites! My review here.

Cihangir was a nice part of my Istanbul’s experience but there’s definitely much more to see. The main attractions that are totally worth visiting include, among others, the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace, the underground Cistern Basilica, and the Dolma Bace.

Blue mosque
Blue mosque
Cistern Basilica
Cistern Basilica

Some activities that I really enjoyed doing in Istanbul and which I recommend:

a cruise on the Bosphorus (the most pleasant way to get an overall feel of the city and view the historical landmarks lining the legendary Bosphorus)
a visit to the Grand Bazaar (one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world – a typical Turkish experience!)
a trip to the charming Prince’s Island (take a full day to escape to this charming small island. Rent a bike once there to discover its car-free narrow streets, its beautiful pine forests, and cute little restaurants. Take the fast ferry to get there and enjoy a peaceful day away from the city!)
a walk on Istiklal street, the busiest and most active street of Istanbul leading to the Galata Tower! Beside the many shops, cafes, restaurants, and bookshops you can find, it’s there that you will mostly feel the bustling vibes of the city.

The cute things you find in the Grand Bazaar
The cute things you find in the Grand Bazaar
A walk in Istanbul's streets
A walk in Istanbul’s streets
Prince's Island
Prince’s Island
Sunset over Bosphorus
Sunset over Bosphorus
Fresh pomegranate juice everywhere!
Fresh pomegranate juice everywhere!

We can’t forget Istanbul’s vibrant nightlife and year-round concerts and live bands. Make sure to check what’s playing during the time of your visit and hit one live concert at least. To make your search easier, click here for a list of the best music venues by The Guardian.

My favorite places to hang out at night:
Nusret Steak House (the best meat ever! Address: Besiktas)
Banyan restaurant, Ortakoy (amazing Asian fusion food with a breathtaking view on the Bosphorus! Click here for their website)
Novo (a very cool bar with excellent music in the Beyoglu district)
Zelda Zonk (this is where you want to dance! Address: Gradiva hotel, Karakoy)

Istanbul is charming to see any season of the year, and the best news is that we (the Lebanese) do not need a visa to enter the country (Yey!). Perfect getaway plan for a long weekend, and only an hour and a half away!