Living Local in Istanbul
Are you ready for the “full immersion” experience in Istanbul? Skip the touristy Sultanahmet section and head into the depths of this fascinating city that unfolds for those willing dive deeper.
Cruising Istiklal Street
Start by dipping your toes in the water with a walk along Istiklal Street, known by the locals as Kapalicarsi. Bargain with the merchants, sip lion’s milk (Turkisk raki) and puff on water pipes at the narghile cafes to ease your transition into the local mentality. Shy away from the razzle-dazzle shops on the main street and check out side alleys for authentic Turkish gear. When you come to the end of the road, ride back on the trolley that runs down the middle of the street for an entirely different perspective. During daylight hours, Istiklal Street is a swirl of activity with musicians and hawkers on every corner, but as night deepens and the shops close, the place takes on an eerie Twilight Zone emptiness despite the late-night cafes and clubs.
Fishing the Golden Horn
Wet a hook with the local fishermen on the upper deck of the Galata Bridge that leads from Eminönü to Karaköy. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder along the rails, you’ll drop your line past the pedestrian-only level below that’s crammed with stalls selling trinkets and everything from fine seafood to fish sandwiches. Rental rigs complete with line and bait are available for a fair price and there are over 20 different species of fish in the Golden Horn, so even amateur fishermen can expect to catch at least 5 kg of fish per day. At sunset, the views of Istanbul from Galata Bridge are spectacular, and as darkness falls the night fishermen add glow-sticks to their lines that make the water under the bridge look surreal.
Hanging Out at Karga
The Karga Bar (Kadife Sokak 16) is so well known by the locals they don’t even bother with a street sign, so you have to know the 2-story green building with a wooden door is Istanbul’s coolest hangout. Downstairs, the friendly tavern offers cheap drinks in a cozy atmosphere decorated with recycled items and warmed by a cheery fireplace. Upstairs, an avant garde art gallery also serves as a lecture hall, seminar venue and performance space. Enjoy beers with the afternoon crowd in the courtyard while enjoying eclectic music selections that can range from classical film music to techno-disco.
Chilling in Cihangir
Once described as where “Paris meets Brooklyn,” Cihangir blends old and new, east and west and even animal and human (it’s crawling with alley cats) into a fascinating neighborhood. Narrow cobblestone streets and tree-lined boulevards are hemmed with towering, stone-trimmed, French-inspired structures built after a fire destroyed the original wooden buildings in 1916. Settle into a sidewalk café to sip tea and nibble on kofte (Turkish meatballs) or kebabs. Soak in the fashionable Bohemian buzz that attracts artists, expats and paparazzi who roam the streets hunting for celebrities that frequent the fashionable boutiques and beauty spas. Walk up Cypress Avenue to the impressive Cihangir Mosque to relish the spectacular view of Bosphorus and snap pictures of the formal gardens and 18th century architecture.
Wine Tasting in Galata
Amid the restaurants and shops near the Galata Tower are unexpected venues like the Sensus Wine Boutique (5 Buyukhendek Caddesi), an amazing bar/cellar/shop tucked away right under the Anemon Hotel. Cozy up to the communal bar in this former wine cellar to sample top-quality local vintages maintained at the perfect temperature and paired with appropriate cheeses and appetizers. Learn about Turkey’s wine scene and shop from the 28 vintages they offer.
Dining at Kanaat Lokantasi
Tucked away by the Suleymaniye Mosque in Uskudar is an inexpensive restaurant that’s the kind of place locals keep under wraps. Kannat Lokantasi (Selmanipak Caddesi 9) serves extremely delicious Anatolian cuisine like vegetable zeytinyagli and lamb stew, made with mostly organic ingredients and served in a home-style atmosphere.