An Insider's Guide to Istanbul: City Musts from a Local

Meet the only city on earth that straddles two continents: Istanbul. I’m sure you’ve met it before. In guide books. On rogue episodes of Anthony Bourdain. Thick photo spreads in National Geographic. The world’s abuzz with this suddenly-trending place. But don’t jet off quite yet. First, read up on all you need to know about the city, told by the very best source out there – a local. Here, Istanbul native and Northeastern University Master’s graduate, Gökçe Dündar, fills us in on everything to know about the city she loves most.


Must-see sites: Don’t miss European Side – especially hanging out under the Galata Bridge. The bridge itself forms a link between the two sides of European Istanbul, while its lower deck is home to restaurants, bars, and teahouses with ringside waterfront seating for boat watching. Before you leave, visit Topkapı Palace, too – the oldest and largest palace in the world since 1465. At least half a day is needed to explore it. It’s giant. During 400 hundred years of reign, each sultan added a different section or hall to the palace, depending on his taste or on the needs of the time.

Quick eat: In a rush? Go to Ali Baba’nin boat at Rumelihisari and get grilled fish sandwich or, as we call it, balık ekmek. Unforgettable. 

Street food: Want authentic? Try kumpir – a baked-potato dish and one of the city’s most beloved street foods. The baked potato gets married with fresh butter and kashar (traditional Turkish cheese), and then you point out your choice of toppings to be added next: hotdog slices, corn, pickles, olives, and kisir (a Bulgur dish). Last touch is a spicy red-pepper sauce. It is known by everyone that the best baked potato of Istanbul can be found in Ortaköy.

Best shopping: Kapalıçarşı (the Grand Bazaar) is the largest covered market. Most guidebooks claim it has 4,000 shops. You’ll find everything from traditional handmade carpets and belly-dancer costumes to religious icons and old pages of calligraphies. One cheaper thing is the amber stone – beautiful. Bargaining is always possible. Before you purchase, ask at least three to four shops so you can get the best price.

A word of warning: Istanbul’s the world’s second worst city in traffic congestion. Give yourself extra time – especially during rush hours. Sometimes it takes a full hour to go to the place even if is just a mile away from you. Not kidding!

Exotic try: If you want to try nargile (hookah), the best is at Erenler Nargile in Cemberlitas, very close to Galata Bridge. It’s probably Istanbul’s most famous nargile café. They serve tea, too.

Energy boost: After you’ve checked all this off your list, order a Turkish coffee with medium sugar. It is really strong and has a much better taste than espresso. Promise!

Ready to jet off now? Our Travel Hot Spot: Istanbul & Cappadocia Boutique opened Tuesday, May 21, at 11AM.

By Joanna Berliner, Editor 

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