After the sights have been seen, kebabs consumed and photos taken, how can you further your experience of the true Turkish culture? If you’re lucky enough to have more than just a weekend in Istanbul, venture out of the touristic Sultanahmet for a taste of the real Istanbul.
1. The Bosphorus. It would be sinful not to embrace the Bosphorus in some way, considering it’s the throbbing vein of Istanbul and responsible for much of its history. Take a boat tour from Eminonu or fine dine in one of the many restaurants that are scattered along the waterfront from Besiktas onwards, including Ortakoy and Bebek.
2. Football Fever. As passion goes, football is high on the list of beloved things in Turkey; scream yourself hoarse at a match and experience fanatical football at its best. Even better, hang around the football stadium beforehand and watch the fans rally down the street in their team colours; Beşiktaş, Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe are the three favourites and provide the most entertaining street parties, stretching from the centre of the districts of the same name all the way to the stadiums.
3. Learn Backgammon in a makeshift tea garden. Look on any main street, back street or side street and be sure to find a tea house complete with miniature stools and knee-high tables. Challenge a friend to a game of the white and black checkers and luck of the dice; first to five wins. This is an ideal time to consume numerous cups of ‘cay’ (tea).
4. Try the local beer, Efes. Named after the ancient Roman city of Ephesus (Efes in Turkish), its unique taste is the product of rice being added during the brewing stage.
5. Eat fish with raki in Nevizade, Beyoglu. Head to the fish market (balik pazaar) of Nevizade located off Istiklal Caddesi, Beyoglu. The streets are crammed with fish restaurants and bars. The best fish to eat is whatever’s in season and they have a great selection of fish mezzes as well. Fish is traditionally consumed with the anise-flavoured Turkish alcohol raki, a clear liquid that turns cloudy when water is added.
6. Rub noses with the elite in a ritzy Bosphorus club. Although pricey, the luxury super clubs dotted along the Bosphorus in Ortakoy should be experienced at least once. Dress in your best and dance to DJ tunes in the al fresco settings of Reina, Angelic, Suada Club or Safir. Watch as locals arrive in their private yachts.
7. Break the fast at Rumeli Hisari. Shadowed by the fortress of Rumeli Hisari is a clutter of breakfast restaurants overlooking the Bosphorus. Locals spend lazy weekend mornings indulging in an assortment of meats, cheeses and olives with a side of cucumber, tomato and kaymak, a creamy spread best served with honey on the comb. Walk off your full stomachs with a stroll along the Bosphorus.
8. Eat at a Turkish meyhane. A ‘meyhane’ is a traditional Turkish restaurant where mezzes, cheeses and coal grilled meats are consumed over a long, late dinner, complimented with a bottle of raki; it’s a ritual. Most meyhanes will have live Turkish music and touristic ones will have a belly dancer as well.
9. Bar hop Tunel. Head to the bottom of Istiklal Caddesi, Beyoglu, to find the narrow streets of Tunel lined with restaurants, bars and clubs, and a cluster of people. It’s the latest party playground to become popular; throw a stone in any direction and you’ll find fun.
10. Relax in a Turkish bath. The combination of steam, heated marble, a hardy scrub and a soapy massage will relax those sore soles and aching limbs after a day of sightseeing. Step back in history with a visit to the three hundred year old Cagoglu Hamam or head to Cemberlitas Hamam; these are the two main baths in Sultanahmet.