The Haghia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar ... these famous Istanbul sights form a litany that even an armchair traveller can recite. And while you’d be mad to miss any of these fascinating sights, there’s also a great deal more to Istanbul.
Take a trip with us through our favourite offbeat things to do in Istanbul...
This water pipe is known by many names , including shisha and hubbly-bubbly. But the Turks call it a nargile. Once beloved of the elite, the nargile went out of fashion for a brief period but is now back with a vengeance. There are a number of nargile bars in Istanbul, and even if you’re a non smoker it’s worth going along and having a few quick puffs just for the experience. Accompany your nargile with a cup of strong Turkish coffee. You can get different flavours of tobacco, too, from apple to rose. Head to the row of nargile cafes in the pedestrianised area by the American Pazari for this unique experience.
These islands are dotted along Istanbul’s Asian side. Once upon a time, the Turkish elite built holiday homes here. One curious aspect of the islands is the non-Muslim atmosphere. The islands were populated with Jews, Greeks and Armenians. Visit Buyukada, the largest and most popular island to experience the multi-cultural mix that used to characterise Istanbul. The island doesn’t have roads, so you’ll need to hire a bicycle to properly explore. Even better – hire a horse and cart for the day.
Get steamy in a hammam
At the end of a long day’s traipsing around monuments and markets, there’s nothing like lying on a marble slab and letting strangers pound your skin until it is nicely tenderised. Istanbul’s hammams are world famous, but many tourists are a little intimidated about the language barrier and, well, the foreignness of such an experience. But never fear – head to Cemberlitas Hamami, Cagaloglu Hamami, and Galatasaray Hamami, where you’ll find English-speaking hammam staff.
You’ll probably cross this bridge during your time in Istanbul, but did you ever think to look underneath? Running along the underside of this bridge is a long boardwalk, filled with cafes, bars and restaurants. It’s a marvellous place to sit and watch the boats go by. Buy a cheap beer and people watch as the sun sets and Istanbul prepares for another night.
Istanbul’s ferries travel along the Bosphorus Strait, conveying the city’s commuters to their various destinations. If you’re tired of wandering around on foot, it’s a perfect way to see the city in comfort. You’ll also see a number of sights you would miss on foot, for example, the beautiful mansions on the water’s edge.
Church of St Saviour
This 11th century church in the Chora district is visited by very few tourists, as it’s a little out the way. But if you make the effort to visit, you’ll be richly rewarded, as it’s second only to the Haghia Sophia in Byzantine brilliance. The 14th century mosaics and frescos alone are worth the trek. Showing Christian scenes from the Day of Judgement to the Resurrection, they are in astonishingly good condition, due to the fact that when the church became a centre for Islamic worship in the 16th century the images were covered up, only revealed again in the 19th century.