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Istanbul — Hidden Gems

One month from today, I will start my European trip in Istanbul. I have been there before, including for several days in 2016. So, I have visited most of the well-known sites, and will see some again. These include Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Cistern, Hippodrome, Archeological Museum, Mosaic Museum, Grand Bazaar, Egyptian (Spice) Museum, Sulaymaniyah Mosque, Chora Church, Galatea Tower, Taksim Square, Bosporus Cruise, etc. This time I’ll be sure to take in the Museum of Islamic Arts, the Dolmabahce Palace, maybe the Naval Museum, and maybe the Eyup Mosque and neighborhood.
That’s a lot, but can any of you Istanbul-philes suggest other lesser-known sites and experiences in Istanbul, including non-touristy places, that I should try to include during this visit? Thanks in advance!

Posted by
5174 posts

Definitely see the Eyup Mosque, you'll be surrounded by locals (in very conservative dress) and no tourists at all (at least when I went). Other sites to consider:

  1. Ferry along the Golden Horn (cheap and not tourist oriented)
  2. Ortaköy (can take bus or ferry there)
  3. Pierre Loti cable car
  4. Istanbul Modern museum (if you like modern art, I do)
  5. Sakip Sabanci Museum
  6. Ferry to the Asia side - visit Kadikoy food market and stop into any of the local restaurants (although well known by tourists, I really liked Çiya Sofrası)
  7. Ferry to Princes Islands (wonderful side trip, easy to get to from Istanbul - I jumped off at a few islands, I remember Büyükada the most)
  8. Rüstem Pasha Mosque
  9. Balat neighborhood (somewhat run down but authentic)
  10. Küçük Aya Sofya Mosque (http://www.theguideistanbul.com/article/küçük-aya-sofya)
  11. Beyoglu neighborhood and Istiklal Cadessi (New City, main drag - it's touristy and local); worth taking the old trolley on it and the cable car to it
  12. Arasta Bazaar (much smaller than Grand Bazaar, I liked it a lot more)
  13. Gulhane park (surrounding the Archeological Museum)
  14. Kumkapi neighborhood (not far from Küçük Aya Sofya Mosque); lots of seafood restaurants and remnants of Byzantine structures (I recall Armenian and Greek looking churches)
Posted by
2024 posts

Wow Agnes, that was a quick and abundant response, thanks! The Balat area has jumped to the top of my list. Would you know, would it be reasonable to visit the Eyup area, and the Balat area, on the same day? If so, would it be better to start in one or the other? Some of the other spots you mention, I have never even heard of, so I will need to explore on the web.
Kaeleku, mahalo for your input too. I will be arriving in Istanbul on a Thursday, and then on Monday will join the RS Turkey Tour, so will be visiting various other beautiful areas in Turkey. I am traveling on miles, so had limited flexibility in my scheduling. I have enjoyed many parts of Istanbul in the past, was well-received by many people, and will be especially excited to explore some not-so-touristy areas this time.
After just over two weeks in Turkey, I will move on to Spain for about a month.

Posted by
5174 posts

Would you know, would it be reasonable to visit the Eyup area, and the
Balat area, on the same day?

Sure, although they are about 40 min apart by walk and you really need to map out Balat if you're doing it by foot because the streets are very narrow, twisty and not on a nice modern gird like we're used to in the US (walking on major streets is even worse, not fun at all). You'd have to be patient and flexible because it's not designed for tourists so it takes some effort to get there and it's not always straightforward. The Eyüp Mosque is easy because the ferry up the Golden Horn will drop you off very close by. I didn't see them on the same day so I'm not sure if the sequence matters.

I almost always agree with Kaeleku on everything, Istanbul is probably one of the very few exceptions. I loved it there.

PS. If you want a good book recommendation that brings the sensory overload of Istanbul to life, pick up a book from Orhan Pamuk (he's a great Turkish writer; I have a collection of his books). There is also a museum based on one of his books in Beyoglu ("The Museum of Innocence") but it will have more meaning if you can relate it to his book.
https://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/30/books/orhan-pamuk-opens-museum-based-on-his-novel-in-istanbul.html

Posted by
1137 posts

Larry,
You mention the RS tour of Turkey, I'm signed up for the Oct 15 tour. Which one are you booked on? My friend and I are planning to hire a private guide to take us around Istanbul as we will be there 4 days before the tour begins. I'm excited!

Posted by
2024 posts

Judy, I will be on the May 28 RS Turkey Tour, coming up soon! I’m sure that there are many fine guides in Istanbul, but one of them is Ms. Lale Surmen Aran, who leads the company which arranges RS Tours in Turkey, and which has other certified guides beyond herself. She is one of the writers of the RS Istanbul Book, and is featured on Rick’s videos about Turkey. If you like, you can reach her through www.srmtravel.com.

Posted by
1137 posts

Larry,
Thanks for the information, I haven’t started planning yet. I do have Rick’s Istanbul guidebook and will contact her via email.
Did you say you are going to Spain? If so, are you going on a RS Spain tour? Just curious. I know it will be amazing.

Posted by
2024 posts

Yes Judy, the RS Basque Tour, mostly in Spain, but the first couple days in France, plus a bunch of travel in Spain before and after. May my energy last from beginning to end.

Posted by
1137 posts

Larry,
A friend of mine is on the Basque tour, I think the June 8th one. You are probably on the later one in June as I think your Turkey tour ends after June 8. What an interesting combination of cultures you will experience! I hope you will post about Turkey.