Dining in Istanbul is really an experience. The rich heritage brought about by its being the capital of the world’s great empires contributes to the fact that this is the place to go if you want to feast on the many flavors of the world. There is a huge variety of restaurants and here, we’ll give you tips on where to find the best Turkish, French, Chinese and other cuisines. The rich flavors of Turkish cuisine are best savored with a cup of Turkish coffee.
What’s great about dining in Istanbul is that there is somewhere you can go to suit your budget. You can choose from street food and sidewalk eateries to chic restaurants. You can explore the local haunts and enjoy the sumptuous full meals they serve, or you can order mezes (very similar to the Spanish tapas), which you can munch while chatting with friends over bottles of cold beer. Or, you can splurge and go for the culinary palaces with exquisite dishes whipped up by the city’s best chefs. Generally, dining in Istanbul is great value for money.
Let’s have a bird’s eye view of the different restaurants classified according to the area, shall we?
Restaurants in Sultanahmet, including Beyazit and Eminonu
Most of the restaurants here are tourist traps – mainly catering to the tastes of their foreign friends. Thus, you will find that the dining is more on the style of the Europeans and are invariably more expensive. Thus, you will find the best French, Italian and international restaurants here. Aside from kofte and kebaps, you will find restaurants serving contemporary dishes. A favorite would be the Balikci Sabahattin, which serves excellent seafood dishes.
Restaurants in Hocapasa
For more local flavor, drop by the Hocapasa neighborhood. Here, you will find down-home goodness enjoyed by the Istanbulites. The food is very affordable, especially near the Hocapasa Mosque, near the Sirkeci Station. The set-up is usually meals eaten al fresco, so that you also enjoy the old-world atmosphere, along with your food. Here you will find grilled meats, Turkish pizzas, koftes and kebaps, and other sumptuous Turkish food.
Restaurants in the Eminonu/Sirkeci Districts
Moderately-priced dishes and great meals are the order of the day at these districts. Only a few blocks away from Sultanahmet, you will find restaurants that cater mostly to the budget-conscious. There are favorites when it comes to Ottoman ad Turkish Cuisine, as well as dishes in the Mediterranean tradition. You should also try the food at the Egyptian Spice Bazaar, where you will also find one of the city’s oldest restaurants – the Pandeli restaurant.
For cheap eats, go down under. Under the bridge, that is. Beneath the Galata Bridge (on the Golden Horn’s western side), you will find stalls that serve yummy fish sandwiches – grilled fish wrapped in a roll.
Restaurants Along the Bosphorus
The Bosphorus is a great place to look for seafood restaurants. Here, you will be served the freshest of seafood, as well as raki. Near the Bosphorus, in the village of Kanlica, do try the yogurt, which is simply melt-in-your-mouth goodness.
Dining at Ortakoy
Mmmm… good! The back of the mosque at Ortakoy is virtually a smorgasbord of fast food delights. Potatoes cooked every which way, stuffed mussels, sweets, and other bits of local cuisine. The bridge at Bosphorus is a great place to take a stroll as you munch on your fast-food delights.
Wipe generous amounts of jam, butter or cheese on to these small pieces of doughy delight – heaven! Yes, do try a simit, something you can buy from the street vendor, aside from the ubiquitous kebabs and koftes.
Istanbul at night is lively, lively, lively!
Although the city is filled with reminders from its glorious past, it does not fail to look into the future. The people’s penchant for a night out filled with fun has given the city a distinct vibe. Given this, one is hard-put to explain why Istanbul never got the reputation for having a dynamic nightlife. Well, if you think Istanbul is just about mosques and monuments, history spread out all over the city, you are only half right! Istanbul can offer excellent nightlife tours, with its many avenues for entertainment. Choose between the modern and pulsating lights at the clubs, to a bohemian lifestyle at some districts and to a chic and elite scene at the opera. There simply are many choices for you that it would be such a waste to hole up in your hotel room at night.
Get out and have some fun!
A good place to start would be the Beyoglu district, which has more than 900 bars and clubs. We’re sure that there is at least one to suit your fancy. Most of the local haunts are places where you can let your hair down, cozy and a great way to meet new friends. Lounging at one of the bars is also, believe it or not, a great chance to catch up on your reading.
Beyoglu is a favorite hangout, not just of tourists, but of office workers (looking for a place to relax after a hard days’ work), some aspiring singers and rock stars, students and businessmen. You have a choice between backstreet cafes and bars to trendy clubs that serve excellent food. Some bars even have pool tables.
Taksim, on the other hand, is a district where you can find a heavy concentration of hotels, which have their own lounges and bars. One of these bars is the one found in the historic Pera Palace Hotel. Here, you can pore over 1920s memorabilia as you wait for a table. For a more up market place, you can go to the Armani Café.
Now, if you want a more sedate nightlife scene, Sultanahmet can provide that for you. As this has more upmarket bars and water pipe cafes, some of which close at an early hour of 10:00 p.m.
Mind you, Istanbul is not just about discotheques and places to grab a drink. For sports lovers, there are sports bars (most of which showcase the performances of the local leagues). For those looking for a more sedate place to drink, there are British pubs that dot the city. For those who want to dance the night away, there are some open-air clubs that serve up fun in creative ways. You can also try a tour along the Bosphorus at night when the city is all decked out with dazzling lights. Music lovers should not fret, as well. As there are clubs and lounges that provide live music from a wide variety of genres – pop music, rock and roll, and jazz music are the more popular genres. For those looking for a bit of culture, there is the Ataturk Cultural Center, where you can catch a performance of the State Theater Company, Opera, Symphony Orchestra and Ballet. If you come at the right time, there are folk music and dance performances all around the city. The list goes on – hookah bars (water pipe cafes), tea gardens, the opera, art galleries, the cinema, roof-top lounges, the choices are virtually endless!
Istanbul Beer Bar
That said, here are some words of warning to avoid scams that are becoming popular in a tourist-laden city such as Istanbul. Beware if, when entering a bar, you seem suddenly with a lot of friends, surrounded by women. Before you know it, their drinks are on you, even without your permission. You will just be surprised that your bill is a grossly exaggerated amount. To avoid this, try to stick with your friends. Also avoid establishments that look seedy, even from the outside. Better yet, try the hotel bars. In addition, it’s best to have your street-smarts on alert mode. Look out for your wallet. Another scam would involve a group of men accosting you, arguing with you. The next thing you know, your wallet is gone.
Nightclub Ithaca Istanbul
Another word to the wise, taxis at tourist-laden areas is likely to charge you an arm and a leg for the ride. We recommend that you ask the waiter, hotel concierge or someone helpful to call a taxi for you. And when walking back to your hotel, be sure to stay in well-lit areas and to walk with someone.