24 August 2015

5 Slightly Off the Beaten Path Things to Do in Istanbul

When most people think Istanbul the images that come to mind are the Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Bosphorus...of course these are fantastic sights and I'm always happy to go back to the museums (especially since thanks to my Museum Card I don't have to pay for most of them!) but there are so many other things to do and see here that get overlooked.

1. Markets

Shop like a local and visit some of the weekly markets around the city. Some of the markets are largely food but some of them carry everything and anything you could possibly think of...and some things you can't.

Fatih Çarşamba (Wednesday) market is one of the latter, you can find just about anything at this market. It spreads out behind the Fatih mosque so if you're unfamiliar with the area it's probably easiest to take a cab.

Beşiktaş Saturday market  - located between Taksim and Örtaköy, you can either walk to this one down Dolmabahçe Cd then up Şair Nedim Cd, or take bus 43 from Taksim and get off at Ihlamur, or take a cab.

Inebolu - This Sunday market starts early (around 6) and closes early (4). It's worth the early wake up to get to this one though. Vendors from Turkey's Inebolu Black Sea area set out late Saturday night to set up their wares in Istanbul's sketchy Kasımpaşa neighborhood on Toprak Tabya Sokak, Kucuk Piyale. 

Besiktas Saturday market

Yeşilköy's market is also on Wednesday. In a classier area of town this 2,000 stall market offers a variety of products and vendors who take credit cards. Take the 72T from Taksim or the 81 from

Eminönü and get of at the Park stop. Alternatively you can take the inner city train from Sirkeci and get off at Yeşilköy where apparently there is a free transfer service.

If you're looking for a market on the Asian side then head to Kadıköy on Tuesday or Friday. The Kadıköy market is huge with over 4,000 stalls, many of them run by women. To get there from the European side take a ferry from Karaköy or Eminönü then take cab or bus 8A to Mandira Caddesi or S.Er Bulent Altinsoy station. 

2. Wander!

 Get lost, it's ok. If you're worried about getting lost make sure to get a business card from your hotel and carry it with you to show cab drivers. For me though, wandering is the best way to learn a city.

Istanbul has some amazing architecture, much of which is sadly deteriorating.Wandering is also a great time to take advantage of Turkey's tea culture. Stop in a tea house for a rest, a game of backgammon, and chat with some locals.

3. Dolphin watch

Sadly I don't have any pictures of dolphins. It seems I never have my camera on me. Dolphins are not an uncommon sight while traversing the Bosphorus. Even if you don't see them though, it's always fun to ride the vapur and enjoy a çay and a simit.

4. Kariye Müzesi

The Kariye Müzesi, or (St. Saviour in) Chora Church is my favorite of the Istanbul museums. It's probably the best example of Byzantine art and architecture left in Turkey and while it may be a mere fraction of the size of the Aya Sofia, its mosaics and frescos are far better preserved. You also won't have to Photoshop out of your pictures as many other tourists. Given its not central location, the Kariye Müzesi is not as well visited as are other museums.

It's a bit of a trip but totally worth it. To get there, take the tram to Topkapı stop then switch to the light rail and get off at Edirnekapı. From there, walk to the nearby, large intersection where you will take your life in your hands and cross Turkish-style (ie sans signal and crosswalk) and you'll start seeing signs for the museum.

5. Eyüp Cemetery

Nearby the Kariye Müzesi is Eyüp. While it sits outside Istanbul's ancient city wall, Eyüp is of huge importance to the city. It is home to the Eyüp Sultan mosque, the burial place of Eyüp Ensari, standard bearer of the Prophet Mohammed. In addition to visiting the mosque, Eyüp's market area and main square are a much quieter cousin of those in Sultanahmet and are a nice break from that area's tourist experience. 

In addition, the Eyüp cemetery is famous for its highly decorated grave markers and shaded pathways. Even if you can't read the old Turkish script (similar to Persian) you can tell a little about the person buried there by the decorations. A woman's marker will often be decorated with flowers, one for each child. Fez's adorn the grave markers of a paşa, the size of a turban reflects a man's status, and third type of hat (for which I don't have a name) indicates the grave of a member of a Sufi order. However all three of those headgear having been banned at one time or another you don't see them on the more modern graves.

There are a lot of ways to get here. If you're already at the Kariye Müzesi you could actually walk, take a ferry, or hop in a cab. But if you're starting from a little farther away take the ferry from Karaköy or Eminönü.

Whether you walk up through the cemetery or take the cable car, the views at the top are spectacular and it's worth the climb to sit and have a tea while taking it all in.

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