Insiders’ Guide: The Secrets of Istanbul

Insiders’ Guide: The Secrets of Istanbul
January 2024

What are some of the most important tourist sites in Istanbul?

Istanbul was an imperial capital for 1700 years. Excluding Rome, no other city can claim such a history, and this legacy is everywhere in the city. Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Palace, the Grand Covered Bazaar, Suleyman Mosque, Galata Tower and Dolmabahce Palace are the top historic tourist sites. The city also offers lively, vibrant, cosmopolitan neighbourhoods of dramatically varying characters such as Galata, Pera, Kadıköy, Karaköy, (‘köy’ in Turkish, referring to a village, or a sector of a city), Cihangir, Moda and Balat. The shoreline following the Bosphorus up north from the Old Town is also full of quaint neighbourhoods that used to be fishing villages only reachable by boat.

What are some of the best under-the-radar sites and attractions in Istanbul?

Strolling through the streets of Istanbul guarantees a never-a-dull-moment experience for every type of traveller. It is a city with an incredible depth of culture and history, like no other. Discovery through the stratification and the layers will be constant and unending. Observing the way that people of the city blend together the notions of the East and those of the West is an incredible experience. It is also amazing to see how this great metropolis of almost 20 million people growing by 1 million every year copes with the changing of the times. 

To mention a few sites, though: Ancient City Walls, Eyub Shrine, The Archaeological Museums Complex, Ayanalıkavak Pavillion, the Military Museum where the old Ottoman Janissary band plays every afternoon, and the Naval Museum’s exquisite collection of Ottoman royal row boats. The city also has a modern art and fashion scene: check out IstanbulModern, Sabancı Museum, Arter Collection and the fashion designers of Nişantaşı district. I’d also get to the weekly farmers markets, which every neighbourhood holds, with a vibrant array of fruits and vegetables, and fantastic people watching. The durable goods market at Perşembe Pazarı (‘Thursday Market’ in Turkish) has been there for 1600 years offering the same specialty. Kadıköy, the ancient Chalcedon, on the Asia side of the city, also has an incredible food market. You can take a public ferry there, the ferry ride itself is an Istanbul classic.

What meal is a must in Istanbul? Both fine dining and street food.

This is the most difficult question ever. OK, after much pondering, and feeling a lot of guilt for leaving a lot out, I would say a seafood dinner by the Bosphorus is a must in terms of fine dining. For ‘street food’, I recommend eating at a craftsmen’s eatery. They are referred to as ‘esnaf lokantası’, frequented by shopkeepers and craftsmen in commercially vibrant areas such as the markets, and they offer underrated and extremely tasty home-style cooking. This is as close as a visitor can get to the heart of the Turkish cuisine. 

What Istanbullu’s eat at home has little to do with the kind of food visitors are exposed to. They enjoy kebabs as treats from time to time but, in a typical Turkish household, nutrition include a great variety of vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, pastry, fruit and a rich selection of traditional desserts.

What are some of the best outdoor activities in Istanbul?

There are many seaside promenades where locals walk, run, or just socialise and hang out. In the summer from early June to the end of September, public beaches on the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara are open. Again, in the summer, open air concerts are delightful. To the North of the city, ‘Belgrade Forest’ offers opportunities for cross-country running or biking. Around Prince’s Islands, sailing and watersports are popular. Another pastime that has a hook on a great many Istanbullus is angle-fishing.

What are the best festivals in Turkey and when are they?

Istanbul has the most festivals in the country: the Istanbul Arts festival is probably the leading one, it takes place in midsummer. Istanbul Jazz Festival is another one to follow. The Istanbul Biennale is in Autumn. The little village of Alaçatı, west of Izmir, hosts an incredible ‘Herbs Festival’ in April: Spring herbs are used as a specialty, dry-fried into certain dishes in western Turkey in the spring. In Antalya, in Mediterranean Turkey, a classical music and opera festival is hosted in the world’s best-preserved 1,900-year-old ancient theater in Aspendos. In Edirne, in Thrace near Turkey’s Bulgarian border, the Traditional Oil-Wrestling Festival is amazing, this year they organised the 662nd annual one. Another interesting one is the ‘Rose Harvest Festival’ in Isparta, early April, where you can come and see black roses. Gallipoli and Urla uphold Grape Harvest Festivals in October. These are simply a few.

What do you recommend for people to do in Istanbul who have visited many times before?

Keep discovering: there is simply no end to it. Try to keep up with the dining scene which is very dynamic. My friends were here from Seattle for seven weeks, and they swore that they never saw the same thing twice.

What is the best time of year to visit Turkey for the weather?

Depends on your purpose. For historic and cultural treasures, anytime is good, but the ultimate times would be from mid May to late June, and September and October. For the fewest crowds and the lowest rates go for January and February.


What are the least favourable times to visit Turkey?

The ones that you put off…


Travel with A&K into the heart of Turkey where expert Journey Designers can tailor your experience to your individual interests. Whether you’d like to travel back through Turkey’s long and layered history, immerse yourself in Istanbul’s festivals and markets, or savour the dynamic culinary scene, you’ll live like a sultan in luxury as you visit one of the oldest inhabited regions of the world. With privileged Insider Access and seamless luxury, are you ready to dream up your very own Turkish delight?

Treasures of Turkey

10 days, private, from $18,615 pp

Discover Turkey’s rich history, culture and landscapes as you journey from the delights of Istanbul to Gallipoli and down the Aegean coast to the magical fairy chimneys of Cappadocia. This journey can be tailored to include any of the above recommendations from Turkey travel expert Bahadır Han Eryilmaz.

Journey Highlights

  • Discover the hidden underground world of Istanbul’s fascinating Basilica Cistern
  • See how the Ottoman Sultans and their families lived with a visit to Topkapi Palace
  • Wander through Istanbul's oldest and largest covered market, the Grand Bazar
  • Remember the fallen at WWI cemeteries at Gallipoli
  • Marvel at the extraordinary ancient Greek city of Ephesus
  • Stay in a boutique hotel carved into the rocky hillside

For more information on travel to Turkey visit A&K’s website, call (03) 9536 1800 or talk
to your travel advisor today.

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