A Local Istanbul Guide: Mosques, Stewed Kebabs and the Magnificent Bosphorus | Istanbul Vacations

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Lisa Morrow has lived in the city since 2010 and blogs at Upside down in Istanbul

Food

The types of food available in Istanbul reflect its diverse population. Ficcin Erra Goppa, in the alleys of the lively Taksim district, serves particularly well ficcin, a flat pastry meat pie from Circassian territory – in northern Turkey across the Caspian Sea.

For a bigger meal, I usually head to Siirt Şeref Büryan Kebap Salonu, near the Valens aqueduct, through Haliç, (the Golden Horn) to Fatih. Named after Siirt, a town in southeastern Turkey, it specializes in buried kebabappetizing lamb simmered in a tanI oven (tandoor). I will combine this with a plate of lumbar, lamb intestines stuffed with rice, parsley, onion and pepper.

The Golden Horn metro bridge. Photograph: Yilmaz Savas Kandag / Alamy

Inspiration

I love Istanbul’s waterways. I take the ferry regularly to go up the Bosphorus to Emirgan to get some air and art in Sakip Sabanci Museum. The former family home of Turkish businessman Sabanci now hosts various local and international exhibitions. The large terrace overlooking the water is a great place to daydream. Or I’ll take a ferry along the Golden Horn to Eyüp. There I gaze at the insanely beautiful tiles of the Eyüp Sultan Mosque complex, sit for a moment under century-old plane trees, then wander through elaborate Ottoman cemeteries thinking about what to write next.

The terrace of the art gallery of the Sabanci museum
The terrace of the art gallery of the Sabanci museum. Photograph: Tim E White / Alamy

Piece

The words Üsküdar and conservative often go hand in hand, but this mosque-filled neighborhood offers so much more. I marvel at the extraordinary glass dome roof of Nevmekan Sahil, a former registry office turned library. Lunch is nearby Filizler Köftecisi.

It is made by hand köfte are extremely good and the view from the tables on the first floor is fabulous. Kiz Kulesi (Maiden’s Tower) is right across the street, and some days you see people walking by. After I go to Kadim Kahve for the pleasure of drinking a coffee in an old hammam, then for Tabi Tasarım Dükkan to see if they have a new scarf to add to my collection.

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Green space

Outdoor space is precious in Istanbul, and much of it dizzying. Yildiz Park, not far from Dolmabahçe Palace, cascades down the shores of the Bosphorus, providing a leafy retreat away from traffic. I enjoy turkish breakfast here with friends at Malta Köşkü – which was built for Sultan Abdülaziz as a hunting lodge – or pack a picnic to eat on one of the grassy terraces.

Tiles from the Eyüp Sultan Mosque complex.
Tiles from the Eyüp Sultan Mosque complex. Illustration: Hennie Haworth / The Guardian

Recently I started to hike the trails along Haliç. Vast expanses of flat land have been created on either side of the estuary using the sludge removed from the waterway. The gardens are under construction but it’s great to see them take shape.

Night life

Evenings in Istanbul are usually about getting together with friends to dine, eat, and chat over a glass of wine or two. For that I like to go to Viktor Levi Åžarap Evi, a long established wine house in Kadiköy. He produces his own wine, with bottles labeled by number. The interior resembles a men’s club, with comfortable benches, and there are alfresco dining in the garden.

When I want to dance I go to Babylon. It’s a club where everyone is focused on the music and having a good time so it’s like being at a party full of friends. They have concerts as well as DJs from all over the world.

To stay

The charming and original Hotel Empress Zoe (double from £ 42 B&B) has a labyrinth-like layout which reflects the complexity of the town’s history. The reception area is at the bottom of a small staircase and incorporates part of the wall of a Byzantine palace. From here, a spiral staircase leads to rooms adorned with wooden details and hand-woven rugs, and a lush garden of palm trees and other exotic plants. It is within walking distance of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.


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