Istanbul is one of those holiday destinations that gets under your skin and makes it near impossible to leave. Even those who are normally averse to ‘big city living’ find this to be an insanely enticing metropolis in which to spend some serious time. The city’s energetic charm is addictive. Not only are thousands of years of history etched in every single corner of its cobbled core, but the people are lovely, the food amazing and the sheer number of unique things to see and do abundant.
If you’re visiting Istanbul for the first time, there are certainly a few things we’d urge you to do. At the risk of sounding a little bossy, you must visit Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market, and the Blue Mosque. While you’re at it, plan to get lost in Sultanahmet, the city’s historic centre, for an entire day. By the time you emerge on the other side, you probably would’ve visited the most popular landmarks on the tourist trail.
Yet the chaos and vibrant energy of Istanbul can easily wear you down after just a couple of days. Learn to slow down your tempo a bit and spend a few relaxing hours indulging in some of Istanbul’s other cultural attractions.
Here are three of our favourite off-beat things to do in Istanbul:
1. Skip the tourist boats and take a commuting ferry instead
Exploring Istanbul’s iconic Bosphorous Strait is a must but, for the sake of authenticity and unforgettable experiences, skip the typical Istanbul tourist boat tours and join locals on a regular commuter ferry instead. Not only will you save an absolute packet (rides cost about 50 cents!) but you’ll soak up the true essence of the city from a unique perspective.
Istanbul has one of the largest, oldest, and arguably best ferry systems in the world and your options for exploring the outer suburbs are numerous – in total, there are 45 docks dotted around the greater city.
Here’s How to Use Istanbul’s Ferries to get around.
2. Take a local cooking class
Given the popularity of Turkish cuisine the world over and the amazing gastronomy on offer in Istanbul, it’s surprising to learn that few foreign visitors take local cooking classes when visiting. This is definitely something you should be planning to do!
The guys at Cooking Alaturka are renowned for their professionalism and flexibility, and can teach you how to prepare a delectable five-course meal straight from their restaurant’s kitchen. Best part about these classes is, of course, that you get to devour your creations and you get to take home some invaluable new cooking skills. Priceless!
3. Visit an authentic Turkish Hammam
Every luxury hotel in Istanbul boasts its own decadent hammam yet, for an authentic and off-beat experience, we recommend searching for a traditional hammam instead.
Less about comforts and modesty and much, much more about soul-invigorating cleansing and scrubbing, traditional Turkish hammams are an unforgettable eye-opener. Public baths are segregated by gender and you’re expected to walk around butt-naked – and put up with some seriously vigorous scrubbing. If you’re after the real hammam deal, you’ll find it here.
Have you already visited Istanbul and discovered an off-beat highlight you never expected to find?
Share your experience in the comments!