Friday, September 4

Istanbul - a local's guide

When United came out of the hat alongside Besiktas in the UEFA Champions League group stage draw, lifelong red Andy Olfield was perhaps happiest of all.

For the ex-pat red is now living in Istanbul and the pairing has given him an ideal to chance to see his boyhood club play in his new backyard.

In this guide, Andy gives fellow reds an insight into the best and worst of Istanbul ahead of the September 15 clash.


Istanbul is a haven for bar dwellers.

Without a doubt, the most concentrated area of bars is in Taksim, the real city centre.

Just a short walk down the main Taksim shopping street, Istiklal Caddesi (pictured right), you'll find untold numbers of bars in the adjoining little side streets.

Bars in these side streets can be extremely cheap - I'm talking about some places that sell Efes (main beer of Turkey) for 2TL!

Beware of the few bars that are actually located in Istiklal Caddesi (pictured right), as these can be pretty pricey.

One place in particular, the Turkish Pub, located on the left side of Istiklal before the Galatasary High School, offers nice views of the street, but drink prices are aimed at tourists (10TL for a large beer).

If you're a spirit drinker, you will be shocked at the prices of imported brand names in Turkey (Smirnoff, Jack Daniels) as they are more than what you're used to paying back in mainland Europe.

You can visit Istanbul's only Irish pub, the James Joice Irish Pub Center (, which offer food, drink and has an adjoining hotel.

They show live football from the Premier League as well as Champions League games. Expect a mix of Turks and expats here.

If you're staying in the Sultanahmet area of the city, there are ample bars loacted here, although not as concentrated as in Taksim.

If you're feeling away from home, you can visit The North Shield, an olde-English themed pub.

They offer great food and drinks, although prices tend to be steep.

There is also The English Pub (pictured right), in the Presidents Hotel. Details here.

Sultanahmet can be a nice break from the manic area that is Takim and offers some great views of the old city.

Smokers be aware: Turkey haa introduced a public smoking ban.

This being Turkey though, many of the smaller, 'family' run type places simply ignore the ban.

If caught smoking, there is a... wait for it... whopping 62TL (£25) fine. Not that I've ever seen it enforced though.


While nightlife in Istanbul is nowhere near likes of London, there are clubs dotted around the city for everyone's taste.

Check out Indigo, in İstiklal Cadessi, which offers a selection of nights from Turkish entertainers to banging techno/house DJ's at the weekend.

There is also Reina, (pictured left) located in the quaint village of Ortaköy just outside Taksim. Details here.

Reina offers amazing outside views of the Bosphorus Sea along with the Asian side of Istanbul.

Food and drinks here are expensive as reservations are a must.

The elite who's-who of Istanbul frequent this place so expect gorgeous women, pretentious men and dress your absolute best.

A great listing of nigtclubs in Istanbul can be found here


Without a doubt, the best food you'll ever eat will be in Istanbul.

Turkey has some of the best food to offer, ranging form cold and hot meze (small starter-like dishes) to main courses and even deserts.

There are some amazing restaurants here in Turkey, and at a fraction of the cost compared to many mainland European cities.

Check out rooftop 360 Restaurant (pictured right) in Taksim which offer amazing food, great service and a total 360o view of the city.

Reseverations are a must, dress code is smart. Expect a meal for two with desert (excluding alcohol) to set you back about 75TL (£30). Details here.

There are also plenty of other roof-top restaurants in the city (Leb-i-Derya for example), which offer similar views, food and service.

If you're looking for something a little less formal and fancy, there are hundreds of restaurants in the city. Istiklal Caddesi is lined with restaurants, both Turkish and fast food joints (KFC, McDonalds and the likes).

There are plenty of quaint little Turkish-style cafes hidden away in many side streets in Istanbul, if you really fancy the total Turkish aspect - though don't expect them to speak much English in these places.

If you're craving the authentic Turkish kebab, you'll find plenty of stalls/small shops in Istanbul offering them.
In Taksim are loads of small food joints next to each other, all offering similar type foods.

Don't expect the usual UK style kebab though (doner meat in pitta).

In particular, ask for an adana kebab and wash it down with ayran, which is a typical Turkish drink consisting of water, yoghurt and a little salt - sounds strange but tastes excellent.

Also check out the famous Istanbul 'islak hamburger' (wet hamburger) ( consisting of a burger encased in a bun, covered in a ketchip type sauce and loaded with spices and garlic.

If you want something a bit more upmarket, check out the district of Nişantaşı. This is the fashion district of Istanbul where the rich and famous live.

There are pleny of trendy restaurants and cafes located here but expect higher than normal prices here.

Cultural sights

There's so much to do and see in Istanbul a weekend is definitely not enough.

Some things to make sure to tick-off your to do list include a boat trip along the Bosphorus Sea from Eminönü harbour (short taxi ride from Taksim) for around 17TL return, offering excellent views of the city. W

hile in Eminönü, visit the Spice Bazaar if that's your sort of thing.

Check out the breathtaking Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia) in Sultanahmet, as well as the Mavi Cami (Blue Mosque), Topkapi Palace and Archeology Museum.

Be sure to check out the Grand Bazaar as well while you're here .

It is One giant undercover market, consisting of 58 streets and between 1200-5000 individual shops (depending on what you read) and some 400,000 visitors... daily!

Find absolutely anything here from jewellery, souvenirs, white goods, shoes, clothes (normal as well as fake).

Shop keepers will give you the highest price to begin with but ALWAYS barter with them and start very low compared to what they start with.

If you reach the price you feel is true and they say no, just walk away - chances are, they'll either give in to your price, or you'll find at the next stall. Watch your pockets here. More info here.

If you want to get out of the busy city, you could visist the Princes Islands.

The Princes Islands (pictured right) are a combination of nine islands off the Asian coast of Istanbul, in the sea of Marmara.

Regular or fast passenger ferries operate to the four of these islands from different parts of the city; from Bostanci, Kadikoy and Kartal neighborhoods on the Asian side, from Sirkeci and Kabatas neighborhoods on the European side.

If you like taking in the scenery, take the slow boat from Kabatas for 4TL but it does take up to 2 hours one-way and can be very crowded during the summer. Be sure to visist Buyuk Ada (Big Island) if you come here.

A gorgeous area of Istanbul that is fairly unknown from the tourists are the ares of Bebek and Sariyer/Kilyos on the European side of the city.

Bebek offers awesome views of the Bosphorus and if you like fish, there are many many fish restaurants located here without outside views and great menus and prices.

Sariyer, a bit further away offers the best hill-top views of the city.

If you have the means of getting here, having a traditional Turkish breakfast on a late Sunday morning is a definite yes.

Kilyos (pictured right) is located close here as well, and you can visist the beach.

Note though, that it actually costs to visit the beach (around 40TL). There are bars and restaurants located here and it's pretty private and not too crowded.

If you like shopping, there are many shopping malls in Istanbul, including the largest one in Europe, Cevahir.

To get there, take the Metro from Taksim and get off at the Şişli-Mecidiyeköy stop and follow the crow/directions).

Find many well-known brand name shops as well as Turkish ones. Prices are cheaper than the UK, though electrical goods are considerably more expensive.

You could also check out Bağdat Caddesi (literally Baghdad Street) on the Asian side of the city.

General info

Istanbul is a very busy city.

There are some 16 million inhabitats of the city and it's districts.

As a result, there is a huge traffic problem here.

That said, Turkish people are very very friendly and hospitable.

Expect warm welcomes wherever you go (except football stadiums of course) and a little Turkish goes a long way with the locals.

While many people do speak English, a lot also do not, especially away from the main touristic areas.

Brushing up on some basic Turkish phrases will help in this case, otherwise you'll be fine if in the city centre.

Despite Istanbul being such a large city, unfortunately, there are not the transportation links available compared to cities like London.

While the Metro is new and comfortable, it is not very expansive yet.

Tickets cost just 1.50TL one-way and you buy your jeton (coupon) from the window counters near the turnstiles.

A short taxi ride can often be quicker and easier than taking the bus/Metro to your destination.

Chances are, the cab driver will not speak English, so be sure you have the correct destination name or map to show.

There are plenty of hotels located throughout all districts of the city, as well a large number of very basic and very cheap hostels for those visiting on a budget.

If you have a visitor to your room, be sure to check with the hotel first and sometimes they can be funny regarding this - I'm unsure why.

As with any city, have your wits about yourself. Watch your pockets in the crowded areas.

There are many cases tourist scams in the city unfortunately.

One particular scam is a person (usually a man) coming up to you outside your hotel and asking for the time.

When you answer, the scammer then gets in a conversation with you and chances are, they, or one of their friends, will know the town/city you live and and have been the same university.

They then proceed to suggest getting a drink/bite to eat somewhere. Little do you know, that they are in cahoots with the bar/restaurant owner and you are lumbered with a very large bill at the end and the mysterious man has disappeared.

Also, be very wary of taxi drivers! Taxi rates fall into two categories; day rate (gunduz) from 06:00 to 00:00 or night rate (gece) 00:00 to 06:00.

Many taxi drivers will switch to the rate 2 (gect/night rate) even during the day because you simply don't pay attention.

If you're a male, get in the front seat so it's less obvious for the driver to scam you.

If you see the night rate on the meter, ask why. If he doesn't change it, threaten to call the police.

They are extremely scared of the police/tourist police so this will work. Also, be very careful when handing money over. Some taxi drivers give back old Turkish curreny (with all the 000's on).

Be vary when in Taksim. The side streets in this area of the city can look very shady and dangerous.. and there's reason for this.

Just don't venture too far on your own, and generally, Taksim is such a busy area, that even at 3am, there'll be lots of people about.


Anonymous said...

Excellent advice, mate. I've been to Istanbul many times, & hope to get to the game. You're lucky to be living there.

sultanahmet said...

Istanbul is my amazing destination.
I like sultanahmet to.