Four girls in Istanbul for a long weekend – what could possibly go wrong?!
Istanbul Day 1:
After arriving at our hotel in Karakoy, Istanbul and freshening up, we headed straight back out to start enjoying everything Istanbul has to offer. We hailed a taxi and went to Leb-I-Darya, a rooftop restaurant with incredible views over the city. It was definitely a hidden gem that was quite tucked away, there was only a very small sign outside on the street and you had to climb up a flight of stairs and then take a lift up to the sixth floor, and then climb a final set of stairs before you emerged on the roof to a restaurant that was absolutely packed! It’s recommended that you book a table on weekends as it can get quite busy. Our table was booked for 9pm which worked perfectly for us and it’s worth noting that the locals eat late in Istanbul so bear this in mind when you’re planning your trip.
After our long journey we were absolutely starving and quite literally wanted to devour everything in sight so we ordered a round of cocktails straight away while we decided what to order from the menu. Bread and olive oil was promptly delivered which we tucked into immediately. We chose a selection of hot and cold maze style starters to share, including tzatziki, hummus, crispy fried calamari, some suspicious sounding “white cheese”, a tomato salad and goats cheese wrapped in filo pastry. We followed this with a bottle of Turkish sparkling wine (Prosecco from Italy is expensive due to the import costs) and tucked into our mains – beef tenderloin (which was deliciously soft and tasty) and sea bass, served with potatoes. I was really impressed with all of the food which was really good and loved the atmosphere and ambience of the restaurant – I’d definitely recommend it. Instead of ordering dessert, we ordered some espresso martinis and baileys before someone had the not so bright idea to order some “Raki” a traditional Turkish drink which has an alcohol content of 50% and smells like a cross between sambucca and tequila (yuck). The restaurant very kindly gave us this free of charge and it was good fun, nothing was too much trouble for the staff. We also ended up with a drink called a “Spicy Snake” which was absolutely vile but it definitely made the Raki taste nicer!
We were fortunate that one of us has a friend who lives in Istanbul who we met up with a couple of times during the weekend; he came and picked us up outside Leb-I-Darya and took us to 16Roof which is funnily enough an outside bar on the 16th floor of the Swiss hotel (the clue’s in the name) with more amazing views over the Bosphorus and the city. Everything in Istanbul seems to be shifted by about two hours so this bar doesn’t actually open until 11pm at night and closes at 2am which is worth bearing in mind if you’re planning a few nights out. Prices here were a bit more expensive, roughly about the same as London prices.
We started off with a round of cocktails (I ordered my all time favourite – a Hugo) and were given some complementary nuts and crisps while we enjoyed the views. We then moved onto Italian prosecco and ordered strawberry shisha after spotting it on the table next door to us and then because we were celebrating my friends birthday (I won’t tell you which one but it was a milestone!) the staff very kindly delivered a GIANT piece of chocolate birthday cake – complete with candle – to our table with four spoons and although we were stuffed from our dinner, somehow we all had room and demolished it. The staff here really went the extra mile for us and we ended up being the last to leave at about 2.30am before hailing a taxi to take us to our hotel.
Istanbul Day 2:
For our first full day in Istanbul we had an early start, heading out by 10.30am because we knew we wanted to pack quite a lot in and toady was going to be “culture day”. The concierge at our hotel recommended the tram as being one of the best ways to get around, particularly to the Old City where most of the touristy places are. Luckily the tram stop “Karakoy” was just a short ten minute walk from our hotel and it was only 2.60 lira per person per journey so this was definitely a cheap way to travel and actually much quicker than taxis because Istanbul traffic is the worst I’ve ever seen!
The first stop was the Blue Mosque which I have to say I was a little disappointed with, mostly because it was undergoing some major restoration work which meant that much of the mosque was covered in scaffolding or hidden away so it wasn’t quite as impressive as I was expecting.
As it’s a place of worship, there are certain rules in terms of attire that you have to adhere to, in order to be allowed to enter, particularly for women. Women must ensure that shoulders and legs are covered (not just the knees) and most importantly, the head must be covered by a headscarf. Don’t worry if you’re unprepared when you arrive; at no cost you can borrow a headscarf or a maxi skirt which you can throw on over whatever you’re wearing. The mosque is completely free to enter so definitely a must visit!
The Hagia Sophia Museum is just opposite the Blue Mosque but we were getting hungry at this point and had read lots about the Grand Bazaar so we decided to jump back on the tram and take the two stops up to visit the Bazaar which is one of the largest indoor markets in the world. I absolutely loved wandering around the shops which were filled with Turkish delight, spices, jewellery, Turkish coffee, rugs and more! We went to Havuzlu to stop for some food which thankfully was air-conditioned (it wasn’t stupidly hot but it definitely felt warm in the sun) and ordered a kebab each. It definitely wasn’t the same as a Donner kebab that I was initially expecting but my goodness it was delicious; super soft lamb kebab meat with small pieces of bread croutons, topped with a tomato gravy sauce and some yoghurt on the side. It was just what we needed to soak up all the alcohol from the night before! If you’re visiting Istanbul, a kebab is an absolute must!!
After wandering through the market and a few purchases of Turkish delight later, we hopped back on the tram to visit the Hagia Sophia museum. This isn’t free to enter but its 72 lira which works out as roughly £10 and as this is no longer a mosque, you don’t need to cover up to enter. I was really impressed with the building which was simply stunning, especially inside although there was a small section that was covered up with scaffolding but you could clearly see sections on the roof where the building needed some TLC. After visiting the Hage Sophia, we crossed the road to visit the Basilica cistern which used to be the underground pool of water stored for the Huge Sophia. It’s completely underground and it was incredible, there was something quite spooky and eerie about it, and you can see two medusa statues down there. It only cost 20 lira to visit which I thought was very reasonable.
Finally, we were on our way back to the hotel before we spotted the Spice Market and decided to pop in. I loved all of the spices which looked a bit like a pick and mix and I’m slightly regretting not buying any spices! There were more purchases of baklava, Turkish delight and Turkish tea in this market too!
After all this culture, we made it back to our hotel to refresh and dress for the evenings adventures. I was really keen to visit a rooftop bar at sunset which is between 6.30 – 7pm in September when we visited but unfortunately because we’d had such a busy day we were running late and hadn’t planned which rooftop bar we wanted to go to and actually didn’t have time to go far so we went to one of the hotels down the road, 10 Karakoy which is a lovely 5star hotel. The bar was nice and we started on some red wine while we enjoyed the atmosphere and the roasted almonds and hazelnuts (which were so good). But the only problem was that the bar was actually facing the wrong way for the sunset!! Whoops.
After a couple glasses of red we walked ten minutes down the road to Soho House where we had a table booked at Ceconni’s for dinner which serves italian food. I have to admit, I left feeling underwhelmed and disappointed; it definitely wasn’t the high standard I was expecting from the likes of Soho House. Click here to read my full review of Cecconi’s, Istanbul (watch this space – blog review coming next week!). I wouldn’t recommend it if I’m being brutally honest.
We asked the valet at Soho House to hail us a taxi to take us to Oligard, an outside rooftop bar and club on top of a hill with stunning views across the city where we were joined by my friend’s Turkish friend and because he was male, this seemed to help us get a better service from the staff.
Istanbul Day 3:
After the adventures of the night before, we slept in late and we were originally planning on heading to a rooftop pool on Sunday but decided to have a lazy day at our hotel before heading out late afternoon for some food and to catch a 2 hour boat ride on the Bosphorus to watch the sunset. This cost about 120 lira which equates to roughly £17 which I didn’t think was too bad. The colour of the sky in Istanbul at sunset is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, the sun is absolutely huge and the orange, pinks and blues in the sky are simply stunning.
For dinner, we headed to Ali Ocakbaşi which was another rooftop restaurant tucked away in a secret entrance and up a lift to the fourth floor with sunset views and a view of the Bosphorus on the water front. All of us agreed that this was our favourite restaurant and meal from the whole holiday. As we entered the restaurant, you could see the open grill with skewers of meat balanced on the top so I knew it was going to be good straight away!
We skipped the starters this time and went straight in for mains and we all ordered kebabs – I chose a classic lamb kebab which was super soft, deliciously moist and tender. Two of us chose the pistachio kebab which was apparently very good and one of us ordered the beef kebab. All of our meals were served with flatbread and we ordered some cucumber yoghurt and hummus to go with it. After spotting some breads on the next table which were puffed up to look like little pillows we ordered a portion of these too which were served piping hot, filled with hot steam which we dipped into the hummus. Oh so good!
We ummed and aaaahed about ordering dessert and I’m glad we did because one of us called it the best dessert she’s ever had – high praise indeed! We chose to share two portions of the Kremat which is crispy filo pastry, layered with ice cream and folded over in what I can only describe as what I can only describe as an ice cream sandwich! It was SO DELICIOUS. This might even be something I try to make at home one day! Hands down the best meal of the trip – I would 100% recommend a visit here!
Istanbul is a great city with absolutely incredible food and I had an absolute blast. I’d arrived at Istanbul thinking that it was going to be quite a conservative and traditional city but I was pleasantly surprised how cosmopolitan I found it!
Have you visited Istanbul before?