The capital of Turkey now lies on a special list of cities that I have visited multiple times. First coming in 2015 with my sister, we saw all of the sights: Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Galata Tower, Basilica Cistern, bars of Beyoglu and Karakӧy, Dolmabahçe Palace, Topkapi Museum, and a trip to the Asian side of Kadikӧy. This megacity is home to 15+ million people and it feels like that. There is a ton to do so I will run down the three nights I spent there.
Finding a Hostel in Istanbul
You will not be without hostel options in Istanbul. The city is gargantuan however the actual areas that you would go as a tourist are relatively confined: Taksim Square leads to Istiklal Street, which leads down to Karakӧy and then over the bridge to the famous mosques. All of the accommodations are in this area (unless you stay on the Asian side, which I have never done because apparently while it is fun, there is less to do).
I spent two nights at Galata West Tower. The main attraction here is the rooftop that has a spectacular view of the city to the south. It was $20 a night with minimal notice and pretty bare bones; they had triple bunk beds, which I despise. Location and rooftop were the main reasons I booked it, uncomfortable beds made me get a solo Airbnb for my last night.
Where to Eat in Istanbul
Let’s do some food reviews. I had a fantastic cinnamon roll at the Sirin Firin bakery chain. The restaurants and cafes of Karakӧy had grown immensely since my last visit and this time I actually spent an afternoon exploring them. Craving one last meze meal, I settled on Kapi Karakӧy and ordered off the cold menu. All of the options were delicious. A different night I got dinner at Tahin, a Lebanese place, and bar hopped after for beers. I don’t think that you can go wrong at any spot in Karakӧy, it has a lovely feel to it with diverse bars interspersed throughout adorable cafes.
What to Do in Istanbul
On this trip I decided to skip most of the main tourist attractions (in favor of seeing Black Panther 2 for $4). The one I could not miss was the Hagia Sophia. Perpetually a line, even at 9 PM on a weeknight when I went, it is free to enter. The 500+ year old venue has served as a religious hub for multiple sects over the years. It is definitely my favorite landmark in Istanbul with the Basilica Cistern a close second.
There is just something about this city that is magical. In walking around during my first couple of days I could not determine what it was. After sitting at a cafe in Karakӧy and taking a walk at sunset it hit me: the amalgam of a view that contains enormous 500 year old mosques and a sea that splits two continents gives this city an unrivaled mystique.
"Harvey Falcon" is the the senior adventure corespondant for Ski Bum Van Life. From Europe to Asia to South America and beyond Harvey offers an exciting take on adventure travel. Read all his stories here.