Best of Istanbul: What to See and Where to Refuel

Submitted by
Steve and Karen Savel at the Chora Church in Istanbul.

Long-time Untourists Steve and Karen Savel recently returned from our new Istanbul Untour. Last week on the blog they gave us the full review of their 21st Untour in an Istanbul Untour Q&A. This week, we share their list of favorite sights and places to eat.

Steve Savel’s Favorite Sights in Istanbul
The following are the Savels’ favorite places in Istanbul. Their list includes the city’s must-see mosques, museums and palaces, but it also covers some of their favorite neighborhoods. They recommend staying a full two weeks so you can cover all of the things on this list and find your own favorites. Please note that the first five sights are covered with the Istanbul Museum Pass. Here are their top picks, in brief.

(1) Topkapi Palace Museum and Harem – Major museum and former residence of the Ottoman sultans

(2) Hagia Sophia – 6th century Greek Orthodox basilica, turned mosque, turned museum

(3) Chora Church – Byzantine church with beautiful mosaics

(4) Archeological Museum – The main building holds countless treasures, as do the Museum of the Ancient Orient and the Museum of Muslim Art that complete the museum complex.

(5) Mosaic Museum – Impressive collection of Byzantine mosaics

(6) Grand Bazaar and perimeter small shops

(7) Spice Market and perimeter small shops/stalls

(8) Dolmabahce Palace Museum and Harem – An architectural gem on the Bosphorus Strait

(9) Blue Mosque – Grand 17th century mosque named for its blue tile

(10) Pera Palace Hotel and Museum – Historic hotel built to host travelers on the Orient Express

(11) Basilica Cistern – Massive 6th century cistern   

(12) The Eyup district A neighborhood with deep historical roots and significance to the Muslim community

(13) Ortakoy and Yilmaz Park – A historic area developed in the Ottoman era and today housing art galleries and cafes

(14) Orient Express Train Station – Istanbul Sirkeci Terminal is a lovely building

(15) Istanbul Modern The Modern Art Museum

(16) Uskudar and Kadikoy districts – Residential neighborhoods on the Asian side

(17) Istanbul University – A nice place to walk around and through on your way to the next sight

(18) Suleymaniye Mosque The city’s largest mosque

Eating Istanbul, Untour          Pudding Shop Istanbul Untour

Steve Savel’s Favorite Restaurants in Istanbul
If you read last week’s Istanbul post, you know the Savels love the food of Istanbul as well. Here are their recommendations for good eating on a budget. As Steve says, “There may be more places to eat than any other business in Istanbul. All of the food we tried was very tasty, and the recommended restaurants I list here are inexpensive.” These spots are central and convenient to the most popular attractions in the city.

Ali Baba Kanaat Lohantasi (near the Suleymaniye Mosque)
“This became our favorite restaurant because of delicious and inexpensive local food: rice, Turkish beans, and pickles and a basket of really good bread for three persons with drinks, our bill was 35 TL (about $18). There are meat dishes available too.”

Bab-i-Hayat (right next to/part of the Spice Market)
“It is more touristy but very handy for location. This was the restaurant where our Untours orientation was held.”

Pudding Shop Lale Restaurant (near the Blue Mosque on the main street with the Blue Line tram)
“You have a buffet style selection of foods so you can see what you might like and try new things.”

Oz Karadeniz (on the street leading down from the Grand Bazaar to the Spice Market)
“Actually, there are many of these types of restaurants where locals seem to eat. They serve traditional Turkish foods at reasonable prices. One way to spot one of these restaurants is to observe who is eating there. If they are all or almost all locals, it will be good and inexpensive.”

Of course the sights of Istanbul could fill 100 blog posts. And the restaurant options in this fascinating city are endless. We hope these tips from seasoned Untourists will help you plan your trip to Istanbul. And we are eager to hear from you about your own favorite mosques, museums and eateries.


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