Best Local Experiences In Istanbul

Istanbul is, of course, Sultanahmet, with the ancient city watched over by Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Topkapı Palace. It’s also the bustling bazaars, be they grand, Egyptian, or spice markets. But Istanbul is more than that; it’s about the tranquil palaces (Çırağan, Dolmabahçe, Beylerbeyi) dotting the Bosphorus, their peace a stark contrast to the vibrant modern city areas like Istiklal Avenue and Taksim Square. Here are 8 must-do best local experiences in Istanbul.

Relaxing in Turkish Baths

Turkish Baths Istanbul

Escape the hustle and bustle of Istanbul by indulging in the traditional Turkish baths that have been soothing residents since the 16th century.

As a result of Roman and Byzantine influence, the Ottoman Empire is indeed the cradle of the hammam, and you can find magnificent traditional hammams everywhere in the city. Here, after sipping on apricot (kayısı) or peach (şeftali) juice and filling out a form for your preferred level of exfoliation intensity, you change and return in just a towel around your hips.

Begin with ten minutes on the warm marble, gazing at the intricate ceiling. Then the real pampering starts with a masseur (tellak) who exfoliates your skin with a horsehair glove or loofah, lathers you in foam, gives a calming massage, and then rinses and dries you. End up relaxed on a bench bed, listening to the gentle sounds of the fountains. When you step back outside, you’ll see the city in a whole new light.

Enjoy Istanbul’s Street Food

Istanbul'S Street Food

In Istanbul, street food is a must-try experience. Start with the iconic simit, round sesame-seeded bread, sometimes filled with cheese, minced meat (poğaça), chocolate, or made in a brioche-style (açma).

Don’t miss the grilled fish sandwiches (balık ekmek), typically made with mackerel, tomatoes, salad, and onions, available from fisherman kiosks near Galata Bridge in Sultanahmet and elsewhere. Stuffed mussels (midye), with their spicy rice and lemon zest, are another must-try.

Explore more with roasted peanuts and chestnut sellers who perfume the streets as evening falls. For the heartier appetite, there’s dürüm – rolls filled with sausage, vegetables, and more in Turkish flatbread. Borëk offers puff pastries stuffed with cheese, meat, and veggies.

Turkish pizzas (pide) have a very thin crust and are loaded with fresh, flavorful toppings (without tomato sauce). Indulge in mantı – ravioli topped with garlic and yogurt sauce, and of course, don’t forget the mezze (appetizers), kebabs (roast meat), and köfte (herb-seasoned meatballs).

Devouring an Islak Burger after Midnight

Islak Burger In Istanbul

For late-night cravings, Istanbulites turn to the Islak Burger, much like Parisians go for crepes and Montrealers choose poutine. In shop windows, these shiny, yellowed, steam-warmed little burgers (earning the name wet burger) might not look impressive, but once you taste them, it’s a different story.

With a soft texture and simple ingredients (garlic, beef, bread softened in milk), they make our overloaded hamburgers seem overdone and pretentious. You’ll find plenty of stalls at the top of Istiklal Avenue (İstiklâl Caddesi), near Taksim Square, with Kizilkayalar being the most popular. It can be crowded at peak times, but don’t hesitate to push your way to the counter, even if it means bumping into the waitstaff.

Strolling Istiklal Avenue

 Istiklal Avenue Istanbul

To truly understand Istanbul, its energy and craziness at all hours, you must walk up Istiklal Avenue to Taksim Square. This 1.5-kilometer stretch is said to host three million people every Saturday and Sunday. It’s a miracle there are no accidents every time the tram passes through the bustling crowd. Compared to this, even the Champs-Élysées seem tame, even on Christmas Eve!

Lined with brand stores, patisseries, confectioners, chocolate shops, and vendors selling Maraş ice cream (Maraş dondurması with its unique elastic texture), Istiklal is a paradise for gourmands and serial shoppers alike. Notable stops include the majestic yet narrow flower passage (Çiçek Pasajı), and the Catholic churches of Saint Mary Draperis (with its miraculous icon) and Saint Anthony of Padua (with its neo-Venetian façade).

In the evening, take a stroll through the narrow side streets packed with excited youths crowding into taverns, cafés, and restaurants, making it feel like all of Istanbul has gathered there.

Trying Traditional Turkish Drink

Ayran Traditional Turkish Drink

Before leaving Istanbul, you must try Ayran! This drink, made of one-third natural yogurt (from cow, sheep, or goat) and two-thirds water with a sprinkle of salt, was declared the official beverage by Turkish President Erdogan. Often topped with foam, it pairs wonderfully with kebabs and vegetables.

Turkish coffee and tea (çay), served constantly and everywhere (don’t be surprised if someone offers you some on the vapur), are your trusty companions in Istanbul. While black tea from Rize (northeast Turkey) is popular, you might also be offered apple tea.

Turkish coffee, an Ottoman tradition made from finely ground beans, cold water, and sugar, brewed multiple times over low heat to create a foamy surface, was added to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013.

For an early evening pick-me-up, a pint of Efes Pilsen beer (named after Ephesus where it’s brewed) or a glass of raki to go with your mezze is perfect. The adventurous can try boza (fermented millet), şalgam suyu (rutabaga juice), or sahlep (made from orchid roots).

Read also: 12 Traditional Turkish Drinks To Discover 

Partying with the Turks

Beyoğlu At Night

Strolling the streets after midnight reveals that Istanbul is far from an early-to-bed city. Start your evening in Beyoğlu, with its restaurants and posh bars such as Ravouna 1906, Orient Bar at the Pera Palace Hotel (where Agatha Christie supposedly stayed), or on rooftop terraces like Litera Bar and 360 Istanbul just before sunset.

For something different, head to the vibrant Balat district with its steep streets, detailed graffiti, and charming cafés. As night falls, the action shifts to Karaköy (venues like Nest, Ayı, Finn, and Fosil—note, bars here often don’t last more than two seasons) or further north in Arnavutköy (spots like Alexandra Cocktail Bar and Lucca).

Read also: 14 Best Places To Enjoy Nightlife In Istanbul

Boarding a Steamer

Vapur Istanbul

There’s no better way to explore the Istanbul coastline than by boarding a steamer. Glide past palaces and dilapidated wooden houses with gables and corbelled roofs that line the Bosphorus Strait, connecting the Sea of Marmara (South) to the Black Sea (North).

The vapur, a type of mini-ferry, is a favored way to reach the Asian side, particularly the district of Üsküdar, known for its numerous Ottoman mosques and the iconic Maiden’s Tower just offshore.

A Trip to the Princes’ Islands


Istanbul’s high density can sometimes be overwhelming. For a break, especially from cars, consider a day trip to the Princes’ Islands (Adalar, or “the islands” as locals call them), about 20 kilometers south of Istanbul. These islands were once the residence of Byzantine princes and offer a peaceful escape.

Four of the islands are accessible by boat from Kabataş. Kınalı, the smallest, is known for its fleshy cliffs and antennas and is the least crowded. Then there’s Burgazada, and Heybeliada, with its free-roaming horses, the Holy Trinity Monastery, and Almanaköy Beach. Büyukada, the largest, can be explored by bike, carriage, or donkey. While some beaches may get crowded quickly (especially on weekends), the best option is to venture along the coastal paths or stroll between the Monastery of Saint George Koudounas and the Adalar Museum.

Best Addresses to Know Istanbul Like a Local


Grand Hotel De Londres: Established in 1892 during the era of the Orient Express, this Grand Hôtel de Londres stands with a neoclassical façade and austere caryatids in bustling Beyoğlu. Inside, you’ll find a “fin de siècle” atmosphere perfect for those seeking oriental charm. The rooms, however, are showing their age. Rates start at €45 for an economy room (high season).

Address: Asmalı Mescit Mh., Meşrutiyet Cd. No:53, 34430 Beyoğlu/İstanbul.

Witt Istanbul Hotel: Perfect for design enthusiasts, this hotel features brass feet, floral cutouts, and suites with large bay windows offering panoramic views. Opened in 2008, it collaborates with top designers, including Turkey’s Autoban and Britain’s Ross Lovegrove. It has 18 rooms (at least 30m² each) and a rooftop with a permaculture garden. Rates start from €110 for a standard “King” room (off-season; €155 otherwise).

Address: Kılınç Ali Paşa Mahallesi, Defterdar Ykş. No:26, 34433 Beyoğlu/İstanbul.

Sirkeci Mansion Hotel: Located in Sultanahmet and overlooking Gülhane Park, this hotel has 32 modern rooms, the Neyzade restaurant, a sauna, Turkish baths, a gym, and an indoor swimming pool. The wood-paneled façade is reminiscent of a large Swiss chalet surprise in the old city. Standard rooms from €120.

Address: Hoca Paşa, Taya Hatun Sk no:5, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul.


Karaköy Lokantasi: Featuring a wrought iron spiral staircase, graphic tiles, and wooden tables with white tablecloths, this restaurant excels in modernized traditional cuisine. Highlights include mezze, mantı, meats, and fish. Reservations are recommended, especially for terrace seating.

Address: Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa, Kemankeş Cd. No:37 A, 34425 Beyoğlu/İstanbul.

Murver: Known for its blue ceramic enameled fireplace and wood-fired cooking, dishes include octopus, Thracian lamb with firik pilaf, duck confit, and kokoreç (lamb intestines and offal). The menu features hearty carnivore delights.

Address: Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa, İETT Karaköy Durağı 57-59, 34425 Beyoğlu/İstanbul.

Peymane: Initially hidden, this restaurant reveals a rustic courtyard, enclosed by buildings and tall plants. The kitchen specializes in wood-fired dishes, with occasional visits from stray cats.

Address: Tomtom Boğazkesen Cd. No:65 D:H, 34433 Beyoğlu/İstanbul.


Ritual Hamam of Kilic Ali Pasha (since 1580, designed by the great architect of the Ottoman style, Sinan) Reservation required, days reserved for women or men

Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa, Hamam Sk. No:1, 34425 Beyoğlu/İstanbul

Keyf-i Hamam package of Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam (since 1556, another Sinan coup) Reservation required, separate baths for women and men.

Cankurtaran, Ayasofya Meydanı No:2, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul

Eating an Islak Burger  : Kizilkayalar

 Katip Mustafa Çelebi, Sıraselviler Cd. 2/2, 34433 Beyoğlu/İstanbul

Where to have a drink?

– Ravouna 1906  : Tomtom Mah, İstiklal Cd. No:201, 34433 Beyoğlu/İstanbul

– Orient Bar (Pera Palace Hotel): Evliya Çelebi, Meşrutiyet Cd., 34430 Beyoğlu/İstanbul

Tomtom Litera K: 6 Litera, Yeni Carsı Cd. No:32, 34433 Beyoğlu

– 360 Istanbul : Tomtom, İstiklal Cd. No:8 D:163, 34433 Beyoğlu/İstanbul

– Nest Karaköy : Grounds, Arap Cami Mahallesi, 34421 Beyoğlu/İstanbul

– Address : Caferağa, 60, Moda Cd., 34710 Kadıköy/İstanbul

– Finn : Süleymaniye, Necatibey Cd. No:8, 34425 Beyoğlu/İstanbul

– Alexandra Cocktail Bar : Arnavutköy, Bebek Arnavutköy Cd No:50, 34345 Beşiktaş/İstanbul

– Lucca : Baby, Cevdet Pasha Cd. 51/A,