Istanbul is modern and ancient, conservative and free-wheeling. It has a vibrant nightlife and prominent mosques, cutting-edge art and traditional family-owned restaurants. The old and the new layer constantly in this city that never stops moving.
When to Go
The best time to visit is the spring or the autumn (April through May and September). The summers are hot and sticky and the winters are gray and drizzly, but the spring bursts with tulips and blooming pink Judas trees, while the autumn weather is perfectly warm and breezy. Those seasons are likely to be less crowded than the busy summer, too.
During Ramadan, many neighborhoods feel unchanged—it’s not unusual for people to eat and drink on the street—but there are public Iftars, so you can participate in community fast-breaking. The city empties out during the Kurban Bayram holiday, so many shops will be closed. Every summer brings a slew of festivals, including the and the Istanbul Jazz Festival, both of which offer outdoor concerts throughout the city.
What to Eat
No visit to Istanbul is complete without a Turkish breakfast, a giant spread of eggs, yogurt, cheese, olives, jams, honey, cucumbers, tahini, and more. Make sure to try fresh grilled fish and meze (Turkish tapas) with a glass of raki, a strong anise-flavored liquor. For dessert, taste sticky-sweet pistachio baklava. Try Istanbul’s street food if you’re on the go: sesame-encrusted simit, rice-stuffed mussels (midye dolma), and grilled fish sandwiches (balik ekmek) are all delicious options.
Souvenir to Take Home
As you stroll Istanbul’s bazaars, look for Turkish carpets, hand-woven hammam towels, Turkish delight, and local spices like Urfa pepper and sumac. Any of these will provide a fond reminder of your travels or a lovely gift for someone back home.
Sustainable Travel Tip
Istanbul is full of traffic, but you can avoid it by taking public transportation—there’s a vast network of ferries, metros, trams, and buses that are available. Try to use refillable water bottles instead of the very common plastic bottles that are sold on the street.
Head up to the viewing platform on the roof of the Galata Tower at sunset for a terrific view of the Old City. The tea garden on top of Pierre Loti Hill also offers excellent photo opportunities.