Jonathan and I stayed in Istanbul Turkey for over a month. When you live in a place for a city for a longer period of time instead of running through it in 12 hours, your approach to experiencing the city is going to look slightly different. For us, we decided to come up with a bucket list at the beginning of our stay and check off a few items every week. The list ranged from visiting top tourist attractions to simply eating dinner in a beautiful park alongside the locals. As we checked off items, we felt like we got to experience the city alongside other tourists while also experiencing everyday Istanbul-isque enjoyments.

Istanbul is a very colorful, vibrant, dynamic, religious, and multi-cultural city containing an entire different culture from the one familiar to Westerners. While there are ways to explore it in a couple of days, I suggest that this guide is better catered to a longer stay with more time to soak in the city at a slower and richer pace.

Here is what we came up with!

  • Cook a Turkish breakfast and eat it on the roof.
  • Try inexpensive street food.
  • Visit the Galata Tower and its surrounding neighborhood.
  • Have an evening picnic in Gulhane Park.
  • Do some experimental cooking with some unfamiliar spices from the Spice Bazaar.
  • Try hookah at a local restaurant or cafe.
  • Go on a long run by the waterfront.
  • Sample a piece of Turkish delight and wonder around the Spice Market while eating it.
  • Go on a self-guided tour of the city's colorful murals.
  • Listen to the Muslim call to prayer at Hagia Sofia.
  • Dress in modest attire and enter the Blue Mosque's visitor's section in between prayer times.
  • Find a good view over the city and watch the sunset while sipping on Turkish tea or coffee.
  • Complete a leg workout by running up and down a flight of colorful steps in the artistic Cihangir neighborhood. 
  • Count how many Turkish flags you can spot in a single day.
  • Mingle in the Ortak√∂y neighborhood on a Sunday to see the beautiful little mosque and bustling market.
  • Find the Basilica Cistern built in 532 AD to bring drinking water to Istanbul.
  • Take an inexpensive ferry ride over the Bosphorus River to the asian side of Istanbul.
  • Get lost in the Grand Bazaar.
  • Grab an evening dessert in the historical Balat neighborhood.
  • Discuss the process of handcrafting a quality Turkish rug with a local rug shopkeeper.
  • Stop for a listen to street musicians.
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Meghan Mathews