- DO VISIT THE FLOWER PASSAGE (ÇIÇEK PASAJI). You'll notice the entrance to the Flower Passage right opposite the gates of the prestigious Galatasaray Lyçée. After a fairly comprehensive restoration in the past year, the passage has recovered some of the style it had when it opened as one of the most chic Pera passages in 1876. Lined with fish restaurants serving the statutory meze and fresh grilled fish, the passage is more about its history and atmosphere than fine wining and dining. Try the blue fish, unique to the Bosphorus, and listen to the gypsy musicians play in return for a pittance up and down the passage. Or just stroll down on your way to Nevizade.
- DO ROAM THE NEVIZADE. One of the city's most vibrant and fun streets is hidden away in the backstreets of Beyoğlu behind its more obvious cousin, the Flower Passage. Alive with activity all round the year (though a special pleasure when the weather allows street eating), Nevizade is perhaps one of the narrowest but most bustling of all Istanbul's streets and alleys. You'll find bars, Greek tavernas, little night clubs and a great number of fish restaurant on this alley, which lights up at night to the sound of a mainly local crowd: students enjoying a cheap beer at one of the street bars, devotees of the latest in modern music at some obscure upstairs boîte, or an eclectic mix of all ages at the many restaurants, supplied by the fish market at the entrance to the street, itself one of the sights of the city and through which you pass to reach Nevizade's treasures. Come here to sit for an hour or two just watching the people go by, and marvel at the street sellers peddling everything from fresh nuts and mussels to unimaginably kitsch trinkets and gadgets. Inevitably, pickpockets thrive in such dense crowds, but apart from that there is no danger at all, beyond getting carried away by the revelry. Many insiders rate the old established Boncuk restaurant highly, though all the restaurants serve a similar array of meze and fish. Choose your fish from the display and always check the price before you order: expect a full blown meal with raki or wine to set you back about €40. A word of advice: finish your meze before choosing a main course: you'll often find that is enough, and depending on what you drink you could get away with €20 or so. The restaurants take all major credit cards; Nevizade goes on till 1 or 2 in the morning depending on the season. Turn off İstiklal Caddesi through the Flower Passage, turn right down the fish market and look out for the "Nevizade" sign at the narrow entrance to the street.
- DO VISIT THE HAMMAMS. The two crucial criteria for the countless hammams in Istanbul are temperature and cleanliness. The baths are made largely of marble and stone: too hot and you'll get weary and scalded; not hot enough, and you risk catching a cold after a few days.
It is quite normal to come across tens of hammams even within a few blocks, each rightly claiming a historic or architectural significance that catches your attention. But you can't leave town without trying at least one traditional Ottoman Turkish bath.
In my view, Çemberlitaş is one of two hammams that has been properly maintained and restored to its original glory. The other is Cağaloğlu - a mere 500m apart from each other in the historic old centre. The two resemble each other so closely in style and architecture that it is really a toss of the coin if you have to choose just one. Weekdays are more serene and tranquil.
In either case, you will be in authentic, clean and luxurious surroundings in the true oriental manner of the pashas and sultans of old, with traditional Turkish cleansing and massage services available as options on top of the €20 entrance fee. A full body massage costs some €13, while the entire pampering cleansing routine will set you back about €40.
An authentic Turkish massage is traditionally pretty vigorous: Europeans accustomed to less thorough techniques sometimes cry off after 10 minutes or so, but you can be sure you'll feel reinvigorated if you stick it out!
After allowing yourself these exotic pleasures, you will be given a small cabin to lie down and doze, sip traditional apple tea, or perk up with a strong Turkish coffee or "ayran" yoghurt drink. Just relax and take in the atmosphere - bliss!
You may well be tempted to buy one of the gifts, soaps or hammam implements on sale on your departure, but the hamam is not the real place for shopping and you should resist the temptation. The same products can be bought in the bazaars for less.
The hammam experience is unforgettable, whether it's at the height of summer or on a bitter winter day.
Çemberlitaş Turkish Bath
Vezirhan Caddesi No: 8
34440 Çemberlitaş - Istanbul
Phone: +90 212 5227974
Open every day 9 am - 10 pm
Cağaloğlu Turkish Bath
CAGALOGLU / ISTANBUL - TURKIYE
Phone: +90 (212) 522 24 24
Fax: +90 (212) 512 85 53
Open every day 8 am - 10 pm for men, 8 am - 8 pm for women.
- DO VISIT THE SPLENDID PALACE BÜYÜKADA / PRINCES' ISLANDS. However tempting it may look to follow the urchins diving off the Galata Bridge on a really sultry Istanbul day, only a few places are really clean enough for sea dips. And if you don't fancy a trip right up to the Black Sea, then the Princes' Islands are for you. Within sight of the bustling city, the islands draw locals and visitors alike for their old-world charm. Motorised vehicles are strictly prohibited, horse-drawn "phaetons" or rented bicycles are the only form of transport if you don't want to take the hills on foot. Avoid the weekend crowds and take a slow boat (about 90 minutes) or a seabus (about 30 minutes) to Büyükada, or Prinkipo to an older generation who still use the Greek name.
If you plan to stay a night or two, the insiders' tip is the century-old Hotel Splendid, whose twin domes are visible from the ferry as it approaches the jetty. The rooms are not luxurious, their faded elegance speaks of an earlier era. Make sure to ask for a room with a sea view (€60-90 a night) and imagine yourself in the Constantinople of old, with the carriages trotting beneath your balcony as you gaze over the shimmering sea towards the distant outlines of the city. And if you don't fancy a trip down to the sea, there is a swimming pool tucked behind the hotel too.
Make sure to plan your boat crossing with your hotel reception or check out the schedules on www.ido.com.tr.
Apart from ambling around admiring the grand old wooden mansions, you might try the steep walk (or mule trip) to the hilltop monastery where there is a little restaurant in the cool of the shade.
The islands themselves have a rich history: residents have include the exiled Trotsky and a great array of writers and artists. They are still favoured as summer resorts by Armenian, Greek and Jewish minorities from the city. And each island has a different character, so if you have a day or two, you could do a bit of island-hopping Istanbul style. The perfect way to unwind and experience a rarely glimpsed corner of Istanbul's rich heritage of different cultures and styles.