The crowds of Istanbul
I get overwhelmed in crowds. I prefer silent spaces, spots where I can narrate my own little story while strolling along. Which means, basically, I’m a bit of an odd duck in big cities.
Istanbul is no exception. This vibrant, picturesque spot (deemed the most ‘Instagramable city’ by quite a few blogs, because apparently that’s a thing) is teeming with people. There are crowds. Absolutely. Every. Where. Head to the 3,000 shops of the Grand Bazaar? Crowds. Walk to the historic Topkapi Palace? Crowds. And let’s not even get started on Istiklal Avenue, the famous boutique-lined street that heaves with bodies.
All the crowds are understandable — Istanbul is magnificent. It’s beautiful. It has a fabulous mix of history, of East and West, of mosques arching into the sky and tiny alleyways scented with spices. There’s a pulsing beauty here worth seeing.
Yet for quiet travellers like me, the real charm lies in branching away from the massive sites. I head to the side streets instead.
There are many of these. They snake up and down small cobblestone roads and steep hills. You can buy Simit (a traditional Turkish sesame bagel) for pennies from a street vendor, wandering with the city’s many stray cats at your feet. You won’t want for beauty — the city has mosques at nearly every corner, with a growing number of hipster shops tucked between spots to buy rugs or spices.
Of course I’d recommend still doing the classic sites. The Travel Hub has done a great job of detailing where to go, what to see, how, all that grand stuff. To miss the Blue Mosque, to skip the Spice Bazaar, it would be a bit like heading to Paris and ignoring the Eiffel Tower.
Yet don’t let those things be your idea of the city.
Grab Istanbul Tourist Pass (an actually very clever pass that gives you hop-on-hop-off access; guided tours of famous sites, airport transfer and a wifi dongle) and head to the lesser known districts along the Bosphorus. In waterfront Emirgan you can grab a traditional Turkish breakfast at a spot just across the street from where the boat docks: tomatoes, olives, bread, cheese, all of it drenched in olive oil. Go for a wander across Galata Bridge and grab sardine sandwiches from boat cafes bobbing in the water. Let the city come to life.
In a place this historic, that can be a magical thing indeed.
FlyDubai does regular flights between Dubai and Istanbul. Business Class comes with lounge access, blankets, in-flight films, a meal and limited wallet strain. In my opinion, FlyDubai puts other ‘budget’ airlines to shame — even without Business Class.
Transparency note: We were at these hotels as complimentary guests, so there’s that. But honesty is still key. *insertshrugemoji*
I loved this property. Opened in 2017, the venue has been crafted to positively drip with Ottoman art. Bathrooms are full of mosaics, while chandeliers and carved wood fill the lobby.
At breakfast you can sneak across to the private dining area to grab an amazing shot of the sun rising over Istanbul’s skyline. The Afiya Spa does a solid traditional Turkish Bath (bubbles and massages and all).
Were I to come again, I’d book into Ajwa’s new neighbourhood apartment. This nearby four-bedroom venue is separate from the hotel, great for friends. It stretches over multiple floors, has its own private winter garden and outdoor area, private hammam and kitchen.
While Ajwa was all things ancient and embellished, this Park Hyatt property was slick and minimal. It’s nestled just opposite a park and surrounded by plenty of luxury shops.
Upstairs there’s an outdoor pool and trendy bar, although when we visited it wasn’t quite hot enough outside for swimming.
Photos by Andrew Marty of The Travel Hub.