Istanbul on a warm weekend day can be both a blessing and a hazard: the beauty of the city on a fair day is immeasurable, but the crushing crowds and tangled traffic increase exponentially as well. While there will be people and cars in great numbers everywhere, look to off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods to escape some of the usual haunts that witness an influx of tourists and locals alike on a sunny day. One of my favorite walking routes in the city is along the European shoreline of the Bosphorus, starting off in the beautiful seaside village of Rumelihisarı at the northern point and taking a leisurely journey south along the strait to end with an al fresco meal or well-deserved cocktail in Bebek.
Get a start to the day by putting on sensible shoes and heading over to Cafe Kale by the foot of Rumelihisarı. The already renowned restaurant saw a surge in popularity after chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain breakfasted there, so arrive early if you’d like to avoid crowds. No worries if it’s already bursting with hungry patrons when you get there: the restaurant is larger than it looks from its front. Snag a table outside by the curb if you’d like, but the cheery pink interior is a pleasure to eat in as well, and you won’t be noticing the view at all when the food comes. Breakfast begins when a basket of piping hot bread, enough to feed six, is plopped upon your table (go for the dill rolls). The standard breakfast spread is more than enough for two starving people, and, if you’re feeling extra gluttonous, order some menemen with sucuk to fuel up for the day.
After you roll yourself out of Kale, make a visit to Rumelihisarı a few feet away. The fortress is an Istanbul attraction that has a shot at remaining refreshingly empty of people, even on a sunny weekend morning. At 5TL a ticket, the grounds are expansive enough to relax and enjoy in peace: savor the solitude, as well as the view, from one of the towers. After snapping a few photos of the historical backdrop, make your way down and take a leisurely walk on the promenade to Bebek: you’ll pass local fishermen, power-walking Istanbulites, and bobbing boat restaurants. Keep an eye out for strings of colorful balloons stretched out in the water: for a small fee, you can try your hand at shooting them from the shore.
Bebek is an oddball when it comes to the collection of seaside towns along the European shoreline. Unlike its sleepy seaside neighbors, it is known for its nightlife and boasts neither the quaint charm of Arnavutköy nor anything like the historical Rumelihisarı. However, nestled deep into the bay, the town offers a clear, sweeping view of the Bosphrus from both left and right and—due to this jewel of a location—was a popular residential area for Ottoman aristocrats in the nineteenth century. The neighborhood unfortunately contains very few relics of this time period—one of the only remnants is a gleaming white mansion that serves today as the Egyptian Consulate—but you’ll notice Bebek’s status as an affluent neighborhood still persists: the sports cars that sleekly line the curbs or the glamorous locals strolling along can hardly be missed.
You won’t hurt for choice among the numerous cafes, waffle stands, and pastry shops that line the town’s sidewalks. Skip the mobbed tables at the ever popular Lucca or the busy baristas at Starbucks: if you’d like a sweet pastry, grab a confection at Baylan and, if you need a caffeinated pick me up, head over to Cup of Joy, a half-hidden gem of a coffee shop in a passage off the main thoroughfare (it’s located on the far side of the street from the water: turn into the indoor shopping gallery at the pharmacy just north of the Akbank). For some casual outdoor beers and a burger, stop at Taps Brewery. If you’re in the mood for a relaxed brasserie environment, try Divan or Happily Ever After or, to get a glimpse of Istanbulites enjoying a pre-dinner cocktail while dressed to the nines, grab some cocktails and an early dinner at Chilai.
Wherever you choose to settle down, take advantage of its outdoor seating area. Linger awhile and watch evening fall over the Bosphorus.
Photo Credit: Diane Zhang