Summer just won’t seem to quit, and we all know how the heat tends to stifle any imagination when it comes to finding ways to explore this incredible city. In an attempt to keep the mood light and the lira in your pockets, here is a list of things to do around the city that won’t break the bank.
1. Watch the sunset from the ferry
Istanbul boasts some of the greatest sunsets and one of the best skylines: what better way to experience them both at once than on a boat in between two continents? For under 5 TL you get the silhouette of Galata tower, the minarets scattered around Sultanahmet and the colours of the sweltering city that hang over the Golden Horn. If you don’t want to cross continents you can keep your seat and go back over to your home turf without having to pay again.
2. Picnic in Yıldız Park
Follow the photographs of Atatürk that line the giant stone wall between Beşiktaş and Ortaköy; opposite the Çırağan Palace (which is currently home to a hotel) you will find Yıldız Park. A respite from the chaos and the heat of the city, the park has lots of trees, grassy hills and shady picnic spots. If you’re feeling adventurous, on the left-hand side of the park there is an abandoned greenhouse with an only partially obscured Bosphorus view. The gate is usually open and, so long as you don’t mind broken glass shards, it is worth exploring between the roses and shrubbery that grow through the concrete cracks. The park stays open until 22:00 and entrance is free.
3. Beers in Moda Park
The park along the seaside in Moda wakes up as the sun goes down. There are tennis and basketball courts and plenty of grass space to recline with the beer-drinking, çekirdek-crunching masses. Grab a few bottles of your preferred brew and a bag of sunflower seeds, and take a break from the heat and the traffic. The sunset over the water lends the perfect backdrop to the ritual of relaxation that Turkey does so well.
4. Swim at Caddebostan
In the park at Caddebostan you will find leather-skinned Turkish men and too-tanned woman lazing on the concrete promenade while children play in the shade and families picnic. There is a sandy beach that will set you back 10 TL, but if you don’t mind deep water there’s always the option of launching yourself off the waterbreak into the sea like the locals. For only 3 TL in a Bostancı dolmuş from the Kadıköy ferry port, it’s an inexpensive way to catch some sun and stay cool. At night, much like Moda, it turns festive and the beer fridge at the nearby Migros receives a lot of attention.
5. Catch happy hour at Papillon
If, like me, you’re a sucker for half-price beer and a good atmosphere, you’ll be able to spend hours at Papillon. With board games, a fish tank and an inside swing chair, it feels like you’re having a drink in an eccentric friend’s living room. On weekends the beer is half price until 23:00, so long as you get there and start drinking before 20:00 (the normal happy hour with 4 TL drafts runs from 17:00-20:00) — it will be a very, very happy hour indeed. Each floor has a small balcony, so get there early and watch the sunset over Beyoğlu.
Papillon: Balo Sok. No:31/4 Beyoğlu, 34330 İstanbul, Türkiye
6. Visit a new-to-you mosque
Although it seems like an obvious choice in a city of over 3,000 of them, some of the best mosques in Istanbul are overlooked due to a certain big blue shadow. While the Blue Mosque is impressive, an important part of the experience is lost when you have to share it with hoards of sweaty tourists and their pretend whispers. When you’re feeling like treating your eyes and your soul, there are three mosques that, depending on your location, won’t disappoint. If you’re around the Old City the Laleli Camii is quiet and the chandelier that hangs from the centre is something to write home about. The Ortaköy Mosque has recently been reopened after a long period of restoration and its location on the edge of the Bosphorus speaks for itself. Finally, you can find Suleymaniye Mosque atop one of the best vantage points in the city and the tea houses beneath it (which share its view) are perfect for taking a step back from the city.
7. Go on a trip around Turkey at Miniaturk
From the ‘fairy caves’ of Cappadocia to the old city of Mardin to the iconic Blue Mosque, you can see it all in bite-sized chunks. Each 10 TL entrance ticket has a barcode that can be scanned at the sites, prompting a voice recording to tell you about what you’re seeing in your language of choice. While the English is often questionable, it’s a good way to get an overview of what the country has to offer and give you a taste of what there is to see if you go beyond the city walls.
8. Climb to the top of Grand Bazaar
It might take a few attempts to find, but there is a worthy pot of gold waiting for you when you do! The entrance can be found in the Valide Han. After passing under the stone arch and just before it opens onto the square, take the stairs to your right. An old man will ask if you’re looking for the “teras”, unlock a door and, depending on his mood, take anywhere between 1 and 3 TL for his trouble. The view is spectacular and to watch all the lights spring on as it gets dark with the call to prayer sounding from different points of the city is Istanbul at its finest.
Anna Degenaar is a contributor to Yabangee