Cities

Away days: 24 hours in Istanbul

As the Champions League final returns to Istanbul, sport broadcaster and long-term resident Samantha Johnson describes the ingredients of a city where football is high up the menu

The city where East meets West? Istanbul is about so much more than that. It has soul. It has depth. It has history. It has football. We’re talking about a place that was the capital of three huge empires – Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman – and the remnants of each era can still be found around the city. And that’s not the only “big three” to take into account here: Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş are an integral part of the culture and personality of Istanbul. But where to start? The historic district of Fatih.

It’s where you’ll see the beauty of the Hagia Sofia, the Sultanahmet (also known as the Blue Mosque) and the subterranean Basilica Cistern, all within walking distance. It’s also home to the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. Now, you may go in saying you’re not going to buy anything but I defy you to not get lured in by the famous hospitality – and get involved with the banter and bartering with the sellers.

Next, take a stroll down to Eminonu and cross the picturesque Galata Bridge, dodging the many fishermen who line the walkway. This will lead you to the Beyoğlu district. It’s a place where you can easily get beautifully lost on the winding roads; behind one of the many narrow doors could be a converted boutique hotel or a bar that opens up to be a Secret Garden-cum-Narnia experience. And be sure to keep on walking, because most roads in the area will lead you to Galata Tower – the perfect place to get a 360-degree view of the city.

Galatasaray fans celebrate a triumph (above), Fenerbahçe supporters (top right),Views of the Süleymaniye Mosque in the Fatih district across the Bosphorus (right)

Now, don’t forget the rather prominent feature that lies right in the middle of the city: the Bosphorus. It’s the place to switch off, people-watch, enjoy a Turkish tea and dine at one of the many fish restaurants in places like Bebek. You should also catch the ferry to truly take in the landscape of the two continents. Consider heading up towards the Black Sea: the further you go, the more serene (and less touristy) it gets.

And then there’s the football. When normality returns, time your visit to coincide with a derby weekend and get a ringside seat (you’ll need a Passolig card, with which you pay for and stores your electronic ticket). Galatasaray and Beşiktaş are on the European side, while Fenerbahçe are in Kadıköy on the Asian side. Can you think of another fixture where you have to reach another continent to support your team? The opposing fans pack out the ferries to cross the strait, belting out songs not dissimilar to war chants. Pride is at stake.

"ISTANBUL IS A WALKING CITY. TAKE YOUR TIME. JUST INDULGE"

The atmosphere in Turkish football is probably only rivalled by South America. And make no mistake: once you step into the arena, it’s the fans who make the experience worthwhile; everything from the banging of the drums to the choreographed chants that spread across the entire stadium. The supporters carry the atmosphere for the whole game and it’s really quite poetic to see and hear it all played out before you. And that’s not to mention the fact that there’s a game being played…

At the time of writing, Istanbul has gone back into partial lockdown for Ramadan due to the pandemic. And while attractions and hotels are still open for tourists, restaurants are operating on a delivery service. When it comes to football, we are obviously unsure when fans will be allowed back in. But one thing will always remain true of Istanbul: this is a city that deserves to be explored and experienced. She has too much life in her to sit in silence.

And lastly, a reminder. Whereas in other cities you might get caught up in the rat race, rushing from one place to another, feeding off the frenzy, Istanbul is the opposite. It’s a walking city. Take your time. Enjoy the ritual of a Turkish breakfast, have another baklava, eat some kofte from Sultanahmet. Just indulge. You may end up wanting to stay a little longer than 24 hours.

Travel
Strait talking

Got extra time? Spend a day beside the Bosphorus

Consider heading out to the Princes Islands in the Sea of Marmara; it’s a popular weekend getaway for the locals, which is always a good sign. There are regular ferries from Eminonu, Kadıköy and Bostancı (the journey takes just over an hour and a half) and the trip itself is a great experience, so be sure to take in the sights.

A glass of Turkish Çay and a visit to the Grand Bazaar (top) are musts in Istanbul

The largest of the Islands is Büyükada, which is home to some of the most beautiful Ottoman mansions. Cars aren’t allowed on any of the islands so it’s a case of blissful bike rides or a horse and carriage to get around. On your return to the city you should dine by the Bosphorus. And you should do it right: Arnavutköy Balıkçıs is one of the finest seafood restaurants in Bebek. Not that you can go wrong in this area.

The city where East meets West? Istanbul is about so much more than that. It has soul. It has depth. It has history. It has football. We’re talking about a place that was the capital of three huge empires – Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman – and the remnants of each era can still be found around the city. And that’s not the only “big three” to take into account here: Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş are an integral part of the culture and personality of Istanbul. But where to start? The historic district of Fatih.

It’s where you’ll see the beauty of the Hagia Sofia, the Sultanahmet (also known as the Blue Mosque) and the subterranean Basilica Cistern, all within walking distance. It’s also home to the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. Now, you may go in saying you’re not going to buy anything but I defy you to not get lured in by the famous hospitality – and get involved with the banter and bartering with the sellers.

Next, take a stroll down to Eminonu and cross the picturesque Galata Bridge, dodging the many fishermen who line the walkway. This will lead you to the Beyoğlu district. It’s a place where you can easily get beautifully lost on the winding roads; behind one of the many narrow doors could be a converted boutique hotel or a bar that opens up to be a Secret Garden-cum-Narnia experience. And be sure to keep on walking, because most roads in the area will lead you to Galata Tower – the perfect place to get a 360-degree view of the city.

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Galatasaray fans celebrate a triumph (above), Fenerbahçe supporters (top right),Views of the Süleymaniye Mosque in the Fatih district across the Bosphorus (right)

Now, don’t forget the rather prominent feature that lies right in the middle of the city: the Bosphorus. It’s the place to switch off, people-watch, enjoy a Turkish tea and dine at one of the many fish restaurants in places like Bebek. You should also catch the ferry to truly take in the landscape of the two continents. Consider heading up towards the Black Sea: the further you go, the more serene (and less touristy) it gets.

And then there’s the football. When normality returns, time your visit to coincide with a derby weekend and get a ringside seat (you’ll need a Passolig card, with which you pay for and stores your electronic ticket). Galatasaray and Beşiktaş are on the European side, while Fenerbahçe are in Kadıköy on the Asian side. Can you think of another fixture where you have to reach another continent to support your team? The opposing fans pack out the ferries to cross the strait, belting out songs not dissimilar to war chants. Pride is at stake.

"ISTANBUL IS A WALKING CITY. TAKE YOUR TIME. JUST INDULGE"

The atmosphere in Turkish football is probably only rivalled by South America. And make no mistake: once you step into the arena, it’s the fans who make the experience worthwhile; everything from the banging of the drums to the choreographed chants that spread across the entire stadium. The supporters carry the atmosphere for the whole game and it’s really quite poetic to see and hear it all played out before you. And that’s not to mention the fact that there’s a game being played…

At the time of writing, Istanbul has gone back into partial lockdown for Ramadan due to the pandemic. And while attractions and hotels are still open for tourists, restaurants are operating on a delivery service. When it comes to football, we are obviously unsure when fans will be allowed back in. But one thing will always remain true of Istanbul: this is a city that deserves to be explored and experienced. She has too much life in her to sit in silence.

And lastly, a reminder. Whereas in other cities you might get caught up in the rat race, rushing from one place to another, feeding off the frenzy, Istanbul is the opposite. It’s a walking city. Take your time. Enjoy the ritual of a Turkish breakfast, have another baklava, eat some kofte from Sultanahmet. Just indulge. You may end up wanting to stay a little longer than 24 hours.

Travel
Strait talking

Got extra time? Spend a day beside the Bosphorus

Consider heading out to the Princes Islands in the Sea of Marmara; it’s a popular weekend getaway for the locals, which is always a good sign. There are regular ferries from Eminonu, Kadıköy and Bostancı (the journey takes just over an hour and a half) and the trip itself is a great experience, so be sure to take in the sights.

A glass of Turkish Çay and a visit to the Grand Bazaar (top) are musts in Istanbul

The largest of the Islands is Büyükada, which is home to some of the most beautiful Ottoman mansions. Cars aren’t allowed on any of the islands so it’s a case of blissful bike rides or a horse and carriage to get around. On your return to the city you should dine by the Bosphorus. And you should do it right: Arnavutköy Balıkçıs is one of the finest seafood restaurants in Bebek. Not that you can go wrong in this area.

The city where East meets West? Istanbul is about so much more than that. It has soul. It has depth. It has history. It has football. We’re talking about a place that was the capital of three huge empires – Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman – and the remnants of each era can still be found around the city. And that’s not the only “big three” to take into account here: Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş are an integral part of the culture and personality of Istanbul. But where to start? The historic district of Fatih.

It’s where you’ll see the beauty of the Hagia Sofia, the Sultanahmet (also known as the Blue Mosque) and the subterranean Basilica Cistern, all within walking distance. It’s also home to the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. Now, you may go in saying you’re not going to buy anything but I defy you to not get lured in by the famous hospitality – and get involved with the banter and bartering with the sellers.

Next, take a stroll down to Eminonu and cross the picturesque Galata Bridge, dodging the many fishermen who line the walkway. This will lead you to the Beyoğlu district. It’s a place where you can easily get beautifully lost on the winding roads; behind one of the many narrow doors could be a converted boutique hotel or a bar that opens up to be a Secret Garden-cum-Narnia experience. And be sure to keep on walking, because most roads in the area will lead you to Galata Tower – the perfect place to get a 360-degree view of the city.

Galatasaray fans celebrate a triumph (above), Fenerbahçe supporters (top right),Views of the Süleymaniye Mosque in the Fatih district across the Bosphorus (right)

Now, don’t forget the rather prominent feature that lies right in the middle of the city: the Bosphorus. It’s the place to switch off, people-watch, enjoy a Turkish tea and dine at one of the many fish restaurants in places like Bebek. You should also catch the ferry to truly take in the landscape of the two continents. Consider heading up towards the Black Sea: the further you go, the more serene (and less touristy) it gets.

And then there’s the football. When normality returns, time your visit to coincide with a derby weekend and get a ringside seat (you’ll need a Passolig card, with which you pay for and stores your electronic ticket). Galatasaray and Beşiktaş are on the European side, while Fenerbahçe are in Kadıköy on the Asian side. Can you think of another fixture where you have to reach another continent to support your team? The opposing fans pack out the ferries to cross the strait, belting out songs not dissimilar to war chants. Pride is at stake.

"ISTANBUL IS A WALKING CITY. TAKE YOUR TIME. JUST INDULGE"

The atmosphere in Turkish football is probably only rivalled by South America. And make no mistake: once you step into the arena, it’s the fans who make the experience worthwhile; everything from the banging of the drums to the choreographed chants that spread across the entire stadium. The supporters carry the atmosphere for the whole game and it’s really quite poetic to see and hear it all played out before you. And that’s not to mention the fact that there’s a game being played…

At the time of writing, Istanbul has gone back into partial lockdown for Ramadan due to the pandemic. And while attractions and hotels are still open for tourists, restaurants are operating on a delivery service. When it comes to football, we are obviously unsure when fans will be allowed back in. But one thing will always remain true of Istanbul: this is a city that deserves to be explored and experienced. She has too much life in her to sit in silence.

And lastly, a reminder. Whereas in other cities you might get caught up in the rat race, rushing from one place to another, feeding off the frenzy, Istanbul is the opposite. It’s a walking city. Take your time. Enjoy the ritual of a Turkish breakfast, have another baklava, eat some kofte from Sultanahmet. Just indulge. You may end up wanting to stay a little longer than 24 hours.

Travel
Strait talking

Got extra time? Spend a day beside the Bosphorus

Consider heading out to the Princes Islands in the Sea of Marmara; it’s a popular weekend getaway for the locals, which is always a good sign. There are regular ferries from Eminonu, Kadıköy and Bostancı (the journey takes just over an hour and a half) and the trip itself is a great experience, so be sure to take in the sights.

A glass of Turkish Çay and a visit to the Grand Bazaar (top) are musts in Istanbul

The largest of the Islands is Büyükada, which is home to some of the most beautiful Ottoman mansions. Cars aren’t allowed on any of the islands so it’s a case of blissful bike rides or a horse and carriage to get around. On your return to the city you should dine by the Bosphorus. And you should do it right: Arnavutköy Balıkçıs is one of the finest seafood restaurants in Bebek. Not that you can go wrong in this area.

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