15 Turkish delights in Istanbul worth travelling for

Iconic symbols of Istanbul, beyond the mega sights…

Its a city straddling two continents. Its skyline of ancient mosques and pencil-thin minarets is a photographer’s dream. Its imperial history is the stuff dreams are made of. And it boasts of some of the most sought-after mega sights on the planet. But for me, the real magic of Istanbul lies in its everyday scenes, its people, its streets, its waters, its very air. Unveiling my list of favourite Turkish delights in Istanbul. Icons in their own right, one and all.

1. Bosphorus blues: 32-kms of Bosphorus Strait separates Istanbul’s European and Asian sides. A shocking electric blue and a bouncy-swirl of choppy waters that locks the gaze into an unblinking stupor. Its the ceaseless cross-currents of the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara at work. Creating postcard-perfect views of the Turkish capital, any time of the day. Making you stare forever.




2. Fishing rods: Everyday, in the early morning and late evening, hundreds of locals line up on the Galata Bridge spanning the Golden Horn from Eminonu to Karakoy. Some for recreation, some to earn money, some to pose for pictures. Fishing rod crowd the balustrades, men try their luck for fresh catch and patiently wait hours for a tug. A charming routine lives on.

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3. Ice cream magicians: In Istanbul, even a single scoop of Dondurma (a creamy, sticky ice-cream originating from Kahramanmaraş region), translates into a full-fledged act. Fez-capped men in traditional robes entertain buyers with gusto. There’s bell-ringing, teasing, pranks, antics and a loud sing-song voice. All classically Turkish. Its a dizzying array of flavours. Get smart, ask for a mix.

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4. Musical azaan: Five times a day, the muezzin’s trilling call to prayer bellows from loudspeakers at different mosques in the city. It is synchronised, like a chain, echoing everywhere. The nearby mosques respond to the call, each joining in the harmony by turn. The azaan itself is sweet like a Sufi melody. Floating towards the heavens, above the din of the city, it is like a conduit of spiritualism. Transport into peace. 


5. Turkish dance: No better way to soak in the country’s culture than an evening show of perfectly choreographed Turkish dances. A chain of performers, both solo and group, folk and belly dances, fire shows and all. Arabian-nights costumes, sparkling jewellery. Flash of colours, foot-tapping rhythm and spirited energy. Elegant, seductive and entrancing. Top recommendation? Hodjapasha Dance Theatre, a beautifully restored Ottoman hammam in the Sirkeci district of old Sultanahmet.

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6. Whirling dervishes: Mystical ritual of Rumi’s Mevlevi Order, now a UNESCO Heritage of Humanity. Pristine flowing garments, serene expressions, uplifting music and so much whirling, one can get dizzy just watching. One more for the Hodjapasha Dance Theatre. The mood is solemn. And no clapping…this is a spiritual experience. Another Istanbul special memory to look back on, for all times.

7. Seagulls: They squawk madly, peck indiscriminately, fly in hordes, make a pretty picture in solitude and chase passenger ferry boats, all the way along the Bosphorus. Forever hungry for morsels of simit (Turkish bagel) that tourists throw towards them, they often grab food in mid-air with well-rehearsed ease. Their dazzling white feathers make a stunning contrast against the sharp blue backdrop of the waves.  Istanbul wouldn’t be itself without them. 


8. Fishing villages: These lesser known but apt symbols of the city are like a breath of fresh air. One that specially stands out is Arnavutköy (‘Town of Albanians’). Elements to love are aplenty. Yachts dock along the shore, locals laze on waterfront benches, quaint streets lead to pretty cafés, art galleries and tempting restaurants. Count in two Greeks Orthodox Churches from the late 19th century and one ruined synagogue. And the old Ottoman wooden mansions are a blast from the past. Wander on.



9. Ceramics: The city overflows with vibrant tile and ceramic souvenirs, including dishes, bowls, wall hangings and magnets…from affordable printed ones to pricey handmade versions. A tradition rooted in the 8th-9th centuries, but reaching its zenith during the Ottoman Empire. Known as İznik tiles after the town of İznik where it prospered. Popular motifs are tulips, roses, pomegranates and hyacinths and favoured colors are cobalt blue and turquoise. The richest decorations in tombs and mosques feature İznik tiles. Shopping ritual justified.

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10. Rugs: Rich dark colors and geometric patterns of the pileless, tapestry-woven Turkish kilims are recognisable anywhere. Historically, Turks were among the earliest carpet weavers…the craft goes back to the 4th-century BC. Kilim originated in the Anatolia area of the country, an area lying between the Black and Mediterranean seas. Budget permitting, it makes a great take-me-home. PS: Flying carpets exist only in fiction, not in Istanbul bazaars.

11. Cay: The Turks love their cay. Traditional black Turkish tea is the order of the day, anytime of the day. Drunk in small and delicate tulip-shaped glasses (often plain glass) so that the colour is visible. Locals compare the ideal colour to that of , rabbit blood! Sugar is permissible, but no milk. Lighter or darker according to taste. but always boiling hot. On low stools with company and conversation. To be tried.

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12. Coffee: Turkish coffee is thick and meant to be sipped slowly after a meal. Like a rough version of espresso. Bitter and in small doses. Black as can be. It’s unfiltered, the coffee never completely dissolves, so the cup must be shaken gently often for a remix. Factoid: Turkish coffee culture is now on the Unesco Intangible cultural heritage list.

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13. Sweets: Tackle the queues before facing the decision dilemma…because there’s an unimaginable array of fruit desserts, helvas, milk puddings and sherbet sweets like baklava. Scented with rose water, citrus, jasmine, cherries, saffron, spices. Drenched in fragrant syrup. Topped with luscious cream. Staircase to sublime. Really sweet, but available in bite-sized portions too. Created for religious events and royal festivities because wine or alcohol is prohibited in Islam?

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14. Kebabs: The first Turkish kebabs were born in the Erzurum region of East Turkey. Meat was cooked on a spit horizontally for a several centuries till it evolved into the modern vertical cooking method of the döner kebabs. Lamb, beef, chicken and fish…choices all. Popular ones to gun for? Shish, adana, iskender, caq, doner, even vegetable kababs. Best savoured in a traditional meyhane (Turkish tavern) on a crowded street. Meyhanes go back several centuries in time to the Byzantine era. Worth going on a treasure hunt to find the oldest one.

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Turkish street restaurant_Istanbul

15. Beyond kebabs: There’s more to Turkish cuisine than just kebabs. Vegetarians options abound…from lentil soup, falafels and tabbouleh to salad-filled pittas and finger-licking mezes like Ezme (chilli tomato paste), Patlıcan Ezmesi (grilled eggplants with yogurt), Haydari (mint yogurt dip), Muhammara (spicy pepper and walnut dip). Must-try dishes? Zeytinyagli Dolma (grape leaves stuffed with rice). And Kuru Fasulye (white beans stew cooked in a soupy tomato gravy with chilies and onions, spooned and doused over rice. Debate-worthy question: Which came first Turkish Kuru Fasulye or the Indian Rajma Chawal?

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And that, is just a suggestive list. I missed out so much, the still-in-vogue Sultan hangover, the famous cats that seem to own the city, ancient board games that one sees people playing in alleys, the cheerful yellow Taksi, and the Ottoman architecture. The crooked and steep bylanes of Istanbul are an unending treasure of exotic finds. Let your heart lead you to discover more…


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Iconic symbols of Istanbul, beyond the mega sights #turkey #istanbul #culture #localcuisine #everydaylife #localculture

43 thoughts on “15 Turkish delights in Istanbul worth travelling for

  1. You definitely have pointed out some of the other wonderful delights of visiting Istanbul and the lifestyle there outside of just seeing the famous attractions. I love the water views there and the cheap ferries to all the different locations was a highlight for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Turkey is definitely on our travel wish list. Thanks for giving me more reasons to move it up on the very long list. The sea views will always draw me in. Especially while enjoying a great ice cream treat. Dance and cultural shows let us learn a lot about a new place. But I am sure there are lots of stories in the beautiful ceramic tiles. And the great food will keep us moving. Thanks for more reasons to visit.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I visited Istanbul 10 years ago and still I can’t forget the gorgeous view during the Bosphorus cruise. Your great list here pretty much sum up the highlights in Istanbul that visitors need to check. So gutted that I didn’t get the chance to watch dance show at Hodjapasha Dance Theatre. Well I shall keep it for my next visit then!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Turkey is a very interesting country. We visited Bodrum and the surrounding area several years ago, but haven’t been to Istanbul yet. Mainly because it’s not very safe for European travelers lately (although it feels like the safest places to travel to nowadays are Muslim countries). When we visit Istanbul someday, we’d like to see one of these magical shows with dancers wearing Arabian-nights costumes and sparkling jewellery. The food we tasted in Bodrum was truly delicious, so the ones in Istanbul must be yummy too! Thanks for sharing this!

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  5. I would look for that perfect shade of rabbit blood as we scour the city in search of the best Cay. Then we’d move onto the kebabs, the dolmas and of course a scoop of dondurma.

    After that, we’d be ready for anything! Perhaps a stroll through the fishing village of Arnavutkoy.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Loved this post. It was so fun to read. You really brought it all to life. I would love to visit Turkey someday. It seems to be a country of contrasts. You really pointed out some wonderful things to see and try. Love the ceramic tiles. So incredibly beautiful. The food all looks fantastic too. I think you could spend a whole month and not see it all.

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  7. It’s time for a visit back to Istanbul. I was there about 5 years ago and didn’t experience even a fraction of what you have showcased here. It was my first time and I hit the major tourist spots. The food, all the options, look amazing. From the kebabs to the colorful vegetarian options, yum!! I’m quite curious to see the whirling dervishes, sounds like quite an experience. Hope to get back to Istanbul soon.

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  8. Turkey is one country I haven’t been to yet but Istanbul is so close to me and yet I really want to do. I love your photos as they tell me what I should do and see. Seems like I need a week in Istanbul than just a couple of days, looks like quite a lot is going on!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I wanted to go to Istanbul before reading this, but your pics made me want to go even sooner! My friend lives over the Bosphorus and commutes on the ferries – always talks about the blues that it holds. I would love to have the traditional kebabs and really taste where it all began. I have bookmarked for when we get to visit! Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  10. What a wonderful and magical city! I’ve dreamt of visiting Istanbul…you’ve captured the soul of the city so well in this post. It’d be so lovely to stroll through the old city and the daylight break on the Bosporus. Plus the food looks delicious…I love falafel ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow, the ceramics are absolutely beautiful and my kind of style. I would have to pack a ton of bubble wrap with me to take those home 🙂 Also, I’ve never heard of Ice cream magicians. That sounds like such a fun way to purchase an ice cream!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Ohhhh… this makes me want to get on a plane immediately. Istanbul is on my list, quite high up! I love everyday charms of places and can’t wait to see the gorgeous ceramics, the whirling dervishes (an expression used in my family for years) and taste that food!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. You really make me feel like I’m seeing the city through these small details you decided to include here! Needless to say, the food looks amazing, but so does everything else. Arnavutköy also looks so beautiful! I’d be sure to check that out if (when) I finally make it to Istanbul!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I’d love to visit Istanbul. It’s on my bucket list. I grew up in Indonesia, so hearing the call to prayer was part of my childhood. I bet hearing the call to prayer in Istanbul would be cool to hear.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Turkey is an exotic and fascinating place. The confluence of continents which has given rise to an intoxicating blend of cultures which is unique. Interesting to read about the place beyond the normal tourist grind. What a place to have an immersive experience of its culinary and cultural attractions. Would love to get lost in its Arabian Nights kind of bazaars after a cup of Turkish coffee of course.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I was right when I thought of Turkey as my next destination. The photos are very romantic and serene – my husband loves fishing – this is a good catch for him to get us to Turkey! Kebabs, Coffees and Sweets – all originally from this beautiful country. The Ottoman mansions seem brilliant, I would walk there with a stroller and get ready to be fascinated! A Turkish cuisine is always a healthy option and I wanted to wander on the streets, just looking at people and our differences! Thanks for taking me to Istanbul this minute!

    Liked by 1 person

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