Monday, January 4, 2021

The Ultimate Istanbul Turkey Travel Guide

I have been in Istanbul for the last couple of weeks and I decided to sit down and write about my journey so far.  Istanbul is a huge city: One of Europe's largest cities, to be exact.  It is a super-busy place.  Think New York or London busy.  One thing that I love about this city is that it is something like a mix of middle eastern and European cultures.  On one hand you have big squares and European-like architecture, but on the other, there's centuries old markets, mosques, and the call to prayer that sounds off throughout the day from dawn until after sunset (at least in the winter).  It's a beautiful city, with water all around it and many hills.  

Istanbul truly deserves a place on the top of your travel wishlist. It's one of the most visited cities in the world, and it's easy to see why.  It gives you a taste of the Middle East without going to places that some people may consider just too exotic or risky.  In fact, it may create a yearning to visit places like Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, Egypt, or Jordan among others.  

In this post, I want to talk a bit about Istanbul and dive deep into what I like about this city and some of the sites that I would recommend for you to visit.  If you have any thoughts or something to add, please leave a comment below.

This article is made up of the following sections:

*What I Like About Istanbul
*Where to Visit When In Istanbul
*Lesser Known Places to See
*Istanbul in the Summer and Winter
*Day Trips from Istanbul
*Where to Stay in Istanbul
*Food and Drink in Istanbul

What I Like About Istanbul

I like Istanbul so much that I have been here twice.  The first time was in the summer of 2015, and I spent two weeks in the city.  I had previously traveled to other large cities such as Cairo, London, Paris, Bangkok, Singapore, and many more, but Istanbul stood out to me--and it was one of my long-time top "bucket list" places to visit.  It was truly unlike any other place I had been to.  It seemed both familiar and exotic.  It reminded me of a lot of some of the other cities I had journeyed to and some that I had previously lived in. 

The markets and mosques reminded me of Cairo (a city I would later move to).  The ferries and waterways reminded me of Seattle (where I lived in college and after the birth of our daughter).  The sheer size and busyness reminded me of New York (where I went to law school).  The mild weather reminded of San Francisco (where I lived during undergrad).  The cobblestone streets reminded me of Europe.  Istikal street reminded me of Paris or London. Istanbul truly felt like an international city.  Once one of the, if not the, greatest city in world, Istanbul has influenced culture all over.  

As a result, there are so many things to see and do here.  Even if you are not walking by a world-famous attraction, there are things to gaze at and take in that will interest and captivate you.  I enjoyed seeing the little fountains of water that exist all over the city.  I was enchanted by the hordes of cats that wandered the streets, and how the locals took it upon themselves to feed and care for them.  Just looking out across the water and at the myriad of buildings across the Bosporous at sunset felt like a dream.  

The people of Istanbul are friendly.  The shopkeepers are not as pushy as in other places I have traveled to.  People smile and have fun.  They are welcoming to visitors.  The sound of the call to prayer at sunset is often beautiful and haunting.  The architecture is rich and ornate.  The tilework on many of the buildings is truly gorgeous.  In fact, almost everywhere you turn, there is some beautiful architectural feature that very few places (such as Morocco) can match.  

The cost of traveling to this city is quite low, and one's money goes far.  It's a place where you can have a lot of fun and not get bored easily.  There are things for the whole family to see and do.  It's a wonderful place to bring a child and to introduce them to a new culture (our daughter loves it here).  There's little wonder as to why Istanbul is one of the world's most visited destinations.

What Should I See When Visiting Istanbul?

Istanbul is loaded with awesome sights that you probably have heard of long before you began researching this city.  Many of these places are quite legendary and are an obvious must-see for anyone who is visiting this famous city.  Some of these sites may even be the reason people opt to travel to Istanbul in the first place.

Hagia Sofia Mosque

The inside of the Hagia Sophia Mosque is breathtaking.

This is perhaps the crown jewel of Istanbul.  Long considered one of the world's great buildings, the Hagia Sophia does not disappoint in the slightest.  It was once a museum.  Now it's a mosque.  Having visited once before it was converted into a mosque, I can say it is quite different now that it's a working place of worship.

Firstly, there's no charge to get in.  It used to cost about 100 Turkish Lira to enter.  Now, it's free.  However, you can only visit during certain times.  When there is prayer, the tourists must leave. Also, you must take off your shoes and women must cover their heads with a scarf.  A headscarf can be purchased at the site, or you can bring your own. There are many beautiful ones to be purchased around the city.  The ones at the mosque are kind of plain, so keep that in mind.

When the Hagia Sophia was a museum, you could climb to the second level and look out towards the Blue Mosque, or look down and gaze at the beautiful architecture from above.  This is no longer the case.  You can't go upstairs anymore.  

There is no doubt that some people will like the Hagia Sophia more as a museum, and others may find it more interesting as a working mosque.  I am glad that I had the chance to visit it in both states.  Culturally, it's perhaps more insightful to see people in there worshipping, instead of an empty building full of people just gawking at the gorgeous architecture.  Yes, it's perhaps one hundred more times more beautiful on the inside than on the outside, and you have to visit it when you are in Istanbul.  Now that it's free to see, there's really no excuse not to go inside.

There's a lot of history to this building.  It was once a Christian church and you can see the frescos inside of Christian-themed historical renditions throughout.  You will want to make sure you visit this site when prayer is not happening, but if you arrive during prayer time, there's a beautiful park just outside where you can wait and enjoy some simit (round bread) or freshly-made corn-on-the-cob.  

Blue Mosque AKA Sultan Ahmet Camii

The blue mosque is one of the most visited mosques in Istanbul

A short walk from the Hagia Sophia is another must-see mosque.  The Sultan Ahmet Camii, or "Blue Mosque" as it's called, is a mosque that's almost as impressive from the outside as the Hagia Sophia.  It's the first mosque that many people visit and provides a great way to experience and learn a bit about Islamic faith.  

The blue mosque is a working mosque, and as such, it's free to visit.  It's a popular place, and should be visited at the same time as the Hagia Sofia, being that they are so close in proximity.  Most people will not spend as long in this mosque due to the area for visitors is much smaller and there's not many places to walk around.  However, the interior is gorgeous as well and it's worth a visit just to see the architectural beauty of this mosque.  

On our second visit, the mosque was being renovated, and we were not able to view the interior as scaffolding blocked the ceiling and most of the outer walls.  

When the mosque closes for prayer, you may be courted by carpet and rug shop owners who want you to visit their shops.  They can be a bit pushy, but if you tell them no a few times, they should leave you alone.  If you are in the market for a Turkish rug, it may be worth a look, but I would imagine the price will be higher than other shops in the city.

On your way out of the Blue Mosque, you can pick up some literature to learn more about Islamic faith.  I was able to score a copy of the Koran here.  They have it in many different languages, as well as other pamphlets that may be of interest to you.  What better way to learn about people than to understand their faith?

Eminonu and Egyptian Spice Bazaar

Outside of the Egyptian Spice Bazaar in Istanbul

This is the heart of the waterfront, where the ferries to other parts of the city come and go, and where you can cross Galata Bridge for a wonderful walk towards Galata tower and Istikal Street.  Here you can indulge in a freshly made fish sandwich, meander through the centuries old Egyptian Spice Bazaar, or relax in a massive square that is loaded with shops and vendors.  

The Egyptian Spice Bazaar is a fantastic place to pass through, but it's not the cheapest place in the city to buy a souvenir or grab some sweet and delicious Turkish delight.  There are far better places to make such purchases, but if you are crunched on time or have a steady flow of cash and don't feel like stretching your legs too much, it's a worthwhile place to pick up some spices and trinkets.  The real estate inside of the market is the most expensive, so be prepared to pay more inside than outside.

While the Spice Bazaar is not nearly as large as the Grand Bazaar, I like it more.  It has more of an exotic feel and may be less intimidating (it's much smaller inside).  Outside are many winding streets full of cheap clothing, electronics, luggage, coffee, and almost anything else you can think of.  Instead of shopping in the spice bazaar, head to this area.  You will see that there are many locals who do their shopping on these streets, and if you want the good deals, you have to follow the local crowd.  If there's no locals shopping or dining somewhere, that's a sign that it's seen as overpriced and that there are better deals to be had elsewhere.  

That's not to say that the Spice Bazaar is not worth visiting.  It's a great place to see and gives you some insight into a very old marketplace.  Coming from the United States, these types of markets don't really exist, and they are a huge part of middle eastern culture.  For that reason alone, you should step in.  Beware that the salespeople will come at you and try to get you to enter their.  They are nothing close to as persistent as the ones in Egypt's Khan el-Khalili bazaar, but a foreigner who has never traveled to the middle east or Asia may be uncomfortable at first.  If so, just try to enjoy it and remember that you have the final say whether or not you make a purchase.  Unless you have only a few hours in the city, there's no need to hurry, as many shops sell the same thing and you can find whatever you are looking for all over the city.

The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul

The Grand Bazaar is a not-so-distant walk from Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque and is worth a visit, even if you are not much of a shopper.  This is one of the largest markets in the world, and also one of the oldest.  It's a gigantic maze of shops, many of which are high-end jewelry, carpet, and luggage shops.  If you want to purchase a fine souvenir of your journey, this is a good place to get it.

I should mention that I have been to Istanbul twice and have never purchased anything in this bazaar.  Many of the shops are expensive and more high-end, and I have always been on the move in life.  If you want something for your home, however, you may find what you are looking for here.

The Grand Bazaar can be a busy place, although due to its size, I didn't find it as busy as the Spice Bazaar. Its a great place to get lost, explore, or film, and makes for some good entertainment.  

If you want to find some good deals, visit the areas around this bazaar.  If you follow the streets south towards the Spice Bazaar, you will find many less expensive shops.  Likewise, if you explore the streets leading towards the Suleymaniye Mosque, there are many ornate trinkets to be purchased, such as beautiful tea sets and pomegranate containers made of various metals.  The prices on some of these items are surprisingly low.  They make amazing gifts for friends and family back home.

Suleymaniye Mosque

The view from the Suleymaniye Mosque

If you liked the Blue Mosque, you may like the Suleymaniye Mosque even more.  I somehow missed this amazing mosque during my first trip to Istanbul, but on my second trip, I was able to take it in, and I was glad I did!  It's (one of) the huge mosque(s) on the hill overlooking the city.  It's a not-so-far walk from the Grand Bazaar, and if you want to see an amazing view of Galata tower and the part of the city around Taksim, this is the place to do so.  It costs nothing (other than the energy expended to walk there), and is worth the time and effort.  

The mosque itself is stunning inside.  Being that the Blue Mosque was closed for renovations, this was a great alternative.  Some say that this mosque is even grander than the Blue Mosque.  It's also a bit older.  When I visited, there were few others visiting and it had a more quiet and reverent feel to it.  

If you want to visit a more off-the-beaten path neighborhood of Istanbul, continue heading west and you will descend into a valley and into one of the more local neighborhoods of the city.  Here you will find shops selling all kinds of Turkish treats, meat, pide, and more for a fraction of the price that you will find in the center.  Continue going west and you will be in for a treat as you visit parks and neighborhoods that are rarely seen by the vast majority of tourists in Istanbul.

Galata Tower and Istikal Street (Taksim)

Istanbul's iconic Galata tower is a great place to visit, even if you don't go up.  The cost of going up isn't too high, but it's not the only place where you can get a view of the city.  In fact, I also would recommend the grounds of the Suleymaniye Mosque.  However, if you want to see the city from up high, Galata tower is a good place to do it.  

Galata tower is surrounded by many souvenir shops, and surprisingly, they are quite good.  You can pick up some good items for quite cheap here.  There are many types of clothing shops in this area, as well as shops selling phone cases and textiles.  There are even quite a few shops selling musical instruments.  As you head towards Istikal street, the prices of things skyrocket and you may feel like you are in Beverly Hills, Dubai, or Paris as you walk down this trendy street of the elite.  Iconic shops that you will recognize line this street.  You know you are in a tourist zone when Starbucks replaces the Turkish coffee and Salep that is popular in other areas of the city.  

At the end of Istikal street is Taksim Square, a large gathering place where you can catch a funicular to the Dolmabahçe palace and Kadikoy ferry terminal (where you catch the Prince Island ferry and Bosporous cruise).  Istikal street is worth visiting, and there are a few beautiful churches on this street, including the Saint Anthony Cathedral, which is worth a visit for those who like ornate Christian/Catholic Churches.  

Getting to Istikal street is super easy.  You can walk there from Eminonu, crossing the Galata Bridge.  The bridge is loaded with fishermen and it's quite a sight to see.  You can get some great shots of the city from this bridge.  Once you cross to the other side, climb the hill towards Galata tower and you are now in this rather touristy part of the city.

Ferries and Bosphorus cruise

Taking the ferry around Istanbul is fun and incredibly easy.  You can get an Istanbul card at any ferry terminal and put some money on it within seconds.  After getting a card, just scan it at the turnstile and pass through.  

Once you are on the ferries, enjoy the view of the city as you pass ships and take in the iconic sites.  Eminonu and Kadikoy are two of the most popular ferry terminals, and you can catch a Bosphorus cruise from these areas.  If you are going to the Prince Islands, these are the two terminals where you can catch a ferry there as well.  It's super cheap to go to the prince islands and many different ferries go there.  The Bosphorus cruise is also inexpensive, and you should buy your ticket at the ticket counter and not from someone selling cruises.  If you are spending 15 euro or more you are paying too much.  If you paid 25 euro, congratulations, you were ripped off.  


Istanbul is loaded with some of the greatest museums that I have visited.  The archeology museums near Topkepi palace is a real gem.  There are three buildings loaded with period pieces ranging from Sumer and Babylon to Greek and Roman times.  One highlight is the walls of Babylon.  If you like ancient history, this is one of the best museums I have seen on the subject.

Istanbul is also home to many art museums as well as more living museums such as Topkapi and Dolmabahçe palaces.  The Topkapi harem is worth the extra cost, and is one of the most beautiful places I have been.  Dolmabahçe Palace is spectacular, with the throne room being one of the most gorgeous rooms I have ever set foot in.  It's a massive room with the largest chandelier I have ever seen.  Sadly, you can't take any pictures inside of the Dolmabahçe palace, which for me was a real bummer.  Some people snuck pictures, but I don't recommend it.  There are guards everywhere, and as a guest, I find it to be in bad taste.  Even without being able to take pictures, the Dolmabahçe was worth the visit.  You can take pictures of the outside, and there's enough there to keep photographers busy.

Unlike Dolmabahçe Palace, you can take pictures at Topkapi, including the harem.  It's definitely worth a visit, especially given that it's right in the center and is full of history and epic views of the rest of the city. If you are undecided on the harem (as it costs extra), check out my video below

Lesser Known Areas - Istanbul Off the Beaten Path

Istanbul is more than just its top tourist attractions.  There's a lot to see here that is a bit off the beaten path.  If you want to see the real Istanbul, you are going to have to venture a bit out of the tourist area.  To be honest, this is super easy here, and no matter where you go in this huge city, you won't feel like a fish out of water.  In fact, it's a lot of fun to see some of the lesser visited parts of the city because you get a feel for more of the culture and local's way of life.  That's one of my favorite parts about traveling.

Most people stay near Sultanahmet during their time in Istanbul.  That's understandable.  Sultanahmet is the heart of the city, full of the big tourist attractions that were mentioned above.  But, I would totally recommend you venture a bit out.  

One thing that I love about the lesser-visited parts of this city is that you will notice a huge price reduction on food and other items when you leave the center.  For example, when in the center of the city, I visited an ATM that had a $20 fee for currency conversion.  I declined.  I went to the same ATM outside of the center and the fee was not there!  The same food in restaurants is almost half the price, but tastes just as good.  The same can be said about take-away.  

In the neighborhoods around the city, you can buy the same spices and teas that exist in the spice bazaar, but at a huge reduction.  This is where the locals do their shopping, and the quality is top notch.  Maybe you have wondered why there are no locals shopping in the spice bazaar?  Why would they, if they can get the same things for a lot, lot cheaper?

The rule is, the further you go away from the big mosques, the cheaper it gets.  The only place I noticed a lot of locals doing shopping was north of the spice bazaar, in the streets where clothing was sold.  I highly recommend doing some shopping in this part of the city, as there are some seriously good deals to be had and a wide variety of beautiful products to be found.

Some of the off the beaten path areas can be reached by ferry.  I recommend the neighborhood to the west of Istikal street.  To reach this area, head east from Taksim square and go down the hill into the valley.  Below you will see small markets, many shops with lower prices than anything on Istikal, lot's of inexpensive take-away restaurants and some lovely parks.  

Another lovely area to visit is to the west of Eminonu.  From the spice bazaar, follow the main road west until you reach Ataturk Bulvari.  On the west side of this large street, you will see a large hill with many houses and mosques.  I recommend visiting the area around the Fatih Mosque.  It's a huge and beautiful mosque with a massive courtyard full of families and children playing.  Nearby is a beautiful shopping area full of shops and few tourists.

Nearby is Cukur Boston Parki, which is next to the Yavuz Sultan Selim Camii (mosque).  This park is a great place for families.  There are picnic tables, playgrounds, and many treelined walkways.  Kids especially love this park and it's a great place to spend a while and enjoy some take-away food.  The neighborhood is a great place to explore, with many winding streets rising and falling over various hills.  It's a wonderful place to walk and feels completely safe.  

Uskudar is another must-see area of Istanbul for those who want to see the Asian side of the city.  Uskudar is a lovely ferry ride from Eminonu and is full of restaurants, shops, and cafes.  Head to Maiden's Tower and enjoy Turkish coffee or tea with a view of the city, sea and Maiden's Tower itself.  Uskudar is a busy neighborhood, and is a great place to stay if you are looking for somewhere inexpensive.  On our first trip to Istanbul this is where we stayed, and we always enjoyed taking the ferry into the city.  Especially during the sunset when Istanbul is lit ablaze in a brilliant red color.

Istanbul in Summer / Winter

Men fishing along the Galata Bridge in Winter, with the Suleymaniye Mosque in the background

Istanbul during the summer is a completely different experience than during the winter.  I have visited this city during August (the high season), and December and January (during COVID, which was a much different experience).  The city is generally packed during New Years, but this year it was quite empty (with a weekend lockdown that made the city feel like a ghost-town).  During August, the city is truly alive and fantastic.  To me, it was a magical time to come.  The city is full of life.  Green gardens, hot weather, packed streets and waterways.  The Prince Islands make it even more enticing during the summer months -- but are totally worth visiting in the Winter (see below).  In fact, I would argue that the Prince Islands may be even better in Winter than they are during the busy Summer months.

The winters are mild enough to feel like Spring in many other places.  Coming from Ukraine, the weather was fantastic to us (16 Celsius versus freezing in our current home).  For others, this may be too cold.  In the summer, the heat is intense at times and you will sweat.  

If you like the city at its fullest, with the greatest variety of things to see and do, summer is your best bet.  If you like it quiet and a more local experience, then the cooler and less-visited winter months may be better for you.  

Day Trips

The ferry to the Princes' Islands

Büyükada, the largest of the Princes' Islands

There are two good day trips that I took while in Istanbul.  One is to the city of Şile, which is located on the Asian side on the Black Sea.  The other is the Princes' Islands, which are an hour and a half from Istanbul via ferry from Eminonu or Kadikoy.  Both are great places to go and I recommend them both.  

I visited Şile in the Summer, when you can swim and enjoy the beautiful Black Sea.  It's easy to rent a few lounge chairs and enjoy the cool and shallow water at the main beach in town.  Up on the hill are many restaurants and cafes selling traditional foods.  It's easy to catch a bus to and from Istanbul from this city.

The Princes' Islands are a group of four larger islands in the Sea of Marmara.  The most famous island, Büyükada or "Big Island" (due to being the largest), is the last stop.  The other islands are also worth a visit, but if you want the most amenities, this is the island to visit.  The second most popular is Heybeliada, which is one stop before Büyükada.  

On Büyükada, you can rent a bike or walk around a picturesque town, which is full of white mansions that overlook the sea and Asian side in the distance.  From here you see just how huge Istanbul really is.  Walk out of town to the forest on the hill and enjoy a picnic lunch in nature with a beautiful view.  The sunset spot is a great place go to and feel that you are in a whole different world.  

I visited Büyükada in both summer and winter, and both times were fabulous times to visit.  I had read that Büyükada and the Princes' Islands were not worth visiting in the winter, but this was completely wrong.  In January, the Island was full of tourists, with most shops open, bicycles for rent, and thinner crowds of people.  Restaurants were still open and there were plenty of ferries going back and forth to the city.  The weather was clear and sunny, and hiking into the forest hills surrounding the town was a real treat.  We had a picnic up on the hill and enjoyed the ambience of what felt like late Springtime in most other parts of the world.  On the way back to town, we enjoyed ice cream while waiting for the ferry to Eminonu.  

Just like the rest of Istanbul, there are many cats here, and watching them play is a lot of fun (unless you are not a cat person).  For some reason, the cats on this island seemed quite feisty and should be approached with caution, as they can scratch or bite if provoked or taken by surprise.  Some cats do not like to be messed with.  Others love the attention.  

Where to Stay in Istanbul

Even if you are on a budget, I recommend staying close to Eminönü if possible.  However, I do not really recommend staying too close to the central area by the Blue Mosque or Hagia Sophia.  Why, you ask?  While this is a great part of the city to visit, it's quite a bit more expensive to get food.  I stayed east of the Egyptian Spice Bazaar at a hotel called Herton Hotel, and for about 10 Euros a night I had a buffet breakfast, private bathroom, balcony, and was in an area full of cheap food and a decent sized grocery store.  There were also many fruit and vegetable vendors close by.  It was a super easy walk to the Suleymaniye Mosque, Egyptian Spice Bazaar, Grand Bazaar, and even Topkapi/Blue Mosque/Hagia Sophia.  We also walked to Istikal street quite often, and the location was super close to the metro line and ferries.  

If you have more money to spend, and are not on a budget of any kind, the best place is probably in Sultanahmet, as being in the center is nice, and the best hammams, spas, and restaurants are in this area.  It also depends on how long you will be in the city.  The first time I went to Istanbul, we stayed in Uskudar at an AirBnb, which was a fun and interesting area to be in.  We spent two weeks in Istanbul during this visit and that length of time allowed us to see almost everything.  If you have less time, definitely opt for the central part of the city.

Taksim is a good place to stay as well, but I wouldn't advise it unless you do a lot of high end shopping.  There are many good restaurants off of Istikal that are not too expensive, but the real feel of Istanbul is not so much along Istikal, but more near Eminönü and Sultanahmet.  

Food and Drinks

Turkey has many different foods and drinks.  As a vegetarian, I have not had Doner kebabs or some of the other meat products, but can tell by the lines in front of the places that serve these dishes that they are extremely popular with both locals and visitors.  

Simit is the most popular snack in Istanbul.  It's like a large sesame seed covered bagel.  It's crunchy on the outside, but chewy.  You can buy these plain, or with cheese or chocolate (Nutella) in the middle.  They are very inexpensive.  

Pide is like a long oval pizza.  Some of it is not so different than Georgian Adjarian Khatchapuri.  This makes sense, since Turkey and the Adjaria region of Georgia share a border.  There are many types of Pide, some with cheese, egg, meat, or a combination of all.  There are different types of filled breads that are also sold alongside pide.  The fillings may include potatoes, feta type cheese, or meat.  

Fasulye (a white bean stew) and soup (chorba) are also good choices for vegetarians that are easily available.  Alongside pide, one will often find a cheese and pasta type dish that is rich and filling.  It's quite an oily dish, and I would not recommend eating it too often.  Also, you can find sandwiches all over the city, often filled with cheese, tomatoes, and other products.  Some places will make a sandwich for you loaded with olives, cheeses, tomatoes, and greens.  These are inexpensive and make for a good picnic snack.

Stuffed baked potatoes loaded with vegetables are another excellent choice that can be found all over the city.  These usually cost a couple of euros/dollars and are super satisfying. 

There are restaurants all over the city.  Some are inexpensive, but nothing beats the price of getting take-away food.  If you are on a tight budget or trying to save some money while exploring long-term, I recommend going the take-away route.  This is what many locals do, and outside of the center you can get take-away food for super cheap.

While you can find some falafel places in Istanbul (particularly around Galata Tower), falafel is not really popular (but has been getting more popular since my first visit).  I recommend searching falafel on if you are looking for it.  

One of my favorite more healthy options is Çiğ Köfte.  According to Discover Vegan, Çiğ Köfte sold on the street are vegetarian by law.  This dish is made from "fine bulgur (wheat), tomato paste, spicy pepper paste, fresh herbs and other spices."  It's served as a salad with lettuce, tomatoes and cilantro, or as a wrap.  These stands can be found all over the city.  This dish is also sold as an appetizer in some restaurants.  Generally, you may be given some free of charge when you eat out.  

As far as drinks, Turkish coffee is a must try for anyone who likes coffee.  It's perhaps the richest and strongest coffee there is.  Tea is also popular in Turkey.  Salep is a milky drink with cinnamon on top that reminds me a bit of Egg Nog.  It's said to be available only during the winter months.  Ayran is a cold yogurt drink that is very popular amongst the locals.  It's a refreshing drink in the summer.  You will also see many juice stands throughout the city.  You can get a small cup of pomegranate, orange, and other seasonal fruit juices around the city.  In the neighborhoods you may find a cup for 3 Turkish Lira.  In the tourist spots, the price goes up to around 10 Lira.

To be quite honest, I have found that Istanbul does not have quite the variety of choices of international food as many other large cities of its size.  That doesn't mean that such options don't exist, but they are harder to come by and they will cost more (as expected).  

Generally, when traveling, I like to get an AirBnb apartment and cook my own food, as it's quite a bit cheaper than eating out.  However, I think that unless you are staying in Istanbul for more than a week or two, and are feeding more than a couple of people, then eating take-away is probably your best bet.  Granted, it's not the healthiest option, so you may want to take that into consideration. 

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