Far from the tourist attractions in Istanbul

To avoid using the cliche “off the beaten path”, I will go ahead and say that when traveling, my husband and I end up staying in places that are not usually visited by too many other travelers. We have had really good luck so far, enjoying the spots we have chosen over the more touristed areas. There was the fantastic time we spent on Osa Peninsula, one of the least-visited areas of Costa Rica; and we really appreciated the location of our hotel in Rome, in the residential Tuscolano neighborhood. We continued with our tradition and veered off the common path for a portion of our stay in Istanbul, despite advice from others who have been there and even some “experts”. Our decision to go with our gut and not follow the masses once again proved to be worthwhile.

Istanbul is divided into two main areas: the Old City and the New City. The Old City is where the major historical attractions, like Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, are located. The New City is the financial and business center of Istanbul, its skyline consisting of new, modern high-rise office and residential buildings. The EDITION Istanbul hotel, where we stayed for four nights, is located in the New City, in the Levent neighborhood. Good luck finding helpful information, if any, in the guidebooks or online about Levent. All I could find out before arriving there is that Levent is the financial capital of Istanbul, and that there is a massive, modern shopping mall. When people who are familiar with Istanbul asked where we were staying and I told them, the reactions I received ranged from, “Oh, I don’t know where that is,” to, “Oh, you don’t want to stay there.” Why? Because it’s “far from the tourist attractions”.

Most times, I prefer to stay “far from the tourist attractions”, especially in a place like Istanbul. It is an enormous city with so many other areas to explore. Furthermore, when I visit a new place, one of the most important things for me to do is get a glimpse of modern life. Yes, I appreciate the historic sites but what is most interesting to me is how people are living now.

Statue in Levent

The Levent neighborhood in the New City is the perfect place to experience modern living in Istanbul. We took a lovely walk in the area around our hotel, mingling with the locals and chatting with shopkeepers. We bought and sampled the most divine pistachios and fruit/nut mixes from a small grocery. We stumbled upon a little place with what looked like gigantic pies on display in the front window. They looked delicious; I had to find out what it was and if it tastes as good as it looks. We went in and learned that what I’d been drooling over is known as börek, a flaky pastry pie stuffed with ingredients such as spinach or plain cheese. Mark and I grabbed a couple of slices and sat on a bench to enjoy the börek and the sunshine. It was delicious.

Baskets of nuts outside a shop in Levent

The huge, fancy mall I mentioned earlier… it’s called Kanyon. It is a neat place to see if only for the architecture – and for the high-end fashion that I certainly can’t afford. There also are more familiar (and affordable) stores, like Gap and Crocs. One whole level of the mall provides more dining options than you could ever hope for. We didn’t buy anything, other than drinks at Starbucks, while at Kanyon, but checking out the trends and the stores, and shopping alongside hundreds of Turks and their families was just the kind of experience I hope for when I travel.

Inside Kanyon

Down the street a bit, and right across the street from The EDITION, is another mall named MetroCity. It’s not as fancy as Kanyon but it sure is big! I am still amazed at the numbers of levels and stores in that shopping center. It is also home to the hugest food court I have ever seen. And it was packed!

I’m glad we stayed in Levent. We were still able to visit all the tourist attractions – and then some. We rode the public transit system everywhere. It was extremely easy to get to the Old City from Levent via the Metro. An added bonus for us was that the Levent Metro stop was literally steps from the entrance of our hotel. So, if planning a trip to Istanbul and you have time to spare, don’t overlook Levent or other neighborhoods that may not be on the usual tourist’s radar. Those areas “far from the tourist attractions” turned out to be my favorite parts of Istanbul.

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26 Responses to Far from the tourist attractions in Istanbul

  1. tawnymclark June 24, 2012 at 2:58 am #

    I’d agree that most times it’s the “far from tourist attractions” that actually turn out to be my favorite parts of a destination. There’s so much that can be found even when you’re not really looking. I’d love to make it to Istanbul someday and when I do, I hope I discover just as much as you did.

    • Francesca June 24, 2012 at 11:35 pm #

      Thank you! Istanbul really is an incredible city and there is something to discover around every corner.

  2. Raul June 24, 2012 at 8:12 am #

    Seeing how the locals live is actually part of what I want to discover when I travel. It really helps “get” a place. If one happens to know a local, even better!!

    • Francesca June 24, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

      I totally agree, Raul. Now too bad I don’t know any locals in Venice or Buenos Aires… 😉

  3. lola June 24, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    gorgeous pictures, Francesca. i’m dying to get to Istanbul at some point. i imagine it being colorful & exotic – things lola loves.

    • Francesca June 24, 2012 at 11:38 pm #

      I’m pretty sure Lola would be head-over-heels in love with Istanbul! Colorful and exotic is a good way to describe the city. And there is no shortage of cocktails.

      • lola June 28, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

        yes…you have me soooo pegged! i wanna go!!!

  4. mrsoaroundtheworld June 24, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    thank you for this, Francesca! I was fortunate enough to “have” to go to Istanbul for work a good 6-7 times over a year and fell in love with it. But strangely, I don’t remember the detail – don’t know why at all. And you took me back there. Been to every place you mentioned and lots more and now in my mind. Thank you!

    • Francesca June 24, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

      Thank YOU, Mrs. O! So glad I could help take you back to Istanbul. I have to say, though, that I didn’t exactly fall in love with Istanbul as you did. I enjoyed it – we had a great time – but I’m not going to be rushing to return.

      • mrsoaroundtheworld June 25, 2012 at 1:59 am #

        I haven’t been for 4 years, and to be honest, never crossed my mind. I may want to go now!

  5. easytravelmom June 24, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    I’ve been to over 30 countries and Istanbul, Turkey is still my favorite. Glad you went! Brought back memories, thanks!

    • Francesca June 24, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

      Yay, I love reading comments like yours! Makes all this blogging stuff totally worth it. Thank you!

  6. Jetting Around (@jettingaround) June 24, 2012 at 5:32 pm #

    I love the opening sentence! 🙂 It seems like you had a fantastic time away from the main areas of interest in Istambul. This is another post that proves what a great thing it is to explore on your own. Great post & photos, Francesca!

    • Francesca June 24, 2012 at 11:44 pm #

      Thanks so much, Pola. Again, your kind words mean the world to me. And you’re right, we most enjoyed our time and experiences in the areas of Istanbul away from the main attractions.

  7. D.J. - The World of Deej June 24, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

    Great pictures…have a great friend that just returned from Istanbul. For once, I was the one jealous of his travels:)

    • Francesca June 24, 2012 at 11:46 pm #

      Thanks, Deej! Are you not jealous of my travels? 😉

  8. the lazy travelers June 25, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    interesting take! we shy away from the tourist attractions as well, but do tend to stick near the heart of the cities we’re visiting. love this idea!

    • Francesca June 27, 2012 at 6:51 pm #

      Thanks! It really worked out well for us in Istanbul. It was a nice break from the crowds in the Old City, too.

  9. craig zabransky (@StayAdventurous) June 25, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    I so agree, in cities I always want to see what people are doing now, where are they living… some of my best memories of cities are often in the local neighborhoods, meeting the folks who call the city home. It’s a great approach to travel.
    stay adventurous, Craig

    • Francesca June 27, 2012 at 6:52 pm #

      Thanks, Craig. I couldn’t agree with you more!

  10. Fiona Hilliard June 25, 2012 at 6:04 pm #

    Istanbul is a city I’d love to visit some day – thanks for pointing out some of the less obvious attractions!

    • Francesca June 27, 2012 at 6:54 pm #

      You’re welcome, Fiona! I hope you get to Istanbul soon. It really is magnificent!

  11. travelrinserepeat June 26, 2012 at 8:57 pm #

    Very cool – this presents an entirely different view from what I previously had on Istanbul.

  12. Francesca June 27, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

    Excellent! So glad I could provide a different view for you 🙂

  13. Leah Travels (@L_e_a_h) June 30, 2012 at 7:55 am #

    I remember when you were planning this trip and being jealous. Now you’ve made me VERY envious. I must go to Turkey. This is a fact. The picture of the nuts is beautiful, btw.

    • Francesca June 30, 2012 at 8:13 pm #

      I know you will get to Istanbul, Leah! And then I can be jealous of you because I’ll be wanting to go back 🙂 And thanks for the compliment on my photo!

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