Wandering Off Beaten Track in Istanbul

Wandering Off the Beaten Track in Istanbul with Authentic Turkey Tours

Two Monkeys Travel - Contributor Asia, Organized Tours, Travel Blog 36 Comments

The iconic Sultan Ahmet Mosque or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul is undoubtedly the most visited landmark in Istanbul. Located in Sultanahmet district, the heart of the old city where you will find more popular tourist attractions such as  Topkapı Palace, Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia) and the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Saray).

The mosaics inside the Ayasofya is amazingly beautiful but many didn’t know that Chora Church located in the Fatih district unearthed several stunning mosaics depicting Christianity. This and other places we discovered off the beaten track, with Ryan and Andrew, co-owners of Authentic Turkey Tours, a boutique independent travel company. They brought us to the hidden gems of the city, explored the Asian side of Istanbul and get to experience the local life in the city.

Wandering Off the Beaten Track in Istanbul-9

Inside the magnificent Hagia Sophia

Our awesome day started after a quick breakfast at our accomodation, Hotel Empress Zoe an old turkish style townhouses conveniently located at the Sultanahmet area. They fetched us at exactly 10am and drove shortly to Eminönü, our first stop. We walked along the streets near the Grand Bazaar and went inside an old han which used to store goods coming off the ships anchored in Golden Horn and also a resting place for its merchants. Now, it’s housing several craftsmen making goods such as pots and lamps. Through an old wooden door at the top floor, we climb few steps up to the roof. The views from the roof is breathtaking! Overlooking the city’s old charm and modern skyscrapers. It’s a perfect photo spot where east meets west as you can see both the European and Asian side of Istanbul, the busy Bhosporus bridge and the Golden Horn.

Wandering Off Beaten Track in Istanbul

Myself and Ryazan with Ryan and Andrew of Authentic Turkey Tours

Wandering Off Beaten Track in Istanbul

Overlooking the Bhosporus Strait. The European Side of Istanbul on the left and the Asian side on the right.

After several photo ops, we went to Chora Church. The exterior of the church is under restoration and looks uninteresting from the outside. It’s one of the old churches converted to a Mosque by the Ottoman empire and is now a museum and home of the most beautiful mosaics of Christianity we have ever seen. It’s a hidden gem of Istanbul, though it is not as big as the Hagia Sophia, the mosaics here are more beautiful, detailed and well maintained. Photography is allowed inside with no flash.

Wandering Off the Beaten Track in Istanbul

Mosaic of Mother Mary at the dome of Chora Church.

Wandering Off the Beaten Track in Istanbul

Mosaic of Jesus Christ inside Chora church.

From Chora Church, they drove us to Karaköy. A commercial neighborhood in Istanbul with several interesting shops and graffiti along the streets. The place has a very modern vibe without losing its heritage, which we think will appear to any types of tourists. Here, we went inside a shop famous for their baklava. It’s frequented by locals, they were in and out, grabbing their favorite sweets in a fast phase, while we sat down inside and ordered Turkish tea. We tried some of the best sweets in Istanbul while Ryan and Andrew are sharing more interesting stories about Turkey. They are originally from Australia but they now live and breathe Turkish culture. We’re amazed how knowledgeable they are about the history, culture of Istanbul and other places all over the country.

Wandering Off the Beaten Track in Istanbul

Cafes and Graffiti along the Streets of Karaköy

Wandering Off the Beaten Track in Istanbul

Turkish Tea and Baklava. We learned that the unique shapes of Turkish Tea Cups were inspired by Tulip Bulbs which is the national flower of Turkey. It was given as a gift to Netherlands from Turkey which also became their national symbol.

We then drove towards the Asian side of Istanbul, crossed the Bhosporus bridge and arrived at Kadıköy. Cold wind is blowing when we stepped out of the car and we’re a bit thirsty so we grabbed cups of Salep, a popular winter drink since the Ottoman empire. 

Walking around, reminds me of San Francisco due to its hilly streets. It’s a lively neighborhood at the other side of the Bhosporus Strait, with several boutiques, stores, cafés, mid-size residential buildings and huge vibrant street arts. Busy but not crowded, truly an off the beaten track destination.

Wandering Off the Beaten Track in Istanbul

Huge Street arts along the streets of Kadıköy

Wandering Off the Beaten Track in Istanbul

We love the Street Arts

Ryan and Andrew planned to take us to more interesting off the beaten track spots in the city, however, it’s our last day in Istanbul and we haven’t been at the major sites yet. The Blue Mosque is in Ryazan’s bucket list so there’s no way we can miss it. They are very flexible with our itinerary and we are extremely happy about it. We then head back to Sultanahmet district at the European side and visited The Blue Mosque and Basilica Cistern.  It is called the Blue Mosque due to its blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. While the Basilica Cistern is the largest among hundreds of other ancient cisterns beneath the city of Istanbul, its famous for the two Medusa head column bases. As an experienced traveler, I believe that having a guide when visiting historical sites is necessary. It brings a depth of experience that you can never get from guide books or audio guides. They also know the best spots for photography.

Wandering Off the Beaten Track in Istanbul

Entrance to The Blue Mosque

Wandering Off the Beaten Track in Istanbul

Basilica Cistern

It was a long day and we really had a great time, but our day didn’t end with just sight seeing and photography. At night, we went at the Grand Bazaar, one of the biggest and oldest indoor markets in the world for some shopping. We bought some Turkish Delights, Turkish Lamp, magnets and other souvenirs. Everything was reasonably priced, we avoided being ripped off, thanks to Ryan and Andrew’s mastery of the local language!

Wandering Off the Beaten Track in Istanbul

Colorful Turkish Lamps at the Grand Bazaar

We had an awesome time in Istanbul. Thanks to Ryan and Andrew for the first class experience! Authentic Turkey Tours offers a wide range of tour programs and itineraries to suit various types of travelers. Checkout their website for more information.

Monkey DividersAbout the Writer

Jaypee LicudanJaypee Licudan is a Filipino Expat based in Singapore. He’s a traveller and writer for Two Monkeys Travel Group – Community Travel Blog and has been to over 30 countries across 4 continents. He’s major long term goal is to go back to the Philippines for a long time travel to discover the hidden gems of his home country. Follow his personal blog: The Rustic Nomad

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Monkey Dividers

Wandering Off the Beaten Track in Istanbul

Comments 36

  1. Istanbul is definitely on my bucket list! It is such a beautiful place where I can capture lots of moments! Great post mate! 🙂

  2. I love the view of the strait here. It looks so tranquil and classic. The interiors of the Chora Church and the large grafiti are really something to behold

  3. It’s nice to be able to travel to Turkey through your blog. I so love the mosaic of Mary and the colorful Turkish lamps. Anything colorful makes me happy.

  4. Been reading and hearing a lot of good places to visit in Istanbul. But it’s only now that I saw those mosaics at Chora Church ♥♥♥ simply awesome 😉

  5. Damm! Turkey remains in my bucketlist. Couldn’t decide if I should go there though, because of security issues for solo travelers. But I’m sure to go there when I find the perfect travel companion. You took amazing photos! And I love how you narrated your travel, I really appreciate fresh or additional info about the places one can or must visit. Thanks for sharing your experience, and I’d check out the tour provider. 😉

    1. Thanks Maerose! Anything can happen anywhere, don’t let it hold you back. You would love to experience the journey yourself. 🙂

  6. This is pretty cool! Gosh your travels are amazing. Aiming to do this one day with my son and hubby!!! Great post! 🙂 Keep on wanderlusting!

  7. I fell in love with the Turkish lamps I so want to have them for my home. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to travel the world someday soon and collect souvenir pieces from each place to adorn my house.

  8. Going on the roof is part of the tour? Wow. Isn’t it scary? It’s a fantastic picture though, that view of the city is amazing.

    1. Yes! A bit scary but you’ll be fine, just follow their instructions and be extra careful. You cannot miss that view! 🙂

  9. that interior of Hagia Sophia is simply mind blowing… I love those intricate details! I love visiting various churches not just for spiritual enlightenment but also to explore the differences between their architecture and also to learn the interesting history behind them too
    I also love the street arts.. so creative! I wish we have such wonderful murals here in our country too and not those unpleasant graffiti

  10. Wow! This seemed like a lot of fun for you! 😀 Would love to take a trip to Turkey and explore. I never considered the place as a destination until now. Thanks!

  11. I’s always nice to stay somewhere far away from the tourists, for a change. The perspective and insights you gave here is really nice. I’ve read a lot about Istanbul in the books, and it makes me want to visit it there right away! 🙂

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