Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: Istanbul

Laura taking in the opulent architecture of the Topkapı Palace. Image courtesy of Laura Crawford Laura taking in the opulent architecture of the Topkapı Palace. Image courtesy of Laura Crawford

Laura Crawford, destination editor for Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and the Philippines, is just back from her first trip to Turkey, exploring the capital city of Istanbul.

Tell us more… My fella and I spent a week in Istanbul, hoping to make the most of the end of the European summer and to celebrate my birthday. Turkey has been high on my travel wishlist for a while and this was my first visit to the country.

Defining moment? On the first morning of exploring we walked from our hotel in Beyoğlu down to Galata Bridge. From here we had our first view across the water to Sultanahmet and the whole historic peninsula – home to the beautiful mosques Süleymaniye, Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya (among others). That first glimpse of the many domes and minarets dotting the hillsides was impressive indeed.

Good grub? There were many food and drink highlights: succulent döner kebap from Dönerci Şahin Usta at the Grand Bazaar, baklava at Develi Baklava and Karaköy Güllüoğlu, coffee at Fazıl Bey (followed by cheese and bread shopping in the Kadıköy market), and cocktails with unbeatable views at the rooftop bar of Mikla. I also discovered the pleasures of manti (a ravioli-like meat-stuffed dumpling) on this trip. And with food stalls everywhere you really can’t go hungry in Istanbul.

galata bridge Ferries passing Galata Bridge at dusk, with Süleymaniye Mosque in the background. Image courtesy of Laura Crawford

You’d be a muppet to miss… I loved serene Süleymaniye Mosque and the Blue Mosque, but Topkapı Palace was the place that had it all for me – this opulently decorated and colourful complex of courtyards, chambers, pavilions, gardens and terraces had something interesting to gaze at around every corner.

Favourite activity? I particularly enjoyed riding on the ferries. Local commuter ferries criss-cross the waterways around the city, up and down the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus Strait. It’s a fun, leisurely way to see the city from various picturesque angles. The ferry across to Kadıköy and the ferry up and down the Golden Horn both allow excellent views – scenic boat tours for the cost of a bus ticket. Staff circulating on board selling cups of tea and fresh juice is just a bonus.

Fridge magnet or better? I came back with a bag of coffee and a small copper Turkish coffee pot. I like to browse markets but I’m not a big shopper. More enthusiastic buyers will find an almost overwhelming array of items to bring home.

Unexpected encounter? I hadn’t realised there were so many cats in Istanbul. They are all over and, like cats everywhere in the world, believe they have the run of the place. Cats in cafes, cats in metro stations, cats in mosque grounds, cats sleeping on motorbikes…