Girl looking at lanterns in a market in Istanbul.


How to act like a local in Istanbul

Published October 21st, 2016

It’s exotic.  It’s colourful. It’s diverse.  Istanbul quickly wins over the hearts of backpackers who venture here for these and many more reasons. Best of all? It still feels local. It has not yet been overrun with travellers and still holds that magical air of authenticity to it. So what better way to get in the groove than to do what the locals do in Istanbul? Here’s how...


On the ferry with seagulls

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Cruise between continents

Don’t fall for the men spruiking “Bosphorous cruise!” by the waterfront but feel free to be convinced by the tea man shouting “chai, chai, chai” (for a measly 1 Lira!) on the commuter ferry.  This 100% local ‘cruise’ is not only cheaper and more regular but it’s also wayyyy more interesting. Use it to zig-zag back and forth between the European side and the Asian side.


Meze.. #istanbulum #istanbul #rakı #sera #cena #akşam #nesimi #rossoistanbul #istanbulkirmizisi

A photo posted by Ferzan Ozpetek (@ferzanozpetek) on

Sip raki in a Meyhane

Me-what, you say? A Meyhane is a traditional Ottoman restaurant or bar that tends to specialise in meze. Mmmmmm meze – who could resist! But the name literally translates as ‘wine bar’. There’s often authentic live music, there are always packs of locals and there’s no resisting the constant flow of raki being poured. An iconic Turkish aniseed spirit, a Meyhane is the only place try it.


Get a Turkish scrub-down

Been on the road for months and in need of a good ‘scrub me down’ to get all that flaky backpacker skin in check? A trip to a local Hammam (Turkish bath) will get you sorted, stat. They literally do all the hard work for you. Lie down in the ‘hot room’ and let an attendant wash and massage you. It’s certainly not your typical ‘massage’ experience but let’s just say it’s one you won’t forget!


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Kill hours playing Backgammon

Backgammon (called Tavla in Turkish) is everywhere – in local shops, cafes, bars and restaurants and without fail a staple entertainer in every home. Whittle away hours battling it out over this board game just about anywhere across the city. This is best done while sipping endless cups of tea or thick Turkish coffee, just like the locals. Like a challenge? Ask a local to play for a game that’ll push your backgammon skills to the limit.


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Stylish shopping time

You’ll quickly notice that the locals in Istanbul are impressively stylish. The sheer variety of shopping on offer makes this an easy feat to live up to. Browse beyond the store-lined shopping mecca of Istiklal to revamp your suitcase. Nisantasi is ground central for local fashionistas. And if you’re looking for some cool one-off boutiques and Turkish designers, roam the streets around Galata Tower.

Smoke nargile by the seaside

You may know it as shisha but in Turkey it’s ‘nargile’. A local staple for nearly 500 years, smoking flavoured tobacco was quite the status symbol during the rule of the Ottoman Empire! The apple flavour proves the favourite but the nargile cafes have so many to choose from – and that’s half the fun. The best place to do it? Ortakoy. It’s one of Istanbul’s most chic neighbourhoods, flaunts beautiful views over the waters of the Golden Horn and is home to a great, artsy street market on Sundays.


A photo posted by Serdar Ortac (@serdarortac47) on

Munch on ‘fish bread’

It might not sound fancy but Balik Ekmek, which literally means ‘fish bread’, is the go to street food. Don’t believe it? Go to Gelata Bridge and you’ll see the flurry of people lining up for a taste from three large boats rocking side to side decked out in massive grills pumping out these tasty fish burgers. This is the best spot to grab one – and cheap too – but anywhere along the Bosphorous banks you’re sure to find many variations for cheap.

Can you say flights to Europe on layby....for $1. This is not a fire drill, book now, pay later is bringing the real.


Tijana Jaksic

After some hardcore scrimping and saving, Tijana’s first backpacking trip confirmed she was onto something good. She hasn’t stopped since. Fave memories to date include dancing with locals in the streets of Havana, bartering for too many scarves in the markets of India, getting lost in the bustle of Hong Kong, sipping cocktails in the Greek Islands and jumping off waterfalls in Croatia. Now she gets to write about travel for a living – the best way to satiate the wanderlust between adventures.