Some would argue that this is the best time of the year to be in Istanbul as the brisk fall weather has replaced the blistering sunshine of weeks past and the trees the city is famed for are beginning to change into the colors of autumn. The following are five different ways to while away the day and discover this magnificent city all while enjoying the outdoors.
Rowing on the Golden Horn
One of the most enjoyable and relaxing sports you can embark on this fall is rowing. Not only is it a great workout and builds team spirit and social connections but it is absolutely uplifting and satisfies your soul as you get to experience the water by being in it but not actually getting wet. Also, did I mention that in Istanbul, you would be rowing on the historical Golden Horn, referred to in Turkish as Haliç? That’s right, there are two easily accessible rowing schools and sports clubs that offer lessons for novices and team practice possibilities for those more skilled. Students of all ages and fitness levels are welcome to try their hand at learning this engaging and low-impact sport. Either way, I can guarantee you from personal experience; it is a wonderful way to enjoy the day. Check out Altınboynuz in Hasköy and Vira Yatcılık in Eyüp as both offer beginners lessons and are located on opposite ends of the Golden Horn.
Take a Bosporus boat tour
If you don’t want to do all of the work but still want to cruise along the Bosporus, then there are a number of pleasurable boat rides you can take while discovering more of the city. I have always believed that one of the best tourist activities for new arrivals to Istanbul is boarding one of the Bosporus boat tours, referred to in Turkish as Boğaz Turu. Not only is it a thoroughly relaxing experience, but you also get to check out the spectacular villas and mansions that line the Bosporus up close and personal and discover the area where the Bosporus leads into the Black Sea. Operated by Istanbul City Lines (Şehir Hatları), the Istanbul Municipality’s ferryboat operators, the ferries pick up passengers from ports all over the city, such as from Eminönü, Beşiktaş and Üsküdar and then head north up the Bosporus to end up at the picturesque and quaint fishing town of Anadolu Kavağı. Most visitors will take the opportunity of disembarking, enjoying lunch and proceeding to do the 20-minute hike to visit the ruins of the 13th century Yoros Castle, which also offers spectacular views of where the Bosporus and the Black Sea meet. While there are admittedly other operators of boat tours of the Bosporus, I highly recommend cruising with the municipality-run boats, and they also have a wide variety of shorter Bosporus tours. You might also want to wrap up as not to get chilled.
Transport yourself to Ottoman times
Have you ever seen the nostalgic gondola-like replicas of the Ottoman boats referred to as Kancabaş coasting along the Golden Horn? Well, if not, they are quite the sight to behold. Even better, you and your friends and family can easily hire one. The Kancabaş culture was revived along the Golden Horn five years ago; however, in this case, the boats are electric, which means there are no negative emissions. There have been a number of floating ports set up at the Eyüpsultan Wedding Registry Office, Miniatürk, Teleferik, Eyüpsultan and the Haliç Congress Center. While at it, you could easily combine an outdoor adventure at Miniatürk, which is one of the world’s largest of its kind at 60,000 square meters with 135 miniature replica models (of a 1:25 scale) of iconic structures throughout Turkey and Ottoman territories. Or, you can take a boat ride beside the Bahariye Islands, which are also located on the Golden Horn and are filled with flora and fauna, having once served as the summer gardens for the Ottoman palatial elite.
Take a walk on the wild side
There are a number of spectacular neighborhoods well worth spending the day discovering on foot. Starting with Tahtakale, which is a maze-full of wholesale shopping streets located just behind the Spice Bazaar in Eminönü. There are streets lined with shops devoted to different crafts that have much of their goods spilling onto the streets. Some of the highlights include board games, baskets, beads and baking accouterment to name just a few.
Discover the spectacular building-sized street murals of the bohemian Yeldeğirmeni neighborhood in Kadıköy. As part of the Mural-Ist Street Art Festival, which first started in 2012, international graffiti artists have decorated the streets of this up-and-coming neighborhood which is a true joy to wander and discover. As can be expected, there are also great cafes and third-wave coffee spots to take a break at.
If you don’t feel like going on an adventure on your own, join up with one of the many scrumptious food walks offered by the expat-pioneered Culinary Backstreets. They offer eight different culinary tours to select from, with some taking you through the backstreets of Beyoğlu or the Grand Bazaar area and others guiding you through fresh produce markets and then teaching Turkish recipes.
Tea time in Turkey is sublime
Take some time out from your day to enjoy a warm tea with spectacular vistas at some of Istanbul’s traditional tea gardens. A steadfast tradition would be that you grab a newspaper and maybe even a morning pastry and visit a “çay bahçesi” (tea garden) to while away the day. If joined by a friend, it is the norm to play backgammon and drink cup after cup of tea, as there isn’t usually much else to order. You may be able to get a grilled cheese toast if you’re lucky and perhaps a Turkish coffee, but other than that, it is all about the tea, of which they do tend to offer black as well as other herbal options, such as sage or chamomile. The best area to lounge at a tea garden lines the hill above the shore of Moda, where there is the Moda Tea Garden and Bomonti, but there are other famously picturesque tea gardens in the city such as the historical Çınaraltı tea garden, which is in Çengelköy and named after the huge Sycamore tree it is famed for and Pierre Loti, which is located on the hill of the same name in Eyüp and thus offers breathtaking views of the Golden Horn.
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