13 Insider Tips to Experience Istanbul Like a Local

Last Updated on September 12, 2023 by Goya

Ultimate Istanbul Local Guide: From strolling along the Bosphorus to indulging in Turkish breakfast, discover 13 ways to experience Istanbul like a local!

Views of Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul, Turkey

Hey there, fellow travellers! Ready to ditch the touristy stuff and dive into the real Istanbul? Well, you’ve hit the jackpot, because I’m about to share my top ten ways to experience this incredible city like a local!

First things first, who am I? Well, I am someone who spent a good chunk of her young adult life in Istanbul, hopping on dolmuş or ferries to face the infamous Istanbul traffic, nursing heartaches over rakı, drinking her weight in tea and jumping between Europe and Asia as if it was just another Tuesday — probably because it was!

I am also someone who might just about lose her baklava if she sees another post on Istanbul hailing hammams as “a quintessential local experience”! Yes, hammams are a part of Istanbul’s rich history and culture, but let’s clear this up — they aren’t a part of the average local’s daily or even monthly routine. So, while they might make for an interesting visit, labelling them as a “core local experience” is somewhat misleading.

But don’t worry, you’re in safe hands here. My guide is all about offering you a genuine slice of Istanbul life and culture, a city I was proud to call home for many years.

Ready to start this unique adventure? Let’s dive in!

*This post contains affiliate links, so I may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on this site at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!

13 Ways to Experience Istanbul Like a Local

In Istanbul, everyday life unfolds like a symphony, with its unique rhythms, flavours, and traditions that make this city truly special. As you navigate the city’s bustling streets, it’s important to embrace these experiences that make your trip all the more authentic.

So, let’s leave the clichés at the door and embark on this adventure together, discovering ten genuine ways to experience Istanbul like a local.

From the delightful chaos of dolmuş rides to the camaraderie and laughter shared over rakı tables, let’s dive into the heart and soul of Istanbul, one delightful experience at a time.

Culinary Experiences

#1: Indulge in Turkish Breakfast (Kahvaltı)

Whatever you do, don’t forget to start your day like a true Istanbul local by experiencing the delight of Turkish breakfast, or kahvaltı. This morning feast is a cherished ritual that brings families and friends together, celebrating the joy of good food and company.

Picture a table adorned with a colourful array of freshly baked bread, creamy feta cheese, plump olives, ripe tomatoes, cucumber, and fragrant herbs. Add to that a variety of jams, honey, and tahini, along with rich butter and kaymak (clotted cream). Completing this feast are soft-boiled eggs, menemen (a delicious tomato and egg scramble), and sucuk (spicy Turkish sausage). All of this is accompanied by an endless flow of çay (tea) served in delicate tulip-shaped glasses.

While Turkish breakfast can be enjoyed any day of the week, it’s the Sunday breakfast that holds a special place in the hearts of Istanbul locals. Sundays are dedicated to leisurely mornings, allowing ample time to savour each bite and engage in unhurried conversations. Families and friends gather around the table, sharing stories, laughter, and the simple pleasure of being together.

To truly experience Istanbul’s Sunday breakfast ritual, head to neighbourhood establishments that have perfected the art of kahvaltı. Places like Van Kahvaltı Evi in Cihangir, Sütiş in Emirgan, or Mums in Karaköy offer generous spreads that will leave you enchanted.

Indulging in a Turkish breakfast is not merely about food; it’s a sensory journey that connects you to Istanbul’s rich culinary heritage and the joy of communal dining. So, slow down, savour each bite, and allow the flavours to transport you to a place where time stands still.

Turkish Breakfast

#2: Join a Rakı Table

When it comes to experiencing Istanbul like a local, there’s one tradition that stands out – joining a rakı table. Rakı, an anise-flavoured alcoholic drink, holds deep cultural and historical significance in Turkish society, making a rakı table an essential part of the local experience.

Rakı, often referred to as “Lion’s Milk,” is much more than a beverage. It symbolizes celebration, friendship, and the joy of shared moments. The ritual of gathering around a table with loved ones or new acquaintances, accompanied by mezes (appetizers), creates a unique sense of camaraderie.

As the evening progresses, animated discussions flow freely, covering everything from politics and culture to personal stories and life’s philosophical questions. The table becomes a microcosm of Turkish society, where bonds are forged, and memories are made.

However, it’s important to approach a rakı table with respect for its cultural nuances. Moderation is key, as rakı is a strong drink meant to be savoured slowly. Pairing it with mezes is not only a culinary delight but also helps to pace the evening.

Embrace the concept of “ara sıcaklar” (or warm starters) allowing time for breaks and conversation between rounds, ensuring a memorable experience without overindulgence. And remember, a rakı table is not just about the drink itself, but the company and the conversations that flow freely.

To fully embrace the rakı table experience, consider the setting. Seek out local meyhanes (taverns) in neighbourhoods like Beyoğlu or Kadıköy, where the authentic ambience amplifies the sense of belonging.

Rakı (Turkey's national drink) served with ice and chilled water on the side.

#3: Feast with Locals

One of the most delightful ways to experience Istanbul like a local is by feasting where the locals eat. Istanbul’s culinary scene is a vibrant tapestry of flavours, and indulging in a meal with locals offers an opportunity to immerse yourself in the city’s rich gastronomic traditions. One particular culinary institution that embodies this local dining experience is the esnaf lokantası.

An esnaf lokantası is a traditional Turkish restaurant, often frequented by local tradesmen and workers. In English, the term translates to “tradesman’s restaurant”. These establishments offer a variety of homemade dishes, usually served buffet-style or pre-cooked, at affordable prices. They are known for their warm, welcoming atmosphere and are a great place to experience authentic Turkish cuisine.

Esnaf lokantası is a haven for both locals and curious travellers seeking an authentic taste of Istanbul. These unassuming eateries can be found tucked away in neighbourhood side streets, away from the tourist hotspots. With their humble interiors and long communal tables, they exude a cosy, family-like atmosphere that welcomes everyone who walks through their doors.

The essence of an esnaf lokantası lies in its daily changing menu of traditional dishes. As you enter, you’ll be greeted by a mesmerizing spread of colourful, freshly prepared mezes (appetizers) that will entice your senses. From vibrant vegetable dishes like imam bayıldı (stuffed eggplant) to hearty meat stews and fragrant pilafs, each dish is a labour of love and a testament to the culinary heritage of Istanbul.

When it comes to esnaf lokantası, a couple of standout favourites among locals include Çiya Sofrası and Yanyalı Fehmi Lokantası in Kadıköy and Bankalar Lokantası in Karaköy. These beloved establishments offer not only mouthwatering dishes but also a genuine sense of community, making you feel like an honoured guest in the heart of Istanbul.

Yet, the concept of esnaf lokantası has also gracefully evolved over time, adapting to modern culinary trends while staying rooted in tradition. A prime example of this culinary transformation is Lokanta Mimi in Beyoğlu. This restaurant takes the core essence of the traditional esnaf lokantası and infuses it with a contemporary flair. The outcome is a dining experience that offers the best of both worlds – the comforting authenticity of traditional Turkish cuisine paired with the innovation and sophistication of modern gastronomy.

Visiting establishments like these is an experience that grants an unparalleled glimpse into the city’s vibrant food culture, making it an absolute must-try for any food enthusiast exploring Istanbul.

Food at Lokanta Mimi

#4: Discover Local Flavours and Street Food

Istanbul, a city where East meets West and history whispers through every cobblestone, is a true paradise for food enthusiasts. While the renowned dishes like kebabs and baklava often steal the spotlight, there is a world of culinary wonders hidden within its neighborhoods.

To truly explore Istanbul like a local, you need to venture beyond the tourist hubs and embark on a culinary journey that celebrates the city’s authentic flavors and street food traditions.

In the narrow streets of Sultanahmet, you’ll discover the irresistible charm of Sultanahmet köftesi — succulent meatballs served with a medley of fresh vegetables and warm pita bread. In trendy Ortaköy, kumpir transforms humble baked potatoes into a canvas for a riot of toppings, including cheese, olives, corn and pickles. Meanwhile, Sarıyer, nestled along the Bosphorus, offers a taste of heaven in the form of Sarıyer Böreği, delicate pastries filled with cheese, spinach, or minced meat.

Eminönü, a bustling hub, beckons with its famed Balık Ekmek, where freshly grilled fish is nestled in fluffy bread rolls, a beloved street food favorite. In Vefa, the historic shops invite you to savor boza, a traditional fermented drink, slightly tangy and sweet, sprinkled with cinnamon and roasted chickpeas.

And in the serene neighborhood of Kanlıca, creamy Kanlıca yoghurt awaits, inviting you to experience the richness of local yogurt.

Lastly, as winter blankets the city, don’t miss the opportunity to warm up with sahlep, a comforting drink made from wild orchid root powder.

And, of course, no list would be complete without Istanbulites’ favorite simit, the sesame-crusted bread ring that graces every corner of this magnificent city.

Three simits stacked up on a plate

As you venture through Istanbul’s diverse neighborhoods, be sure to keep an eye out for these local flavors and street snacks. Exploring the city like a local means immersing yourself in its culinary traditions, and you’ll discover that the heart of Istanbul truly lies in its food.

#5: Drink Copious Amounts of Tea

When it comes to experiencing Istanbul like a local, one cannot overlook the ubiquitous presence of tea. Tea, or “çay” in Turkish, holds a special place in the hearts and cups of Istanbul residents, weaving its way into every aspect of daily life. From the first light of dawn to the late hours of the night, Istanbulites indulge in this aromatic beverage, reflecting the rich history and cultural significance of tea in Turkish society.

Tea has a long and fascinating history in Turkish culture. Introduced in the 19th century, it quickly became an integral part of daily life, evolving into a symbol of hospitality and friendship. Today, Turkey stands as the largest tea consumer in the world, and Istanbul is no exception to this love affair with tea.

In Istanbul, you’ll find tea being enjoyed everywhere, at any time. From bustling street corners to cosy teahouses, tea is an essential companion for both lively conversations and quiet moments of reflection. Take a stroll through Istanbul’s neighbourhoods, and you’ll encounter tea gardens filled with locals engaged in animated discussions, sipping on their tea as they unwind and connect with friends.

One of the most distinctive aspects of tea culture in Istanbul is the Turkish tea set. The double-stacked teapot, called a “çaydanlık”, sits atop a kettle of boiling water, allowing the tea to brew to perfection. The tea is served in delicate, tulip-shaped glasses, and the brewing process is an art in itself, ensuring that every cup is filled with the perfect balance of flavour and strength.

Drinking tea is not merely a means to quench thirst; it’s a ritual that fosters connection and hospitality. Locals often offer tea as a gesture of welcome, inviting visitors into their homes or shops. This act of sharing a cup of tea transcends cultural barriers, creating a sense of warmth and camaraderie.

So, as you explore Istanbul’s vibrant streets and engage with its friendly residents, don’t forget to indulge in a cup of tea. Allow its fragrant aroma to envelop your senses, let its warmth soothe your soul, and embrace the timeless tradition that connects Istanbulites across generations.

Turkish tea (or çay) - with Bosphorus at the background

Neighborhood Exploration

#6: Walk Along the Bosphorus

To connect with the soul of Istanbul, take a leisurely stroll along the Bosphorus. This majestic waterway is the heartbeat of the city, offering stunning views of historic mansions, bustling waterfront neighbourhoods, and the iconic silhouette of Istanbul’s skyline.

Don’t forget to check out:

  • Beşiktaş neighbourhood, beckoning with its lively energy and historic landmarks like the Dolmabahçe Palace. Take in the bustling atmosphere and continue along the waterfront, passing charming cafes and local shops.
  • Ortaköy neighbourhood, known for its charming waterfront square and the majestic Ortaköy Mosque. Indulge in a simit (sesame-covered bread ring) from a street vendor and savour its warm, doughy goodness as you take in the breathtaking views. Or treat yourself to a jacket potato (kumpir) to immerse yourself in a quintessential part of Istanbul’s vibrant street food culture.
  • The enchanting district of Arnavutköy, adorned with Ottoman-era wooden houses and narrow cobbled streets. Here, be sure to stop by a local favourite seafood restaurant like “Arnavutköy Balıkçısı” or “Sur Balık Restaurant” to sample the freshest catch from the Bosphorus, delighting your taste buds with succulent grilled fish and mezes.
  • The picturesque neighbourhood of Bebek, beckoning with its chic boutiques, stylish cafes, and stunning waterfront promenade. Find a cosy spot at one of the local tea/coffee shops or cocktail bars, immersing yourself in the bonvivant atmosphere cherished by Istanbul’s locals.
  • The peaceful neighborhood of Emirgan where you’ll find the Emirgan Park and Sabancı Museum, a cultural gem housed in a renovated 19th-century mansion. Explore the museum’s extensive collection of Turkish and international art, stroll through its enchanting gardens, and enjoy panoramic views of the Bosphorus.
  • In Üsküdar, marvel at the majestic silhouette of the Maiden’s Tower (Kız Kulesi) rising from the waters, and explore the local tea houses and bazaars that capture the essence of Istanbul’s rich history.

#7: Explore Neighborhoods Beyond the Tourist Zones

To truly experience Istanbul like a local, it’s time to venture beyond the well-trodden touristic paths and explore the city’s diverse neighbourhoods. Istanbul is a tapestry of vibrant communities, each with its unique character, cultural heritage, and hidden treasures waiting to be discovered.

One such neighbourhood is Balat, nestled on the shores of the Golden Horn. While it is no longer a hidden gem, it remains a vibrant and captivating neighborhood that’s always worth a visit. Lose yourself in its narrow, winding streets lined with colourful houses, trendy cafes, and local artisan shops. Visit the awe-inspiring Church of St. Stephen, enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee in a traditional teahouse, and mingle with friendly locals who are always eager to share their stories and recommendations.

Another neighbourhood worth exploring is Moda, located on the Asian side of Istanbul. This trendy and bohemian district offers a refreshing escape from the crowds. Stroll along the seaside promenade, lined with charming cafes, bookstores, and boutique shops.

Take a moment to relax in Moda Park and soak up the laid-back atmosphere, enjoying panoramic views of the city’s skyline. Enjoy delicious treats at local gems, like Asuman:

Pistachio cheesecake at Asuman, Moda

For a taste of Istanbul’s modern art scene, head to Karaköy. Popular with tourists and locals alike, this neighbourhood is a haven for artists, designers, and creative souls. Explore contemporary art galleries, browse through hip boutiques, and indulge in culinary delights at trendy restaurants like “Mikla” or “Karaköy Lokantası.” Absorb the vibrant energy and artistic vibes that permeate the streets of Karaköy, and you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for Istanbul’s ever-evolving cultural landscape.

By venturing beyond the Istanbul’s historical peninsula, you’ll create memories that go beyond the surface, immersing yourself in the true spirit of Istanbul and experiencing the city like a local.

#8: Go for a Day Trip to Princes’ Islands

Escaping the hustle and bustle of the city by taking a day trip to the Princes’ Islands is a true Istanbulite treat. These tranquil islands offer a serene oasis just a short ferry ride away from the vibrant heart of Istanbul.

The Princes’ Islands, known as Adalar in Turkish, consist of a cluster of nine islands located in the Sea of Marmara, southeast of Istanbul. Among them, Büyükada (Big Island) and Heybeliada (Saddlebag Island) are the most popular and accessible to tourists.

These islands have a rich history that dates back centuries. In the Byzantine and Ottoman eras, they served as places of exile for royalty and were a favorite summer retreat for Istanbul’s elite. As you wander through their charming streets, you’ll encounter stunning Ottoman-era mansions, churches, and monasteries. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Hagia Yorgi Church on Büyükada, perched on a hill with panoramic views of the sea and the city.

Hagia Yorgi Church on Büyükada

The Princes’ Islands are an excellent place to unwind and enjoy the great outdoors. You can rent bicycles to explore the islands at your own pace, take a leisurely walk through lush pine forests, or simply relax on the pebble beaches. The clear blue waters invite you for a refreshing swim, and there are plenty of waterfront restaurants where you can savor fresh seafood and local delicacies.

One of the joys of visiting the Princes’ Islands is indulging in delicious Turkish cuisine. Seafood is a specialty here, and you can dine in picturesque waterfront restaurants offering stunning views of the sea. Be sure to try local dishes like mussels stuffed with rice, or fresh fish grilled to perfection.

Before you leave, don’t forget to explore the islands’ charming marketplaces. You’ll find a variety of handcrafted souvenirs, from jewelry and textiles to traditional ceramics and unique trinkets to remember your day trip by.

To reach the Princes’ Islands, simply take a ferry from the Kabataş or Bostancı ferry terminals in Istanbul. The ferry ride itself is a delightful experience, offering panoramic views of the city’s skyline and the serene waters of the Sea of Marmara.

Or consider taking a tour:

#9: Jump on the Tünel

When it comes to exploring Istanbul like a local, you’ll quickly discover that the heart of this vibrant city isn’t just on its bustling streets and historic landmarks. It also lies beneath the surface, where a world of history and convenience awaits.

One of the best ways to immerse yourself in Istanbul’s underground heritage is to jump on the Tünel, a unique and historical transportation experience that’s a true testament to the city’s rich history.

Tünel, also known as the Istanbul Tunnel, holds the distinction of being one of the world’s oldest subways. Dating back to 1875, it predates many other major subway systems by decades. It connects the bustling neighborhoods of Karaköy and Beyoğlu, making it not just a mode of transportation but a historical journey through time.

Locals in Istanbul know that the Tünel is not just a tourist attraction; it’s a practical way to get around the city. Connecting two busy districts, it provides a convenient shortcut that can save you time and energy. Whether you’re heading to the lively Istiklal Avenue for shopping and dining or exploring the historical treasures of Galata Tower, the Tünel is a time-saving option for your journey, and a unique opportunity to observe the daily comings and goings of Istanbul’s residents.

Practical Tips for Riding the Tünel Like a Pro

  • Ticketing: Purchase your token or Istanbulkart (public transportation card) at the station entrance. The Tünel is integrated into the city’s public transportation system, making it easy to use.
  • Timings: The Tünel operates from early morning until late at night. Check the schedule to ensure you can fit it into your itinerary.
  • Connecting Destinations: The Tünel connects (almost) seamlessly with the nostalgic tramway on Istiklal Avenue, allowing you to explore more of Beyoğlu and beyond.

The Tünel is more than just a mode of transportation; it’s a journey through time and a window into the daily life of Istanbul’s residents. So, when you’re ready to explore Istanbul like a local, be sure to jump on the Tünel and embark on a subterranean adventure that’s both historic and practical.

Cultural and Social Experiences

#10: Take a Passenger Ferry or Dolmuş

To navigate Istanbul like a local, swap the tourist cruises for a more authentic mode of transportation: the passenger ferries and dolmuş. These iconic forms of public transport not only offer a practical way to navigate the city but also provide an opportunity to immerse yourself in Istanbul’s bustling energy and connect with its residents. So, hop on board and embrace the local rhythms of Istanbul.

Passenger ferries crisscross the sparkling waters of the Bosphorus, connecting different parts of the city and offering breathtaking views along the way. Instead of opting for crowded tourist cruises, join the locals on these ferries and witness the daily life that unfolds on the shores of the majestic waterway. Watch as commuters hurriedly make their way to work, families embark on weekend outings, and fishermen cast their lines into the sparkling waves. Feel the refreshing breeze on your face and soak in the unparalleled beauty of Istanbul’s skyline from the unique vantage point that the ferries provide.

For shorter distances within the city, embrace the charm of the dolmuş, shared minibuses that zip through Istanbul’s streets. Hop on board, find a seat, and let the vibrant energy of the city surround you.

By choosing passenger ferries and dolmuş over tourist cruises, you not only experience Istanbul’s transportation system but also connect with the heartbeat of the city and its residents. As you ride alongside locals, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the city’s culture, witness the everyday rhythms, and even pick up a few Turkish phrases along the way.

So, embrace Istanbul’s local rhythms and opt for passenger ferries and dolmuş to navigate this vibrant metropolis. Allow yourself to be swept up in the ebb and flow of the city, and discover the joy of travelling like a local. As you sail on the Bosphorus or weave through Istanbul’s streets, you’ll create unforgettable memories and truly experience the authentic spirit of Istanbul.

#11: Attend Local Festivals and Events

To experience Istanbul like a local, immerse yourself in the city’s vibrant cultural scene by attending local festivals and events. Istanbul is a hub of artistic expression, and its calendar is filled with diverse celebrations that showcase the city’s rich heritage, creativity, and passion for the arts. From the internationally renowned Istanbul Film Festival to the lively open air (“Açıkhava”) concerts, these events offer a unique window into Istanbul’s cultural tapestry.

One of the most anticipated events on Istanbul’s cultural calendar is the Istanbul Film Festival. Held annually, this esteemed film festival brings together filmmakers, actors, and cinema enthusiasts from around the world. From thought-provoking independent films to captivating international releases, the festival screens a diverse selection of works across various genres. Immerse yourself in the magic of cinema by attending screenings, Q&A sessions, and panel discussions that provide insights into the art of filmmaking.

Another highlight of Istanbul’s cultural scene is the Açıkhava concerts, held during the warm summer months. These open-air concerts take place in iconic venues such as the Harbiye Cemil Topuzlu Open-Air Theater and the KüçükÇiftlik Park. With a lineup featuring both local and international musicians spanning various genres, the concerts offer a captivating experience under the starlit Istanbul sky. From lively pop performances to soulful jazz, rock, and traditional Turkish music, the Açıkhava concerts provide a platform to celebrate the power of music and enjoy unforgettable live performances. Join the locals as they sing along, dance, and create a vibrant atmosphere filled with pure joy.

Attending local festivals and events allows you to connect with Istanbul’s cultural fabric, experiencing the passions and artistic expressions that define the city. So, immerse yourself in the arts, be part of the local audience, and let the vibrant cultural scene of Istanbul leave an indelible mark on your journey.

#12: Enjoy the Rooftops of Istanbul

If you want to experience Istanbul like a local, take to the rooftops and soak in the mesmerizing views that unfold before you. Istanbul is a city that comes alive when its residents embrace the rooftops, creating vibrant spaces that offer stunning vistas, delicious cuisine, and unforgettable experiences. From rooftop restaurants and bars to stylish cocktail lounges, Istanbul’s skyline becomes your backdrop as you revel in the magic of the city from above.

One of the distinct features of Istanbul’s rooftop culture is its adaptability to changing seasons. Turkish locals are known for their resourcefulness, and as soon as temperatures allow, they extend the use of rooftops by providing outdoor heating. This means that even in cooler months, Istanbulites flock to the rooftops, gathering with friends, and enjoying the city’s panoramic views under the starlit sky.

Istanbul boasts a plethora of remarkable venues that offer rooftop experiences with breathtaking vistas overlooking the Golden Horn or the Bosphorus. Monkey Cocktail Bar is a hidden gem that embodies the essence of Istanbul’s rooftop culture. Nestled in the trendy Beyoğlu neighbourhood, this rooftop oasis offers an enchanting ambience, creative cocktails, and panoramic views that stretch across the city’s skyline. Sip on expertly crafted drinks, mingle with fellow locals and visitors, and let the golden hues of Istanbul’s twilight cast a spell over you.

Beyond Monkey Cocktail Bar, Istanbul is teeming with exceptional rooftop destinations. From sophisticated restaurants serving delectable Turkish cuisine to stylish bars where mixologists craft tantalizing cocktails, each rooftop establishment offers a unique experience that captures the essence of Istanbul’s vibrant spirit. Whether you’re in the mood for a laid-back evening with friends, a romantic dinner under the stars, or a lively night out at a rooftop club, there’s something for every taste.

So, escape the bustling streets and elevate your Istanbul experience by enjoying the city’s rooftops like a local. Embrace the breathtaking views, savour the flavours, and bask in the vibrant atmosphere that permeates these elevated spaces. By immersing yourself in Istanbul’s rooftop culture, you’ll create unforgettable memories and witness the city’s beauty from a whole new perspective.

Istanbul Views from Monkey Cocktail Bar

#13: Enjoy a Fasıl Night

When it comes to experiencing Istanbul like a local, immersing yourself in the enchanting melodies of a fasıl night is an absolute must. Fasıl, a traditional Turkish musical genre, combines captivating melodies, soulful vocals, and lively rhythms to create an immersive and unforgettable cultural experience. Join the locals in Istanbul’s vibrant meyhanes (taverns) and let the fasıl music transport you to a world of joy, celebration, and heartfelt emotions.

The fasıl tradition dates back centuries and holds a special place in Istanbul’s cultural heritage. Derived from Ottoman court music, Fasıl has evolved into a beloved genre that is deeply intertwined with Turkish social life. Istanbul’s meyhanes serve as the perfect setting for fasıl nights, where friends gather, conversations flow, and glasses are raised to the sound of music.

As you step into a meyhane, you’ll be welcomed by a warm ambience and a sense of camaraderie. The air is filled with the melodies of traditional Turkish instruments such as the oud, kanun, and clarinet, accompanied by soulful vocals that tug at the heartstrings. Join in the lively clapping and singing along with the crowd as the music creates an atmosphere of pure joy and unity.

One popular area to experience fasıl nights in Istanbul is the historic neighbourhood of Beyoğlu, particularly the vibrant streets of Nevizade and Asmalımescit. Here, you’ll find a myriad of meyhanes where fasıl music fills the air, and the revelry continues late into the night. Indulge in delectable mezes, sip on traditional rakı, and let the music carry you away.

By embracing this local tradition, you’ll create cherished memories and experience the city’s cultural tapestry in a way that truly reflects the spirit of Istanbul.

Ready to Experience Istanbul Like a Local?

Experiencing Istanbul like a local is an invitation to delve deeper into the city’s rich cultural tapestry, embrace its vibrant energy, and forge connections with its warm-hearted residents. With these 13 Istanbul insider tips, you’ll uncover the hidden gems, immerse yourself in the authentic rhythms, and create memories that will last a lifetime.

From walking along the Bosphorus and indulging in a Turkish breakfast to joining a rakı table, each experience offers a glimpse into the heart and soul of Istanbul. By venturing off the beaten path, you’ll discover the true essence of the city, connect with its heritage, and engage in the local traditions that make Istanbul a truly unique destination.

Whether you’re feasting with locals at an esnaf lokantası, slathering yoghurt (provided that it is from Kanlıca) on every dish that comes your way, or enjoying the vibrant rooftops with stunning views, you’ll find yourself immersed in the everyday life of Istanbulites, witnessing their passions, and sharing in their joys.

As you attend local festivals and events, sip tea at any humanly possible opportunity, and embrace the timeless tradition of a fasıl night, you’ll become part of the cultural fabric that weaves through the city. Istanbul will reveal its hidden treasures, open its doors to unforgettable experiences, and leave an indelible mark on your heart.

So, let Istanbul guide you as you venture beyond the tourist sites, explore the neighbourhoods, and immerse yourself in the local way of life. By experiencing Istanbul like a local, you’ll embark on a journey of discovery, cultural enrichment, and personal connection.

Get ready to create lasting memories (perhaps even forge new friendships?) and fall in love with the vibrant spirit of Istanbul, a city that beckons you to explore its treasures like a true local.

Fishermen by Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul Quick Guide

Planning a trip to Istanbul? Here are the best resources for Istanbul Turkey, including top Istanbul tours, the best restaurants in Istanbul and the best places to stay in Istanbul.

Private Istanbul Airport Transfer
Private Sabiha Gokcen Airport Transfer

Sultanahmet | Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul (aka the world’s best hotel by Travel + Leisure in 2023)
Beyoğlu |  Louis Rooms (get the rooftop suite WITH JACUZZI and thank me later!)
Galata | Louis Apartments Galata (get the rooftop suite for the best views of Galata Tower!)
Eminonu | Regie Ottoman Istanbul Hotel


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Hi there!

Welcome to my little corner for all things London, travel, food and wine! Why not join me on Instagram where you can follow my travel- and food-capades in real-time? Or leave a comment/send a message? I would love to hear from you! Lots of love, GG

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  1. Terri wrote:

    One of my favorite “slow down and savor” parts of my trip to Istanbul was sharing a hookah and a pot of tea with my daughter. We also loved hunting street cats to pet!

    Posted 9.9.23 Reply
    • Goya wrote:

      Oh, sounds like you guys had a wonderful time – so glad to hear!
      And CATS! Oh my, I cannot believe I forgot to mention Istanbul’s cats! I will need to update the post ASAP. Thanks for the flag Terri! 🙂

      Posted 9.9.23 Reply
  2. Jasmina wrote:

    It was such a pleasure to read this post. I can’t express how much I love Istanbul and I’m really glad that I’ve managed to do almost every single thing of this list!

    Posted 9.9.23 Reply
    • Goya wrote:

      OMG, YES! So glad to hear that… Hopefully this inspires you to come back and tick ALL of these off your list 🙂

      Posted 9.9.23 Reply
  3. ANUKRATI DOSI wrote:

    Wow! That quite sums up the essence of Istanbul. I could easily spend a week there while experiencing all these.

    Posted 9.9.23 Reply
    • Goya wrote:

      Ha, thank you Anukrati – Always happy to share more recommendations if you need them!

      Posted 9.9.23 Reply
  4. I have been to Istanbul for a few days but need to return to experience more of Istanbul like a local like you suggest.

    Posted 9.9.23 Reply
    • Goya wrote:

      Oh, you definitely should – It has so much to offer!

      Posted 9.9.23 Reply