Istanbul. When one travels to this ancient city they think of The Bosphoros cutting through Europe and Asia, , The Galata Tower looking towards the old city at Hajia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, But there is another side to Istanbul away from the top tourist stops and it begins with staying as a local.
Dave and I have been spending our year as 2013 HouseTrip Diplomats showcasing the benefits of staying local around the world. There’s no better way to immerse in a culture than to stay in residential neighbourhoods, eat where the locals eat, shop at local markets and get off the beaten path.
The Other Tour of Istanbul
Istanbul can be an overwhelming city to visit, with a population of 14 million people! Many travellers only stick to the main sights, but there is an easy way to see the real Istanbul and that is by booking a tour with The Other Tour. Started by a young guy named Fethi from Istanbul and his American friend. This tour is a good way for people who don’t travel a lot on their own, to experience something outside the usual top sights of the city.
Some people may feel a bit of culture shock when they first arrive and this can put a lot of stress on your vacation. While part of the excitement of travel is to experience new things, it’s also important to feel comfortable while you see the sights. I can’t say that I loved their work ethic or their personalities, but I did enjoy the places that they took us. With a €200 price tag on a full day trip, I’ll leave it to you to decide. In all honesty, if it wasn’t a part of our HouseTrip budget, I wouldn’t have booked it as Dave and I are comfortable exploring on our own. However, for novice or first time travellers, this is highly recommended. You’ll be taken to local schools, Kurdish communities, authentic hamams and you’ll eat two local meals with several coffee and snack breaks throughout the day.
You even take a cruise across the Bosphoros while sipping wine to taste yogurt with fresh honey and to step foot on the continent of Asia. For many people on our tour, it was their first time on the continent and it was quite an exciting moment.
Check out our video for all that you will see on The Other Tour
Our HouseTrip Accommodation
We stayed at the base of the Galata Tower in a HouseTrip Apartment during our time in Istanbul and it was an outstanding location. People were paying top bucks to go up the tower for views of the Old City and the skyline of mosques across the canal, but all we had to do was stand on our own rooftop for this million dollar view.
The accommodation definitely had a “lived in feel” and we truly felt like we were living as locals. Our fellow HouseTrip Diplomats Kirsten Alana and Niamh of Eat Like a Girl shared the accommodation with us for the week and we had so much fun watching Niamh work her magic in the kitchen to cook us authentic Turkish meals.
We found a local wine bar around the corner of our place and we discovered local Turkish Delight markets. Niamh shopped regularly for us all and we had a great time pitching in. I don’t think that Dave and I have ever travelled more local. Here in Istanbul with the influence of our two housemates, we all managed to really immerse ourselves in the culture.
More Local Experiences
We always find that the best way besides living local is to hire a local guide and besides the Other Tour day trip that we took, we also booked a meal with a local family with the guys from Urban Adventures. Our two guides were so much fun and after our local family experience, we went out for a night of backgammon and sheesha. We didn’t find the local dining experience with Urban Adventures to be as good as the Other Tour, but the Backgammon, tea and Sheesha with the guys was outstanding.
Dave and I aren’t smokers, but when in Rome….We tried the flavoured tabacco that you smoke through a water pipe and neither of us got the hang of it. After a couple of puffs and a severe head rush and coughing, we left it to our guides to enjoy the rest of teh Sheesha while we kicked their asses at backgammon.
I played many a game of backgammon with my mom growing up, so our guides were quite taken aback when I kept beating them. Heaven forbid a girl beat a man in Istanbul, but I did and they kept a polite smile pasted on and remained in good spirits. Luckily Dave wasn’t faring as well, so they could at least beat him in a round or two. We had some great laughs in a local backgammon bar far away from any tourist traps. Yes, we achieved our goal, we had many local experiences during our six days in the city. To book a local tour with Urban Adventures, check out their website for Istanbul Tour Choices.
We loved our time in Istanbul and look forward to going back soon. We felt like we made new friends there and really experienced all there was to see and do. Staying in an apartment and taking local tours definitely added to the authenticity and we hope that when you travel to Istanbul, you have a great time too!