After a lovely morning of exploring the Hagia Sofia and surrounding mosques and historic areas of Faith, I returned to my hotel room to rest. While there, I wondered what I would be able to explore on my last day in Istanbul. After exploring a few options on Airbnb Experiences, I settled on the Istanbul – Asia Side Highlights in a Day tour, a 5 hour experience. I wanted to get the most from my time in Istanbul. This tour delivered that – and more.
As I began my walk from the Hagia Sofia Mansions to our meeting point at Haifa Mustafa 1864, I felt a sense of adventure. I felt completely safe and more concerned that I made it to the meeting point on time than if I would be harassed or not.
I sped walked by rug salesmen, colorful side streets, cafes and various stores. It was such a distinct sense of place – and I couldn’t wait to learn more about the other side of Istanbul.
Now, I knew from reviews that the actual tour guide was not Ahmet -as is listed, but would be someone else. Nevertheless, it was easy to find the group at the meeting point. Our group guide was Bunyamin, alongside his brother greeted the group and we started on our way. Together they walked us to our first stop – the ferry over to the Üsküdar Provence on the Asian continent side of Istanbul.
Food Stop #1: FabriKafa Make & Coffee
After we disembarked from the ferry, we walked a short distance as Bunyamin explained the itinerary of the tour to us. Our first stop was at FabriKafa Make & Coffee, an upscale coffee shop in Üsküdar. As we walked, I was enthralled with the art and scenery of the area.
Once we arrived at FabriKafa, I loved how unique the decor was – as well as how strong the Turkish coffee was.
We spent some time in the cafe as Bunyamin told us about the history of Turkish coffee and the area. We introduced ourselves lightly and overall, just enjoyed the moment.
Food Stop #2: Üsküdar Balıkçılar Çarşısı and Baklava
Next, we walked to Üsküdar Balıkçılar Çarşısı, a fish market and bazaar in Üsküdar.
Walking around, I felt an immense amount of respect for the daily life of the culture. Here was powerful tradition. Similar to the fish markets in Seattle and San Francisco, this was a life of menu planning and buying fruits and foods within the community.
We stopped at Tarihi Medine Baklavaları for delicious baklava.
Overlooking the Bosporus
We then took a transit bus to the Kuzguncuk-Şehit Samet Uslu stop. We walked 100 steps up to an absolutely beautiful viewpoint of the Bosporus and bridges along the horizon.
The sweeping view was beautiful.
Now, I’m not the best hiker. My blood pressure immediately spikes when I have an incline. But, I will say that Bunyamin was kind enough to wait for me and walk with me up the steps.
After a short time at the lookout point, we continued downhill to Simitci Tahir Street and Kuzguncuk Bostanı. The cats and adjacent community vegetable garden was a beautiful contrast to the colorful buildings.
The buildings reminded me of the painted ladies in San Francisco. Beautiful architecture and – again – all in a day’s walk with the group.
Muhayyer Muhabbetler Kuzguncuk
As we walked down İcadiye Cd., someone stopped and suggested that we all go into the shop where an artist was doing incredible miniature work. Seeing @therealemreyuruk’s process was truly remarkable. I don’t know how he does it. His skilled hand and artistic work is a sight to behold.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t ship the the US yet – and his work was too delicate for me to carry along in my travels. But, I looked forward to seeing more of his work on Instagram.
The shop itself was unique, with miniature 3D pieces arranged around vintage eclectic items.
Sunset Over the Bosphorus
Following the quick stop for art, we made our way to the pier to partake in the sunset over the Bosphorus.
I must say, there is simply nothing like a sunset over Istanbul. The contrast of the light with the lightly clouded sky was visually incredible.
Food Stop #3: Mussels at Midyeci Ahmet
After watching the sun set – we were off to our next adventure. Now, mussels are BIG in Istanbul. When Bunyamin led us to Midyeci Ahmet’s Çengelköy location, I was intensely curious. He ordered a round of mussels and prepared one for each of us in the group.
This was the first time I’d ever had mussels stuffed with rice – and it was delicious. The freshness of the mussel immediately hit my mouth. The squirt of lemon offered a distinct contrast with its tartness. Bunyamin humorously told us that this dish was drunk food. But, I could easily have eaten 10 of ‘em sober.
Big Çamlıca Hill
When we arrived at our final stop, I was ready for the completion of the tour. I felt that I’d seen everything there was to see and I was full. But, Çamlıca Hill was a stunning point that overlooked multiple bridges and emerging lights from the European side of Istanbul.
At 288 m above sea level, Çamlıca Hill offers a panoramic view of the southern part of Bosphorus and the mouth of the Golden Horn.
The hill is a popular visitor attraction with Ottoman-themed teahouses, cafes and a restaurant inside a public park with monumental trees, flower gardens and fountains, run by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality.
The blooming roses and summer ambiance created a beautiful moment in time. As the sun continued to slowly set, I remember feeling the magic of the moment.
We culminated our tour with tea from Itanbul Bunüksehir Belediyesi Sosyal Tesisleri’s Çamlıca location.
After tea, Bunyamin was kind enough to led those of us that needed to get back to Karaköy via the bus. Safely on the boat and on the way back, I reflected on my amazing 48 hours in Istanbul.
My feet were indeed throbbing as I’d walked close to 9 miles during the 5 hour tour. But, I was so happy that I booked the walking tour. It was the best way to maximize my time and see things at an accelerated pace.
Additionally, I valued meeting Eugene and his partner, both teachers in Canada and Selot, another independent traveler from Texas. We quickly became Instagram friends.
Post Tour Bonus: Ali Usta Baklava – Burma Kadayif & Baklavalari
After the tour, the ferry dropped us off back to the port where we met. As I was slightly disoriented, I asked the Canadians if I could walk with them back to the general area of my hotel. They agreed and we set off on an adventure together.
The nightlife of Istanbul is vibrant – even without alcohol. We had ice cream … and a show.
Later, there was a point in the night when I realized I needed to pack for my morning flight to Greece. However, I also didn’t want to stop the flow of adventurous energy with the Canadians. Walking back toward the direction of our two different hotels, they wanted to stop at Ali Usta Baklava for tea and dessert. They asked if I would join them.
I remember the moment clearly: Yes, I wanted to be practical. However, when would I have such a night with such a moment in Istanbul again?
So, I made a choice and stayed for dessert, tea and conversation. We shared a kadayif cesitleri (a type of cheese pastry) and pomegranate tea.
It was the right choice.
Istanbul – Asia Side Highlights in a Day (Meeting Point)
Muradiye Cd., 34110
Fatih, İstanbul, Turkey