Stumped on where to eat what in Istanbul? Need some inspiration for cool bars and restaurants to discover? Looking for the best neighborhood market? Keep on reading to find out.
Istanbul’s Unique Dining Experiences
In a city as vast and vibrant as Istanbul, it may feel like there is always something new to discover, and dining is no exception. Although this list could go on and on, here are a few of the most exciting and unique experiences we would recommend you try out.
- Dine at the Maiden’s Tower
How many people can say they have dined where the two continents - Asia and Europe – meet? With a history of 2,500 years and many legends surrounding its founding, this tower now serves as a café and restaurant, perfect for anniversary dinners, business engagements, or a romantic meal for two.
- Eat on a Bosporus cruise.
If you have already experienced a historical Bosporus tour of Istanbul’s famous landmarks, dinner on a luxury cruise accompanied by a traditional dance show for a cultural fix will be something you’ll remember forever.
- Have a steak at Salt Bae’s place
If you enjoy eating meat, Nusr-Et is one of the many specialty steakhouses and restaurants you need to check out while in Istanbul. If you are lucky, chef Nusret Gökçe himself may be slicing and dicing your meat and seasoning it with his viral salting technique.
- Have the breakfast of champions at Beşiktaş kahvaltı sokağı
For a breakfast experience like no other, visit Beşiktaş’s famous breakfast street. From classic Turkish “serpme” breakfasts to pancakes and avocado toast, you will have dozens of small breakfast shops and cafes to choose from—a perfect choice for a quick and slightly hectic start to your day.
- Enjoy dinner views atop the Galata Tower.
Dine at one of the highest points in Istanbul with panoramic views of the city. Try to time your visit with sunset and go outside to the balcony to appreciate this unique landmark. Make sure to book in advance and be ready to pay your admission fee.
Ethnic Food to Rouse the Senses
When you crave something from a particular region or country, Istanbul has various top Turkish and world cuisine spots.
This restaurant in Beyoğlu’s Asmalımescit area specializes in southeastern Turkish food, from hot or cold mezes to mouthwatering kebabs. You will be able to enjoy Turkish, Syrian, Lebanese, and even French flavors here.
If you have never had the chance to visit Hatay (Antakya) in person, this is the next best thing. It is trendy and reasonably priced.
- Balkan lokantası
When you want something that does not scream tourist and is very low-key and wholesome, look no further than this establishment. You will have an impressive choice of local, homemade dishes at prices affordable even for students at this self-service restaurant.
If you want a quick snack and crave some Arabic cuisine, Tarbuş may be precisely what you need. From shawarma to kabsa, this fast-food restaurant offers man y popular dishes from Syrian cuisine.
- Özbek sofrası
Located in Zeytinburnu, Özbek Sofrası serves delicious Uzbek and Afghan food. This restaurant is a little gem from hot naans to Uzbek beef and rice plov on its menu.
Fine Dining in Istanbul
Istanbul does not disappoint when it comes to dining in class and exploring the finest creations of gastronomic arts.
Here are a few places to add to your list:
- Ulus 29
On a cool summer’s evening, terrace views of the Bosporus and Istanbul’s bridges are all you’ll need. With a menu featuring regional cuisine that combines tradition and creativity, Ulus 29 offers a truly authentic fine dining experience. Championing seasonal freshness, this establishment also makes its ice cream, pasta, and dry-aged meats, with hundreds of labels of wine to choose from.
- Râna Meyhane
You may have known this venue as Topaz once upon a time. Combining Mediterranean and Ottoman cuisine, this restaurant offers two tasting menus, one modern and innovative and decadent and traditional. It has a calming atmosphere that overlooks the Bosporus, and its wine list is nationally recognized.
This boutique restaurant appeals to refined palates with its seasonal wines and fresh, Mediterranean-style dishes. Named after mother Agnès Marthe Nicole, this restaurant is set inside a Franciscan monastery, which was used until the 20th century.
- Ottoman palace cuisine
Nar Lokanta is known for its traditionally Turkish décor and Ottoman recipes that date back hundreds of years. The Asitane, which has managed to revive the tastes of an era past with centuries-old cooking methods from the Ottoman imperial palace, should also be on your list if you want to combine fine dining with royalty and history.
- Feriye Palace
This restaurant stands out with its 19th-century classical Ottoman architecture, which was once a police station. The venue also hosts many seminars and presentations on gastronomy and history, and the a la carte restaurant even caters for cocktail parties. The terrace is also perfect in the summer to enjoy their meat specialty Ottoman dishes.
St. Regis Brasserie: When you seek intimacy and French dishes with a Turkish touch, enjoy this elegant venue inside its eponymous hotel. With indoor and outdoor dining areas, seasonal cooking, signature cocktails, and an expansive main and dessert menu, you can never go wrong with St. Regis Brasserie.
Atalier Real Food: Another hotel restaurant overlooking the Bosporus, this venue combines world cuisine with creativity and contemporary Turkish touches at the Ritz-Carlton
16 Roof: For modern world cuisine with spectacular views of the Bosporus, visit this venue atop the Swissotel.
Mikla: For a more urban take on gastronomy and Scandinavian reflections a la Chef Mehmet Gürs, visit Mikla on the roof of the Marmara Pera.
For more inspiration, head here for Istanbul’s best-hidden cocktail bars.
Food Festivals in Istanbul
With events celebrating the diversity and flavors of both Turkey and the world, Istanbul hosts many food and drink festivals.
Here are some of the most interesting ones you should check out.
- Bayrampaşa Ice Cream Festival (2nd this year)
- Beykoz Kanlıca Yogurt Festival
- Istanbul Cocktail Festival in Şişli
- International Cuisine Days in Bakırköy
- 12. Historical Peninsula Baklava Festival in Fatih
- Istanbul Coffee Festival in Beşiktaş
- Local Products and Hamsi Festival in Sultangazi
- Hamsi and Horon Festival in Esenler
This August will also see the first Anatolian Coffee Festival held in Pendik.
The Top Places to Eat in Istanbul
Although you can find hidden gems in every corner of the city, there are certain areas where restaurants and diners seem to be concentrated in Istanbul.
One is Istanbul’s famous shopping street Bağdat Caddesi, along which you will find dozens of eateries and cafes.
The triangle of Şişli-Beyoğlu-Cihangir, particularly popular with expats, is excellent for Turkish and international cuisine and great cocktails.
Karaköy and Akaretler are some of the best places for juicy and artisanal burgers, while Kadıköy, as a whole, should be your go-to for street food. The artsy neighborhood of Moda, in particular, is excellent for coffee and vegan delicacies.
Meanwhile, Bebek and Nişantaşı will provide you with a more trendy and upper-class selection of dining and drinking places.
Food Markets in Istanbul
As you may already know, Turkey has a tradition of bazaars that sell fresh fruit and vegetables, olives, and cheeses on certain days of the week.
Here are some of the best in Istanbul that you should see at least once.
- Monday Market in Bahçelievler
- Tuesday Market in Kadıköy
- Wednesday Market in Bostancı, Fatih, and Yeşilköy
- Thursday Market in Etiler, Erenköy, Ortaköy and Suadiye
- Friday Market in Üsküdar
- Saturday Market in Bakırköy, Beşiktaş and Feriköy
- Sunday Market in Küçükçekmece
And when it comes to market hotspots, there are 3 you should experience.
The Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı) or Egyptian Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı) are best reserved for spices and traditional sweets such as Turkish delight, though as always, go for a bargain and beware of tourist traps.
Located in Unkapanı in the district of Fatih, the Women’s Bazaar (also called the Siirt Pazarı) sells unique foods from Turkey’s southeastern cities. This bazaar is a must-see, whether it spices such as kömbe and isot you are looking for, local ingredients for a traditional pastry you will attempt to make, or honey and cheeses.
There are a few tried-and-true go-to’s for Turks when it comes to dining with friends, colleagues, or family. Divan and Midpoint are great for attainable luxury and high-quality dishes, while Big Chefs is more for the trendy, budget-minded crowd.
After a night out, ıslak hamburger (sloppy joes) at Kızılkayalar in Taksim or Midyeci Ahmet in Bostancı are the places to go to cure a hangover.
Çiya Sofrası, located in the Fish Market quarter of Istanbul, is one of Kadıköy’s most modest and iconic meze, kebab and lahmacun restaurants. Owned by Chef Musa Dağdeviren, the unique aspect of this venue is that there is no set menu, and you can try different regional mezes every day.
And in Sultanahmet Square lies the Old House, a family-run restaurant that serves Mediterranean and Turkish cuisine and a true Istanbul classic. You will see many sipping on classic Turkish tea or apple tea after a meal against a backdrop of the Hagia Sophia from its rooftop.
Another classic, the famed Sultanahmet Köftecisi, another classic, is close by near the Blue Mosque if you want to try out the fantastic Turkish meatballs.
Cookies, Chocolate, and Ice Cream
When the dessert cravings hit, and you seek to satisfy your sweet tooth, look no further than the following places:
MADO is the most preferred place by the Turks, and you will often see it full of families on weekend outings.
Godiva is the place for all things Belgian chocolate, and if you want luxury, ice cream, and chocolate, visit the Magnum store on Bağdat Street.
Café la Perla, Girandola, and Cremeria Milano in Bebek are great if you seek more European tastes in upscale establishments.
If you ever wanted to taste what Willy Wonka’s chocolate tasted like, visit Bonne Nuit & Willy Wonka on the European side, or if you wish to an Instagram-worthy picture with floral décor and amazing cupcakes, visit Emilia Café in Caddebostan.
And when on the Anatolian side, make sure to visit Moda in Kadıköy for some coffee, tea, and desserts, especially if you crave something vegan or European.
Dairy and Cheese
Although almost any local bazaar you visit will likely have an impressive array of cheeses from all over Turkey, the crowds can be overwhelming.
Here are a few good places to buy your Turkish and international dairy and cheese products from that are less crowded:
- Berk Çiftlik
- Bandırma Çiftliği
- Arnavutköy Peynircisi
- Namlı Gurme
- Antre Gourmet in Cihangir