Cairo to Istanbul: A Guide to The Cultural Gem
Ahmed El Mezeny
Voted the European Capital of Culture in 2010;
Istanbul is just a hop, skip and jump away from our bustling city of Cairo.
Turkish Airlines and Egypt Air both offer several
flights a day in the range of 2000LE. Istanbul is within the same time zone as
Cairo, so not only is the trip only two-hours long; but you also won’t end up
having to change your watch and feeling jetlagged.
As soon as you land you can pick up the TL10 Istanbul
Card; this rechargeable card works for all the public modes of transportation
including bus, tram and funicular trains as well as the ferries. If you’ve got
to go somewhere over at the Asian side, you’ll end up taking a ferry and a cab;
as the tram and funicular trains operate mainly around the city centre.
Things to Do:
Earning its title as the 2010 European Capital of
Culture was no small feat; Istanbul
has a huge number of cultural and historical sites to visit, so your trip won’t
be short on daily activities.
The quintessential Istanbul tourist site is the Aya
Sofia; a massive church that was converted into a mosque and later became a
tourist site (so no one prays there anymore). The grand structure includes an
enormous hall, beautiful dome, massive chandeliers and remnants of mosaics that
had been covered up when it was converted into a mosque.
Make sure to check out other important
religious sites like the Blue Mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque and the Basilica
Cistern. Mosques are free to enter, but other cultural sites like the Aya
Sophia and Top Kapi Palace require an entrance fee of around 15 Euros.
Another must-do in Istanbul is taking a boat down the
Bosphorus. The ferry will wade between the Asian and European continental sides
of this city as it takes you down the strait; so you’ll get a chance to glimpse
all of Istanbul’s major sites.
To stock up on some nice tourist trinkets, carpets and
chinaware you’re better served in the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market, where
street stalls overflow with authentic merchandise; but make sure you bargain.
If you’re after the chic and trendy brands; head
off to Istiklal Street, down from Taksim Square, Osman Bey or Nishan Tashe,
where all the high-end boutiques are located.
Meat, cheese or mahshi, whatever it is – the Turks do
it better. Most of the meat that you’ll get there is lamb: be sure to try it if
you’re not a fan; it tastes a whole lot better than what you may be used to
tasting here. Try a doner (their fantastic version of shawerma) from anywhere on
their streets or better yet, stop for a balik ekmek sandwich– literally fish
bread, this sandwich is a grilled filet of mackerel dressed with tasty fresh
greens and tangy lemon juice.
Kofta in Turkey is incomparable to anywhere
else in the world; they usually grind up other spices and nuts into their tasty
meat, resulting in concoctions like the fistkli kebab, basically kofta with
pistachios or a similar rendition with chillis instead. Hamdi Restorant
near Eminonu station is definitely the place to go for the best kofta you may ever
have. The amazing view of the Istanbul
skyline and the Bosphorus doesn’t hurt either!
Want a history lesson and a gourmet dinner all rolled
into one? Then head to Asitane, it may be out of the way of the regular
tourist trek but is definitely worth the visit. This gourmet restaurant has
revived ottoman recipes dating back to 1453 AD and is serving up them up today.
Offering a completely seasonal menu using the freshest ingredients, Asitane
should be visited in the spring for their cherry-stuffed vine leaves or in the winter
for their almond soup.
There are loads of clubs littered around Taksim
Square, but watch out for the numerous tourist traps on Istiklal Street, where
they may offer to take you to ‘trendy’ nightclub, but instead you’ll end up
at a dead-end bar with a several-hundred-Euro bill.
If you’d like drinks and dinner instead, head to Asmalymescit (off Istiklal Street),
to enjoy countless bars and lounges that spill out onto the charming streets
and serve drinks as well as both local and international cuisine. This area is
a sight to behold with warm local atmosphere and belle-epoch buildings.
Go to the Golden Mile around Ortakoy to frolic with
the rich and famous at Reina and Supperclub; two super-trendy nightclubs with
door policies that mirror our own Tamarai. After partying, you can
head to one of the many stalls there for a heavenly waffle (with
out-of-this-world fillings) or a baked potato carved out, mixed with your
choice of toppings and served back in its skin again!
Anytime is good to visit Istanbul, try to aim for the later summer
months for clearer skies or late autumn for crisp, fresh weather.