No Single Woman Traveler Ever Should Feel Lonely in Istanbul
Photos: Slawomira Kozieniec
Are you a female solo traveler heading to Istanbul? Don’t worry. Istanbul will take care of you like no place else – and that is regardless of how much money you have in your pocket!
I traveled alone all my life – except for the last couple of years – and honestly I don’t like to travel solo very much. I know how depressing it gets if you don’t have someone to turn and talk to when you see something amazing or disgusting. I also know how sad it may be not to have someone to make a selfie with – even against this someone’s will at times…
But say you ended up in Istanbul somehow and you need to spend time in the mega-city on your own. With or without a selfie stick, Istanbul is one of those places where every picture you share on Instagram would become an instant hit to get you through the day. Actually you may even be grateful that there is none complaining about you playing with your phone all the time!
So what can you do alone to share lots of cool pictures or better yet catch the vibe on the lively Istanbul streets to feel alive; Do you feel like stretching your legs or chilling somewhere wonderful to get your spirits high? Wanna give a zest to your brain? Would you care for some earthly pleasures? I have just the itinerary for you…
Start your day with a fulfilling breakfast in Istanbul’s most arty neighbourhood, Karaköy, close to the Galata Bridge. Make sure to sit outside to watch these worn down and yet very cool streets come to life by the minute. Karaköy is full of little stylish “independent” (no Starbucks or Cafe Nero indeed…) European/Turkish cafes as well as very cool art galleries and classical Turkish small-shops where you’ll still be able to observe without lots of tourists around you, and maybe treat yourself to a traditional Turkish handcraft or delight. Nothing about what Karaköy has to offer is boring – at least for now.
My favourite places to eat & drink…
Art galleries of interest…
PG Art Gallery: http://www.pgartgallery.com
Daire Sanat: http://www.dairesanat.com/index.php/tr/
Just to flag; even if you make it in Karaköy around 9 AM for breakfast and coffee, I bet you would not feel ready to leave the area before 11AM in the best case scenario.
That is to say at around noon you should start heading toward Galata Bridge to cross-over to the old peninsula. Make sure to take in the mystique old Istanbul view as you walk across the bridge over the Golden Horn to Eminönü.
This historic hood is the eternal and timeless heart of trade in Istanbul. Anything you see on the shelves almost anywhere in the world can be found in Eminönü’s ancient narrow streets. (Yes, even wooden animal figures from Africa, original samurai swords from Japan, spices you would see in ‘Travel to India’ promotion videos).
Here, one route you can follow is to walk through the Spice Bazaar, and up the hill through some narrow shopping streets towards the Grand Bazaar and from there to Sultanahmet Square. The things you will see, buy and experience on this route is directly proportional to your character and the strength of your eye-sight. You may be a generally interested and friendly person by nature and in that case I would assume that you finish this route in 3 – 4 hours.
Being very interested in everything and everyone means that you’ll have at least 50 shots of tea with at least 15 merchants of different trade and talk about their lives before you decide to buy anything… When you consider the number of things on offer in this area – glistering jewels, handcrafted silverware, hand painted ceramic ornaments, traditional clothing, leather accessories, bags, watches, antiques, souvenirs and what not – if you stopped to take a look at even 1% of the things you find on your way (let alone embarking on the serious business of comparing prices) I can only hope for you to find your way out before Grand Bazaar closes. (Open: Monday to Saturday 9:00 – 19:00. Closed on Sundays and bank holidays)
Let’s say you are out at around 4 PM, you will be hungry! Even if you are not, smelling famous “Sultanahmet meatballs” (Sultanahmet Köftesi) will make you feel so. Ten years ago I had a favorite restaurant to recommend but today – to be honest – I feel that all of these meatball places are the same. So at this point if you feel like it, you should find the cleanest looking and most crowded “Sultanahmet Köftecisi” and treat yourself to one of Istanbul’s all time classics.
After a meatball break, below is a list of Istanbul landmarks you may want to have a look at. Mind you, it will be tight to cover even one of these places properly considering the time that will be left before they close:
The Basilica Cistern: http://yerebatansarnici.com (Open everyday between 09:00 -17:30)
Topkapı Palace: http://www.topkapisarayi.gov.tr/tr (Open every day except for Tuesdays between 09:00 – 16:45 (Winter) 18:45(Summer))
St.Sophia: http://ayasofyamuzesi.gov.tr (Open every day except for Mondays between 09:00 – 16:00 (Winter) 18:00 (Summer)
Blue Mosque: http://www.bluemosque.co (Open every day)
If you are more interested in history than cultural experiences you may want to work this route backwards by taking the tram from Karaköy to Sultanahmet, covering these landmarks and walking downhill through Grand Bazaar to Spice Bazaar and end up in Eminönü Square next to the Galata Bridge.
Table for One
This is a tricky one and I do not want to limit your options by tying in the above itinerary with a near-by restaurant. I think you should take a cab and go to one of the below places if you would like to enjoy nice food on a table for one.
Kahvedan, Cihangir: http://www.kahvedan.com (Contemporary Istanbul)
Journey, Cihangir: http://www.journeycihangir.com (Contemporary Istanbul)
La Mancha, Kuruçeşme: http://www.lamancha.com.tr (Mediterranean Cuisine)
Banyan, Ortaköy: http://www.banyanrestaurant.com (Asian Cuisine)
Kaşıbeyaz, Yeniköy: http://www.kasibeyaz.com.tr (Turkish Cuisine)
Unter, Karaköy: http://www.unter.com.tr (Contemporary Istanbul)
Karaköy Lokantası: http://www.karakoylokantasi.com (Fish Restaurant)
The great thing about Istanbul is that it is a city very much like the famed Aladdin’s lamp. Whenever you rub it, where ever you rub, a genie would come out to grant you whatever your heart or soul desires. So relax, take a deep breath, forget about yourself, go where your mind wanders to and really “live” Istanbul for a day or two.
Is Istanbul safe for women to travel alone?
According to a number of already-available statistics and surveys, Istanbul is one of the safest big cities in Europe for women to travel alone. However as a general warning I would suggest that you stay in the touristic areas, avoid alleys and empty neighborhoods.
Also please don’t follow any nice gentleman to a private party or a club “where other tourists like you, are having fun”. This is unfortunately a very common scam and in most cases these stories end up with people paying a lot of money – if not all of it – for the drinks that they thought they were ordered.