Istanbul with friends: the craziest and most fun things to do
Istanbul is a fascinating city with the best of both worlds in many respects: Europe and Asia, the old imperial capital and a modern metropolis, and the hustle and bustle of 15 million inhabitants and the calm waters of the Bosphorus Strait, which instead of diving the city unites this mixture of emotions. In short, Istanbul is the perfect place to visit with friends. Fun, innovative, full of contrasts, historical and traditional at the same time, it has all the ingredients for an unforgettable experience with the gang.
From relaxing at one of its historical and elegant hammams, or Turkish baths, to going out on the town until the early hours in the Tünel neighbourhood, eating the best kebabs in the world and reliving the old city of Byzantium, Istanbul offers an endless array of possibilities. Read on to find out about the best things to do with friends in the beautiful and inspiring city of Istanbul.
Relax at a historical Turkish bath
Istanbul is home to the most incredible Turkish baths, or hammams, in the world (link:‘Turkish baths in Istanbul’), perfect for rounding off a marathon day of tourism by relaxing and recuperating while toning up the body with a restorative massage on the large marble slab (gobek tasi) that takes centre stage. Below are the best Turkish baths to enjoy with friends:
Cemberlitas Hamanmi (Verizhan Caddesi, 8). One of the most famous and most touristy hammams in Istanbul. Very clean and in excellent condition, the baths were built in 1584 with walls covered in marble. The baths are mixed but men and women are separated.
Suleymaniye Hamami (Mimar Sinan Caddesi, 20). Another beautiful mixed hammam, built in 1550 and situated in the picturesque neighbourhood of the Ottoman Suleymaniye mosque.
Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami (Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa, Hamam Sk. 1). Housed on the side of a mosque, this hammam was built in 1580 by the architect Sinan for the Ottoman admiral Kilic Ali Pasa. It is part of a large complex together with a mosque and a school. The building has been restored and now shines in all its splendour with services that are worthy of a sultan.
Nightlife in Istanbul
Once you’re feeling refreshed thanks to a restorative Turkish bath, it’s time to paint the town red in Istanbul. The options for nightlife in Istanbul (link:‘Nightlife in Istanbul’) are endless. One of the liveliest areas is the former Genoese city of Galata.
The best way to start off the night is by taking the historical Tünel funicular up to Beyoglu. There you will find countless bars where you can sample local beers, called efes, as evening falls. An excellent accompaniment to your drink are nuts which you can buy at any shop in the area. Look out for the good happy hour promotions that many bars offer.
You can then continue the evening by heading back down to Tünel Square (Tünel Meydani). Behind the square is the neighbourhood of Asmali Mescit, one of the liveliest areas in Istanbul, full of meze restaurants, trendy bars and concert venues. One of the most legendary places in the area is Galata Konak Café (Haci Ali Sok. 2). Located on the top floor of an old building, it offers unforgettable views of Galata Tower, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn (internal link).
To continue the fun, it’s now time to hit the area’s nightclubs. Babilon (Sehbender Sok. 3) is regarded as one of the best nightclubs in the world. This is where Istanbul’s beautiful people come to enjoy all kinds of concerts. A sure-fire bet. Not far from there, on Kamer Hatun Cad. 10, is Guetto, another club that offers a wide range of concerts.
Find out your destiny through Turkish coffee grounds
Turkish people have always been big tea and coffee drinkers. Both traditions are today still deep-rooted, although it seems that tea comes out on top as Istanbul’s most typical drink. And it’s no wonder, as Turkey has its own tea plantations on the coast of the Black Sea. The city is brimming with so-called Kahvehane (coffee shops), where customers, mostly men, while away the afternoon drinking coffee, smoking shisha and playing cards or backgammon.
One unique experience is trying to find out your destiny by reading your coffee grounds. In some cafés in Beyoglu, such as Kapriss café (Ayhan Isik Sok. 17), they will predict your future by reading the grounds from your freshly drunk cup – a fun experience to share with friends.
Getting drunk on the city’s history
You cannot travel to Istanbul, either with friends or as a couple, without reliving the historical former Roman and Byzantine city of Constantinople. Be sure to dedicate as long as necessary to enjoying the architecture, frescoes and mosaics of Constantinople’s incredible Hagia Sophia (link: ‘Santa Sofía’), visiting the historical Topkapi Palace (link: ‘Topkapi Palace’) and contemplating the domes and minarets of the Mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent (link: ‘Suleimaniye Mosque’).
Nor is a trip to Istanbul with your best friends the same if you don’t lose yourself amid the hustle and bustle and attempt to haggle with the shopkeepers in the Gran Bazaar (link: ‘Gran Bazaar’) and the Spice Bazaar (link: ‘Spice Bazaar’).
The best kebabs in the world
The best way to bond is around a table and the star dish of Istanbul’s restaurants is without a doubt the kebab, that special sandwich that has conquered the world. Below are two of the best places to enjoy this delicious dish in good company.
Sehzade Erzurum Cag Kebabi (Hocapasa Sok. 3). Situated in the Spice Bazaar area of the city, it is regarded as one of the best places for kebabs, even though it usually goes unnoticed. The marinated lamb is cooked over a low heat and the lavash (flatbread) is simply incredible.
Durumzade (Kamer Hatun Cad. 26). The eclectic Beyoglu neighbourhood is home to one of the best establishments where you can get a kebab 24 hours a day. It doesn’t matter what time you get there, however, as it is always full. Their crunchy lavash is out of this world.
Experience being in the middle of two continents on a Bosphorus tour
This is one of the must-do activities in Istanbul and doing it with friends makes it even more fun. Taking a boat tour along the Bosphorus (link: ‘Bosphorus cruise’) is a fantastic way to experience being in the middle of two continents, contemplating marble palaces, menacing-looking fortresses, picturesque fishing villages and elegant yali, vast waterside residences built in the nineteenth century.
The steam ferries that provide tours along the Bosphorus start from dock three of the Eminonu ferry terminal. You can choose between three types of tours: a long, five-hour journey with various stops, a short, two-hour tour with no stops, and a night-time tour that only runs in summer. For more information visit the company’s website (link a www.sehirhatlari.com.tr).
Dressing up as sultans
Any good trip to Istanbul with your friends should end with an unforgettable memory. And what could be more of a one-off than dressing up as genuine sultans? At the photography studio Giycek (Serdar-I Ekrem Sok, Dogan apt. 30, Galata) it’s possible. There, you can dress up as pashas or sultans and have your photo taken in black and white or sepia.
You’ll no doubt be the envy of all your friends who didn’t come.