I Heart My City: Anya’s Istanbul

Anya Mullen came to Istanbul as a jet-lagged college student studying abroad. The city made such an impression that she returned a year later and has been living there ever since. Anya will be moving to Australia in March, so she wanted to show some love for the city that stole her heart before heading off. If you live in Istanbul or consider yourself an insider, add your two cents in the comments section below.

Istanbul is My City

When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is the Hagia Sophia because everyone should see it at least once in their life.

Early winter is the best time to visit my city because the tourists aren’t there and it frees up a lot of space.  Plus, the prices are usually better… Even if it means haggling a bit more.

You can see my city best from Suleymaniye Mosque or Topkapi Palace. They sit on high hills and offer magnificent views.

Locals know to skip the subway and check out the ferries instead.

The Grand Bazaar is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs, but be prepared to haggle!

In the past, notable people like Ataturk Kemal, Allen Iverson, and James Bond (in his latest movie) have called my city home.

My city’s best museum is the Hagia Sophia because it demonstrates the many layers of Istanbul’s history. Islamic to Christian to Islamic to Christian, these layers are most evident in her interior.

If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that all roads lead to Taksim Square! Seriously, if you have to get to one place to the other in Istanbul, you will go through Taksim.

The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is along the Bosphorus. It changes colors daily, and is the most magnificent aqua color after a crazy storm.

My city really knows how to celebrate New Years because they shoot fire works over the Bosphorus and offer three-course meals with unlimited wine and champagne!

You can tell if someone is from my city if they dress to the nines just to grab their mail.

For a fancy night out, I go to Taksim!

Just outside my city, you can visit…you won’t want to leave because there is SOOOO much to see here.

My city is known for being hectic, chaotic, and huge, but it’s really like a bunch of small towns crammed together.

The best outdoor market in my city is in Ortakoy! It’s a market for food made to order. Each section of Istanbul has its own weekly “pazaar” which has everything for sale: pots, clothes, food, etc.

Any place that sells menemen is my favorite place to grab breakfast, and any street vendor is the spot for late-night eats.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read Hurriyet News.

My city’s biggest sports event is football (not American football, soccer). Watch it at any bar with a huge TV — and cheer for Fenerbahçe oGalatasaray.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I eat off street vendors and do not go to the Grand Bazaar!

To escape the crowds, I go to the closest mosque. I don’t affiliate myself with any religion, but the peace and solitude found inside a mosque is unmatched. The droning of the city fades away, and the longer your neck cranes upwards, the more you relax into the beauty of the sparkling walls, the cushy carpet beneath your feet, and the rhythmic praying of those around you.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be George Clooney because it’s aging incredibly well, yet immortal; pairs well with anything and anyone; and has layers of intrigue everyone should explore.

The dish that represents my city best is manti (a paste-like dish), and Efes (a light beer) is my city’s signature drink.

The Blue Mosque is my favorite building in town because it is quiet and serene — a place where I can fully relax.

The most random thing about my city is that it is quite good at basketball!

Taksim is the best place to see live music, but if you’re in the mood to dance, check out any dance club along Istiklal Street.

Standing in Europe and looking at Asia (and vice versa) could only happen in my city.

In the spring you should visit Topkapi Palace. The flowers are in bloom and it’s positively stunning.

In the summer you should catch the cool water vapors by taking a ferry tour of the city.

In the fall you should explore the city. Istanbul has tons of cultural events that vary year to year but many of them take place in the fall.

In the winter you should be prepared for no snow and to smoke hookah while cuddled up in a blanket with friends.

If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss anything in the city! Topkapi Palace is especially kid-friendly (but amazing for adults, too).

The best book about my city is the travel guide by Lonely Planet and the best fiction piece is Anna of Byzantium.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is Tarkan’s “Op.”

In 140 characters or less, the world should heart my city because it’s vibrant and rich in culture, both East and West, and has many layers that become more and more evident the longer you’re there.

Follow Anya’s travel adventures on Twitter @yar_a_pirate (and on Instagram under the same handle).


  1. Okanasu
    December 20, 2013, 7:31 am

    every kind information about Istanbul for tourists pls vizit http://magiccityistanbul.blogspot.com

  2. Peggy Coonley/Serendipity Traveler
    January 28, 2013, 5:44 pm

    Istanbul dazzles and some of these tips are brilliant for experiencing all the sights and sounds of the city. I would add the Istanbul Modern Art Museum and The Kaeri Musuem aka The Choro Church and adjacent Asitane restaurant to the tips.

  3. Amanda Vincent
    The World
    December 8, 2012, 6:46 am

    Yes to everything EXCEPT…
    1. I thinks Orhan Pamuk’s novel “Black Book” is the best fictional literature of Turkiye. (although I haven’t read Anya’s selection”
    2. I found the Küçük Ayasofya Camii to be the most serene and lovely mosques in the city to visit. It’s particularly nice on a sunny mid-afternoon.

  4. Dunya Olcay
    December 6, 2012, 1:10 pm

    Well said..

  5. Mary
    Dublin, Ireland/Los Angeles, CA
    December 6, 2012, 6:32 am

    Thank you for this lovely article. I’m headed to Istanbul for the spring semester to study History and Political science. I’ve been nervous about going but the more I read about the city, the more I want to be there.

  6. vago damitio
    Sefrou, Morocco
    December 6, 2012, 4:05 am

    You’ve made me miss Istanbul even more than I already do.