Istanbul: Back Doors and Hidden Places

(Last Updated On: October 24, 2019)

This is the second part of our day-long challenge to see the Best of Istanbul in a Day. Seems like a huge task, but so far we’ve covered the Hagia Sophia Museum, The Basilica Cistern, The Blue Mosque, viewed the ancient Obelisk of Theodosius, and had a feast fit for a Sultan.

For the second half of the day, our guide from Walks of Turkey planned to bring us through the maze of some of Istanbul’s famous bazaars, show us rooftop views that are rarely seen by the eyes of tourists, and take us on a private boat ride through the Bosphorus Strait. Despite all that we had already seen, I was really looking forward to the rest of the day.

Visiting Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar

We started off after lunch on a walk to Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. Which, after all that food, was a really good idea. Crossing through the threshold of the bazaar makes you feel like you have just entered a new world. It has high arched ceilings painted in blue and yellow, shops of all sorts covering every inch and bright red Turkish flags decorating the walls.

The entire bazaar area is made up of over 61 covered streets. With 3,000 shops and up to 400,000 visitors a day, it is one of the largest, oldest and most visited bazaars in the world.

Interior of the Grand Bazaar
Interior of the Grand Bazaar

There is everything for sale here that you can imagine, including pottery, rugs, fabrics, jewelry, etc. And it’s definitely not just a tourist destination – locals shop for all sorts of items here. For example, it is known to have the best quality and best prices for gold in the city.

Istanbul Pottery
We are told it is important to ask whether the colorful pottery is food safe prior to purchasing

If I had room in my luggage, I would have exited the bazaar with one of these lanterns tucked under my arm.

Istanbul Lanterns
Istanbul Lanterns

You can find these evil-eye beads all over Istanbul. They are supposed to bring luck and protection, and even those who are aren’t particularly superstitious will have a glass evil eye on their person, in their home or hanging from their car’s rear view mirror.

Istanbul Evil Eye
Istanbul Evil Eye – bead of Anatolia

Istanbul Back Streets

Ducking away from the shopping crowds, we made our way through the back of the market behind the shops to a building that appeared at first to be abandoned. The interior was slightly dark and dusty, and appeared to be well inhabited by a common fixture on the streets of Istanbul.

The ubiquitous stray cat (often with a tray of food and a makeshift cat bed nearby) were not difficult to spot.

Istanbul Walking Tour
Semi abandoned warehouse – I wasn’t sure what we were going to find here.
Istanbul Kittens
Stray cats are on every street, and always seem to have an adopted friend who looks after them.

We also found a few of the rooms that were being used by artisans making typical products such as colorful lanterns or rugs.

Istanbul Walking Tour
Men look up from their work as we pass through the dusty hall

Then we traveled up a small stairway to this wooden door.

Istanbul Secret Passageway
Istanbul Secret Passageway

On the other side, we found ourselves on the roof and were rewarded with probably some of the best views we have had of Istanbul. From here you can see Istanbul from every angle – the grit, beauty, culture, and even a little local pride.

Getting the Best Rooftop View in Istanbul

Istanbul mosque and graphiti
Beauty, grit and culture come together

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Hidden Istanbul

You’d think that with everything that had already experienced in the day that this would be enough, like icing on the cake. But we weren’t finished yet, not even close. How could you leave Istanbul without seeing the Spice Bazaar? And that is exactly where we headed next.

The Spice Bazaar

The Istanbul Spice Bazaar (or Egyptian Spice Market) is a party for the senses. The first thing that hits you is the vast number of people who share the space with you. I’d imagine that it remains busy, with tourists and locals alike, from the time it opens until the moment it closes.

The next thing that comes into focus are the wonderful aromas. Freshly ground coffee, fragrant soap, sweet candy, and pungent spice all mingle together and fill the air.

There is the constant urging of shop owners to come over and try their wares. With all of that going on it was nice to have a guide to bring us to one hand-picked store in order to show us the best of the market.

Assortment of Istanbul Spices
Assortment of Istanbul Spices

We were offered samples of spice, Turkish tea, and the local favorite dessert – Turkish Delight. A gel candy made with sugar or honey and often nuts.

Turkish Delight
Turkish Delight

After all of this it was time for a well deserved break, and as luck would have it, our ride was awaiting.

Private Boat Tour of the Bosphorus

Bosphorus Harbor Cruise
Our private boat awaits
Private Bosphorus Tour
Saying good-bye to the crowds on our private cruise.

After a bustle of the Spice Bazaar, a relaxing and breezy private boat tour of the Bosphorus was really just perfect. We were able to view the European side with its striking mosques, view some of the Sultan’s former palaces along the waterfront and take in glimpses of the Asian side in preparation for further exploration later in our visit.

The kids on our trip especially enjoyed the boat ride – making this a good a great activity for families in Istanbul.

Sultan's Palace
Sultan’s Palace

We left the boat ready for another short hike to another one of Istanbul’s best known sights, the Galata Tower. It took a small hike, but the view from the tower are not to be missed.

Istanbul's Galata Tour
Istanbul’s Galata Tour

Ah but wait, instead of queuing up in line behind a mob of tourists to climb the tour, we did one better. Our guide showed us to a rooftop cafe close by where we could rest our feet and order a cool drink. From here we had a uncrowded view of the tower from one side, and the Bosphorus on the other. Very clever!

View of the Bosporus from the rooftop cafe
View of the Bosporus from the rooftop cafe

We sat sipping our lemonade, reflecting on the day. We saw some amazing things, so many that we agreed it would take a while to sort through our photos process it all. It was a full, busy, memorable, and all together fantastic day. Boldly, I will say, we did see the best of Istanbul, all in a day. Would you agree?

Note – this tour can be divided into 2 half day tours, but in the end were happy that we did it all in one. 

Here are some related posts about travel to the the cuisine of Turkey that can help plan or inspire your Turkish vacation.


A special thank you to Walks of Turkey, who hosted our day with them. As always, our opinions remain our own.

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26 thoughts on “Istanbul: Back Doors and Hidden Places”

  1. What a day! The tours you two take are putting you in the best of all places. I love the two giggling girls on the rooftop. The spice market looked amazing too. I can’t wait till I get your stories directly.

  2. I love Istanbul!!
    Last year we stayed there for two months, looking your photos I realized that I´m missing a lot this sizzling city!
    I know you were short in time, but on your next visit, take some time to explore the Asian side. The best place to enjoy a tea and watch the sunset is in Ãœskudar!
    Happy travels,

  3. So many of my favorite places and great photos! I cannot wait to go back to Istanbul in December for three days – (and will definitely use your tip of asking whether pottery is food safe).

  4. I love your pictures!!! Istanbul is famous for its rich history and the colorful culture. You have captured those immaculately! If I were you, I will still buy the lanterns even two!

  5. Wow–you definitely did a ton in one day! Sounds like so many fun sights. I would love to explore the bazaar and the rooftop cafe at the end of the day sounds fantastic. Istanbul is high on our list of places to visit, and this really makes me want to go there!

  6. Great post. Thanks for sharing all those awesome pictures! I have been to Ephesus/Kusadasi but still have not been to Istanbul. I hope to go one day because I would love to see the Grand Bazaar.

  7. Fantastic photos! Turkey is one of those places that looks so exciting and colorful. That pottery is gorgeous, and the views you shared were amazing. Thanks for letting us see Istanbul through your eyes!

  8. Hey Sean and Jen. Its seems like you totally enjoyed Instalbul tour. Abousutly it is one of the best place in the Middle East. Grand Bazaar is the heart of Istanbul. Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures.

  9. Wow, this looks amazing! The Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market look like you could spend all day just there! If I get to travel abroad some day, I’d love to visit Istanbul. Was it relatively safe for tourists?

  10. Was pleasantly surprised with Istanbul. Totally bought some pottery and a lantern at the Grand Bizarre. Who could resist? Also, nice tip about the rooftop cafe instead of waiting in the line at the tower!


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