It’s a fabulous time to compare car hire, with some great deals going that enable you to pick up a car at your destination, giving you the freedom to get around at your own pace. Istanbul is a case in point, and this city spreads itself generously over such a large area, and famously over two continents as well, that hiring a car is your best bet for seeing it in all its glory.
Once you get used to driving on the wrong side of the road and being tooted at for no apparent reason, getting around by car in this ancient, exciting city is a doddle. Parking restrictions are non-existent when compared to cities like London, and even in the centre of Istanbul it’s not a problem though, as ever, it’s always a good idea to plan your route beforehand. The multi-coloured road markings that make London’s roads look like modern art are simply not there, and traffic wardens are unknown, so this is practically a motorist’s paradise.
If you know someone who’s happy to sip a Coke or Tonic, get them to drive you to the area of Istanbul around Taksim Square, centre of the city’s throbbing and indeed legendary nightlife. This district positively heaves, especially at weekends, but even during weekday evenings it has a fabulous buzz.
Taverns and drinking clubs predominate in the city’s nightlife, and every side street has its bar with live western or oriental music, with customers enjoying the traditional Turkish meze, a sort of starter course to main meals, like Spanish tapas, whilst listening to the singing. There are also plenty of colourful cabarets, many of which cater to tourists, and cafe-bars and nightclubs for dancing the night away.
Istanbul may be a Muslim city but it’s about as dry as a cactus in the Kalahari. Everyone seems to be drinking something here, and Istanbullus love strolling around the streets and dropping in at cafes and bars during the long summer evenings especially. There are still a few conservative areas, such as Eyup, where public consumption of alcohol tends to be frowned upon, but away from these the drinks flow freely and unashamedly. One thing to remember however is that during Ramadan this scenario changes, and also that restaurants within hailing distance of a mosque generally do not serve any alcoholic drinks.
The bars in the Sultanahmet district, where the Blue Mosque and Topkapi are located, tend to close early, and in places such as Beyoglu on the European side there is a lot more choice in evening entertainment and drinking options. Especially around Taksim Square there are numerous live jazz venues and up-market cafes, along with trendy basement bars packed out with hip young professionals.
The shores of the Bosphorus are especially appealing in the evenings, with Kadikoy and Ortakoy, on the Asian and European sides respectively, having the most dynamic atmospheres and greatest choices on offer.
Take the car down to the Bosphorus or into the middle of old Istanbul for a great experience that gets you right to the heart of this truly fabulous city.
About our guest blogger: David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.
Photo credit: Hector Garcia