Finding travel bliss is a series on how and where to enjoy quiet moments in busy places around the world. The installments


With 14 million people calling the city home, Istanbul is the world’s second most populous city within municipal boundaries. It’s also a city with a 2,600-year history. These two facts combine to make for a lot of people crammed into tight spaces.

For example, the main shopping thoroughfare, Istiklal Caddesi, allegedly sees about 3 million people on any given weekend. Istanbul is crowded and loud; living here has convinced me huge cities are great for visiting but perhaps not for living.

Nevertheless, I did find three ways to experience travel bliss in Istanbul: I found a park, I walked beyond the obvious, and I took a boat.

Find a park

Parks are generally good places to take a break from urban bustle. Because I like to run, I look for suitable paths everywhere I go, combining online searches and asking people in the know.

In Istanbul, Maçka Park turned out to be a 15-minute walk (or a 7-minute jog) past the infamous Taksim Square. The park is a sanctuary of nature in the sprawling cauldron of traffic and humanity that is Turkey’s capital. Dirt and stone-paved paths and staircases crisscross the Park’s hillside terrain; no two runs were exactly the same and I rarely hit a level surface.

Finding travel bliss in Istanbul

Macka Park is a great place to run on a sunny late-fall day.

Finding myself in the park at different times of day I ran through the Park’s life:

  • A couple of newlyweds had their photos taken on the stairs to the teleferik (cable car).
  • Old pals in brown leather jackets exercised on a two-person cross-country ski machine next to a trio of girls in head scarves using the waist-twist machine.
  • A youngster sat passed out sideways on a bench next to a can of Efes beer.
  • Lone women power-walkied and men jogged with headphones on.
  • Students drank coffee and smoking nargile on the terrace of Fua Cafe & Restaurant while at the back the Chinese cook took a smoke break next to a coworker washing his feet in a basin.
  • Kids frolicked on playgrounds.
  • Leashed dogs made acquaintance, and in one case fought, with stray dogs.
  • Park workers collected fallen leaves and planted ground covers along the pathways.

I kept running.

Walk beyond the obvious

Most people prefer to go where other people go, so taking a few steps further. When Lindsay suggested we stray past the streams of tourists and find the weird cafe highlighted on Istanbul Eats, I went for it.

On the way from Beyoglu to Old Town, at the foot of the Galata Bridge, the Karaköy Fish Market is a must-see of Istanbul’s life. In a shabby park just past the Market sit a few crowded dockside cafes. We walked past the park to the water taxi dock and discovered an outdoor cafe operating out of a broken-down truck painted black.

Finding travel bliss in Istanbul

The view of the Golden Horn and Istanbul’s Old Town at Osman’s cafe.

We visited Osman’s several times to sip strong cay (Turkish tea) and watch old men fish or boat in and out of the dock, ferries and taxis crisscross the Golden Horn, and seagulls flit all over. The sun would descend toward the Sea of Marmara, invisible on the far side of Fatih across the inlet.

Behind us, the hardware district would clamor through rundown streets, men would gather at the Makbul Ibrahim Pasa Cami (mosque) for afternoon prayers, and the smell would waft over us of mackerel frying atop pushcarts serving the cafes and passersby.

Despite the bustle, a silence suffuses the place the same way sunlight reflecting off the Bosphorus bathes the city in soft hues, slowing life down to its own, natural beat. A two minute walk past the busy of the Fish Market is all it takes.

Take a boat

When we got tired of dodging the masses on Istiklal avenue and the tight streets of Beyoglu, we headed down toward the water. First we took a day trip to Princes’ Islands and a week later a hop-on-hop-off cruise around the Bosphorus with one of the several companies offering tours.

Finding travel bliss in Istanbul

Flying into Emirgan on the Bosphorus.

We sat on the tour boat passing tankers and freighters rumbling up and down the strait. We watched embankments of former villages, now the city’s waterfront neighborhoods, roll by, crowded with fishermen and strolling families. We drank cay in Europe and ate pide in Asia.

Life unfolded all around us and we glided through it, filled with the sea’s hum, reassured in knowing that it would be there even if we weren’t. Then, at the day’s end, the tour boat whisked us into the sunset, tired and content.

Finding travel bliss in Istanbul

On a tour boat into the sunset.

Have you found travel bliss in Istanbul? Where and how?

4 Responses

  1. Rashad Pharaon

    What a great idea! There are so many beautiful, magical places that seem inaccessible b/c of hordes of tourist (or noisy traffic). Great tips for enjoying places even when they’re packed. Thanks!

  2. Ben

    Having Cay (Turkish Tea) is something very different than the rest of world. In turkey, people drink tea at any moment, any where and best places to rest is a tea house. First timers or people never visited Turkey does not understand the behaviour of turkish people having tea. After living for a while in Turkey everybody gets used to say “let’s have a cay”


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