As you know, I just recently got back from my trip to Turkey with Rafael, my trusty media assistant (and significant other). We divided our trip into two parts – Istanbul and Cappadocia – and resolved to get the most locally-infused trip we could with our sparse knowledge of Turkish. During our planning stages, one of the things that we did to achieve this goal was choosing accommodation in Kadiköy, the Anatolian side of Istanbul, where many locals go to enjoy food, shisha, or a good beer.
Usually, when people think of where to stay in Istanbul, their thoughts flock to Sultanahmet, where the grandiose structures of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque tower over Turkish baths, touristy restaurants, and souvenir shops. Bordered by the Sea of Marmara and Topkapı Palace, Sultanahmet is the striking image of Istanbul, the postcard child, the flagship of the city. But, from my experiences in other huge cities in the world, I’ve found that the most charming and fun places are always the ones where the locals hang out. So, we said görüşürüz to Sultanahmet and merhaba to Kadiköy, a hot restaurant district by the seaside on the Asian side of Istanbul.
Staying Local in Istanbul
I knew from the get-go it would be difficult to stay on the less-touristy side of Istanbul because of the language barrier, so our journey to Kadiköy began a few weeks earlier, when I signed up for a free Turkish language class at school. I had seen some Turkish writing before and it all looked like gibberish to me, so Rafael and I resolved to learn enough to get by in Istanbul. However, because of the timing of our trip, we only got about 2 45-minute classes in before we took off for Turkey itself.
To be honest, we were underprepared. Realizing that a taxi from Istanbul’s Ataturk airport to Kadiköy would cost a small fortune, we instead decided to brave the metro, tram, boat, and foot journey that would lead us, hopefully, straight to our hostel. With our suitcases in tow, we boarded the metro, then the tram, and then a boat, which took us over the cold waters to the Anatolian side of the city. The darkness of night met us as we boarded our boat, and I was hoping for our sake that the trek to the hotel thereafter would be simple and straightforward.
It was surprisingly easy up until the very last part, when we disembarked our boat and navigated to our hostel. By this time, the streets of Kadiköy were filled with people watching the soccer game on TV, glasses clinking and waiters speaking loudly about one thing or another. Our street was filled with neon signs, illuminating beer brands or nargile (shisha as we know it.) We couldn’t find the street names anywhere, and I think we’d taken a wrong turn somewhere, so frantically we tried to remember how to ask for directions.
(We probably should have written that down…)
Finally, after trying to communicate with restaurant owners and people on the streets, we started to get a little discouraged. It was late and we had no idea what to look for. Then, out of nowehere, a man with perfect English approached us and asked us if we needed help. He then gave us directions to our hostel and we were on our way.
After walking up a small spiral staircase, we found ourselves at the reception desk of Hush Hostel Moda, a chic and art-infused accommodation right in the heart of the maze of restaurants we’d been lost in just minutes before. We were so relieved after our long day of travel to finally be surrounded by people who could speak English, and we were pleased with how nice the staff was.
Our room was awesome, a European style pod-type space with an enclosed bathroom area on the second floor. Outside the open window, the sounds of life on the streets drifted through the air. An amazingly comfortable bed greeted me for a short nap and afterwards, a dinner at a nearby local restaurant. The room was spacious and provided us a warm place to rest our heads after each long day of exploration. The hostel was a quaint mix between the typical dorm-style accommodation and a hotel, providing hotel-style comfort and even a private bathroom at very affordable rates.
Hush Hostel Moda proved to be an awesome place to come back to, and was only a short ferry ride from all of the main tourist attractions. Instead of being constantly surrounded by tourist traps and people trying to overcharge us for souvenirs, we lived among the locals for a few days. We watched football games with them, listened to them sing traditional Turkish songs to live musicians, and even tried to converse with some who could speak a little bit of English.
There was also a delicious breakfast on the hostel’s terrace in the mornings that consisted of olives, eggs, deli meats, breads, fruits, and of course the ever-so-famous Turkish coffee and tea, made in the traditional style. The owner, Fırat, was extremely accommodating and helped us out when our plans changed and needed to stay an extra night. We were so impressed with the combination of the local flair and the optimal location, right next to the ferry from Kadiköy to the European side of the city.
As I grow and develop my travel habits, I find that I begin to enjoy different kinds of things. When I was in Europe, I stayed solely at hostels, meeting mainly other travelers and participating in tourist activities. That was fine for me, but I’ve found a real joy and challenge in immersing with the local culture in every place I go. So, when I started to plan my trip to Istanbul, I knew I wanted to experience the surprise of staying in an area off the beaten path from all of the main tourist attractions.
Looking back, my experience in Kadiköy was exactly what I’d hoped for – although we did end up learning quite a bit of Turkish and ate at the most amazing local restaurants. Being outside of the typical tourist sphere gave us the opportunity (and challenge) to blend in with the Istanbul locals. We laughed with locals as they drank raki. We listened to live music and pretended to know the words. Yes, we were tourists, but staying local enabled us to connect with the city and its beautiful culture on an even deeper level.
Have you ever stayed in a more local area when you visited a place? What was it like? Share your story in the comments!
*Thank you to Hush Hostel Moda for sponsoring our stay in Istanbul! As always, I speak my mind and only my mind, so all opinions expressed in this article are solely my own.