Fall often crashes down like a ton of bricks over Istanbul, but it’s a welcome blow. Crisp evenings replace sticky, humid ones overnight. During the day it’s warm enough to walk around in a T-shirt if it’s sunny, though you may need to have a sweater on hand if the sun dips behind a cloud.
It was a late afternoon in early October that cemented our deep love for Istanbul. We boarded a ferry from the Anatolian side before the sun set. It was still warm enough to sit outside without a jacket, and the energy of the changing season, both invigorating and soothing, coursed through the air and then our veins. Some resentment we felt for The City after a few stressful months melted away and we found ourselves enjoying the breeze on a boat approaching the point where the Marmara Sea meets the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn, gazing out at the historical peninsula of this endlessly beautiful city.
It was an afternoon in early October that cemented our deep love for Istanbul.
Committing to living in Istanbul means mostly sticking around for its often drizzly, depressing winters and scorching summers that seem to last forever. But every October, even for a fleeting moment, we feel some of the same energy we felt that day on the ferry. And sure enough, fall is the best time to be here. It is neither too hot during the day, nor too chilly at night, and the city is prime for maximum exploration. Realizing that a long spell of cloud cover and rainfall may soon inhibit a full day of enjoying the city, we make sure to act accordingly. Below is an itinerary we’ve whipped up for making the best of a fall day in Istanbul:
The day starts in the Kurtuluş neighborhood at Göreme Muhallebicisi, the original branch of a small chain of classic pudding shops famous for their excellent desserts, including an impossibly sweet, delicious sütlaç. But Göreme also cranks out a mean breakfast menu, including a hearty, potent sucuklu yumurta, sunny-side-up eggs with a healthy portion of garlicky sucuk sausage slices guaranteed to soak up even the most harrowing of hangovers. The menemen is consistently delicious, and if we’re feeling under the weather, we don’t leave without a small bowl of tavuk suyu çorbası, soothing chicken noodle soup topped with fresh-squeezed lemon and black pepper.
If the morning is a bit nippy, we head just up the street to Damla, a delightfully tiny kiosk serving wonderful homemade ice cream in the summer and boza once the weather starts to cool. Though synonymous with winter, boza season begins as soon as it is cool enough for the thick, slightly fermented millet beverage to resist spoiling. It tastes like a splash of Pabst Blue Ribbon over thick applesauce, and imbues us with strength to stave off the colder months.
From right across the military museum in nearby Harbiye, we hop into a dolmuş, which conveniently drops us off steps away from the Beşiktaş ferry pier, where we board a boat bound for Kadıköy on the Anatolian side. We make sure to secure a prime outdoor seat, before scuffling to the café for a glass of strong, piping hot çay, our favorite ferry companion.
Arriving in Kadıköy, we head to the heart of the district and wander its slender streets until we get hungry for lunch, which is a no-brainer. We stroll to the calm, residential Moda quarter for a döner sandwich from Korkmaz Büfe, which serves some of our favorite in the city. The meat is bought, sliced and marinated daily, and it usually runs out by 4 p.m. at the latest, a testament to its sublime quality and the excellent knife skills of the mustachioed duo behind the counter.
Assuming it’s sunny and relatively warm, we head a few blocks up the street and stop for a post-lunch ice cream cone at Ali Usta’s, perhaps the most famous ice cream shop in the city. Around evening time the lines can get ridiculous, but the early afternoon shouldn’t present much of a problem. Afterwards, we amble over to the Moda Aile Çay Bahçesi, an open-air tea café with expansive views of the Marmara Sea. After a few glasses, we’re ready for a stroll alongside the Moda coast, among our favorite hangout spots during the warmer months.
Making our way back to the pier for the second ferry ride of the day (this was intentional), we embark at Karaköy while the sun is still shining. After de-boarding, we stroll over to the funicular, ride it up to Tünel and walk to the Büyük Londra, one of Istanbul’s most iconic hotels, which derives its appeal from the fact that the décor recalls a bygone era. We go upstairs to the rooftop bar to enjoy a cold Efes or two on the terrace, basking in the sublime views of the Golden Horn on one side and Beyoğlu on the other. The Büyük Londra has managed to remain a well-kept secret and it’s almost always possible to find a great table, even on the weekends. And it’s not a case of “paying for the view” either – the prices are the same as what you’ll find at other less-majestic establishments in the immediate area.
Once the sun has set, we admire the glimmering lights that have descended on the Golden Horn and drain our glasses. The night has just begun. We’ve built up our appetites for an extended meyhane evening, and can already taste the sharp white cheese, honey-sweet melon and meze in between blissful sips of ice-cold rakı. Our favorite spot these days is Müşterek, where the décor is quaint and charming, and the service is as genuine and friendly as the mezes are masterful. If we’re celebrating and don’t mind spending a bit more than usual, we choose Eleos on Istiklal, with its immaculate Bosphorus views and inventive Greek-inspired mezes. The meal often starts out with a complimentary shot of lemon ouzo, and several other surprises are brought out throughout the meal, compliments of the chef.
If we’re not worn out yet (and chances are we aren’t, as a night at the meyhane is as exhilarating as it is therapeutic), we head for a nightcap on the terrace of our beloved Peyote, where the beer is always cold and the music is never bad. Another option is Barba on Mis Sokak, a cozy affair where finding a table can be difficult. If you can snag a spot, you’ll be rewarded by the impressive beer selection and warm ambiance.
We’ve watched as the number of visitors to Istanbul has dropped in the past two years, and we can’t help but think that those who aren’t coming are making a huge mistake. Spending a fall day soaking in the city’s beauty and delighting in its fabulous food and drink leaves us flummoxed as to why anyone wouldn’t want to come here. Until they return (and they will, one day) we’ll enjoy the changing of the seasons in Istanbul, which serve as a reminder of why we fell in love with the city in the first place.