Istanbul offers expats a wonderful lifestyle that is novel yet familiar and full of comforts, surprises and delights. The lifestyle in Istanbul is a culturally fascinating experience with unique leisure options for just about anyone. Expats can indulge in Ottoman restaurants, an abundance of bazaars and shopping opportunities, as well as a vibrant nightlife, world-class sporting facilities and Istanbul's famed Turkish baths.
Shopping in Istanbul
New arrivals will find a shopping landscape characterised by a hodgepodge of modern, antique, unique and kitsch buys.
The Grand Bazaar is an excellent starting point. Other famous shopping markets include the Egyptian Market, also known as the Spice Bazaar, and the Beyazıt Square flea market, which can both be treasure troves when it comes to bargains.
Otherwise, Nuruosmaniye Caddesi is known for its exquisite jewellery, while its adjacent side streets are home to many art boutiques and independent stores. Antique lovers would do well to visit Çukurcuma Cadessi, which is home to some of Istanbul's best antique and vintage stores. Expats with a few bucks to spare should look no further than Abdi İpekçi Caddesi, which is home to many international luxury brands and is considered Istanbul's premier shopping street.
Eating out in Istanbul
Turkish cuisine is a combination of fantastic variety and bold flavours. It flaunts Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, Western and Balkan influences. The cuisine varies from region to region depending on the produce available.
Eating out in Turkey is a social event, and families and friends often come together over a meal. Meals at local restaurants tend to offer good value. Expats can also find good deals in establishments that don't serve alcohol, but as in many other cities, restaurant prices in Istanbul increase significantly in the main tourist areas.
In Turkey, breakfast is the main meal of the day. A typical breakfast in Turkey typically consists of fresh bread, cheese, cold meats, yoghurt, honey, olives, eggs and fruit. Expats who are coffee lovers should also enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee. Other popular food items are pede, kebabs and baklava.
Nightlife in Istanbul
There are many bars and nightclubs in Istanbul. The more distinctive spots are the open-air clubs near the Bosphorus, which are only open in the summer. With everything from belly dancers to cutting-edge techno beats, those who enjoy a good party will be thrilled to discover Istanbul's dynamic nightlife as trendy clubs, bars and cocktail lounges abound.
Arts and culture in Istanbul
Expats can indulge in a wide variety of cultural activities in Istanbul. The city offers a comprehensive programme of concerts, ballet and opera. There are also concerts held at the time-worn Hagia Irene, which is a Byzantine church that has been reopened for cultural events.
Rock bands occasionally visit Istanbul, and there are regular jazz performances at clubs. There is, of course, no lack of Turkish culture, including Turkish popular music and whirling dervish shows.
Istanbul also has several cinemas, which are found mainly in malls. The latest English films are shown with only a slight delay from their original release dates. All movies are shown in their original language with Turkish subtitles.
Sports and outdoor activities in Istanbul
The city presents many options for leisure and sporting activities. Football is enormously popular in Turkey, and Istanbul hosts Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray, fierce rivals and the country's most celebrated football clubs.
In terms of exercise, there are many swimming pools and tennis courts around the city, and gyms are widely available. There are also some golf and country clubs for expats to join.
Where to meet people and make friends in Istanbul
Meeting people in a new city can be one of the more stressful experiences of relocating. Below are a few suggestions for expats looking to make friends and integrate into their new communities.
The International Women of Istanbul (IWI) is a non-profit organisation for expat women living in and around Turkey. The organisation allows women to participate in charitable volunteer events and also arranges business networking opportunities for professional expat women.
Parents looking to ensure their teens make friends and assimilate into their new community should look no further than Istanbul&I. This non-profit organisation aims to impact the local community while bringing youth together through volunteering. Istanbul&I is currently home to more than 2,000 volunteers of over 40 nationalities.
Singing, dance and theatre enthusiasts will feel right at home making friends with like-minded individuals in the Speech Bubbles theatre group. An expat started the group as a way to teach English through drama, and has since evolved into a multicultural group of volunteers that stage an annual musical production to raise money for education and children's charities. Speech Bubbles also serves as a creative art performing school.
Expats looking to smash their fitness goals while building strong relationships with others who share similar interests can join Istanbul Expat Runners. This running club hosts weekly trail runs in the Belgrad Forest and encourages expats to find running buddies in their local neighbourhoods.
►See and Do in Istanbul gives an overview of the attractions expats can enjoy in the city.
►Read What's on in Istanbul for information about annual events in the city.
What do expats say about entertainment in Istanbul?
"I love the dynamism and vibrancy. There’s always something to do in Istanbul. You can eat at a range of restaurants featuring regional specialities, see international art exhibitions, enjoy intimate or arena-size music concerts, walk in a forest or by the sea… the list is endless." Learn more about Australian expat Lisa and her move to Istanbul.
Are you an expat living in Istanbul?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Istanbul. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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