How to Be a Weird Tourist in Istanbul

by , | The Oracle

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If you are an eccentric traveler, you may well consider being eccentric-specific. In other words, instead of doing the same eccentricities again and again, you can go local-specific. So, when in Istanbul, be a crazy tourist in the most Istanbul-style possible. I have some thoughts on how you might get close to doing unusual things all while exploring some of Istanbul’s most known spots.

1. Wear something traditional in a non-traditional way

In the heart of Istanbul, amidst the historical allure of Sultanahmet Square, imagine making a fashion statement that bridges centuries. Decked out in a vibrant fez and traditional Turkish slippers, your attire becomes a living mosaic of Istanbul’s cultural heritage, melded with a touch of contemporary zest.

It may sound silly but think about it. As you strut across the ancient stones, each step resonates with the echoes of bygone eras, drawing curious glances and perhaps disapproving faces from locals and tourists alike. Who knows, maybe you’ll even make some new friends.

Traditional Turkish outfit

Traditional Turkish outfit

2. Haggle like a pirate

Diving into the heart of Istanbul’s markets with the swagger of a pirate turns each bargaining moment into a lively adventure. Picture yourself, adorned in a pirate hat, engaging with vendors over exotic goods, each interaction more theatrical than the last. Your playful haggling, accentuated by a hearty “Arrr!” now and then, transforms the Grand Bazaar into a stage for spirited negotiation.

As you weave through the maze of stalls, each vendor’s stall becomes a treasure chest awaiting discovery. You’re not just haggling over prices; you’re storytelling, definitely creating a memorable exchange that transcends the simple act of buying. The items you bargain for become not mere souvenirs but trophies of a journey well-traveled, each with its own tale to tell of the high seas of commerce you’ve navigated.

Pirate outfit

Suggested haggling outfit

3. Enjoy what others don’t about the city’s public transportation

Embarking on Istanbul’s public transport as an adventurer means each trip is more than just A to B—it’s a chapter in your epic experience. Start with a ferry voyage dressed as a sailor across the Bosphorus, where you’re not just a passenger, but an explorer navigating the continental divide, with seagulls as your companions and historical landmarks dotting the horizon.

Do you like heat in closed spaces? Then consider taking a shuttle van, as they tend to treat air conditioning like a rare delicacy, perhaps all with the goal of reminding you that this is a sunny destination and should be enjoyed as such.

Then, jump on the city’s nostalgic tram, where clinging to the side (while ensuring safety) adds an exhilarating twist to sightseeing. And for the grand finale, a rogue taxi ride—where you’re at the mercy of Istanbul’s infamous traffic, but with a driver whose detours reveal hidden corners of the city unknown to the typical tourist. Each journey ups the ante, transforming public transit into an adventure of its own.

Traditional tram Istanbul

A cool Istanbul traditional tram

4. Go to VIALAND

Screaming can be liberating from time to time. But you want to be an eccentric tourist, not one that scares people away. So, if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush and scream-your-lungs-out type of fun, then VIALAND may be your go-to spot. This theme park is the place where the Nefeskese roller coaster, ranked as the 4th largest worldwide, promises to rearrange your internal organs—in a good way, probably.

The place is peppered with giant retail giants – think HM meets GAP meets a medieval bazaar – all within shouting distance of a roller coaster that could give you a hairstyle reminiscent of Einstein on a windy day. The pièce de résistance? The “Breathtaking” ride, which, despite its lengthy queues, promises a good level of adrenaline rush. And for those moments when you’re not defying gravity, there’s the “Mad River” to spin you into a watery frenzy or the “Little Explorers” ride for a more serene global trot.

VIALAND Istanbul

Up for a ride?

5. Make sure Istanbul gets talent

Picture this: You find yourself strolling through the historic streets of Istanbul, surrounded by the blend of Eastern and Western cultures. Suddenly, the rhythm of traditional Turkish music fills the air, and before you know it, your feet start tapping involuntarily. With a burst of courage, you step into the center of the square and begin your rendition of an iconic Turkish folk dance. Sure, your moves might resemble a cross between a chicken dance and a robot malfunction, but hey, the potential enthusiastic applause from bystanders is all the validation you need.

But why stop there? As the sun sets over the majestic skyline of Istanbul, the city comes alive with the sounds of street musicians serenading passersby. Inspired by the vibrant atmosphere, you decide to join in the musical madness and unleash your inner rock star. Armed with nothing but a borrowed ukulele and perhaps a questionable singing voice, you belt out your rendition of Turkish pop classics, much to the amusement (and bewilderment) of onlookers. Sure, your performance might not earn you a record deal, but the looks on the people’s faces may make it well worth it.

And then, for the grand crescendo, venture into the heart of Istanbul’s nightlife and make it your goal to spend around 7 hours dancing. Options to consider include the cultural coliseum of Babylon Bomonti, the lunar garden party at Klein Garten, the opulent decks of Sortie Club, the jazzy soul of Nardis Jazz Club, the glittering vistas at Ruby, and the Gatsby-esque elegance of Oligark. Here, amidst the bizarre bazaar of beats and the flamboyant fight for the title of “Most Eccentric Night Owl Nest,” you find the perfect venues to showcase your talent. It’s in these pulsating havens of fun that you could very well meet your future self on the dance floor.

Recommended original dance moves:

  • The Bosphorus Boogie: Start with a sway like the gentle waves of the Bosphorus under a moonlit sky. Then, suddenly switch to vigorous twists and turns, mimicking the bustling ferry traffic. It’s a dance of elegance meets chaos. Maybe so are you.
  • The Galata Groove: Inspired by the historic Galata Tower, this move involves circular motions, spinning with arms outstretched, aiming to mimic the tower’s rounded silhouette. Gradually increase your speed until you’re a blur. I suspect this move is best performed under progressive beats.
  • The Taksim Twist: Here’s where you channel the electric energy of Taksim Square into a dance that’s all about vibrant twists and turns. Start with a traditional twist, then morph into unpredictable moves that have no right or wrong direction, just like this article.
  • The Grand Bazaar Boomerang: This involves throwing yourself into wild, wide arcs, only to return to your starting point with added flair. It’s about the thrill of exploration and the joy of return, embodying the adventure of navigating Istanbul’s most famous market.
  • The Dervish Disco: A tribute to the spiritual Whirling Dervishes, this move is all about spinning with arms raised, one hand pointing to the sky and the other to the earth, in a disco-infused frenzy. It’s a blend of the sacred and the celebratory.
  • The Istanbul Improv: Finally, when in doubt, just go with the flow. Embrace spontaneity. So, let the city’s rhythm guide you, and move in whatever way the music takes you. Whether it’s a cross between a chicken dance and a robot malfunction or your own version of a Turkish folk dance, it’s all about the joy of the moment.
Istanbul at night

Istanbul at night or in the early morning

Bottom line: Istanbul is quite chaotic, and you can be too

If you do not wish to engage in each of the unusual stuff outlined above, that’s understandable. After all, one cannot guarantee that there will be enough gratification so that you invest so much time and effort into so many different crazy moments. Instead, it may be best to focus on the one you like the most. Personally, I find the pirate haggling, the impromptu performance, and the Dervish Disco all worth your time. That being said, do take your time to find what works best for you. Last but not least, please consider making videos and posting them wherever you see fit. Who knows, perhaps you’ll become famous. 

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