The 8,000 year-old city of Istanbul is a meeting point between Europe and Asia, strung together with two bridges over the Bosphorus Strait. It’s not hard to fall in love with Istanbul, a city that easily unites history, art and culture with a modern lifestyle. Whether it’s the Turkish cuisine, thousand year-old historic spots, or the energetic lifestyle, Istanbul holds something for everyone.
Istanbul is all about the neighbourhoods, and each has its own defining characteristics. Take a stroll by the Bosphorus and enjoy the view and fresh air. Head to the Sultanahmet District to visit important historical spots like the church of Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and The Grand Bazaar. For shopping, try the neighbourhood of Nisantasi for designer brands and boutiques, and visit the Beyoglu district for local shops. Visiting Sultanahmet will take some time, so plan to devote an entire day to the area, and refuel along the way with lahmacun and baklava.
Taksim Square is considered to be the centre of the city, with many shops and cafés on its main avenue, Istiklal. It’s usually very crowded, so be sure to keep an eye on your belongings. At the end of Istiklal Avenue is Galata, an area with a bohemian touch, where you can visit the historic Galata Tower for a panoramic view of Istanbul’s skyline. With many chic designer boutiques and European-inspired cafés, this is definitely a stylish area to visit.
From Galata the Karakoy neighbourhood is not far off. Here you’ll find many art galleries, including the the Istanbul Modern and Elipsis Gallery, as well as cool cafés like Karabatak (+90 212 243 6993) or Wom (+90 0212 706 0700).
Ortakoy is another neighbourhood by the Bosphorus where you can relax at hookah cafés, check out street vendors selling evil-eye accessories, and eat the popular street food of the area, kumpir.
Café Assk Kahve (+90 212 265 4734), which is in Arnavutköy by the Bosphorus, is the perfect spot for a Turkish breakfast extravaganza. Don’t forget to order some simit (circular sesame bread), sucuk (Turkish salami), honey and kaymak (creamy dairy product), and menemen (an egg dish favourite). After you’re done sipping your Turkish coffee, take a walk around the neighbourhood to discover the city’s historic roots and experience the mixture of different lifestyles.
Istanbul’s nightlife is also something you shouldn’t miss, and there are many options located around the city. For major nightclubs, try Anjelique (+90 212 327 2844) or Reina (+90 212 259 5919), both by the Bosphorus. If you’re looking for an upscale bar full of upscale locals, try Lucca (+90 212 257 1255)in the Bebek neighbourhood. If you’re in the mood for a local favourite, visit the Asmali Mescid neighbourhood at the end of the Istiklal Avenue. There are tons of great spots hidden in the narrow streets of Asmali where you can enjoy an easy glass of wine or beer. Should those drinks lead to the urge to dance, try Propaganda (+90 0212 2527181) or After Casette.
Before heading home for the night, try some late-night manti, a Turkish twist on tortellini, at 24-hour café Bodrum Manti (+90 0212 263 29 18) in the Arnavutköy neighbourhood.
The dress code for Istanbul depends on the neighbourhood. Revealing clothing will work around the Bosphorus, but either change or be ready for some serious eyeballing around Taksim Square. Also, go for chic flat shoes when heading to Asmali Mescid to drink and dance – the area is filled with cobblestone streets.
Istanbul’s subway system is easy to navigate and will take you around all major neighbourhoods. You can also easily find a taxi anywhere in the city and will be able to call one easily using the BiTaksi app.
For the best access to all transportation systems, the best place to stay is around Taksim. As a bonus, the area is an active neighbourhood with tons of hidden streets and cafés to discover before starting or ending your day. Any one of these boutique hotels would give you a comfortable, stylish, and convenient stay in central Istanbul:
Raven Istanbul – Istiklal Caddesi, Süslü Saksı Sokak No:3, Beyoğlu
Odda Apart Galatasaray – Faikpaşa Caddesi Kuloğlu Mahallesi No:28, Beyoğlu
Stories Hotel – Kumbaracı Yokuşu No:66, Beyoğlu
Words and photos by Alev Takil, www.alevtakil.com
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