Istanbul Travel Guide

Istanbul Travel Guide

Gina Samarotto

Heady and exotic, Istanbul is an unforgettable city. Rich with art and architecture, the former Constantinople is where Europe meets the Middle East and where modern allure meets ancient history. By day, Istanbul is best seen by wandering through winding streets, revelling in the frenetic energy of the Grand Bazaar, visiting the fishing docks at dawn or simply allowing the city’s inspiring beauty to wash over you. By the last call to prayer of the day, this Orphic city seems to glow with the light of a thousand domed mosques twinkling against an inky blue sky. Wondering what to do in Istanbul? Mr Hudson has got you covered.

Things to do in Istanbul

At roughly two thousand square miles, Istanbul is over fifty times the size of Manhattan. Despite such behemoth scale, the neighbourhoods that comprise the city make the prospect of exploring the Istanbul points of interest far less daunting.

As Istanbul’s answer to Greenwich Village, Cihangir is an enclave of the city best known for its laid-back vibe and bohemian style. Cihangir is where you’ll find cafes on nearly every corner, cats curled in almost every sliver of sunshine and enough museums to keep you in awe for days. Situated between the Sultanahmet quarter of the old city and the vibrant nightlife of Taksim Square, Cihangir is the perfect location to experience the contrast between ancient Istanbul and the Istanbul of today. And at its heart is the elegant Witt Istanbul Suites. A favourite with travellers who appreciate spacious digs – the oversized accommodations feel more like chic lofts than they do hotel rooms – the Witt has sleek aesthetics and amenities including cavernous, hammam-style bathrooms clad in locally sourced marble.

Start your day in Cihangir with a traditional Turkish breakfast at Van Kahvaltı Evi on Defterdar Yokuşu. While they might not have a website to refer to, follow the impressive lines that form each morning to find Van’s unassuming door. Come hungry – portions can be huge. Make sure to leave room for the kaymak, though. Turkey’s answer to clotted cream, kaymak is best enjoyed smothered atop a slab of fresh, warm bread and drizzled with some native honey.

Photo: Gina Samarotto

Photo: Gina Samarotto

An aptly named homage to Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk’s novel; the impossibly quirky, endlessly fascinating Museum of Innocence in Çukurcuma may be small but what it lacks in size it makes up for with an enormous, cultural punch. When the warm Turkish sun proves too beguiling to stay indoors, head to the public gardens at Cihangir Mosque and drink in the spectacular views of the Bosphorus Strait, the dividing line between Istanbul’s European side and the Asian shores that lie a stone’s throw away.

When the sun sets, Cihangir comes alive as some of the hottest nightspots the city has to offer begin to wake. At Jash, gramophones, artefacts and impromptu explosions of live music all work to make you feel as if you are dining in the private parlour of some wildly eclectic, infinitely interesting bon vivant. For breath-taking views and visionary cuisine to match, head to Chef Mehmet Gürs’ Mikla. Perched atop the Marmara Pera Hotel, Mikla’s tasting menu is a journey not to be missed. Cap off your evening by dancing the night away at Reina, the area’s most glamorous nightspot where techno beats and crafted cocktails are served with killer views – of the celebrities who favour the high-energy club, that is. For a taste of true local culture delivered via some memorable live music, Araf is the place to be. Take a nap before venturing out to Araf if need be. At this fun loving venue, the fun starts late, entry is gratis, and strong legs are a plus – expect to have to climb several flights of stairs to find the bar. Plan your night at Araf for a Monday through Thursday if live Gipsy jams and room to move is what you’re after – weekends mean DJ’s spinning electronica and huge crowds for this funky club.

Museum of Innocence

Museum of Innocence

Where to eat in Istanbul

Not far from Cihangir is Fatih. One of the more conservative areas of Istanbul, you won’t find bare shoulders or raucous nightclubs in Fatih. What you will find is a cacophony of traditional flavours, the sights and sounds of a vibrant market (Malta Çarşi) and a deeply rooted sense of ancient culture that seems to shroud the area. Once a virtually untouched part of Istanbul, when Fatih gained UNESCO notoriety and the attention of trendsetters like Anthony Bourdainthe formerly quiet streets were launched into stardom. Head there for some of the best local food on the planet – a bowl of tripe soup from Tarihi Haliç İşkembecisi is rumoured to be a magical, hangover-curing concoction while the grilled meats at Sur Ocakbaşı have been known to make even the most devout vegan rethink their calling. Other noteworthy options include Imbat, known for pleasing international clientele with their traditional Turkish dishes infused with western touches.

In stark contrast to what one might expect for an area more known for mosques than professional sports; Fatih is home to the world-class Bağcılar Olympic Sports Hall. The unlikely landmark was a source of inspiration for the Dosso Dossi, a downtown luxury hotel boasting an entire floor dedicated to the needs of visiting athletes. Luckily, you don’t have to be an Olympiad to take advantage of Dosso Dossi’s spa – replete with indoor pool, Turkish bath, master masseurs, steam room, and sauna, the spa has everything one could wish for a day of complete indulgence.

Refreshed from a day at the spa, venturing off for some shopping in Istanbul’s famous old city is an excellent way to wile away an afternoon. In the Old City you’ll find the souks and bazaars synonymous with Istanbul along with some the bespoke experiences available only through the city’s smaller, luxury retailers.

The House Hotel Nisantasi

The House Hotel Nisantasi

Shopping in Istanbul

For exquisite rugs, Nakkas puts decades of expertise to work for clients who flock from all corners of the globe to peruse their collection. Located in a meticulously restored palace just across from Park Ici Yolu; Nakkas boasts an in-house jewellery division, fine ceramic boutique, a working loom on the main level where weavers ply their craft and an elegant rooftop garden where you can kick back with a plate of sweet dates served with piping hot glasses of apple scented tea. Nakkas has even elevated their ancient cistern, transforming the underground archaeological treasure into a gallery that showcases art from around the world.

The old city is also where you’ll find the studio of internationally renowned jeweller Sevan Bıçakçı. One glimpse at the intricately detailed, gem-encrusted pieces that have won the hearts of clients including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Celine Dion and Mariah Carey and you’ll understand completely why this understated atelier is so highly regarded. Gilans collection of fine jewellery and ‘Objets d’Art’ is also worth a look. With several boutique locations across the city, Gilan is a ‘go-to’ choice for cufflinks, rings and other adornments for both men and women. Expect to find creations that are striking yet exquisitely, delicately wrought.

The allure of Turkish art and fashion continues well into the night when you choose Istanbul’s The House Hotel Nisantasi. This boutique hotel perched above the Prada store on Abdi İpekçi Caddesi is home to 45 rooms and suites. Created through a collaborative effort that included international award-winning Turkish design firm Autoban, The House Hotel Nisantasi is crafted to make you feel as if you’ve landed in an impossibly fabulous pied-a-terre. The metro-stylish hotel welcomes guests into spaces rich with organic colour, with unique furnishings and dramatic effects courtesy of the glass-walled bathrooms and sprawling closets offered by many of the accommodations. While there, start the day with the hotel’s buffet breakfast and in the afternoons, regroup and recap over drinks at the bar.

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