Istanbul city guide: Where to stay, eat, drink and shop in Turkey’s hub of culture and history

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Wright here Europe meets Asia, Istanbul is a dizzying array of Byzantine treasures and hovering minarets, bisected by the Bosporus strait. Although it’s lengthy captivated guests with its historic charms, a slew of latest openings is proving there’s extra to this magical Turkish metropolis than the previous. From the redesigned Atatürk Cultural Centre to the £1.3bn Galataport retail and humanities hub, which is quickly to function a brand new Istanbul Museum of Trendy Artwork by Pritzker prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, the putting new additions to the town are all must-sees.

Add in a vigorous occasions calendar – suppose Turkish Delicacies Week, and fashionable artwork pageant Up to date Istanbul – and that is one of the best place to absorb Turkish delicacies, tradition and mingling. The highest sights are the stuff of legend (and lots of an iconic journey poster) – however the cool neighbourhoods that lie past are equally price your time and vacationer buck.

Well-known landmarks are primarily discovered on the town’s European aspect, the place the Golden Horn estuary splits the newer area from the “outdated metropolis” of Sultanahmet. Most are clustered within the latter, a fascinating peninsula on which simit (Turkish bagel) sellers ply their wares below candy-striped awnings and cats meander amid evocative vestiges of the Roman, Byzantine and early Ottoman previous.

(Go Istanbul Turkiye)

What to do

Tour the highest sights

Nonetheless headlining itineraries is the Hagia Sophia, which – regardless of its controversial reconversion from a museum right into a mosque, with a lot of its lovely Christian mosaics coated – stays a world marvel nearly 1,500 years on (free). Topkapı Palace (TL200/£10; harem entry further) is one other icon; this sprawling advanced was residence of the Ottoman Sultans for round 400 years earlier than the extravagant European-inspired Dolmabahçe Palace (120TL, £6; harem further) took over within the nineteenth century. Dolmabahçe entry is by guided tour solely, and no photographs are allowed.

Different prime tradition fixes embody the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum (60 TL, £3) and Archaeological Museum (ditto), whereas a Bosphorus boat cruise ought to spherical issues off properly. For those who plan to see a number of sights, the town’s museum go is advisable at 360TL (£19) – it will get you into 12 whole with a validity interval of 5 days.

Discover Istanbul’s numerous neighbourhoods

Istanbul’s eclectic jigsaw of neighbourhoods, every with their very own distinctive character, are amongst its biggest property. Effectively price a detour are Istanbul’s former Greek Orthodox and Jewish districts, Fener and Balat. Honeypots for TV location scouts, with their tall multicoloured facades and cobbled streets, they teem with photogenic espresso outlets and designer florists, plus sufficient vintage dens to rival Cihangir. They’re quick turning into a hipster haven, full with kombucha on menus.

Throughout the Bosphorus, on the town’s Asian aspect, bohemian Kuzguncuk is one other vibrant spotlight whose conventional picket buildings include galleries, bookshops and bakeries (don’t miss the famed “mushroom cookie” at Tarihi Kuzguncuk Fırını). Over in Kadıköy, you’ll discover all the things from stylish patisseries and a busy fish market to new cultural vacation spot Müze Gazhane: that includes a local weather and comedian museum, galleries, theatre phases and extra in a revamped gasworks.

The colorful Balat neighbourhood

(Go Istanbul Turkiye)

Have a hammam

No journey to Istanbul could be full with out getting scorching and sweaty in a Turkish bathtub or hammam: a legacy of the Roman Empire, these have been a bastion of Turkey’s tradition for hundreds of years. Shy westerners could be postpone – girls particularly would possibly baulk at going topless – however when you realise nobody else cares, having a stranger scrub you with a rough loofah earlier than soaping you up and washing you down feels fairly invigorating – and afterwards, your pores and skin will really feel like one thing from a Gillette advert. Many baths additionally provide non-compulsory further therapies equivalent to a therapeutic massage.

Maybe the preferred hammam for vacationers is Cağaloğlu, a imaginative and prescient of chic arches and white marble in Sultanahmet, the place visits begin at 800TL (£42). For one thing cheaper, and perhaps extra genuine, strive an area hammam equivalent to Aziziye in Kadıköy, the place a fundamental bathtub expertise will set you again simply 110TL (£6).

A room on the Inexperienced Parrot Lodge, Istanbul

(Reserving.com)

The place to remain

There are three “The Keep” motels in Istanbul, every good high quality and exuding a definite character. Its Ortaköy lodge overlooks Istanbul’s most iconic vista – ornate Ortaköy Mosque with the Bosphorus Bridge hovering behind – which is especially magical come dusk when each landmarks are illuminated. The Keep model was additionally lately awarded carbon-neutral standing by sustainability specialist Bureau Veritas. Doubles from £265, B&B. thestay.com.tr

For these with a tighter price range, the Inexperienced Parrot Lodge is a small however trendy choice; suppose jungle wallpaper, patterned cushions and ceramic cacti. Centrally situated in Sultanahmet and with all the required mod cons, it’s very moderately priced. Doubles from £54, B&B. greenparrothotel.com

As for one thing even cheaper, you’ll be able to’t beat Hostel Le Banc. Once more properly located, within the Taksim neighbourhood, near Galata Tower, this standard “residence from residence” attracts rave opinions for its pleasant workers and cozy rooms. With in-house social occasions, plus a sociable café, it’s a steal. Personal doubles from £35, B&B, dorm beds from £10. hostellebanc.com

Breakfast at Emirgan Sütiş

(Emirgan Sütiş)

The place to eat

Alongside its celebrated milky puddings and hearty predominant meals, Emirgan Sütiş serves breakfast choices like sujuk (spicy sausage) and menemen – Turkish-style scrambled eggs with tomatoes, peppers and spices. For those who fancy a change from the traditional savoury begin to the day, Brekkie Croissant & Cookie in Kadıköy affords a extra westernised menu.

Istanbul’s most legendary lunch spot – it’s closed for dinner – is Pandeli, which has tempted the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Turkish Republic founder Atatürk through the years, with its turquoise-tiled inside and conventional delicacies. Strive its kazandibi, a caramelised dessert that includes wonderful threads of rooster that happily tastes higher than it sounds. You’ll discover Pandeli within the Egyptian Bazaar, price a go to usually to see its painted arches and fragrant heaps of spices.

Alternatively seize some börek, flaky crammed pastry, or pide, pizza-like flatbreads, for noon snacking on the go. Retailers are as ubiquitous as Istanbul’s dessert shops, amongst which Karaköy Güllüoğlu and Hacı Bekir cleared the path in baklava and Turkish delight respectively.

Roof Mezze 360, in the meantime, does basic dishes with postcard views throughout the Golden Horn estuary. Specials embody testikebab: a dish from Cappadocia by which meat and greens are cooked in clay pot that’s cracked open in entrance of you (excellent for some tableside theatre).

The place to drink

Ask an area the place serves one of the best Turkish espresso in Istanbul they usually’ll invariably let you know Mandabatmaz, a hole-in-the-wall off İstiklal Avenue whose identify – that means “a buffalo wouldn’t sink” in Turkish – refers back to the foam that tops every meticulously crafted brew. For a cuppa in equally famed, albeit grander, environment, strive afternoon tea at Pera Palace. This opulent lodge is the place Agatha Christie penned Homicide on the Orient Categorical – it lately starred in its personal Netflix collection, Midnight on the Pera Palace.

Followers of progressive cocktails will love Fahrī Konsolos, a mixology wonderland in Kadıköy’s fashionable Moda space the place grasp barman Burak Ayaz rustles up concoctions like no different. They’re all impressed by Turkish flavours, together with ayran, the nation’s beloved yoghurt drink. For individuals who favor extra modest tipples in a buzzy environment, head to the meyhanes (taverns) alongside Nevizade Avenue in Beyoğlu – a favorite space amongst locals for an evening out.

(Go Istanbul Turkiye)

The place to buy

Istanbul’s £1.3bn Galataport – sporting a cruise terminal alongside a large number of eating places, shops and sights alongside the Bosphorus – is the new place to go for some waterfront retail remedy. Removed from a bland shopping center, it hosts all the things from western manufacturers like Adidas to resident skills like visionary jeweller Avedis Kendir (whose shoppers embody the Queen) and mixes in a beneficiant dose of tradition as well. The Istanbul Museum of Trendy Artwork is quickly to launch right here – till then you’ll be able to go to the Museum of Portray And Sculpture on the roof of Mimar Sinan Tremendous Arts College. Don’t miss the coed recreation of painter Osman Hamdi Bey’s Girl with Mimosas on the steps reverse.

For those who favor to browse away from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, among the many world’s largest with its 4,000-plus outlets, head to Arasta as a substitute. This refreshingly quiet bazaar sells many related merchandise, from Turkish carpets to filigreed lamps, simply on a smaller scale. Bear in mind to haggle, and take a look at the tiny however fascinating Mosaics Museum whilst you’re there.

Architectural spotlight

Together with the Hagia Sofia, Istanbul’s most visited mosques are the gargantuan Süleymaniye and the Sultan Ahmed, nicknamed the “Blue Mosque” for its tiled inside. However arguably simply as gorgeous because the latter (if no more) is Rüstem Pasha; this “miniature Blue Mosque” boasts the identical profusion of Iznik tiles in patterns of cobalt and aquamarine, but with a fraction of the crowds.

The within of the Blue Mosque, Istanbul

(Getty Photos/iStockphoto)

Nuts and bolts

What forex do I would like?

Turkish lira.

What language do they communicate?

Turkish, although many youthful Turks communicate English.

Ought to I tip?

10 per cent is the norm in eating places and motels, however not anticipated with taxi fares.

What’s the time distinction?

Turkey is 2 hours forward of the UK.

How ought to I get round?

The Metro right here is intensive and straightforward to navigate – for a number of journeys, it’s price shopping for a top-up Istanbulkart for 20TL (£1). For crossing between the European and Asian sides, leap on a ferry; Şehir Hatları is the official metropolis operator.

What’s one of the best view?

Galata Tower, which reopened as museum in 2020, affords 360-degree metropolis views. For a panorama that’s much more sweeping, strive the brand new Çamlıca Tower: Istanbul’s tallest construction, with 45 flooring above floor.

Insider tip

Rent an area information and also you’ll get a number of insider suggestions, in addition to attending to know Istanbul’s less-explored bits. By means of Azize Celiktas, we explored areas like arty Kungunzcuk, found the thrill of stuffed meatballs on İstiklal Avenue and gained a perspective you gained’t discover within the guidebooks. 

Getting there

Attempting to fly much less?

You’ll be able to journey from the UK to Istanbul totally by prepare – travelling to Paris on the Eurostar, and selecting between heading onwards by way of Bucharest and Budapest, or by way of Belgrade and Sofia, to Istanbul. Each routes take round 4 nights.

Tremendous with flying?

British Airways, Turkish Airways and Pegasus all have direct flights from the UK.

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