The only city in the world that spans across two continents, Istanbul embraces the joie de vivre unique to Asia, and the cutting-edge operational ease synonymous with the most progressive cities of Europe. Here is a travel guide to experience the exceptional dichotomy of this Ottoman paradise
By: Niyoshi Shah
Posted on: December 22, 2017
Few cities have seen more history than this sprawling metropolis on the Bosphorus. Istanbul, once known as Constantinople, showcases the magnificent regalia of a remarkable history — from the Byzantine Christian Monarchs and Ottoman sultans of distant ages, to the modern democrats and "Eurocrats" of our own time. Capital of the Byzantine and then the Ottoman Empire, it has more top-notch attractions than it has domes and minarets (and that's saying a lot). Its dynamic burst towards freedom has been the wonder of the undemocratic Middle East. And, as the biggest city of a moderate Muslim nation, you will only experience amazement when you set sail on the Golden Horn (Haliç) and gaze up to an incredible skyline bristling with minarets.
Best Time to Visit
Summer is the most popular time to experience the city in all its splendour. As with most European cities, the hot and humid months of July and August see locals decamp en masse to rural retreats and Mediterranean resorts, which results in lesser bustle on the streets. The balmy evenings will also allow you to enjoy a drink at a trendy roof-top bar like Mikla (The Marmara Pera Hotel) or Mükellef Karaköy. Dine at a fish restaurant over-looking the unmatched Bosphorous or puff blithely on a nargile (water pipe) in the courtyard garden of the magnificent Ciragan Palace Kempinski Hotel – a member of the Leading Hotels of the World.
Istanbul is one of those age-old pilgrimage sites that can too easily be reduced to an itinerary of must-dos: The Blue Mosque, Spice Market, Bosphorus Cruise, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the Grand Bazaar. The sheer abundance of historical highlights means you could spend an entire week tailing tourists throughout the Old City. But for the ones who seek to experience the true cosmopolitan energy of the city, the sophisticated neighbourhoods of Galata and Karaköy, located north of the Old City in the Beyoğlu district, are a must-visit. Here, young Turks and immigrants have poured their ingenuity (and cash) into spacious old buildings and waterfront warehouses, creating flourishing new hubs where you can shop, eat, and stay. The stunning fin-de-siècle buildings have been transformed into luxury flats and designer ateliers.
Karaköy, was formerly a haven for Turkey’s Jewish, Greek, Armenian and Italian communities, until many fled during World War I. It’s complete transformation was all but assured with the opening of the Istanbul Modern Art Museum in 2004. Today, Karaköy and Galata are vibrant concoctions of extraordinary architecture and leading-edge culture, with traces of resolute commercialism and an intoxicating bohemian glamour and beauty. The best views of the neighbourhood come from the picturesque Süleymaniye mosque.
Art and Haute couture
Istanbul’s art scene has become an international marvel, and most of the new galleries are in Beyoğlu. Karaköy has three new ones: Egeran Galeri, ArtSümer and Galeri Manâ.
The shopping district where you’re most likely to see the odd Porsches and plastic is north of Beyoğlu, in the exquisite Art Nouveau neighbourhoods of Nişantaşı and Teşvikiye. Many designers have their ateliers on the upper floors of chic apartment houses. For high fashion, names to know include Arzu Kaprol, Özlem Süer and Davet Çok Elbisem Yok.
Across the Golden Horn, in Sultanahmet, the Grand Bazaar is essential to truly complete your authentic Istanbul experience, but it’s impractical to wander the bewildering passageways without a guide. Narrow your focus to a small street of sophisticated textile, coffee and rug shops and the world-famous Turkish Backlava.
Travel Companion: Turkish Airlines
With a painless direct flight connecting most of the key cities, and an International CIP Lounge spanning two full floors, featuring many amenities found in the world’s best first-class lounges, Turkish Airlines makes it ideal to visit Istanbul.
With a thriving nightlife propelled by its largely young population and an exciting art scene that’s receiving huge global acclaim, Istanbul is truly a city that never sleeps. It’s also a place where everyone will feel unconditionally welcome. Istanbul may be on the Bosphorus, but at it’s core it’s a Mediterranean city, whose friendly residents are effusively social and eager to make your stay as memorable as they can.