by Karissa Stone, Travel Writer
Istanbul is not just a city… but a legendary capital where two of the worlds greatest empires literally collide, or better yet, where two worlds come face to face to create a captivating and mesmerizing culture that perfectly melds the charms of Europe and Asia. There’s really no place else like Istanbul!
STAY: While the queen of Istanbul hotels- the Kempinski Ciragan Palace on the Bosphorus – is truly beautiful and regal with a location coveted enough that they can charge over $200 for a pool day-pass, we prefer the more understated but still elegant and perfectly located Shangri-La on the Bosphorus. The latest outpost of the Hong-Kong based luxury hotel brand is definitely a gem. The location is prime, right on the bosphorus, and conveniently behind the Kadikoy ferry that takes you straight to the Asia side. Rooms are spacious, cozy, tasteful, and modern. Pick a room with a Bosphorus view, and don’t miss out on the breakfasts at IST TOO to fuel you up for a long day of sightseeing and exploring. http://www.shangri-la.com/istanbul/shangrila/
Although one could spend days immersing oneself in the history, beauty, and grandeur of Istanbul’s old town (or Sultanahmet) – you can also do a 1-2 day abridged version that is still just as satisfying! The good news is, you can walk everywhere, no need to get taxis or public transportation involved. Here is our top list of sights in the Sultanahmet neighborhood:
Blue Mosque – lavish and large mosque with ornate blue mosaics on the interior. Beware of a strict dress code and unannounced closing times during prayers.
Hagia Sophia – the grand dame of Istanbul, an Orthodox Basilica, turned imperial Mosque, turned museum, the layers of history both visible and non-visible are truly incredible.
Basilica Cistern – Large underwater cistern built in the 6th Century, during the Byzantine Empire. Although once used for water storage, this now one-of-a-kind structure is a true sight to behold for the modern eyes.
Grand Bazaar – One of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, and a treasure trove if you have the patience and time to sift through a never-ending labyrinth of goods. The good news: no one is going use any aggressive selling tactics on you… the bad news: don’t expect to negotiate prices down past a 30% discount.
Topkapi Palace (skip the full tour and head straight for the Harem) – the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for 400 years, this massive complex is like a city within a city. The Harem will pique your interest with its fascinating and somewhat vulgar history, and wow you with it’s intricately stunning mosaics.
Galata Tower – An ancient tower across the bridge from the Old Town with wonderful views in a great area for walking and exploring
Ayasofya Hammam (Hagia Sofia) – Conveniently located right next to the Hagia Sophia, this 16th Century bathhouse makes you feel like a sultan with their traditional scrub and massage. Relax and be confident you are in good hands while you literally “soak in” all of the gorgeously opulent marble around you.
Ferry to Kadikoy (Asia Side) – If you don’t have time to explore the mainly residential Asia side, take the Ferry to Kadikoy, walk around the neighborhood, and then come right back to Europe. We can’t think of another $1.50 boat ride anywhere else in the world that is as beautiful! (tip: take the ride right before / during sunset!)
Galata – the Soho of Istanbul – be sure to take stroll down Serdar-i Ekrem for a taste of where Turkish fashionistas shop
Nistantasi – the Beverly Hills / Rodeo Drive of Istanbul – see how the wealthy live in Istannbul!
Sunset Bar & Grill – all about the views, views, views!!
Kuruçeşme Mh., Yol Sk No:2, Istanbul
Kosebasi – Reina – Enjoy a delicious Turkish style feast, while admiring the yachts and party boats as they ride right past your table on the edge of the Bosphorus. Look up, and you’re right underneath the bridge that connects Asia to Europe. Where else can you eat dinner literally in between two continents?
Muallim Naci Caddesi No:44 Ortaköy, İstanbul
Kantin – The Alice Waters of Turkey, in the posh neighborhood of Nisantasi with a menu that changes daily based on seasonal vegetables…need we say more?
Teşvikiye Mh., Akkavak Sk No:30, Istanbul
Balikci Sabahattin – The best seafood and ambiance in the Old Town – go for lunch or dinner, and have the waiter bring you the catch of the day.
Cankurtaran Mh., Seyit Hasan Sk No:50, Fatih
Istanbul Modern – go for brunch, go for lunch, or go for drinks – this retrofitted warehouse right on the Bosphorus serves delicious fare while affording fabulous views (just cross your fingers for a cruise ship-free view!)
Seven Hills Hotel Rooftop Restaurant – Skip the Four Seasons Sultanahmet and head for the rooftop of this small hotel across the street for striking panoramic views of the Old Town and Bosphorus
Tevfikhane Sokak No:122, 34122 Istanbul
Mikla Bar, Marmara Pera Hotel – Breathtaking 360 degree views of the entire city. Come up for drinks, or just to admire the view, and one of the most jaw-dropping pools we’ve ever seen!
Marmara Pera Hotel, Mesrutyiyet Cad. 167-185, Istanbul