My first visit to Istanbul almost didn’t happen. Thanks to a Siberian snowstorm the long weekend trip, a birthday present from my girlfriend, was massively delayed – to the point of us almost not going at all.
Luckily, the snowstorm moved on – our plane took off – and we arrived in a (somewhat wet) city pulsing with change. Because even if the magnificent Ottoman palaces and mosques remain the city around them is clearly changing at a fast pace. From ancient mighty walls and aqueducts to Apple Stores, the latest fashion and rooftop bars – it’s like the future just landed. To be fair, as a bridge (yes, literally) between East and West, Istanbul has probably always felt this way.
Here are our favourite picks for a long weekend in the city on the Bosphorus:
WHERE TO STAY?
The Four Seasons at the Bosphorus is simply amazing, offering great service and food – all set against a breathtaking backdrop. Another long-time favourite of ours, Soho House, which we’ve written about before in The Journal, opened here in 2014 and offers their customary lodgings. Yep, they have a lovely rooftop pool too. Also check out independent and easy-going The House Hotel in Nisantasi.
WHERE TO EAT?
360istanbul is great for a drink, but we suggest you skip their dinner. The view is amazing, but it all just feels a little too touristy. Instead, head to Topaz, which offers an equally remarkable view – but with great Turkish cuisine to match it. If you, much like Istanbul, can’t get enough of rooftop bars, Leb-i-der-ya is great for an afternoon drink or casual dinner.
Another safe bet is Pera Palace Hotel, Istanbul’s perhaps most iconic hotel, which combines timeless glamour and elegance with genuine Turkish hospitality. We had a great afternoon tea here, resting our legs whilst listening to the live piano and eating sweet baklava.
As burger lovers we (well, my girlfriend wasn’t too thrilled) naturally had to try the local Shake Shack. And even if it wasn’t quite as good as its New York version it did not disappoint – well worth a lunch visit!
WHAT TO DO?
I’m almost tempted to suggest you skip all the classic sights and simply wander the streets of this bustling city. For example, strolling along the Bosphorus around the historic Bebek area is divine – you’ll think you’ve ended up on the French Riviera. On the other hand, the Blue Mosque is a cool experience, and exploring The Hagia Sophia is lovely on a sunny day. The Grand Bazaar was kind of disappointing, packed with cheap shiny plastic things and counterfeit bags, but perhaps worth a visit if you want to enjoy a cup of tea and do some people watching.
If the sun is shining, we suggest you catch a boat ride to Burgazada, the smallest and least-visited island and take a horse and trap to Kalpazankaya Restaurant, a glorious open-air meyhane overlooking the sea. At night, treat yourself to a cold Efes beer at the Tunel neighbourhood of Beyoglu.
If the weather is not so cool, or you’re just tired of walking, check out Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami, one of Istanbul’s many hamams. After your cleansing and revitalising session, you’ll emerge renewed into the beautiful public space, to drink sherbet, or apple tea.