48 in Istanbul
Seeing a city at exactly the right crossroads of old and new is a well-timed thing. Istanbul is at this juncture which is why now is the time to go. Forget guide books, print this out and tuck it in your pocket. ~ Syl
p.s. As always at the bottom are our most recent reviews. Hix, Cha Cha Moon in London, L2O in Chicago, Foxtail in LA, Elettaria, Smith’s, Scarpetta in NY, Ambassador in SF, Florida Room in Miami are just a few that have made the cut for the site lately.
The W Hotels recently opened their first European property here in the former Constantinople, the city that was once the seat of the Ottoman emperors. Bifurcated by the Bosphorus river, Istanbul both physically and metaphorically straddles Europe and Asia. Socialites and students in skinny jeans from the local TopShop cross paths with older women in khimārs, Starbucks serves Turkish coffees while mosques chant out five times day for prayer.
The hotel is in Besiktas which is the Northeasterly corner of the Europe side of Istanbul and is the redevelopment of the triangular set of landmark Akaretler Row Houses designed under Sultan Abdulaziz in 1875 for leading Aghas of the Dolmabahce Palace. Appropriate for a place they put shops such as Chloe, Lanvin, Vertu, Bottega Veneta, and Etro
Prior to the W, the only game in town was the Four Seasons (noted for formerly being a prison with great rooftop views of Sultanmehmet where Aya Sofya and Topkapi Palace are.) However the W is the newest spot, by definition making it the hippest, but licensed to a local developer, it is a five star jewel in the W family, superbly executed with Turkish touches such as the Can Erik plums, trays of nuts, Turkish delight and Turkish wines and private decks for each room.
Suleyman Seba Caddesi #22
90 212 381 2121
Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi)
Take a hotel taksi (experienced travellers may feel comfortable tramming it to the Old City), there's really three things you want here: earthenware, earrings and carpets. Four tiny sauce bowls with whirling dervishes will set you back a mere 20 Turkish lira ($18). A star shaped serving dish, hand-drawn art or a pair of handmade gold moon and seed pearl earrings around 50 YTL ($40) Closed Sundays.
Spice market (Misir Carsisi)
For Turkish delight, curries, a copper Turkish coffee maker, nuts, cheeses dried figs, and our favourite. Pictured on the right here.
The big shopping street, other than Baghdad Street on the Asian side of the city. Stores are heavily British, so you'll find a Monsoon, Accessorize, Topshop but also bookshops, galleries and small eateries.
Inside the Grand Bazaar is a small coffee house Besesten with divine Turkish coffee and great baklava (they also serve a simple lunch of salads and sandwiches.)
Lunch at the Kucuk Ev restaurant. Close to main sites of Sultanahamet, climb to the fourth floor enclosed roof for the views of the Blue Mosque. Stand facing the Aya Sofya, street is across the road on your left, parallel to Divan Yolu street. Mezze, eggplant, tomato tapenade, whitefish salad, cucumbers, and a stuffed veggie plate, so forth.
Incili Cavus Sk # 21 Sultanahamet.
Istanbul is about to undergo a restaurant revolution, much as London did in the 90s, big chefs are discovering the various fruits and vegetables native to this area, from using raki (a local liquor made of aniseed) to nettles.
The people behind the Konyali restaurant (stunning outdoor terrace on the Topkapi grounds that overlook the Bosphorus) opened this spot in Besiktas. Go for the unusual dishes, nettle soup or sour cherries wrapped in grape leaves or more traditional such as grilled fennel done with lamb meatballs. About 55 YTL per person.
Suleyman Seba Caddesi #46
90 212 227 4243
You can’t miss dinner at the new Spice Market inside the W. Their house drink is with raki made into a mojito. Amazing chicken samosas with a cilantro yoghurt and black pepper shrimp with ‘sun dried’ pineapple, this is the spot to see, be seen, and impress your dates.
A great dance floor withan outdoor terrace.
Muallim Naci Caddesi Salhane Sokak #5 Ortaköy
90 212 3272844
Make a reservation for this mega-club, it's a bit like the Turkish version of Ibiza, complete with views and door policies.
Muallim Naci Caddesi #10 Ortaköy
90 212 259 5919
Winning more design awards that we can imagine, this can't be missed stunning restaurant and bar near Galatasaray Lisesi.
Istiklal Caddesi 32/309 Beyoglu
90 212 251 1042
Across the Bosphorus on the Asian side, this one's the celeb hangout.
Adnan Saygun Cad, Ulus Parki Içi #1, Ulus
90 212 358 2929
Topkapi Palace. Home to Selim the Sot who drowned after downing too much champers, Roxelana, the evil companion of Suleyman the Magnificent and Ibrahim the Mad (legend has it he drowned the 280 in his harem by throwing them in the river in sacks when he tired of them), this was the Imperial residence of the Ottoman Sultans. The two highlights are the gardens surrounding the palace and also the royal jewels. Giant emeralds the size of a fist.
I personally like the Dolmabahce Palace best, which was where the royal seat moved after Topkapi. By this point the open plan gardens were abandoned in favour of brick buildings.The can’t miss is the pink “Girls are here!” Serai, the harem. Schedule time for this as it is a 35 minute guide tour only offered at odd times each hour. Also see the aviary which houses a magnificent collection of birds.
Aya Sofya. Before midnight on May 28, 1453 Emperor Constantine XI entered this Christian church then called the Haghia Sophia, fell to his knees and prayed. The Ottoman army fell the following day and Constantine died fighting on the city walls. His successor, Mehmet the Conqueror, just 21 years old, came immediately to this building, fell in prayer, cleansed it of Christian artifacts, and renamed it the Aya Sofya Camii. If St Petersburg had not been built, this would be the most famous basilica in the world. A must- see for its grandeur regardless of your stance on religion.
Across the street is the Blue Mosque. One of apparently 3000 (!) mosques in Istanbul, this one is a 17th century Ottoman Mosque, being the only one in the world with six minarets. Wear socks as you will need to remove your shoes. Ladies, bring a scarf to cover your head.
If you have time, have the W arrange a cruise, see the Sea of Marmara and travel to Buyukada, the largest of the Princes' Islands. Not only are their tons of oil barges on The Bosphorus, but if you cross it, you go from Europe into Asia where the rest of Turkey is huge. It borders Syria, Iraq and Iran. Our driver pointed out the station that takes someone straight to Baghdad. Yikes.
Lastly but Not Leastly
A Plea for Earthquake Victims
We are lucky at HipGuide where we write constantly about luxury. But in truth there but for the grace of Mother Nature. So please consider making a donation to help the 10 million people made homeless in one moment, many of whom have lost their only child, or all their family in China. We are one big family as we know from 9-11. Help put a roof over their heads, water in their hands and food in their mouths tonight.