Istanbul

Overview

From Andrew Harper

Straddling the Bosphorus strait between the Black and Marmara seas, Istanbul is also the historic threshold between Europe and Asia. Turkey’s largest city is a grand, chaotic, ancient and modern conglomeration of paradoxes that blends the features of both continents but retains a flavor uniquely its own.

Istanbul has served as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Its landscape is a palimpsest of these successive reigns. The Hagia Sophia, built as a church by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, was converted to a mosque in the 15th century. Today, it’s a museum, and its marble pillars, lavish mosaics and soaring dome remain a high-water mark of Byzantine architecture and an emblem of this city’s religious and cultural status. Just opposite, the Blue Mosque (above) mirrors some of the Byzantine elements of Sophia’s majesty and blends them with traditional Islamic design. The Topkapi Palace was home to generations of Ottoman emperors; its linked courts display treasures of the kingdom.

Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is a covered labyrinth of thousands of shops offering everything from rugs to rice. The city’s numerous Turkish baths, or hammams, provide relaxing rest stops for ritualized series of steaming and massage. Istanbul’s myriad nightclubs and restaurants provide the city with a 21st-century layer of indulgence and sophistication, while its rich array of museums, alongside living ruins and royal palaces, keep the past alive.

Hotels

All recommended hotels in Istanbul

Istanbul, Portugal
A'jia Hotel
A'jia Hotel

Ten-room, six-suite hotel set in a romantic 19th-century mansion on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus, 40 minutes by taxi from the city center.

Istanbul, Turkey
Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul
Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul

Stylish 313-room hotel incorporating the restored palace of the last Ottoman sultans, on the shores of the Bosphorus.

Four Seasons Istanbul at the Bosphorus
Four Seasons at the Bosphorus

Restored 19th-century palace converted to house 170 bright and airy guest rooms and suites, a quarter of which have views across the sea to the shoreline of Asia.

Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet
Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet

Refined 65-room boutique hotel in the heart of the old city, a short stroll from Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.

Hotel Les Ottomans
Hôtel Les Ottomans

Romantic 10-suite hotel in 1790s mansion with sublime Bosphorus views, 30 minutes from city center. Opulent accommodations combine Ottoman décor with modern amenities.

Park Hyatt Istanbul - Macka Palas
Park Hyatt Istanbul - Maçka Palas

Boutique hotel in the Maçka Palas, a 1922 art deco building in the chic Nişantaşi neighborhood.

Pera Palace Hotel guestroom
Pera Palace Hotel

Storied 115-room grande dame hotel in arty Beyoglu district, wonderfully refurbished to preserve period ambience. Grand public rooms are furnished with magnificent Ottoman and European antiques.

Sumahan On The Water
Sumahan on the Water

Attractive 24-room hotel (11 rooms, 13 suites) in a three-story former raki distillery at the water’s edge on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus.

Dining

All recommended restaurants in Istanbul

Asitane

This light, airy restaurant with a beautiful terrace is felicitously located next to one of Istanbul’s great but relatively unsung sights, the Kariye Museum, a former church with the finest Byzantine mosaics in the world. The kitchen is dedicated to preserving the recipes of the Ottoman Empire. I enjoyed a wonderful variation on dolmas, the grape leaves stuffed with a mix of rice, minced sour cherries, onions and pine nuts cooked in cinnamon-infused olive oil. For my main course, I opted for kirde kebap, sautéed diced lamb and vegetables served on flatbread with yogurt.

Kariye Camii Sokak 6
Istanbul
Turkey
US$60
Changa

Istanbul chefs are embracing new techniques and ingredients and blending them  with the rich traditions of the Turkish kitchen. One of the most notable practitioners is New  Zealand chef Peter Gordon, whose restaurant is ensconced on four floors of a 103-year-old  townhouse. It offers innovations such as a glass ceiling above the kitchen through which  guests can watch chefs create dishes such as a starter of grilled octopus with a spicy sauce of  red miso and nori, and a main course of slow-cooked beef cheeks with Turkish noodles, goat  yogurt and a tangy gremolata sauce.

Siraseviler Caddesi 47
Istanbul
Turkey
US$75
Hamdi

With a prime location near the bustling Spice Bazaar and a wonderful view over  the Bosphorus, this busy restaurant is a great place to sample some of the kebabs that are a  classic of the southeastern Turkish kitchen. The fistikli kebab (ground lamb with pistachios)  is especially delicious.

Tahmis Caddesi Kalçin Sokak No. 17 Eminönü
Istanbul
Turkey
US$45
Hunkar 1950

Located in stylish Nişantaşi, this restaurant specializes in Ottoman cooking  and recalls the days when the empire spread from Bulgaria to Tunisia. Recommended dishes  include yellow lentil soup with croutons and lemon; baked stuffed eggplant and stuffed cabbage  rolls; hünkar beg˘endi (“the sultan’s delight”), a rich lamb stew with eggplant purée; and lamb  shanks with orzo in a light tomato sauce

Mim Kemal Oke Caddesi 21 Nişantaşi
Istanbul 34367
Turkey
US$60
Khorasani

Just a short walk from the Hagia Sophia, this excellent restaurant is known  for its kebabs. Secure a streetside table and begin with a small selection of mezzes. From  among the appealing main courses, consider the outstanding grilled lamb ribs, served with  grilled tomatoes and peppers.

Divanyolu Caddesi, Ticarethane Sokak 39/41
Istanbul
Turkey
US$55
Ulus 29

This romantic hillside restaurant has stunning views of both bridges over the  Bosphorus and is one of the most stylish (and expensive) in Istanbul. Order the Turkish  dishes, including standouts such as grilled octopus with white bean and tomato salad, and  lamb fillet with smoked eggplant, in preference to the more modish fusion offerings on  the menu. It also has one of the best lists of Turkish wines in the city.

Adnan Saygun Caddesi Ulus Parki Ici 71/1
Istanbul 34660
Turkey
US$90