East meets West, royal dynasty meets republic, a city that does both day and night with outrageous style. This is a cultural melting pot that looks great and tastes even better. Known as the City of Seven Hills, its sister city is Rome, which probably explains the insane traffic (as well as the competitive sizing). But if you haven’t been, you’re in for a treat. So here is our low-down. Consider this an instalment as we are planning on visiting more than once…
Where to start your day from:
This privately owned hotel is tucked down a side street, a stones throw from the Blue Mosque. An Auree favourite in Istanbul for a handy retreat when exploring Sultanahmed without the starch of some of its rivals. More town house than hotel, there are two roaring fires on the ground floor and you will be surrounded by books and Turkish delight. The Staff will whip up a Turkish Tea or a Glass of Turkish Rouge to pep you up on your return from a hard day on the cobbles. They are also masters of giving you the low-down on the shopping scene, always useful as the key to shopping in Istanbul is to do your research.
Even if you aren’t a member (and we aren’t judging) you can get a room at the natty little hotel SH have built next to their Clubhouse. Polished Concrete Floors and a surprisingly large collection of Country Life Mags. That aside, this is a great position to get into Istanbul’s night life, although be prepared to hop in a taxi to get over for your cultural fix. If you aren’t staying here, blag your way into the club house and upstairs for a cocktail. The barman is divine and leave the choices to him because he will throw you into a Cucumber and Ginger Daze.
Where to eat
If you have been exploring Sultanahmed and need somewhere to escape for some lunch, this is a cosy choice. Open fires and vaulted ceilings keep it snug as a Turkish bug. You will have to navigate your way through a labyrinth of tourist trap restaurants but if a wholesome ceramic pot of something is your thing, they are masters of the traditional Turkish dish.
Perched on top of the Palzazzo Donizetti Hotel in Beyoglu (party central) it has views to make an Eagle or indeed Astronaut feel queasy. In summer the roof comes off this terrace restaurant and bar and in winter you can survey night time Istanbul while wolfing down some Meze and Turkish Wine. Perfect on a Friday night or relaxed Sunday night when the locals will come out to play during tourist silly season. The only compromise is that the waiters can be a bit brusque but that might be the altitude.
A no nonsense seafood restaurant without the frills. Ask any local and they will nod in agreement that this is the real deal and not to be missed. Pick your fish off the ice and it will appear on a plate with the traditional trimming and a salad you won’t have room for. Don’t stock up on nibbles beforehand because you get the whole fish here. Do take the waiters recommendations. And do remember that it’s a steep walk back up the hill afterwards – making that second bottle a definite mistake.
Must Do List
The old quarter, complete with its oriental-fantasy skyline of domes and minarets and narrow cobbled streets will fill your days with fab architecture. Make sure you visit the Topkapi Palace and spend plenty of time in the Harem with tiles that you will want to take home. Visit the Blue Mosque and of course the Hagia Sophia, the Grand Dame of them all. The Basicalla Cistern is also worth a visit to relive some Bond moments.
One thing this won’t be is a chore. Considered one of the most beautiful examples of a Byzantine Church left, the Chora was originally part of a monastery complex outside the walls of Constantinople. While Istanbul has engulfed the street around it, the Mosaics will make you swoon.
Touristy yes. but well worth it. Pop into the Spice Market on your way and pick up some soap for home at the same time. These cruises won’t just get you onto the water, they will give you killer views of the city and you can see all the palaces along the water – the perfect way to pick the one you want.
Shop the Bazaar
It has to be done but don’t hold your breath. Stop off at the Fez bar for a well earnt coffee mid-way.
Taxis | Chestnuts | Museum Pass | Restaurants
- Taxis. Cheap if you stick to the meter. Don’t bother trying to get the seat belt to work – they won’t. Watch your notes as you meet the odd creative accountant. And try and take rank registered taxis – who have a number on their side door.
- Chestnuts. Available on most street corners. Surprisingly disappointing.
- Museum Pass. A bargain if you’re soaking up the culture as it will get you into most joints. It’s not so much the price, but you can skive the queues – Istanbul hasn’t got into guest lists for museums yet.
- Restaurants. Know your locals. You can head to the tourist haunts but your service will be brusque in our experience. Spend a bit of time and do your research and you will find food heaven on earth.