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Istanbul City Guide

Make the most of your stay with a room at a musem hotel, slow-cooked lamb kebabs and a visit to Eyüp Sultan Mosque.

Where to Stay  /  Where to Eat and Drink  /  What to Do  /  How to Get Around

Where to Stay

Çirağan Palace

Photo: Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul

Çirağan Palace

For the waterfront vistas

You won’t find better views of the Bosphorus Bridge – or a more beautiful waterfront piazza, complete with heated infinity pool and perfectly manicured courtyard – than at this restored Ottoman Empire palace-turned-hotel. Even better: Water views come with nearly 80 percent of the Baroque-style rooms.

Çiragan Cad. 32, Besiktas 34349, Istanbul, 90-212-326-46-46, kempinski.com

Pera Palace Hotel, Jumeirah

Pera Palace Hotel, Jumeirah

For the storied history

History buffs, rejoice: Not only is this iconic property the oldest in town – it was built in 1895 and has since been given “museum-hotel” status – but the past guest list reads like a who’s who of international celebrities. Grab a drink at the bar where Ernest Hemingway once sat or dine at Agatha restaurant, named after frequent guest Agatha Christie.

Çatma Mescit Mah., Tepebaşı Çamlık Sok. No. 52, Tepebası, Beyoğlu, 90-212-377-4000, jumeirah.com

Hotel Empress Zoe

Hotel Empress Zoe

For the Byzantine history

Located next to the ruins of an 1842 Turkish bathhouse, this boutique hotel in the heart of Sultanahmet is composed of a series of restored townhouses. For a special treat, stay in the penthouse suite decorated in the style of a Turkish pasha’s private quarters, and watch the sun set from your private patio with a glass of wine from the bar downstairs.

Akbiyik Cad No. 10, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, 90-212-518-2504, emzoe.com

Adahan Istanbul

Adahan Istanbul

For the tranquility

Linger over breakfast on the rooftop terrace of this 40-room boutique hotel located in a refurbished apartment building built in 1874. Situated a few meters off bustling Istiklal Street, the hotel is committed to sustainability: Solar thermal collectors help generate hot water and there are no synthetic materials in the guestrooms.

Asmalı Mescit Mah, General Yazgan Sokağı No. 14, Beyoğlu, Istanbul, 90-212-243-8581, adahanistanbul.com

Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet

Photo: Paul Thuysbaert/Four Seasons

Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet

For the courtyard setting

Set in a former prison on a narrow street in the Old City, this hotel hosts Saturday brunches in the inner courtyard, offering guests locally sourced products like naturally fermented yogurts and börek filled with goat and sheep cheeses.

Tevkifhane Sokak No. 1, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, 90-212-402-3000, fourseasons.com

Sumahan on the Water

Sumahan on the Water

For the Asian Influence

Reserve a room at this 19th-century hotel situated on the edge of the Bosphorus for a taste of Istanbul’s Asian side. The family-owned hotel was once an Ottoman distillery that produced the spirits used to make rakı (Turkey’s signature drink).

Çengelköy Mah., Kuleli Cad. No. 51, Istanbul, 90-216-422-8000, sumahan.com

Shangri-La Bosphorus

Shangri-La Bosphorus

For a luxurious getaway

Located on the water’s edge, the Shangri-La Bosphorus lets you take in the ferries, freight ships and fishing boats plying the Bosphorus strait. After a day of city-slicking, wind down with the complimentary 15-minute reflexology massage, followed by a Bosphorus Sling (gin, Luxardo Maraschino, Satsuma and pomegranate juice) in Le Bar.

Sinanpasa Mah, Hayrettin Iskelesi Sok, No.1, Besiktas, Istanbul, 90-212-275-8888, shangri-la.com

Where to Eat and Drink

Naan Bakeshop

Naan Bakeshop

For the handmade bread

This bakery in Moda Kadıköy bakes wholegrain breads and sweets onsite. For lunch, try a Sufii Yumurta sandwich: a slice of sourdough bread topped with hummus, two poached eggs and fried Anatolian sausage.

Caferağa Mah., Moda Cad No. 113, Kadıköy, Istanbul, 90-850-221-7099

Ministry of Coffee (MOC)

For the Aussie-inspired coffee

Co-owned by a Turkish Australian, this shop brings Sydney’s third-wave coffee culture to Nişantaşı. For a sweet treat, try a Cafe Pesca – espresso, vanilla custard, peach slices and syrup sprinkled with chocolate – and a traditional Australian Anzac cookie.

Sakayı Sok No: 4/A, Nişantaşı, Istanbul, 90-212-234-4465, mocistanbul.com

Community Kitchen

For vegan takes on classic cuisine

The owner of this small restaurant in Taksim makes her own seitan to use in vegan alternatives to traditional offerings, such as iskender kebab. Try the seitan-stuffed grape leaves with lemon sauce.

Kumbaracı Yokuşu No. 57A, Beyoğlu, Istanbul, 90-538-503-2736.

Villa Bosphorus

For the fish and rakı

Take the private water taxi to this former Ottoman seaside residence on the Asian side of the city; then step onto the large terrace where locals and tourists dine on grilled octopus and rakı, the white aniseed drink known in Turkey as lion’s milk.

İskele Caddesi No. 18, Beylerbeyi, Üsküdar, Istanbul, 90-216-318-6810

Siirt Şeref Büryan

For the lamb kebabs

Slow-cooked for hours, büryan kebab meat falls off the bone like silk at this casual eatery. Pair your lamb kebab with perde pilav, rice cooked with butter, pine nuts and almonds.

Zeyrek Mah, Itfaiye Cad No. 4, Fatih, Istanbul, 90-212-635-8085, serefburyan.org

Bodrum Manti & Cafe

For the fried manti

This Istanbul mini-chain specializes in mantı, meat filled pastry triangles served with yogurt and chilli sauce. Keep an eye out for the newspaper cutting showing supermodel Kate Moss with her takeout order, proudly displayed on the wall.

Arnavutköy Cadde No. 111, Arnavutköy, Istanbul, 90-212-263-2918, bodrummanti.com.tr

Vefa Bozacisi

For locals-approved boza

This little shop in Fatih sells boza, which is a non-alcoholic fermented millet drink topped with whole chickpeas. (Ask for a dash of cinnamon.)

Vefa Cad. No: 66, Fatih, 90-212-519-49-22, vefa.com.tr

What to Do

Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam

Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam

For the sultry sultan’s spa

No trip to Turkey is complete without a few hours at a hamam. For a one-of-a-kind cleansing and relaxation experience, head to Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam, which was designed and built by Mimar Sinan, the chief architect for sultans during the 16th century.

Cankurtaran Mah. Bab-ı Hümayun Cad. No. 1, Sultanahmet, 90-212-517-3535, ayasofyahamami.com

Rumeli Hisari

Photo: Dennis Jarvis/Creative Commons

Rumeli Hisari

For breakfast with a view

Istanbulers love the waterfront cafés around the Rumeli Hisarı fortress for Turkish breakfast: cheese, honey, clotted cream, olives, scrambled eggs with sucuk and freshly brewed Turkish tea. It’s a tradition.

Yahya Kemal Cad. 42, Yenidogan Mh.

Pandora Bookshop

For Turkophile bookworms

This is the book-lover’s destination for anything ever written about Turkey in English. Along with books on Turkish literature, film and art, find titles covering a wide range of topics, including education and history.

Istiklal Cad., Büyükparmakkapı Sok No. 3, Beyoğlu, Istanbul, 90-212-243-3503, pandora.com.tr

Museum of Innocence

Photo: Innocence Foundation and Refik Anadol

Museum of Innocence

For the novel experience

As you wander through the artsy Beyoğlu district, stop in at the Museum of Innocence, which reflects life according to Turkish author Orhan Pamuk’s novel of the same name. Don’t forget to bring your copy of the book, which grants you free admission.

Çukurcuma Cad., Dalgıç Çıkmazı No. 2, Beyoğlu, 90-212-252-9738, masumiyetmuzesi.org

Yeldeğirmeni Neighbourhood

For the eclectic mix of architecture

A short walk along Iskele Sokak (wharf street) takes you past traditional Turkish konak houses, early 20th-century Italian-style residences and Arts and Crafts movement terrace houses. Spot towering works of art on the sides of apartment buildings, remnants from the area’s annual street art festival, and drop into Café Mu on Karakolhane Caddesi for coffee and a slice of pumpkin cheesecake.


Sadberk Hanim Museum

Photo: Sadberk Hanim Museum Archive

Sadberk Hanim Museum

For the fashion and history

Located near the end of the Bosphorus, this museum originally housed a private collection of Turkish textiles. It has since expanded to include archeological finds and Islamic artifacts, including bindalli, formal velvet gowns worn by Ottoman women for weddings and henna nights.

Büyükdere Piyasa Cad No. 27-29, Sariyer, Istanbul, 90-212-242-3813, sadberkhanimmuzesi.org.tr

Eyüp Sultan Mosque

Photo: A G/Creative Commons

Eyüp Sultan Mosque

For the local customs

Don’t leave Istanbul without visiting the city’s most holy shrine, believed to be the burial place of Ebu Eyüp el-Ensari, the standard-bearer to the Prophet Muhammad. Although the current mosque was built in 1800, the tomb dates back to 1458.

Merkez Mah., Kalenderhane Cad No. 1, Eyüp, Istanbul

How to Get Around

Getting from the Airport

There are several options for shuttles, but Havabus (formerly Havataş), a municipality-run shuttle service, is the most convenient. It runs to and from the airport every half hour to different points in the city for 12 TL per person. Expect travel time of about 45-90 minutes to Taksim, as traffic is unpredictable. A taxi will get you to Taksim for around 50-70 TL depending on the traffic and to Sultanahmet for 35-45 TL.


Public Transportation

The public transportation system provides easy access to most parts of the city. Buses, ferries, the metro, the Marmaray and trams are all covered by one reloadable card called The Istanbulkart, which costs about $2 plus credit. Top up your card at any IETT loading point throughout the city. Single tickets cost $1.40 each.

Take a 20-minute ferry ride between Asia and Europe to avoid the city’s traffic congestion. Locals often rely on bus transport, but time schedules and routes can be confusing for tourists.


Taxis

Taxis are easily hailed anywhere in the city and fares are much cheaper than in the rest of Europe. Minimum fare is about $1.20 and rates hover around $0.75 per kilometre.

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CITY GUIDE     HOTELS     ISTANBUL