Istanbul. The fascinating, vibrant, bustling city standing astride two continents, where conservative districts like Fatih, provide a stark contrast to the cosmopolitan culture and designer youth of İstiklâl Caddesi (Independence Street). The economic, cultural, historic and intellectual heart of Turkey is as old as it is diverse, and the result of this is an overwhelming abundance of sightseeing options.
The Leisure Lounge is on hand to help fuel you through packed days of historic sites such as the Basilica Cistern, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace, topped off with the hidden culinary delights and drinking gems of a more intimate city.
Haci Bekir in the Spice Bazaar neighbourhood is the original store opened by Bekir Effendi, the inventor of Turkish Delight (or lokum), in 1777. The historic store may have been renovated since then, but with original marble floors and friendly staff who offer as many free samples of lokum and akide (boiled sweets) as you’d like, this famous landmark will indeed delight (sorry, we couldn’t resist).
Cheese lovers unite! For what the Antre Gourmet Shop lacks in eat-in space, it makes up for in cheese. The delectable deli, located in Cihangir, boasts over 40 varieties of Turkish cheese and over 15 varieties of international cheeses, making it the perfect spot to indulge in a classier than average cheese sandwich, or breakfast continental style, and continue on with your tour of the Asian side of the city. The indulgent selection of products doesn’t end at cheese, either – homemade jams, baklava and appetizers are also available.
The Kybele Hotel, located within walking distance of the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya, is a treasure trove of mystery and charm, a true reflection of the enchanting spirit of Istanbul. With its rainbow façade and ornate, eccentric interior, it offers a wonderful atmosphere for a pre-dinner drink.
Furreyya Galata Balikcisi, a stone’s throw from the Galata Tower, is often touted as the best little fish house in Istanbul. And we mean little. With only five tables and seven bar stools, Furreyya may only offer a basic menu, but the standard of the fresh, in-season fish is exceptional. The balık durum, a tortilla-like wrap filled with grilled fish and caramelised onions, is a particular highlight of their humble offering and guaranteed to provide sustenance for an active afternoon. Alternatively, post-lunch, take a walk across the Galata Bridge and enjoy a relaxing drink and some fascinating people watching at a café positioned on the lower level.
According to the sign on their chalkboard, coffee connoisseurs are welcome at the tiny Istanbul coffee shop, KronotRop. Located off the main pedestrian Istiklal Street (pictured above), it may require some forward planning and a map to find, and only offer seating room for a few people, but this spot offers high quality, on-site roasted, single-origin beans. Celebrate your senses and cure your tiredness for the busy day ahead with artisan brews, iced infusions and gourmet speciality coffee.
Yedi-Sekiz Hasanpaşa Fırını is a delightfully time-defying bakery in the Beşiktaş neighbourhood, home of football club Beşiktaş J.K, where you will be greeted with the eclectic décor of children’s drawings, old newspaper clippings and portraits. Named after a legendary 19th century Beşiktaş guard, the bakery is famous for many products, including acıbadem kurabiyesi, almond cookies and coconut macaroons straight out of the oven. But don’t leave without sampling their vişneli mekik. This oval sponge cake made with almond flour and topped with a sour cherry is one of the best you’ll find in Istanbul, ideal for an afternoon treat.
The Setüstü Tea Garden, an outdoor café in Gülhane Park, offers not only traditional Turkish tea – served with brass samovar, strainer, sugar and cups – but also arguably the best view of the city. Relax, rest your feet away from the hustle and bustle, immerse yourself in the culture and take in the sight of the Bosporus, also known as the Istanbul Strait, which forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia.
The Istanbul you discover may be the one of hidden tombs behind Hagia Sophia, the Valens Aqueduct, boat trips on the Bosporus or the harem at the Topkapi Place. It may be one of cosmopolitan bars, Beyoğlu nightclubs and evenings in Otto Santral…
Wherever your Istanbul adventure may take you, there is one piece of advice that you can all follow: enjoy at least one dinner on a rooftop terrace. You may pay a little more for the view, but watching the sun set over the mosques and hearing the evening call to prayer from up high is a magical experience which will be difficult to top.