- Modern Ottoman
- Asia-facing Ortakoy
- Haute-design hotel
- Cihangir's hipster hubbub
- Ottoman opulence
- Old-town Cukurcuma
- Contemporary Ottoman
- Banks of the Bosphorus
- Decadent design den
- Sisli’s shopping district
- The Sublime Porte
- City life
- East meets West
Straddling Europe and Asia, Istanbul is the historic crossroads between East and West, a city of minarets and palaces looking resolutely to the future.
Climbing the hills around the Golden Horn and overlooking the beautiful Bosphorus, Istanbul cradles the wonders of the Ottoman and Byzantine empires, from the breathtaking Topkapi Palace where sultans and their harems redefined the word ‘decadence’, to the looming Hagia Sophia – part cathedral, part mosque and totally breathtaking. Today, the indulgent lifestyle once enjoyed only behind closed palace doors is available on every gilded street. Istanbul has some of the coolest bars and clubs – whichever continent you’re standing in – as well as fashion-forward shops and delicious cuisine fit for a sultan himself.
Get the cleanest you’ve been since your mama scrubbed behind your ears back in the day with a soak at a steamy, traditional Turkish hammam. Les Ottomans’ Caudalie Vinothérapie Spa on Muallim Naci Caddesi offers a luxurious, modern take on the Turkish bath, and has couples treatments (0212 359 1500; www.lesottomans.com). Cağaloğlu Hamam near the Grand Bazaar was built almost 300 years ago and is absolutely authentic (0212 522 2424; www.cagalogluhamami.com.tr). If you’re so inclined, you can relax further with a <i>nargile</i> (hubbly-bubbly pipe) at the cafés off Tophane Iskelesi near the Nusretiye mosque.
- Yellow taksis are relatively inexpensive but have the infuriating tendency to refuse to take you somewhere if they can’t face the traffic. During the day, the meter displays gündüz (day rate). From midnight to 6am, the gece (night rate) is in effect, adding 50 per cent to the cost (if the meter is not on, get out and take another taxi). Don’t expect your driver to know where he’s going; ask your hotel to write down the address.
- Tipping culture
- A tip is expected in restaurants, and 10 per cent is standard. If a service charge is included, an additional sum is still expected. Taxi drivers, however, do not expect to be tipped.
- Siesta and fiesta
- Business hours are between 8.30am and 5.30pm, sometimes with a break for lunch. Restaurants get busy from 8pm onwards, and clubs continue until the small hours.
- Packing tips
- Women should pack a long skirt and shawl and men long trousers if you plan on visiting Istanbul’s many mosques (some mosques, such as the Blue Mosque, hand you sheets to wrap around yourself before you enter if you are inappropriately dressed). It gets a bit chilly by the water at night and many restaurants and water taxis have shawls/blankets/wraps; ask for one if you are cold.
- Recommended reads
- The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macauley; Istanbul (Memories and the City) by Orhan Pamuk; Strolling Through Istanbul by John Freely and Hilary Sumner-Boyd.
- Turkish cuisine has a noble heritage, developed over centuries and honed to please the Ottoman sultans; you may have to re-evaluate your opinion of kebabs. The most traditional of Istanbul’s eateries are the taverna-style meyhane, where you can sample tapas-like meze – best moistened with a mouthful or two of Turkey’s fearsomely strong raki; try to get Tekirdag rather than the more ubiquitous Yeni Raki, and remember to water it down as you would Pernod or ouzo. The city also has a burgeoning restaurant scene with excellent fresh fish, and Asian, Armenian and Mediterranean fusion menus, and there’s plenty to tempt the sweet-toothed, from pistachio-packed baklava and kadavif pastries to lokum (Turkish delight) – ideal with a smooth, super-strong Turkish coffee.
- Turkish Lira (TL). US dollars and Euros are also commonly used.
- Dialling codes
- Country for Turkey: 90. Istanbul: (0)212 or (0)216.
- Do go/don't go
- Istanbul is hot and humid in the summer, while winter may even see heavy snowfalls. Spring and autumn definitely see the city at its best, with fine weather and milder temperatures.
Don't go home without...
… having sundown cocktails at Angelique or House Café (both in Ortakoy): get a seat facing the Mecidiye Mosque in time for sunset - amazing views and the evening call to prayer blasting from the mosques' loudspeakers.