Spanning two continents, the ancient city of Istanbul has drawn international travellers for centuries with its shimmering natural beauty, centuries-old architecture and a vibrant mosaic of cafés, clubs, restaurants, galleries and shops. But how can modern adventurers best experience this wonder on the banks of the Bosphorus? We asked the Concierge Team at Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus to share recommendations for what to see and do in Istanbul – from the best district for local shopping to tips for finding the most supreme views of the Bosphorus.
Dining in Istanbul
Photography courtesy of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
The Ulus, Ortakoy and Bebek neighbourhoods are prime locations for restaurants and clubs thanks to the breathtaking views these areas’ venues offer. The Hotel’s Aqua restaurant features a terrace that overlooks the Bosphorus and serves cuisine—contemporary Italian infused with Mediterranean and Turkish flavours—equal to the stunning view. Come for dinner to enjoy the twinkling lights and cool breezes from the Bosphorus, and order a fresh fish dish or the special, which Executive Chef Savaş Aydemir creates daily based on what’s in season.
For a light snack after a day of exploring, YALI Lounge offers an ideal setting for families and friends to enjoy the scenery of the Bosphorus while sampling international items or Turkish flavours. Karaköy Lokantası is a family-owned restaurant that offers great food, personable service and an authentic taste of the city. The mezes here are excellent, and be sure to try the star dish, an Ottoman classic called hünkar beğendi (“sultan’s delight”)—lamb stew served on a bed of roasted eggplant purée.
On Güneşlibahçe Sokak (“Street of the Sunny Garden”) in Kadıköy’s appealing fish market district, Çiya is known for its unusual vegetarian dishes from the region of Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey. Located in Bebek and considered one of the nicest bars in the city, Lucca’s signature cocktails, including the Satsuma Vodka and Brazilian cooler, attract patrons from all over. Zuma, in Istinye Park Shopping
Mall, serves Japanese dishes with views of the Ortakoy Mosque, while diners at Sunset Grill and Bar, in Ulus, enjoy Mediterranean, Turkish and “New Japanese” cuisine.
Experience an 800-year-old tradition with a performance of the Istanbul Dervishes at the Hodjapasha Culture Center at 7:00 pm every day but Mondays and Fridays, March 1–December 31. The traditional dance, named an Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, lasts about an hour and takes place at a site that was established as a Turkish bath more than 500 years ago. Zorlu Center PSM is a world-class showplace for the performing arts, with Broadway and West End musicals, dance, classical music and opera, jazz, and today’s best-known pop artists.
For quiet contemplation of Istanbul’s art, the Pera Museum is a private museum of Ottoman art in the Tepebaşı quarter of the Beyoğlu district. Take a leisurely drive from the Hotel along the Bosphorus to reach The Sakip Sabanci Museum, which showcases fine and calligraphic arts. (A drink or breakfast in Muzedechanga, the museum’s restaurant, is highly recommended.) The three Istanbul Archaeological Museums—the Archaeological Museum, the Ancient Orient Museum and the Tiled Kiosk Museum—are located in the Eminönü district, near Gülhane Park and Topkapı Palace. Explore the country’s naval history at Deniz Muzesi, with a collection of more than 20,000 pieces.
But it’s not just the past that’s on display throughout the city. The impressive Istanbul Museum of Modern Art leads the way in presenting modern and contemporary art to locals and visitors alike, with many smaller galleries, like RAMPA Istanbul, Salt, Arter, Borusan Contemporary, Galeri Nev Istanbul and Galerist, following suit.
For stylish shopping to suit every personality, Istanbul’s Galata district beckons. It’s almost impossible to walk around Galata and not stop to shop. Among the options is Lomography, where travellers can find a lomo camera (perfect for taking experimental shots) in one of several playful colours.
Atelier 55, Arzu Kaprol and Fifth Ave Galata cater to fashion-forward shoppers, whether in search for styles that are edgy, couture or vintage. If your heart is captured by all that glitters, Sevan Bıçakçı, known as “the lord of the rings,” creates pieces that will leave anyone breathless.
For souvenirs, colourful Lunapark sells solely Turkish brands with nostalgic, traditional and humorous products; 290 Square Meters is a diverse concept store from Amsterdam, selling sneakers and quirky lifestyle products; Aponia has become an established favourite for T-shirts featuring alternative graphics. This store is also home to Supermind Coffee, making it an ideal place to take a break and reboot. Want to mix shopping with a bit of authentic Istanbul? Explore the lovely bookshops, cafés and hidden passageways on Istiklal Street.
Out and about
Don’t miss the great outdoors while in the city of seven hills. Take a stroll or a jog along the European shore of the Bosphorus in stylish Bebek village, enjoying the sunlight that shimmers on the water and stopping for breakfast or coffee at Bebek Kahve while relaxing in the shade.
Or drink in the glorious natural beauty of Emirgan Park, a walled urban retreat that is home to ponds, fountains, leafy trees and an annual festival celebrating the city’s traditional flower, the tulip. And in a city defined by its iconic river, a private yacht tour is a must, and also something that the Hotel can arrange for you.
To gaze at the beautiful Bosphorus, savour a cup of coffee at the Maiden’s Tower, located on a small islet between Europe and Asia. Enjoy cocktails at Reina with marvellous views across the river, or an inspiring dinner and vista at Ulus 29. For the loveliest looks at the city, the Pierre Loti café at the hills of the Golden Horn and the Galata Tower between Karaköy/Galata and the lower end of Istiklal Street have the most panoramic views of old Istanbul.
Travelling with the family? The kids will love a visit to Vialand amusement park or Miniatürk, an open-air miniature park with 126 scale models of famous Turkish, Anatolian and Ottoman structures. The Istanbul Toy Museum features 4,000 toys and miniatures from around the world, some of them nearly two centuries old. And little ones can explore watery wonders at the Istanbul Aquarium.
A peaceful respite
Photography courtesy Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
Indulging in a traditional Turkish hammam is a must-try while in Istanbul. Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı is one of the best in the city, and the Hotel’s Spa gives this age-old treat its own distinct flavour with a personalized touch. Want to simply escape for a quiet hour? Lounging at the outdoor swimming pool while watching ships and ferries glide on the Bosphorus provides a relaxing afternoon treat, as does a cocktail on the Hotel terrace. When visiting Istanbul in the summertime, travellers can listen to live jazz on the terrace every Friday and Saturday evening while savouring refreshing breezes.
Istanbul around the clock
Photography D. Karanouh / Thinkstock
Start the perfect day in the city with a delicious buffet-style breakfast on the Hotel terrace, which offers splendid views of the Bosphorus, before booking a private motor yacht from the Concierge to admire up-close the gorgeous waterfront palaces, mosques, private estates and yalıs (waterside mansions) along the shores.
Next, explore the cobbled streets of Old Town, beginning with a walk amid the intoxicating fragrances of the famous Spice Bazaar. Then make a visit to the magnificent Süleymaniye Mosque, which crowns the third of the city’s seven hills.
For a coffee or tea break, head to Ethem Tezçakar Kahveci in Halıcılar Çarşışı Sokak at the Grand Bazaar, where many of the most tempting stores are located. The Nisantasi District, home to trendy boutiques, cafés and restaurants and located just 15 minutes by taxi from the Hotel, is the perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon in the city.
Head to the streets around Sofyali 9 and Nevizade Sokak for dinner. Try Zübeyir Ocakbaşı, where visitors will be able to enjoy excellent mezes and kebaps. After the meal, move on to the Beyoğlu district, the heart of the modern city. Top off your dinner with a cocktail at a glamorous rooftop bar—Mikla, X Bar or Leb-i Derya are three of the best.