With its neoclassical buildings with long balconies, this could be any European capital. But you only need to look at the skyline, decorated with the minarets of the mosques to realise that you are in Istanbul. The windows of designer shops live side-by-side with small teashops where the inhabitants sit down to smoke a ‘shisha’ and watch the people passing by. You can do this at the Malko restaurant and teashop, at a reasonable price in the heart of the historical district. The Sultanahmet district contains the main tourist sites: Hagia Sofia Basilica, the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace… Its walls are like a history book. You are walking through what was formerly Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, later conquered by the Ottoman Empire. Nowadays the real battle is in the Grand Bazaar, where the ability of customers to haggle meets the opposition of the sellers of rugs and souvenirs. The latter nearly always win.
The Spice Bazaar is another place where you can practice your haggling. Your senses are almost overwhelmed by so much stimulation. Intense colours, smells and flavours all crowd together in the two streets occupied by the market. The Bazaar attracts foodie travellers from all over the world. The ever-fashionable gastrotours continue by crossing Galata Bridge in order to reach the market in Karakoy. Here you can buy fresh fish, or eat it at restaurants like Lokanta Maya. This was opened in 2010 as part of the regeneration of the neighbourhood. Its conversion into a hipster destination perhaps has something to do with its nearness to Beyoglu, the trendy district par excellence. The first Bilstore shop was opened there, a concept shop selling designer clothes and accessories and it is here where the art galleries and fashionable cafes are located. SALT Beyoglu and SALT Galata are two of these new meeting places for young people. These are bookshops that hold exhibitions and organise film screenings.
As a contrast to the most cosmopolitan area of the city, we have chosen an oriental and bohemian location to watch the sunset against the skyline of Istanbul. At this time of day, on the Asian side, the Port of Uskudar fills up with tourists and locals who sit on Turkish rugs and prepare their smartphones. Leander’s Tower, floating in the middle of the Bosphorus Strait, is the backdrop to the sunset.
The Asian side is not just popular because of its sunsets. It also wins you over by your stomach. At Ciya Sofrasi, in Kadikoy, traditional Turkish cuisine is the star of the show. The 360 East Moda, the terrace restaurant and nightclub at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel, is the place to rub shoulders with the jet setters of the city. Like the city, this club also has one foot on the Asian side of the Bosphorus and the other in Europe: in Beyoglu you can find its twin club, 360 Istanbul.