TOP HISTORICAL SITES:
1. Topkapi Palace (the original Ottoman Palace)
2. The Hagia Sophia (very old Byzantine cathedral; later converted to a Mosque, now a museum...., a world renowned architectural landmark really worth seeing)
3. The Kariye Museum (exquisite Byzantine mosaics)
4. The Blue Mosque (superb tile work)
5. Rustem Pasha Mosque (exquisite Islamic tile art, not on typical guided tours but worthwhile if you love tile and an art historian; otherwise skip it… though it is my favorite)
6. The Byzantine Cisterns (kids love this one, the medusa column is kinda cool)
7. Dolmabahce Palace (westernized palace, later years)
8. The Grand Bazaar (the oldest shopping mall in the world really worth seeing. Tons of jewelry, as you will see the stones are pretty mediocre but the handiwork is wonderful). Carpets and leather garments and lots of counterfeit designer goods; best stay away from them.
9. The Spice Bazaar (also called the Egyptian Bazaar) GREAT FUN Your hotel concierge can help you compile itineraries; as some of them are very close to each other.
Your hotel concierge can arrange for a taxi or reservations; don’t let him talk you into restaurants no one has heard of as they get commissions for booking, just like the tour guides that lead you into shops:
WARNING; ISTANBUL HAS GOTTEN RIDICULOUSLY EXPENSIVE; AND THE LOCALS DON’T EVEN ORDER OFF MENUS; SO FOR FISH IT IS ALWAYS WISE TO ASK THE PRICE BEFOREHAND. REMEMBER FISH IS LUXURY FOOD IN TURKEY; BUT IT IS OOOOOOOOOH SO DELICIOUS AND THE LOCALS INDULGE. Do not get fooled by the décor of a restaurant; some of the most expensive fish places can have a dumpy décor; they rest on the quality of the food they serve and try to take advantage of tourists unfortunately. In meat restaurants; the lamb is delicious; the beef nothing special. The meatballs and tiny lamb chops along with gyro is awesome.
1.Beyti (meat-lamb the best in my opinion, don’t be fooled by their large scale; and their impeccable ottoman décor; the place is a landmark that has maintained its quality, and has been around for at least 45 years if not more) Get the owner to give you a kitchen tour; he is very proud of his kitchen. He is the old bald man that greets you at the door; he raises his own animals in western Turkey. My grandfather used to take me to his old place far out of town when he had a rickety old place with half broken chairs. Mr Beyti has really put his heart and soul into the business.
2. Balikci Sabahattin; not too far from the Topkapi Palace or Hagia Sofia; fabulous fresh fish; herbs and their own homemade olive oil from the owners olive groves in the south- reservations a must. Set in an old Turkish townhouse in the old town; they put tables into the street weather permitting. Excellent fish restaurant; not fancy but great ambiance.
3. Hamdi- kebab house near the spice bazaar; great views from their terrace
4. Iskele (fish)
5. Korfez (fish) on the Asian side; take their complimentary boat; rather than battle the traffic across the bridge.
6. Borsa (traditional Ottoman cuisine several branches around town)
7. Tugra (also traditional Ottoman; very, very expensive but recommended at the Ciragan Palace hotel) a bit stuffy.
8. Pandeli (lunch while you are at the spice bazaar housed in a 16th century building; used to be a businessmen’s lunch hangout, now a bit touristy but a lot of history). You are not forced to eat what they put on the table; but be sure to send it back before touching it. Discuss the food and what you really want before you eat they try to push the food; but it is very good. Stay with the local food; this is not the place for international cuisine. And avoid Caviar or Shellfish; they are expensive tourist traps and not very good; you get better quality caviar in NY.
9. Bebek Balikci (fish)
10. Tike (Kebab House-excellent chain of Kebab at its finest)
11. Kosebasi (kebab House- casual/fine dining also very good-several locations around town)
12. Restaurant 360; Located on the penthouse of a former 1920’s office building in the famous Pera region which was the “it” neighborhood of Istanbul from the turn of the 20th century thru the 50’s; now closed to traffic and enjoying a bit of a revival although the neighborhood can still get a bit seedy at times on weekends. 360 has eclectic cuisine (not what I look for when I am in Turkey) but awesome views of the city at sunset and later.
13. Ulus 29 and Sunset; both in the very fashionable Ulus neighborhood nestled on a hill; both with awesome views of the bosphorous; very fashionable fine dining; NOT TO MISS at least one of them. .
14. Mavi Balik Restaurant.(fish)
15. In the summertime; Sortie and Reina (they change names from time to time). This is not your hometown mall food court; a series of restaurants with a central open air huge bar and dancing starts around midnight. Restaurants change; they have Italian; French; Chinese Japanese; but I prefer to stick to the Kebab house or the Fish; foreign cuisine in turkey is not as great as it is in NYC.
16. Similar concept to the above; also for the summer only: SUADA. A bit more in than the above; restaurants change so have your concierge recommend the latest spot. Again warning: they can get pricey; but then again; something that is a mystery to me: Istanbul is more expensive than New York.
17. "TOPAZ" restaurant calls itself Mediterranean Gourmet; In my opinion it is very updated Turkish; nouvelle take on Turk food for sure; absolutely delightful; fabulous views and very nice but fancy ambiance; a true gourmet paradise; expensive but worth it: Nice wine list; but wine is not my favorite drink in Turkey.
18. "KIYI" a bit far from the center but hands down the best fish in town; also pricey. This place has been around since I was in elementary school at least. An Istanbul institution; still serves the freshest fish. Stay away from lobsters they are not local and extremely pricey. If they are local; they should be endangered.
A word about drinks; try and develop a taste for the local "RAKI". I love to drink RAKI (the local ouzo) but I grew up with it..... It is an acquired taste! The local beer EFES Pilsen is excellent and your best bet on a hot Istanbul day. I recommend reservations; definitely for dinner; Istanbulians love to party. Have your concierge take care of it all.
WESTERN STYLE SHOPPING;
Not unlike London, New York, Paris, LA etc; Istanbul today is a very sophisticated city; and the shopping is fabulous, provided money is no object.
Abdi Ipekci Street, Tesvikiye Street parallel to it; and narrow backstreets around it (Istanbul's Madison ave and Fifth Ave)
Also now very, very chic Istinye Park; (Chanel etc)
A reputable jewelry retailer: Sponza at the lobby of Swisshotel.
God Forbid If You Need It: If you get sick head straight to the Admiral Bristol American Hospital(Nisantasi) or Liv Hospital (Ulus), private hospitals with full services. My insurance has always reimbursed me in full afterwards As they say; when in Rome do as the Romans; HAVE FUN IN ISTANBUL! and please; email me if you want more info!
Lika Behar Behmoaras
LIKA BEHAR COLLECTION