MY FAVORITE CITY BESIDES NEW YORK:
Below is my very brief but very opinionated guide to Istanbul as of January 1, 2020. Let me know if you have any additional questions:
TOP HISTORICAL SITES:
Always double check opening-closing times, as they vary according to season. Most museums close one day a week.
- Topkapi Palace (the original Ottoman Palace). Do not miss the Harem section. It has a separate entry fee but well worth it in terms of understanding the reagents personal lifestyles.
- The Hagia Sophia: very old Byzantine cathedral; later converted to a Mosque, now a museum…., a world-renowned architectural landmark really worth seeing)
- The Blue Mosque (superb tile work). Avoid visiting mid-day on Fidays, as it is prayer time.
- Rustem Pasha Mosque (exquisite Islamic tile art, not on typical guided tours but worthwhile if you love tile and are an art historian; it is my favorite)
- The Byzantine Cisterns (kids love this one, the medusa column is really cool)
- The Kariye Museum, also an old and small Byzantine church with exquisite Byzantine mosaics.
- Dolmabahce Palace (westernized palace, later years)
- The Grand Bazaar (the oldest shopping mall in the world really worth seeing. Tons of jewelry, as you will see the stones and product range from spectacular to mediocre but the handiwork is wonderful). Again, buyer beware. Carpets and leather garments and lots of counterfeit designer goods. It is a fun shopping experience.
- The Spice Bazaar (also called the Egyptian Bazaar) GREAT FUN
- Turkish Baths; for an unforgettable yet different spa experience….you get bathed and scrubbed like a baby.
The Swisshotel has an excellent and authentic Turkish Hammam’s are part of this wonderful Spa complex.
More traditional Baths for the brave:
If you go, get the full scrub and the body massage. You leave with baby skin.
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:
- 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. http://www.beyti.com/en/
- Mikla; Turkey’s answer to a Michelin starred restaurant; wonderful tasting menu and wine pairing. Their selection of Turkish wines is wonderful. Beautiful views to boot. https://www.miklarestaurant.com/en
- Hamdi- kebab house near the spice bazaar; great views from their terrace http://hamdi.com.tr/
- Iskele (fish), just reopened after a fire. Good fresh local fish and Mezze. http://www.rumelihisariiskele.com/
- Borsa (traditional Ottoman cuisine several branches around town). I love the views from their Lutfi Kirdar location. http://www.borsarestaurants.com/
- 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. https://www.pandeli.com.tr/
- Nus-ret, famous Turkish steak house. Expensive and long wait. They have a grand Bazaar location as well. The grand bazaar location does not serve alcohol as it is too close to a mosque. http://www.nusr-et.com.tr/en/home.aspx
- Develi Kebab (meat) Excellent southeastern Turkish cuisine, several branches in townhttp://www.develikebap.com/.
- Kosebasi (kebab House- casual/fine dining also very good-several locations around town) http://www.kosebasi.com/
- Samdan Restaurant; a lovely spot inside the famed Les Ottomans boutique hotel. On the water and a beautiful venue where the beautiful people hang out
- Uus 29 and Sunset; two restaurants in the lovely residential Ulus neighborhood with beautiful Bosphorus views. Fine dining, excellent service. Some nights there is great music. You should not miss at least one. http://www.ulus29.com/ , https://www.sunsetgrillbar.com/
- “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 overpriced. If they are local; they should be endangered. http://www.kiyi.com.tr/
The Turkish wine industry has come a long way. Some labels you can trust are Kavaklidere, Egeo, Doluca etc. There is a great new Champagne called “Yasasin” that I recently tasted and loved. Due to hellish taxes on alcohol imported wine and liquor is ridiculously overpriced.. My advice is to drink local, the Vodka or gin are ok, forget tequila and whisky., or the 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
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.
Apti 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. https://www.sponza.com. I also love “Midnight” boutique’s jewelry room in their fashionable Bebek neighborhood for more fashionable fine jewelry.
My favorite western shopping center is the new Zorlu Shopping center which also has from very high end European to middle level Turkish brands. This mall is also home to the two of the largest and nicest department stores: Beymen & Vakko. My favorite is Vakko; as their in- house designs are the best. https://www.vakko.com/en
GOD FORBID IF YOU NEED IT:
If you get sick head straight to the Admiral Bristol American Hospital; a private hospital with full services, possibly the best one in Istanbul. This is where the better doctors of the city practice. My insurance has always reimbursed me in full afterwards. Liv Hospital in the Ulus district or Acibadem Hospital are also supposed to be very good. Healthcare has come a long way in Turkey.
As they say; when in Rome do as the Romans; HAVE FUN IN ISTANBUL! and please; email me if you want more info! Also let me know how you like my recommendations; I love getting feedback, good or bad. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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