A metropolis with a rich history and constant humming energy, Istanbul is one of the world’s great cities, write the editors of HALI Magazine. They share insider's tips for an unforgettable weekend in Istanbul, from the best bazaars and markets to splendid museums and atmospheric restaurants with views over the Bosphorus strait.
BY HALI MAGAZINE | MARCH 2023
Where to Stay
Çirağan Palace Hotel, Beșiktaș: A beautiful setting by the Bosphorus, with gardens and an infinity pool at the water’s edge. Its suites are in an extravagantly-decorated Ottoman palace, and there are lots of good restaurants and cafes nearby.
Pera Palace Hotel, Beyoğlu: One of the legendary grand old hotels of the Near East, Pera Palace was built in 1892 to serve the Orient Express train service from Europe. Recently restored to its original grandeur, it is evocative of a past era and a short walk to the tram to the Old City.
Four Seasons, Sultan Ahmet: A former Ottoman prison, minutes from the Blue Mosque (see 'magnificent mosques' below). It's in a good location for visiting the old city, and has a central courtyard with a lovely garden restaurant.
Where to Eat
Pandeli: Above the main entrance to the Mısır Çarșı (Egyptian or Spice Bazaar), Eminönü. It's famous for its tiled interior, and is wonderfully cool in hot weather.
Sakıp Sabancı Museum Restaurant: Very good food, and a wonderful spot high up above the Bosphorus, overlooking lovely gardens. Good for lunch.
1924 Istanbul: An Istanbul institution, founded by Russians fleeing the Bolshevik revolution. Serving Turkish food with a Russian twist, great cocktails and live music.
Tugra Restaurant: Located on the first floor and terrace of the historical Ciragan Palace this is fine dining with spectacular views of the Bosphorus.
Where to Shop
Mısır Çarșı: A very photogenic and atmospheric market selling spices, herbs, soaps, scents and essences, dried fruits, sweets, cheeses and more. Pandeli restaurant (see 'where to eat') is above the main entrance, and there's a great flower bazaar next door.
Itfaiye Caddesi: A good local bazaar selling similar products to Mısır Çarșı (above), with much cheaper prices. It's more of a local household market and has several restaurants, and a tea garden with wonderful views under the arches of the Viaduct of Valens.
Kapalı Çarșı (Grand Bazaar): One of the world’s most famous bazaars, selling carpets, textiles old and new, gold, antiques, jewellery, leather - the list is endless. Founded in the 15th century, it's full of wonderful old streets and alleys.
Arasta Bazaar: Behind the Blue Mosque (see 'magnificent mosques' below), this bazaar sells everything from quality antiques to modern decorative items, including costumes. It's fun and colorful, with several good cafés and restaurants.
Mehmet Çetinkaya Gallery and The Columns: Next to each other and both owned by the same antique and textile dealer, Mehmet Çetinkaya, these shops are beside the Blue Mosque. Both sell antique and modern textiles, costumes and carpets, beautiful cushions and modern jewellery.
Bozdağ Carpets: In Pyer Loti Caddesi, near Çemberlitaș tram stop, these are good, knowledgeable old-school carpet dealers who often have important pieces.
Art and Culture
Topkapi Palace: Formerly the grand residence of the sultans, Topkapi Palace includes important collections of the Ottoman arts, including the royal kaftans. It's worth visiting the harem and the Baghdad Kiosk to see the tiles, as well as its superb views. On a lane leading downhill from the first court of Topkapi Palace you'll also discover a shared entrance to the Archaeological Museum and Çinili Kiosk.
Aya Sofya: The great Byzantine church, now a mosque, with the Ottoman sultans’ tombs beside it covered with wonderful Iznik tiles (one ticket allows entry to both).
Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum: A must-visit for its important collection of Ottoman and pre-Ottoman Islamic arts, including early carpets and other fields of Islamic art.
Sadberk Hanım Museum: Its main focus is on Turkish and Ottoman arts, including ancient Anatolian artefacts, but it's also noted for its collections of textiles and Iznik tiles. Housed in two old yalı (waterside mansions) up the Bosphorus, a beautiful setting overlooking the water.
Sakıp Sabancı Museum: In an old hilltop building overlooking the Bosphorus, this museum has a calligraphy collection and good exhibitions. It has a wonderful view through pine trees and an excellent restaurant on the terrace, which is open until late.
Aya Sofya: A magnificent Byzantine former church (see also 'art and culture'), with the tombs of several sultans beside it covered with fine 16th century Iznik tiles.
Blue Mosque: Offically named Sultan Ahmet Camii (Sultan Ahmed Mosque), this Ottoman-era historical imperial mosque is covered in early 17th century tiles.
Sokullu Mehmet Pașa Camii: Behind the Hippodrome, this is a superb mid-16th century mosque with Iznik tiles.
Sülemaniye Camii: One of the great 16th century architectural monuments built by Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. Also visit the tiled tombs of Süleyman (known as Suleiman the Magnificent in the west) and his wife Roxelana in the adjoining cemetery.
Rüstem Pașa Mosque: A mid-16th century gem, with an interior entirely clad in some of the finest Iznik tiles.