Istanbul is the only city in the world with a foot in both Europe and Asia. We traveled to this ancient trade hub to source gorgeous vintage suzani embroideries and kilim rugs (and to start cooking up some lush towels to add to our line). We found a bustling modern metropolis with a swank evening scene and striking architecture. Once the capital of the Byzantium, Constantinople, and Ottoman Empires, this city on the Bosphorus is filled with history and enchanting rooftop views of mosques and minarets. In addition to our guide below, read Istanbul travel tips from Christina on Condé Nast Traveler.
GO in September. The city is still warm, but not too hot and the peak tourist season is over. It’s also a great time of year to pop to Cappadocia for a hot air balloon ride, Ephesus for mind-blowing history sites, and Bodrum for the most memorable swim in the Aegean Sea.
STAY at 10 Karaköy in the hip Karaköy neighborhood, just across the Galata Bridge from the old city, in easy walking distance to the sites and shops we love. For those willing to spend a bit more, there are two Four Seasons. The Four Seasons Bosphorus has beautiful water-front views and a fabulous hamam. That said, we’re more likely to opt for the Four Seasons Sultanahmet for it’s central location (traffic in Istanbul is terrible, terrible) and interesting history – a neoclassical prison converted into a luxury hotel.
EAT classic mezze for lunch! These are small Turkish dishes with bread that are meant to be appetizers, but can easily be shared as a meal. Mangerie in Bebek is a favorite lunch or brunch spot on the top of an apartment with great views. Try Karaköy Lokantasi, a colorfully tiled restaurant with noteworthy Ottoman cuisine. Finally, make it to Milka for delicious local fusion food and stunning city views.
PACK cute and comfortable walking shoes – something along the lines of these Ancient Greek Sandals. Be sure to bring a scarf that can be used to cover your shoulders. We love this Hermès piece because of it’s Byzantine-inspired design that reminds us of the beautiful blue tile around Turkey. Note that Istanbul is a delightful modern mix of fully-covered and scantily clad women. The only time you need to consider hiding your shoulders and knees is stops in the Mosques. It’s also worth bringing along any item with an evil eye motif – such as this this bracelet – to ward off bad spirits on your travels Turkish-style.
SEE the Hagia Sofia. Mind blowing! This ancient church-turned-Mosque is characteristic of the history of the place, showing off both Byzantine and Ottoman empire architectural styles and the amazing mix of Christian and Muslim cultural history. Next door, Topkapi Palace and Blue Mosque are also don’t-miss sites.
SHOP the Grand Bazaar for fine jewelry (perhaps another piece with an evil eye motif?) and vintage textiles. There’s a real range of shops here, so be picky and prepared to bargain. The Arasta Bazaar, not far from the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque, is a small market with less of a crowd where you can find beautiful organic cotton and linen Turkish towels, among other goods. We always swing by the Spice Bazaar for saffron, Turkish Delight, pistachio nuts (the best in the world!), and jasmine tea. If you make it to the lovely neighborhood of Bebek, it is also worth a visit to the historic Bebek Badem Ezemcisi to pick up their famous almond and pistachio paste.
READ Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Ok, so this book is not really about Turkey. That said, it starts in Istanbul and it’s a fun, suspenseful read on the long flight there and home. We’re not reading much while we’re in Istanbul because there is too much to see during the day, and our evenings are filled with rooftop dinners and other exciting nightlife.
The Galata Bridge at night
The Hagia Sophia
Inside the magical Hagia Sophia
The Blue Mosque
Prayers in the Blue Mosque
The main entrance to the Grand Bazaar
Perusing shops in the Grand Bazaar
Sipping apple tea while shopping
A wall of vintage treasures
I’ll take that one!
A demonstration of the difference between synthetic and non-synthetic materials
Playing dress up!
Checking out Turkish towels
The bustling street walk between the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar
Fishing on the bridge
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