Located between the two continents Asia and Europe, Istanbul is blessed with an abundance of wonderful tourist attractions, amazing architecture and a fascinating history. Here are some top tips for anyone looking to explore this ancient city.
Stay at Jumeirah Pera Palace Hotel and book the exclusive 125th anniversary offer. This is available until 31 May 2017 and includes accommodation in a Deluxe Pera View Room, breakfast for two at Agatha Restaurant, the 125th Year Degustation Menu for two at Belle Epoque a Pasha Restaurant and spa discounts. You can then explore this wonderful city at your leisure.
The Blue Mosque
Named the Blue Mosque due to the colour of the tiles which can be found on the walls of the interior, the Ottoman inspired Blue Mosque (or Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish) was built between 1609 and 1616. Designed by the architect, Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa, the mosque combines Byzantine Christian elements and traditional Islamic architecture. It is one of the last great mosques of the classical period. Like many others, the Blue Mosque comprises a tomb of the founder and today it has become a popular tourist attraction in Istanbul. It is still an active mosque and is closed to non-worshippers during the five daily prayers. It’s advised to dress modestly.
Sail down the Bosphorus
If you only have a few days in Istanbul and you know you won’t be able to cover all of the main attractions, taking a cruise down the Bosphorus is a great way to get a glimpse of Istanbul’s main points of interest. You’ll pass the Dolmabahçe Palace, the Rumeli Ruins, the Maiden’s Tower, many mosques, mansions and gardens along the way.
Hagia Sophia translates to ‘holy wisdom’ and began life as a church, later became a mosque and is now a museum. The domed monument was built in the sixth century AD and is regarded as an architectural beauty, reminiscent of both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. During the winter the Hagia Sophia is open from 9am – 5pm and during the summer, visiting hours are between 9am and 7pm. Passes are available at the box office in the museum.
Once a royal residence, now a museum, the Topkapı Palace is a large palace in Istanbul which was once used by the Ottoman Sultans as their main residence. It’s now a major tourist attraction and visitors can admire its Middle Eastern architecture and many opulent features as they learn about the palace’s fascinating history. During the 400 hundred years of reign at Topkapi, each sultan added a new section to the palace which explains why there’s a maze of buildings centered around a series of courtyards.
Test your bargaining skills at the Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar which translates to covered market, is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. It comprises 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops which attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors each day. The Grand Bazaar can be found inside the walled city of Istanbul and can easily be reached from Sultanahmet and Sirkeci by tram. Shoppers can spend a day at its many stalls which sell everything from jewellery to ceramics and carpets to antiques. The Grand Bazaar has been an important trading centre since 1461.
Visit the Spice Bazaar
This is the second largest covered market after the Grand Bazaar. Here you’ll be able to pick up spices, nuts, dried fruit, Turkish coffee, loose leaf tea and some delicious Turkish delight!
The Princes’ Islands
The Princes’ Islands or just ‘the islands,’ refers to a cluster of nine islands which lie off the Asian shores of Istanbul. The islands are named this because during the Byzantine and early Ottoman period, members of dynasties who fell out of favour were often sent into exile there. Today it is a popular place for families and couples to visit on the weekends, and the only form of transportation is horse and cart – very romantic.
Drink Turkish tea
While in Istanbul you must try the Turkish tea served in a tulip-shaped glass. Turkish tea is prepared in an unsual way using a teapot that has two levels: one to boil the water, and the other to brew the tea. You then pour the tea into the glass and dilute it with the hot water so that it’s made to your taste.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with baklava
The Turks really know what they are doing when it comes to sweets. Baklava is made with layers of pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey. Forget the scones and clotted cream, this is what you need at tea time!
High Tea at the Kubbeli Lounge
The Kubbeli Saloon Lounge was the first venue to serve traditional high tea with Christofle silverware in Turkey. Today, high tea at Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah is still the talk of the town and is constantly buzzing with Istanbul’s elites. Every day from 3 – 6pm, the heart of the hotel welcomes guests under its majestic structure to experience the traditional afternoon tea. Accompanied by the tunes of the pianist, guests are served exquisite teas and delicacies with 120-year-old silver tea sets and the Italian porcelain of Richard Ginori. Afterwards why not visit the Pera Museum across the road?
Ferahfeza is the place to go for a regular night out. It’s located in Main Street off Karaköy on a roof top. Ferahfeza’s menu offers different cuisines served by a team of friendly staff.
Meze is a small restaurant across the road from Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah. It features a number of highly unusual Aegean herbs that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else in Istanbul. These delicacies are served in a traditional way with olive oil as cold mezes. The Aegean is also the inspiration for many of the hot starters, while the short mains menu features seafood and fish.
360 Istanbul offers an artful combination cuising, enterntainment, vibe and ambiance. The creative food and beverage menu comprises the highest standards of quality coupled by a wonderful view over the old city and the Golden Horn.
Nardis Jazz Club is located in Beyoğlu and features live jazz during the week from 9.30pm – 12.30am and from 11.30pm – 1.30am on weekends. Interpretations of jazz include classic, modern, fusion, mainstream and ethnic as well as solo artists. The club provides a stage for concerts in a club atmosphere.
Kantin can be found in Nişantaşı and has a constantly updated menu of modern flavours from all cuisines led by a female chef. In short, prepare for well-executed, tasty dishes and a good atmosphere.
Gaspar is located in Karaköy and is set over two-floors inside a beautiful renovated neoclassical building. There’s plenty of room to dance and the bar area greets guests as soon as they walk in through the French doors. Upstairs is a lounge area with windows that are always open for those who want to watch the crowd below. Expect loud house music on weekend nights. An international menu is also available for lunch and dinner in addition to the French cuisine.
Kandilli Suna’s restaurant is located along the shores of the Bosphorus on the Asian side in an intimate outdoor setting. This small fisherman restaurant offers mainly seafood meze and fish. You can cross the Bosporus from Bebek boat station in 15 minutes. Keep a look out for the seagulls, wooden houses and stunning views of the European side of the city. Enjoy a late lunch and stay till sunset to enjoy the scene while having your cup of Turkish coffee.
Sunset restaurant is a popular choice for fine cuisine. Here you can find international flavours, a decent selection of sushi, quality service and an impeccable view in Etiler Ulus.
And finally, if the illuminated collection of manuscripts on display at Sabanci Museum is not reason enough to head up to the neighbourhood of Emirgan by the Bosphorus, Müzedechanga, located inside the museum, certainly is. Though more subdued than the trendier branch of the restaurant in Taksim, a meal at Müzedachanga always feels like a special occasion. The brainchild of Kiwi chef Peter Gordon, this is a top address for creative spins on Mediterranean cuisine. It offers an elegant setting with spectacular views of the water from the terrace.
To make a reservation at Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah click here.