Things to do in Istanbul

To stay

Edition Hotel – This smart and grand hotel is found in the Levent business district, a little removed from the city centre. Rooms are indulgently large with modern amenities fit for a princess. Be sure to trial the beautiful ESPA underground spa.

Georges Hotel – located in the centre of the buzzy Galata area, this lovely little luxury boutique hotel is discreet and stylish. Breakfast on the sunny rooftop overlooking the sea and city was a highlight, and the thoughtful service is particularly memorable.

To Eat

Lokanta Maya – Housed in a chic dining room this hugely popular neighbourhood restaurant offers flavourful and fresh food made by chef Didem Senol. I recommend choosing a range of smaller plates from the tapas style menu, they are irresistibly tasty.

Kosebasi – This traditional Turkish restaurant has several outlets in Istanbul. Serving juicy grilled meats and fragrant salads it is the perfect place for a light lunch, though the service was a bit lofty when I visited.

Mangerie – The Bebek district is by the sea and is where many of the stylish Turkish ladies lunch. Mangerie is at the top of an unlikely scruffy building, with a view of the Bosphorus and a lovely outdoor terrace. The contemporary menu features delicious sweet and savoury dishes.

Cok Cok – Voted best Ethnic restaurant in Turkey this casual eatery serves delicious authentic Thai food, ideal if you are craving a break from Turkish delicacies.

Kofteci Huseyin – we sampled numerous meatball outlets, this modest café serves the best in town. Costing under £5 a head it is a bargain too!

Karakoy Gulluglu – I’ve never liked baklava, that is until trialling this Turkish institution where all the locals get their sweet fix. These fresh and flaky pastry snacks are a must try in Istanbul.

To Drink

Bar with no name – affectionately known as Alex’s Place, this tiny cocktail place is a hidden secret to the Turkish locals but foreigners flock to try the renowned mixologist, Alex Waldman’s creations. I loved the strong bourbon based ‘God Save the Queen’ drink. Open at 10pm Tuesday –Saturday.

Delicatessen Pera – a lively and atmospheric restaurant and bar in the centre of town, perfect for classic fresh cocktails and a great vibe.

Karabatak – This retro cosy coffee shop is ideal for a catch up with friends. Sit inside amongst the fascinating vintage artefacts, or enjoy the breeze outdoors on the street seating. Karabatak serves the Austrian Julius Meinl coffee, a popular brand in Istanbul.

Fenix – the venue everyone is talking about… Fenix is a sophisticated eatery and bar serving immaculate and exotic cocktails to a gorgeous crowd.

To Do

Grand Bazaar – this chaotic market is a labyrinth of little lanes and sparkling jewelled stalls.  It is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops.

Spice Market – The Egyptian Spice Bazaar in Istanbul has been selling nuts, fruits and spices since 1664. Fragrant and colourful, the mounds of powdered specialities, sweet dates and Turkish delight are as tasty as they look and smell.

Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami – after an intensive seven-year restoration which finished in 2013, this historic Turkish bath is restored back to its former glory. Men and Women have different hours but receive the same treatment. Let the staff scrub you clean and lather you with moisturising soak, you will leave feeling fresher than ever before.

ESPA spa at Edition Hotel –  this extraordinary 20,000 square foot, three-floor ESPA spa offers everything you could need to totally indulge and relax. Opt for a traditional hamam or just enjoy the endless facilities.

Galata Tower – A medieval stone tower in the Galata/Karaköy quarter of Istanbul. Get the lift to the top and admire the 360 views of the city.

To See

Salt Galata – This design haven is a wonderful place to spend time in Istanbul. Now with two venues, SALT explores critical and timely issues in visual and material culture, and cultivates innovative and intriguing exhibitions.

Istanbul Modern – An unmissable contemporary art museum prominently featuring the work of talented Turkish artists.

Pilot Galeri – This hidden, underground gallery aims to be an inter-disciplinary space that supports creative projects. I loved the strange and inquisitive ‘Seeing the Black Panther’ show by Elmas Deniz.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque – is known often as the Blue Mosque because of the azure tiles that adorn the interior walls. This historic mosque in Istanbul was built from 1609 to 1616, and is a magnificent example of religious Turkish architecture.

Suleymaniye Mosque – this Ottoman imperial mosque is located on the Third Hill of Istanbul. It is the largest mosque in the city, and one of the best-known sights of Istanbul.

Dolmabahce Palace – I have never seen such an ornate and lavish building in my entire life. Dolmabahce was built by Sultan Abdulmecid (1839-1861) and remains one of the most spectacular sights to see in Instanbul. Visitors are only allowed round with an accompanying tour guide, who fiercely barked at us as we walked obediently behind her.

Basilica Sistern – Eerie and magical this ancient underground world was a Roman water source held up with 336 marble columns covering 9,800 square metres. Walk through to discover the menacing Medusa stone heads.

To Shop

Yastik by Rifat Ozbek – Yastik means cushion in Turkish, and that is exactly what you find in this wonderful emporium. The beautiful cushions in this shop instantly transport you to a different place and culture: brightly coloured, patterned and lovely to touch they are carefully designed and made to be the finest quality. I would have loved a selection of the mini lavender-filled cushions to scent all my drawers of clothes.

Selda Okutan – This imaginative and inventive jewellery tells a story. Sculptural jewels and tiny figures are Selda’s specialities, though I fell in love with the silver and gold ant brooches that perfectly resemble the little insects!

Fey – This beautiful and eclectic wardrobe-style shop is owned by the long-time General Manager and Publishing Director of Turkish Marie Claire, Fatoş Yalın. The boutique is stocked with one-off vintage gems and a selection of delicate and divine own branded clothes. I particularly loved the handmade silk shirts which are softer than any I have felt before, and look simple but seductive when worn. Fey is a treasure trove to explore and admire.

Kağıthane – This delightful artisan stationery store is filled with intriguing and desirable accessories and paper creations. There are several outlets, I visited the shop in the trendy Karaköy area. A great little place for browsing and picking up souvenirs.

To Escape

Sumahan on the Water – Set sail across the water to the Asian side of Istanbul. This elegant and quiet boutique design hotel has 20 rooms and suites, a lovely open-air restaurant and small spa, all on the waterfront of the Bosphorus.

Lokanta Maya, Istanbul

Lokanta Maya was number one on our list of foodie destinations in Istanbul. We were seated early for dinner at a smart side table in the chic dining room, just in front of an intriguing wall of caged walnuts. Sipping a glass of Turkish Arcadia Sauvignon Blanc, we watched the room gradually fill up, couples out for special occasions surrounding us. There was an air of excitement in the restaurant – guests have the opportunity to dress up here; with very few fine eateries in the city, this is quite a rarity.

I felt particularly drawn to the restaurant when I discovered there is an impressive female at the helm. Owner and chef, Didem Senol launched the restaurant in 2009 in downtown Karakoy and it has been a firm favourite for local and visiting customers since. Combining seasonal ingredients and fresh seafood from the local markets, she creates stylish,clever dishes with a strong Turkish flavour.

The menu is split between a long list of tapas sized dishes, and a more limited selection of larger mains. I recommend choosing a range of the smaller plates, and dine as the Spaniards do with lots to share.

Ultra fresh and delicately battered calamari were crunchy and deliciously seasoned.Spicy shrimp was as delectable as it looked, marinated in a subtle sauce and served on a bed of green sautéed chard.

For vegetable fans there are plenty of great options. Zucchini fritters were my favourite, fried balls of soft creamy courgette with a coriander yoghurt sauce. Samphire with croutons was intriguing, the seaside vegetable dressed in lemon and almonds. For a very traditional dish, order the Kadayif bundles of shredded pastry stuffed with a comforting filling of feta cheese, honey and rosemary.

For dessert opt for something simple like the homemade ice-cream. We tried the unique chocolate and bergamot flavour which was rich and wonderfully smooth.

Lokanta Maya offers a perfectly judged menu which magically combines Mediterranean and Aegean cuisines. With friendly service and exquisite food, it is an innovator on the Istanbul restaurant scene, not to be missed.

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Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami, Istanbul

If you go for one hammam in Istanbul, make sure it is at Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami. This historic Turkish bath was restored to its former glory eighteen months ago. Dating back to the 1580s, this building has a long and intriguing story to tell. Designed originally by Mimar Sinan, it fell into ruin and it wasn’t until 2005 that Ergin Iren saved this special place as a seven year restoration project. The palatial establishment reopened in 2012 and is now pristine and immaculate in its every detail, the design is simple and minimalist and every aspect is luxurious. It was a great pleasure for me to be able to go inside and experience a tradition that is so important in Turkey’s culture.

It is located in the trendy Karakoy district which with many hip cafes and boutiques is a great area to explore. Before the renovation the bath was only open for men to use. They would come after work or prayer in the mosque to cleanse and socialise. Women are no longer deprived of this treat – since reopening there are allocated hours for men and women to visit separately, they receive the same treatment with staff of the same sex.

I immediately felt a sense of serenity when I entered the cool and calm domed building. The pale refined interior has tables and sofas arranged around a central trickling fountain, all to help you to relax and recuperate. First you are brought a glass of homemade plum juice, a sweet, comforting drink made by the owner’s mother I was told. Then you are given a key and instructed to go upstairs where small changing rooms are arranged with everything you need, and lockers for your possessions. Inside the hammam you are dowsed with warm water and left to lie on the central circular warm stone platform, women were sprawled across it in all positions when I visited, I opted for lying on my back and letting the warm humid air fill my lungs and regulate my breathing. After 20 minutes the staff will scrub you clean and lather you with moisturising soap, washing your face and hair with specialist lotions and potions.

After the session you are wrapped in soft clean towels and guided back to the main entrance. Feeling dehydrated, I gulped down a delicious homemade lemonade wonderfully flavoured with lemon zest. I could have slept there for an hour, I felt so completely relaxed and at ease. Leaving this temple-like building to return to the summer heat outside, I realised how soft and supple my skin was. I felt fresher and cleaner than ever before, and my mind felt much clearer. Revitalising and refreshing, I only wish this kind of spa treatment was more readily available in the UK.

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