Straddling the Bosporus—and thus the only major city that occupies both Asia and Europe—Istanbul also spans the ancient and modern worlds. The sounds of construction compete with the call of the muezzin, and the skyline, a glittering ribbon of palaces and mosques, is dotted with rooftop nightclubs. The latest culinary trend is resurrecting ancient Ottoman recipes. Asitane serves sultans’ fare like soft, garlicky lamb’s trotter served on toast, and fodula, a beefy stew in puffed bread laced with sage. At Cercis Murat Konaği, on the Asian side, the juicy kubbes—dumplings filled with beef and pignoli—surely began life in China and traveled here along the Silk Road. Galata Kiva, next to the Galata Tower, serves ethnic Anatolian fare such as the rare sirken, a mildly bitter valley green, and fellah köfte, meatless bulgur dumplings steeped in spicy tomato broth. Istanbul’s abundance of crafts can overwhelm, but you’ll find some of the best pottery at Iznik Foundation Tiles, dedicated to reviving early ceramic techniques. The Mehmet Çetinkaya Gallery’s array of rugs is a feast for the eyes, and in a dark, dusty shop in the Grand Bazaar, Polisajci Brothers Antique Show stocks copper bowls, jugs, and pots used in 16th-century kitchens.
Istanbul Affordable Tip: Rent one of the 40 light-splashed Manzara Istanbul apartments, which occupy several different buildings scattered around the Galata, Kabatas, and Cihangir neighborhoods. Renovated by their architect-owners, the units have floor-to-ceiling windows and ample terraces. Rentals from $78 per night, three-night minimum.
Istanbul: World’s Best Scorecard
No. 5 city overall
No. 3 city in Europe