How to take a World’s Best trip to Istanbul.
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
Asitane 6 Kariye Camii Sk., Edirnekapi; 90-212/635-7997; asitanerestaurant.com; dinner for two $84.
Cercis Murat Konaği 22 Yazmaci Tahir Sk., Suadiye; 90-216/410-9222; cercismurat.com; dinner for two $64.
Galata Kiva 4 Galata Tower Square, Beyoğlu; 90-212/292-9898; galatakivahan.com; dinner for two $45.
Iznik Foundation Tiles 7 Öksüz Çocuk Sk., Kuruçesme; 90-212/287-3243; iznik.com.
Mehmet Çetinkaya Gallery Küçük Ayasofya Cad., 7 Tavukhane Sk., Sultanahmet; 90-212/517-6808; cetinkayagallery.com.
Polisajci Brothers Antique Show 37-39 Yaglikcilar Sk., Ic Cebeci Han; 90-212/526-1831.
Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet
Set in the heart of Sultanahmet—a few minutes' walk from Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapı Palace—this property’s century-old Neoclassical building and manicured garden courtyard have hosted hotel guests since 1996. (In its earlier incarnation—as the city’s most famous prison—it was home to longer-term “visitors,” such as dissident poet Nazım Hikmet.) The 65 plush guest rooms here, though outfitted in traditional Four Seasons fashion (genteel wood antique repros, damask upholstery, plush wall-to-wall carpet), are greatly enhanced by the building’s graceful architecture, which incorporates vaulted ceilings and arched windows. Though there’s no swimming pool, the roof terrace, with views across the Sea of Marmara, is lovely in the summertime.
Manzara means “view,” and that’s just what you’ll get at most of these 50 short-term-rental apartments, which occupy several different buildings scattered around Galata and Cihangir. Turkish-German architect and painter Erdoğan Altındış personally renovated each of the light-splashed apartments, and the majority have floor-to-ceiling windows and ample terraces with spectacular vistas over the city. The décor in all tends toward minimalist-chic, but there are distinctively Turkish design elements throughout (woven textiles, blue handblown-glass vessels, and carved wood tables and chests). Though each has a fully equipped kitchen, Erdoğan serves breakfast to guests at the Manzara Evde Café near the Galata Tower, where he also hosts lectures, film screenings, exhibitions, and small concerts.