Istanbul on Your Terms

Kyle Patrick Long

Split by the mighty Bosphorus, it’s true that no travel article has ever been published about Istanbul without repeatedly mentioning that the city spans two continents, Asia and Europe, and thus holds a unique place in history that bears special relevance.  Just one mention shall suffice here.

With Asia in its focus, per an agreement between China and Turkey’s leaders, 2012 will be known as the year of Chinese culture in Turkey. But don’t let that stop you from visiting the vibrant capital to take in all the historical charm that makes the city so unique.

Sure, a few Chinese art and culture showcases will be hosted around the country, but it’s certainly more to do with the strategy underlying the cooperation. Turkey’s economy is one of the region’s few bright spots and, as every travel brochure points out, acts as the gateway to Europe, making it of extreme importance to Chinese trade.

With prices rising alongside the strong economy, now is the time to take advantage of Istanbul’s lazy cafes, boat cruises, historic (and run-down) Turkish baths, spice markets, acclaimed restaurants and so much more. If you’ve only got a bit of time in the city, we’ve narrowed down some options based on travellers' personal interests.

What to do if you… Want a day of history and culture

Start with a stroll through Topkapi Palace, the sprawling residence for the Ottoman officials for much of their 600 year reign. The grounds offer sweeping river vistas that make it clear why the sultans chose the strategic location. True history buffs must take in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, which is conveniently located right next door and is recognised as one of the world’s largest with more than one million artefacts.

Heading over to see the religious side, the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque are just a short stroll away. The stunning Blue Mosque offers free admission, but has restricted access during prayer times throughout the day. The resplendent Hagia Sophia Museum has an admission fee, which is well worth it for those interested in studying beautiful mosaics and architecture while learning about how Islam and Christianity have coexisted in the region.

Rest your weary feet and body in a traditional hammam, or Turkish bath, and if you’re short on time, it may as well be in a historic setting in Old Town. Cemberlitas Hamami dates back to 1584 and offers a variety of spa treatments, including brusque scrubdowns and rinsing procedures not found on this side of Asia.


 What to do if you… Want food for thought

Within minutes of arriving for a culinary walk hosted by Istanbul Eats, you know it’s going to be a deliciously entertaining day. Through six hours of eating, talking and walking through back alleys and neighbourhoods most visitors will never see, the range of Istanbul’s culinary traditions becomes clear.

From street-side grillers making sweetbread sausage sandwiches to fresh pide and baklava at candy shops, there's a bit for everyone. We sipped several deep, rich Turkish coffees while resting, as our exuberant guide Angelis put the city’s food scene on the pedestal it so surely deserves.


What to do if you… Are looking for a unique experience

Every traveller wants to feel like they aren’t just doing ‘tourist’ things, and that they’re really off the proverbial beaten path. Thanks to Vayable, it’s never been easier to actually hang out with an affable local for an affordable, low-key travel experience that can’t be found in guidebooks (or even gleaned from trusty Talk articles).

Everything from a ‘Hookah and Views’ walk that leads to some back alley gems and gorgeous city panoramas to nightlife guides, art history tours and a Jewish Heritage day trip are available. Take advantage of low prices (most experiences start around RMB 250) and a knowledgeable local’s unique perspective.


What to do if you… Can’t get to Turkey this year

Have no fear! China will host the Turkey culture year in 2013, which is sure to bring a few highlights of the country to Shanghai, Beijing and beyond.

Where to Stay

The W Istanbul is literally the hippest address in town. The anchor of a redevelopment that transformed row houses built by Sultan Abdulaziz in the 1870s to house his palace workers, the W Hotel impeccably fuses decadent neoclassical Turkish design elements with effortless style.

Five different mood light settings, luxurious beds and a huge bathroom shower fit for Ataturk himself await hotel guests, although not everyone is here to spend the night. The W Lounge attracts a very chic crowd nightly and plays host to beat-heavy monthly theme parties, while the charming neighbourhood takes advantage of the hotel’s two main restaurants, Minyon and the recently relaunched Okka.

Try Okka to get a friendly starter to the wide variety of traditional cold Turkish appetisers and an education on a huge selection of raki, the traditional anise-flavoured liquour. W staff are on hand to pick a brand and flavour that will suit your sensibilities and meal, just as a wine pairing sommelier would.

For the month of March, weekend rates start at RMB 1,660 per night. 

Getting There: At press time, direct flights could be found on Ctrip through Turkish Air in March for RMB 6,600 including tax.  Web:

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