ISTANBUL SIGHTSEEING

 
Balat – Share the Objects of famous Photographers

Toward the shores of the Golden Horn — a historic estuary dividing Istanbul’s old city and forming a natural harbor — you will find a rare historic neighborhood away from the bustling city life downtown. The neighborhood of Balat derives its name from its former role as a 15th-century palace, of which Tekfur Palace is all that remains.

For most of its history, Balat was left to its own devices and its mainly working-class residents enjoyed a high degree of self-direction. Some of this liberty continues today: children play street games and women sit on door steps embroidering.

But in the last few years, Balat has been discovered by photographers and television and film producers. At virtually every photography exhibit focusing on Istanbul, you’re guaranteed to see at least one image from Balat — a street dog basking in the sun, children playing hide and seek, locals puffing a cigar at a coffee shop, an old man counting his prayer beads.

Continue your path to the Ayvansaray neighborhood, continuing your way back to history in the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Pass by the Walls of Constantinople and imagine being back in battle time, how these walls were used for protection. Don’t miss the Chora Church, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful surviving examples of a Byzantine church. After having spent time back in history and not only see and feel but also taste the history. Asitane Restaurant is featuring dishes from the kitchens of the royal palaces, food recipes that are old hundred years. Taste what Sultans were privileged to enjoy.

Surrender to the steam in a bathhouse

In life, there aren’t too many opportunities to wander semi naked through a 16th-century Ottoman monument. Unless you visit Istanbul, that is. The city’s world-famous hamams (Turkish baths) offer a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in history, architecture, warm water and soap suds – all at the same time. Many of the imperial mosque complexes include a hamam, and there are innumerable examples of historic neighborhood baths dotted throughout the streets of the Old City – most, alas, now derelict or converted to shopping centers. Exceptions include the famous Cemberlitas Hamamı, built by command of Nur Banu Valide Sultan, wife of Selim the Sot and mother of Murat III; and the Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam, designed by Architect Mimar Sinan.

Join the in-crowd at the city’s amazing art galleries

Socially aspirational İstanbullus know that there’s one foolproof way to build a public profile. All they need to do is build and endow an art gallery, preferably one dedicated to modern art. We can’t explain why the botox-and-bling brigade has recently taken to culture with such alacrity, but this is indeed the case. This trend is the best thing to hit the city since the tulip bulb arrived. First cab off the rank was the Proje4L/Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art in Levent, closely followed by Istanbul Modern in Tophane and the Pera Museum in Beyoglu. All of this is great news for the visitor, who can see world-class exhibitions in drop-dead-gorgeous surrounds complete with stylish gift shops and quality cafes.

Sample the flavors of Istanbul

More than anything else, Istanbul love to eat. Here food is much more than mere fuel. Instead, it’s a celebration of community. Meals unfurl with great ceremony – they are joyful, boisterous and almost inevitably communal. The national cuisine has been refined over centuries and is treated more reverently than any museum collection in the country. That’s not to say it’s fussy, because what differentiates Turkish food from other national noshes is its rustic and honest base. The meze (hors d’oeuvres) you’ll eat will be simple, the kebaps austere, the salads unstructured and the seafood unsauced. Flavors will explode in your mouth because ingredients are used in season.

The country’s best chefs come to Istanbul to perfect their art, and you’ll be able to order a better executed Italian pasta or fiery Thai curry from here. There’s a mind-boggling array of options so the possibilities are endless. As the Turks say, Afi yet olsun! (Good appetite!)

Party through the night at a golden mile superclub

Istanbul’s superclubs are as famous for their tough door staff and wallet-decimating bar prices as they are for their magnificent Bosphorus views. They’re worth it, though. The sybaritic strip between Ortakoy and Kurucesme is home to a clutch of nightclubs that epitomize the word indulgence – here patrons enjoy luxe surrounds, wonderful food, perfectly executed cocktails and a passing parade of Armani-clad businessmen, models on the make, one-hit celebs and local lasses squeezed into diamand decorated jeans so tight their reproductive futures must be in serious danger.

See the world’s most stupendous skyline

Most great cities have a signature skyline view that graces a million postcards – Istanbul has enough of them to fill an entire album. The seven hills of the Old City are crowned with a collection of imperial mosques that offer a visual wham-bam unlike any other. With their delicate minarets, distinctive domes and curvaceous outer casings, they dominate the peninsula’s skyline and provide romantic backdrops for diners at terrace restaurants around Eminonu and Beyoglu.

Listen to world-class performances

In life, there aren’t too many opportunities to hear world-class classical music and opera performed in magnificent Byzantine churches and ornate Ottoman pleasure palaces. The International Istanbul Music Festival (held in June/July each year) is one of them. The biggest event on Istanbul’s cultural calendar, this festival has been enticing locals to its performances for decades and is progressively building an international profile. The main venue is the austerely beautiful Aya Irini, which offers superb acoustics and an overload of atmosphere.