With a population of 13 million people, Istanbul is Europe’s biggest city and one of the largest in the world. You could be forgiven for thinking Turkey’s cultural and financial hub was the countries capital city, when in fact it is actually Ankara – with a population less than half.
Istanbul is however the countries heart and is the only city in the world to span across two continents.
Home to more than 20 beaches and pulsing European nightlife it’s no wonder it’s been labelled one of the world’s ‘hippest cities’.
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More than 30 seafood restaurants line the streets of the pedestrian only area of Kumkapi. With the fish market just footsteps away you can guarantee the food is fresh and with so many vendors competing for your business, the prices under control. Yengec restaurant (rumoured to be the areas best) prides itself on its attentive service, lively atmosphere and of course, quality seafood. The menu consists of traditionally themed hot and cold meze (starters) and mains of whole baked fish, lobster, shrimp and crab. Capacity increases over summer as restaurants in the area open up their outdoor dining areas but it’s still a good idea to book.
If opulent surrounds and traditional Turkish cuisine is high on your list of gastronomic priorities then you simply cannot go past the slow cooked lamb with aubergine at the Kohyali Kanyon restaurant. The interior of this fourth generation family restaurant is a well balanced fusion of traditional Turkish and modern design.
A second restaurant Konyali at the Topkapi Palace was created by the family in the 1960s to showcase the regions cuisine, with presidents and British royals dining inside the palatial interior. There’s also a deck with magnificent views which is a memorable spot to dine from during the warmer months. Located at Buyukdere Cad. No:185 K:1 Levent and Topkapi Palace Museum Sultanahmet respectively.
Tucked behind the Blue Mosque, the right of passage Mesale cafe has been drawing tourists for years and is simply too kitsch to miss. Find a spot along one of its cushioned wooden benches and savour Turkey’s national drink, tea. Sample the apple, lemon or sour cherry as you try your hand at the hookah, a large floor based pipe filled with nargileh, a type of tobacco. Be on the lookout for an impromptu Turkish music performance which only adds to the experience.
The Grand Bazaar is the oldest covered market in the world and a must see cultural experience. With more than 4000 stores selling everything from hand painted ceramics, leather and suede to gold, silver, copper and brass you’re sure to find something special. There’s also a great selection of silk and cotton slippers, clothes, cushions and fabric, making it the perfect spot to pick up some light-weight gifts for friends and family at home.
While in the market area, pay a visit to the Spice Bazaar. Walk past hundreds of stalls with baskets filled with earthy colours and fragrances of cooking spice, dried herbs, medicinals and dried fruit – a sensory overload and photographers dream.
For retail therapy of a more serious nature, Istanbul is home to numerous modern shopping centres, including Europe’s largest, Cevahir Mall. With more than 340 stores spanning across four levels it’s a great place to access global brands like Topshop, Zara and Nine West. If you’re a dedicated luxury-brand fan, then Istinye Park is for you.
For those looking to bag a bargain Istanbul is home to almost a dozen outlet shopping malls offering every brand imaginable at up to 70 per cent off.