Beneath its inimitable skyline Istanbul is a teeming, triumphant metropolis with imperial history, intrigue and entrepreneurial zeal written into its streets. It’s a city constantly being remade and reimagined, and the resulting sense of opportunity and vigour is palpable. From the domes of its mosques to the frantic pace of its traffic, Istanbul is awe-inspiring, unflinchingly and gregariously urban.

Need to know

Get to grips with the basics

  1. First impressions: On a daily basis both men and women greet each other with a kiss to each cheek; male friends will hug. If you’re invited into a more traditional home you should kiss the hands of the elderly members.
  2. Sharpen your elbows: You’ll notice Istanbullus don’t wait for passengers to alight from the tram before piling on – so just join the hordes wrestling for the door.
  3. Road rage: Official pedestrian crossings are not the norm so be bold and nimble and establish eye contact with drivers as you cross. In areas such as Cihangir the pavements are patchy, potholed or non-existent.
  4. Blown away: Locals have names for the winds that buffet the city: the Lodos, a southwesterly force, can bring balmy warm currents but also treacherous storms. Another wind, the Poyraz, comes across the Black Sea and can be punishingly cold in winter.
  5. Spoons be damned: Never stir a Turkish coffee: there is a thick sediment at the bottom and you’ll end up drinking the sludge.

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Hospitality at its finest

  1. Vault Karakoy, Karakoy

    On-the-money refurb

    Once the headquarters of Credit General Ottoman, this palatial site stood empty for years until it was transformed by architect Han Tumertekin, interior designer Sinan Kafadar and boutique hotelier House Hotel.

  2. Soho House Istanbul, Pera

    Club class

    Rooms feature well-stocked bars, lemons and limes in the fridge and cut-glass shakers and tumblers. All guests can access the club, gym, cinema and two rooftop plunge pools.

  3. Sumahan on the Water, Cengelkoy

    Waterside retreat

    Book a suite with French doors opening onto the garden and enjoy sunset views of the Bosphorus from your bed.


Local lingo

  1. Abi: Brother (friend)
  2. Burada: Here
  3. Havalimani: Airport
  4. Hesap: Bill
  5. Lutfen: Please
  6. Merhaba: Hello
  7. Nerede: Where
  8. Tesekkurler: Thank you
  9. Tele: Turkish lira
  10. Vapur: Ferry

Food and drink

Smart bites and top stops

  1. Meze By Lemon Tree, Pera

    Seasonal star

    A meal here starts at the chiller cabinet, where chef Gencay Ucok takes you through the seasonal dishes on display. He’ll explain everything, from the demographic shifts that brought Black Sea recipes to the city to the history of tea production.

  2. Mikla, Perai

    Room with a view

    Turkish-Finnish chef Mehmet Gurs is a visionary; his tasting menu features staples such as crispy balik ekmek (anchovies in bread) and sutlac (rice pudding) but all made with a twist.

  3. Mandabatmaz, Taksim

    Thick as a brick

    This is the place to come for superior Turkish coffee. Mandabatmaz translates to something like “so thick a water buffalo wouldn’t sink in it” and this refers to the coffee’s smooth texture.

  4. Assk Kahve, Kurucesme

    Walking fuel

    This is a great place to indulge in a long brunch while watching the light bounce off the Bosphorus. Try the classic breakfast plate or avokadolu bruschetta, then walk it off with a stroll down to Bebek.

  5. Unter, Karakoy

    Street party

    Beneath a heavy canopy of grapevines, Unter’s regulars sit at the pedestrianised crossroads of new Karakoy. There are benches in the street for when the space inevitably gets packed.


Shop talk

  1. Mae Zae, Karakoy

    Tempting mishmash

    Within wafting distance of Karakoy’s coffee machines you will discover Mae Zae, a magpie’s nest of eclectic design owned by Munire Alabaz, a woman whose sparkling taste in objects old and new inspired this shop’s launch in 2014.

  2. 290 Square Meters, Galata

    Dutch invasion

    After 13 years in Amsterdam, 290 Square Meters opened its Istanbul outpost in late 2013. Proprietor Ali Isitir picks brands that run from Vancouver-based outerwear maker Arc’teryx Veilance to staples such as apc and Sunspel.

  3. Beymen, Nisantasi

    Elegant retail mecca

    This family-run chain of department stores started as a menswear brand in 1971 and emerged as the city’s most discerning retailer. Today Beymen has eight stores across Istanbul, including an elegant flagship in Nisantasi.

  4. Hamm, Nisantasi and Galatasaray

    Teeming with talent

    Interior architects Idil Ozbek and Muhammet Tasli, both of Id-Istanbul, have filled their shops with democratic and timeless design accessories that are united by an exuberant sense of fun.

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