1. Where to Stay
Sleep among the metal sculptures and carved wooden furniture of interior designer Sema Topaloğlu (a “Name to Watch,” per Wallpaper) at Four Floors (from $135), a renovated nineteenth-century townhouse housing four artfully decorated apartments.
Watch the sun sparkling on the Bosporus from your bathtub—set beneath a sea-view window—in room 9 at the A’Jia Hotel (from $350). The 1870s mansion turned boutique hotel has fifteen modernist rooms decked in white linens and purple shag carpets.
Relive the opulence of the Ottoman Empire in the 136-room W Istanbul (from $400), where the former row houses of the nineteenth-century Dolmabahçe Palace are outfitted with marble flooring and colorful quilted ottomans.
2. Where to Eat
Sample dishes from far-flung Turkish villages in a modern setting at Çiya Sofrasi, where Musa Daðdeviren (just profiled in The New Yorker) gathers recipes by cooking with families in their homes. Simply point to what looks good in the bubbling pots, with guidance from the staff (three courses, $20 to $30).
Pile Turkish staples like kaymak (clotted cream and honey), cacik (a thick, tangy yogurt), and a selection of salty cheeses onto one heaping plate ($9) at Van Kahvalti Evi (52A Defterdar Yokuşu, 90-212-293-6437), a crowded, informal brunch spot that serves breakfast specialties all day. Get there early: By noon, a line of young, hung-over Turks snakes down the block.
Dine on lamb, quinces, and chestnuts at Asitane, where 500-year-old recipes from the Topkapı Palace are re-created using only ingredients that existed at the time. The tables are set beneath almond trees in the courtyard.
3. What to Do
Scope out a provocative mash-up of paintings, sculptures, and videos at the Istanbul Modern, where must-see artists include Monica Bonvicini (her Stairway to Hell installation features a staircase enclosed in bullet-shattered glass and chains), filmmaker Kutluğ Ataman, who was short-listed for the Turner Prize in 2004, and Nil Yalter, an Egyptian-born painter whose works challenge women’s traditional roles in the Middle East.
Ogle hulking machinery and contemporary Turkish art at santralistanbul, an early-1900s power plant that now houses an art gallery and a museum. Exhibitions range from politically minded illustrators (Turkey’s Yuksel Arslan) to whimsical photographers (Britain’s Martin Parr), while the adjoining Museum of Energy lets visitors play with switches, dials, and levers on the turbine generators that once powered all of Istanbul.
Dance all night on the outdoor dance floor at 360istanbul, a glass-and-steel lounge atop a nondescript apartment building. (Dress up tonight; shorts don’t cut it at the door.) Order the signature Rakitini cocktail, made with lime, mint liqueur, and a Turkish spirit called raki ($16), and arrive before 8 p.m. to snag a seat on the terrace.
4. Insider’s Tip
Bring home an antique Turkish rug without getting gouged. Tourists can be easy prey for the smooth-talking salesmen at the Grand Bazaar market, as haggling is essential at most shops—save one. At EthniCon, owner Mehmet Gureli cuts antique carpets into square pieces, then hand-stitches them into patchwork designs and charges a flat rate. The smallest rugs start at $200 per square meter. (Ask the shop to arrange shipping home for an extra $50 to 60.)
5. Oddball Day
After a night reveling in Turkish modernity, spend a day in old-school Constantinople. Start at the Galatasaray Hamami, a traditional Turkish bath in Beyoğlu dating back to 1481. Relax on the steamy, heated marble platform beneath the structure’s ancient dome ($33). Next, revive yourself with a cup of strong Turkish tea and a smoke from a nargile, a traditional Turkish water pipe, at any of the dozens of nargile cafés directly behind the Istanbul Modern. In the Ottoman days, opium was the drug of choice; today, it’s flavored tobacco, including apple, strawberry, and lemon. Suck in slowly, just enough to make the water bubble—one hookah lasts one to two hours ($8). Afterward, stroll down Beyoğlu’s pedestrian thoroughfare, Istiklal Caddessi, nibbling traditional treats from the street vendors as you go. Don’t miss specialties like midye dolma, mussels stuffed with rice and pine nuts ($2 to $3), and börek, baked phyllo stuffed with either cheese or minced lamb ($3). Wash it all down with a glass of salep, hot milk mixed with ground orchid roots ($2).
Istanbul Eats is a food blog written by Ansel Mullins, a radio-show host, and Yigal Schleifer, a freelance journalist, focusing on out-of-the-way restaurants.
Scan the official “2010 European Capital of Culture” site for art exhibits, concerts, and films.
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