City Guides

Istanbul City Guide

Imagine 3000 years of history nuzzled into a cosmopolitan cityscape; one that’s known for its alluring bazaars, spice-scented streets, and enticing seaside views. It’s a dreamy image, a blend between charm and enchantment, which comes to life when visiting Istanbul, Turkey. Located between Europe and Asia, Istanbul is a top contender amongst other world cities due to its blend of antiquity, cuisine, and charisma. Forever charming visitors with hole-in-the-wall lamp shops, cobblestone roadways, street cart vendors, and a vibrant ambiance, it’s no surprise Istanbul is one of the world’s biggest tourism destinations.

Guiding others through Istanbul, though, is a bit of a tricky endeavor—it’s tough to fully navigate its colossal wealth of history, culture, cuisine, and accurately explain how it somehow manages to marry a hipster aesthetic with a regal Middle Eastern ambiance. Istanbul, radiating fantasy, romance, and magic around every corner, offers a love affair between old and new; vibrant, yet mystic, it continues to stand confidently as each generation passes tumultuously by. 

WEATHER

Istanbul can get very hot and humid in the summer and surprisingly cold during winter months.  It is best go in early spring where the weather averages 27°C /80°F. Summer months will hit upwards of 30°C /20°F and will dip starting September to around 25°C /77° F. 

LAY OF THE LAND

Gentlemen, pay great attention here. Istanbul has a population of over 15 million people: things can get a little crowded and it’s easy to get lost in the maze of it all. First things first, Istanbul is divided by two continents and you will hear this a lot. There is a both a European and Asian side of the city and guests will need to either travel by ferry or via a very busy bridge. Save time and get a better experience by taking a ferry. The European side is home to Old Istanbul, where you can find all things ancient. It’s recommended you get a hotel on this side to make things simpler. The Asian side, though, is trendy too and you can find cool spots, great restaurants and unique shopping. Istanbul also has a new airport – Istanbul New Airport (IST) and it’s quite far from the city centre. It will take approximately an hour by taxi but there is an option to take an airport shuttle bus as well. 

THE BOSPHORUS
A lengthy waterway that flows throughout northwestern Turkey; significant in that it divides Europe and Asia. Stunning views and iconic 5 star hotels are found along here. You can get boat cruises at night or simply take a ferry throughout the day. 

FATIH
A well known district on the European side of Istanbul.Best known as the modern site of old Constantinople, which was the capital of the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires. Home to many historic must-see sites: Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque), and the Walls of Constantinople to name a few. You can find tons of shops, dining establishments, and culture here. 

BESIKTAS
One of the older districts in Istanbul, known for being trendy and along the Bosphorus. There are tons of waterfront restaurants and cafes in the area. There are many higher end hotels in the area with entertainment nearby. Head here also to catch a ferry to the Asian side of the city. 

NISANTASI
Upscale area that is known for trendy restaurants, luxury designer boutiques as well as European-style cafes or restaurants. This is the Champs-Élysées of Istanbul.

TAKSIM/BEYOGLU
Bustling with shops, bars, cafes, and a good sum of the local nightlife. It is known for its cosmopolitan ambiance, bakeries, and European feel.

BAGDAT CADDESI (AVENUE)
A distinguished area on the Asian (Anatolian) side of Istanbul that has a wide variety of restaurants, cafes, and department stores. 

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Head to Istanbul any time between late March and early October. Peak tourist season is in the summer months – June to August – where weather can be sticky, local prices high and crowds more overwhelming. Summer months average 26°C and are typically humid and can get uncomfortable. Crowds are more manageable between March and May as well as September to October. 

STAY

FOUR SEASONS HOTEL, BOSPHORUS

The Bosphorus location of the Four Seasons Hotel does not disappoint. Located in a now converted palace, guests can expect regal architecture, 18th-century engravings, a 190-metre waterfront terrace, and service fit for a royal. Enjoy the hand-painted ceilings, marble décor, and warm sea-breeze during your stay. 

Four Seasons Hotel Bosphorus on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of The Four Seasons

 Ciragan Caddesi / Besiktas / 00.90.212.381.4000

W HOTEL ISTANBUL

What’s better than staying in a palace, you ask? Staying near a palace. Found in the trendy Beşiktaş neighbourhood, the W Hotel is a short walk away from one of the most glamorous palaces in Istanbul. The hotel itself sits inside a stunning 19th century building that offers a contemporary and modern interior. Guests can expect a trendy lounge, modern atmosphere and convenience of being located near many upscale restaurants and entertainment.

W Hotel Istanbul on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of the W Hotel Istanbul
W Hotel Istanbul on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of the W Hotel Istanbul

Vişnezade, Süleyman Seba Cd. No 22 / 34357 / Beşiktaş / 90.212.381.21.21

ST. REGIS ISTANBUL

Expect only the best at the St. Regis Istanbul, located in the posh Nişantaşı district of Istanbul. It’s surrounded by restaurants, luxury brands, quaint cafés, and boutique stores. Guests have access to the hotel spa, on-site shopping and can dine at the celebrity-chef run restaurant on the rooftop. 

St. Regis Istanbul on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of the St. Regis Hotel
St. Regis Istanbul on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of the St. Regis Hotel

Harbiye, Mim Kemal Öke Cd. No 35/ 34367 Şişli / 90.212.368.00.00 

SWISSÔTEL THE BOSPHORUS ISTANBUL

The perfect spot for those craving 5-star luxury with a coastal view. This hotel offers contemporary Swiss design and incredible service. Guests can access the luxe on-site spa, enjoy the famous in-house barbershop, and relax using the rooftop pool. Located near nightlife and shopping, this is a great pick for couples. 

Swissôtel the Bosphorus Istanbul on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of the Swissotel
Swissôtel the Bosphorus Istanbul on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of the Swissotel

Vişnezade, Acısu Sokaği NO 19 / 34357 Beşiktaş / 90.212.326.1100

SHANGRI-LA BOSPHORUS, ISTANBUL

For the gents who want to be around fun and entertainment. The Shangri La is located near the financial and entertainment hubs of the city. The hotels offers warm service and hospitality, stunning Bosphorus views, private terraces, marble accents and of course a spa and Turkish baths. 

Shangri-La Bosphorus, Istanbul on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of The Shangri-La
Shangri-La Bosphorus, Istanbul on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of The Shangri-La

Sinanpaşa, Hayrettin İskelesi Sk. D:No.1 / 34353 Beşiktaş / 90.212.275.8888

EAT

LACIVERT

For those forever chasing the feeling of vacation bliss, Lacivert is the spot for you. With an incredible outdoor terrace, this waterfront mansion offers fine dining with a stunning view. Guests can sit on the terrace overlooking the Bosphorus on a warm summer day and feel the sea-breeze as they enjoy a curated Mediterranean meal.

Lacivert on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of Lacivert/Atia VIP Group 

Anadolu Hisarı, Körfez Cd. 57A / 34410 Beykoz / 90.216.413.37.53

VOGUE RESTAURANT

Walking into Vogue, one can expect a distinctive blend of European cuisine and sushi. Tenderloin kebabs, lamb, and seafood dishes are common entrée choices. The restaurant is home to incredible views of the bright Istanbul skyline, which is particularly notable at night. The ambiance is trendy and modern, as expected of Conde Nast, with a dining area, lounge, and sushi station as the main features. 

Vogue Restaurant, Istanbul on LEO edit.
Photo Courtesy of Vogue Istanbul 

Vişnezade, Akaretler Spor Cad. No:92 D:A BLOK, 34357 Beşiktaş /  +90.212.227.44.04

NICOLE

Nicole was once awarded the best restaurant in Turkey (2019) and we can see why: owner Aylin Yazicioglu is a Michelin-star trained chef. The restaurant is located in boutique hotel, Tom Tom Suites, and is in the perfect area for nightlife in the old Istanbul district. Nicole sources local ingredients and creates seasonal menus to showcase the best of what Istanbul offers. Wine list includes both Aegean favourites and imports. 

Nicole Restaurant on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of Nicole Restaurant  

Tomtom, Tomtom Kaptan Sk. No:18 34433 / Beyoğlu / 90.212.292.44.67

SPAGO ISTANBUL


Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck is the star behind this iconic rooftop restaurant located inside the St. Regis hotel. Dishes are influenced by American, Asian, and Italian cuisines. Try the chef’s famous smoked salmon pizza, Pappardelle Lamb Ragu, sushi, and even specialty bar food. 

Spago Istanbul on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group

Harbiye, Mim Kemal Öke Cd. No:35 / 34365 Şişli / 90.212.368.08.08 

SIVA CAFE & RESTAURANT

Serving you street-side European appeal with appetizers fit for an Ottoman king. Locals head here for kebabs, classic Turkish meze and hookah. Sit outdoors and admire the bustling scene Istanbul has to offer. 

Siva Cafe & Restaurant on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of Siva Cafe & Restaurant

Cankurtaran, Akbıyık Cd. No:22 / 34122 Fatih / 90.212.458.00.17

NUSR-ET STEAKHOUSE ETILER

You and I both know you want to experience all things Salt Bae. Head to Nusr-Et to get a taste of incredible meat that’s meme-worthy. It can get real fun if you’re being served personally by Salt-Bae (chef Nusret Gökçe), which many guests have experienced. Be sure to plan ahead if you want to come here as it is a popular spot and it’s better to save your seat. 

Nusr-et Steakhouse Etiler on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of Nusr-et Steakhouse

Etiler, Nispetiye Cd No:87 / 34337 Beşiktaş / +90.212.358.30.22

SORTIE RESTAURANT AND BAR

Sortie is an exclusive restaurant/night-club hybrid located along the Bosphorus. With a modern indoor dining room and incredible outdoor terrace, this giant venue is perfect for entertainment, music, parties, and dining. 

Sortie Restaurant and Bar on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of Sortie Restaurant and Bar

Kuruçeşme, Muallim Naci Cd./ No:54, 34345 / Beşiktaş / 90.212.327.8585

BARS AND ENTERTAINMENT

TAPS BEBEK

Your classic go-to bar spot. Come for sports, music, cocktails, and brews. 

Taps Bebek on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of Taps Bebek

Tanberk Çıkmazı No:1 / 34342 /  Beşiktaş / 90.212.263.87.00

360

Enter the penthouse in this 19th century building and you’ll find an incredible multi-operational venue. 360 offers it all: wine and dine here during the week and come for entertainment on the weekends. Expect live performances, dancers, DJs and late, late nights. Food is a mix of international cuisine mixed with Turkish meze and paired wine. The name comes from the fact that it hosts a 360 view of the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus. 

360 Istanbul on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of 360 Istanbul 

Istiklal Caddesi Mısır Apt. Kat 8 No:311 / Beyoğlu / +90.212.251.1042-43

EFENDI

You can find Efendi on a side-street in the forever trendy Nişantaşı neighbourhood. This tiny space offers speciality cocktails, an urban playlist, and welcoming atmosphere. Head here on a Friday or Saturday night to do as the locals or stop-by during the week if crowds aren’t your thing. 

Efendi Istanbul on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of Efendi

Teşvikiye, Hacı Emin Efendi Sk. No:28 / 34365 Şişli / İstanbul, Turkey 

SULTANA’S 1001 NIGHTS SHOW

Enjoy all the culture Istanbul has to offer at one of the most famous dinner and dance venues in the city. Located in the bustling Taksim area, Sultana’s 1001 Nights Show hosts peak Middle Eastern entertainment with belly-dancing and dinner.

Sultana's 1001 Nights Show on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of Sultana’s

İnönü, Cumhuriyet Cd. No:40 / 34373 Şişli / 90.530.469.57.47

RED RIVER PUB

Your definitive American-style pub in the heart of old Istanbul. Head here for a cold beer, local cuisine, and laid back mood.

Red River Pub Istanbul on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of Red River Pub/Istanbul.com

Hoca Paşa, Hüdavendigar Cd. No:44 / 34110 Fatih / 90.212.513.73.10

ARKA ODA

On the Asian side of Istanbul, you’ll find Arka Oda. It is a two-story venue in the popular Kadikoy area that is known for live DJs, an outdoor patio, and for drawing in a cool crowd.  Stay on the top floor if you’d rather lounge and have a cocktail or head downstairs for DJ and dancing.

Arka Oda Istanbul on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of Arka Oda

Caferağa, Kadife Sok. No:18 D:1, 34710 Kadıköy / 90.216.418.02.77

LIMONCELLO

Limoncello has a distinctive ambience that stems from its bright interior design and stylish feel. Come here for Italian classics – penne and cheese plates – or indulge in a salmon tartar. With an outdoor patio and indoor club space, Limoncello is a fun place to stop in and enjoy a casual cocktail.

Limoncello Istanbul on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of Istanbul.com

Vişnezade, Süleyman Seba Cd. No:34, 34357 Beşiktaş / 0212.258.98.22

PEYOTE

Found in a very trendy hub of Istanbul, Peyote is for those craving a chill ambiance with live music, good drinks and rooftop bar. 

Peyote Istanbul on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of Peyote

Hüseyinağa, Kameriye Sk. No:4, 34430 Beyoğlu / 90.212.251.43.98

TOP ATTRACTIONS

HAGIA SOPHIA

A UNESCO World Heritage site that is world famous for its preservation and beauty. Built in the 6th century during the Byzantine Empire, it served as the largest Christian cathedral before being converted into a mosque after Constantinople was conquered. It became a museum in the 1930s and more recently was converted back into an active mosque. There is a lot of history here to explore.

Hagia Sophia on LEO edit

Sultan Ahmet, Ayasofya Meydanı No:1/ 34122 Fatih / 90.212.522.17.50

BLUE MOSQUE

Known locally as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, this is both used as a site of worship as well as tourist destination. Constructed between 1609 and 1615, the building represents peak Ottoman-era architecture and design. It is surrounded by a stunning walkway and often very busy or may be closed due to prayer. The architecture is breathtaking and a must-see, even if you are only walking by. 

Blue Mosque on LEO edit

Ahmet, Atmeydanı Cd. No:7 / 34122 Fatih

GRAND BAZAAR (KAPALI ÇARSI)

The oldest market in the world – buzzing since the 15th century. Enchanting halls full of vendors selling gold, leathers, bags, trinkets, carpets, scarves, lamps and the like. Don’t be afraid to barter like a champ here, only suckers pay original price. 

Grand Bazaar (Kapali Çarsi) on LEO edit

Beyzıt, Kalpakçılar Cd. No:22 / 34126 Fatih / 90.212.519.12.28

SPICE BAZAAR (MISIR ÇARSISI)

The second most famous shopping destination next to the Grand Bazaar is the Spice Bazaar. Home to – you guessed it – an endless array of exotic spices and scents. Turkish cuisine has a distinct level of seasoning that one can only experience authentically. 

Spice Bazaar (Misir Çarsisi) on LEO edit

Rüstem Paşa, Erzak Ambarı Sok. No:92 / 34116 Fatih / 90 212 513 65 92

TOPKAPI PALACE

Much took place behind palace walls many centuries ago, from Sultans and their mistresses to betrayals and battle, which we can only read about today. Topkapi Palace brings book pages to life by offering us a glimpse into the opulence, treasure, and style of the glamorous Ottoman Empire. Stunning floor-to-ceiling mosaics fill the inside and outside of this famous palace. Now a museum, this palace is where many Ottoman sultans used to call home in the 15th and 16th centuries. Incredible stained-glass windows and imperial jewels are on display – including the historic Spoonmaker’s 84 carat Diamond. Gift inspiration for the lucky lady in your life? Make sure to tell her it was our idea. 

Topkapi Palace on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of Topkapi Muesuem

Cankurtaran / 34122 Fatih / 90.212.512.04.80

BASILICA CISTERN

It’s finally your time to feel like a 1963 James Bond. Head here to experience a famous film location and many, many years of history. The Basilica Cistern is the largest ancient cistern beneath the city and one of the few preserved enough that guests are able to visit. Be sure to appreciate all the Corinthian style marble columns and enjoy finding the Medusa heads when you bump into them. 

Basilica Cistern on LEO edit

Alemdar, Yerebatan Cd. 1/3 / 34110 Fatih / 90.212.512.15.70

ISTANBUL ARCHAEOLOGY MUSEUM

Home to three museums – The Museum of Ancient Orient, the Tiled Pavilion, and the Archeological Museum – this complex covers the vast history that the country has to offer. Insert a huge round of applause to archeologists here, because these museums host collections from the Ottoman Empire, Egyptian sarcophagi and the literal gate of ancient Babylon. You will also find the world’s oldest tablets and books (dating 2300 BC), stunning tile architecture, carvings, and art from the 12th century. Leave here in complete awe.

Istanbul Archaeology Museum on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of Museum (Muze) Istanbul 

Cankurtaran / 34122 Fatih / 902125207740-41-42

DOLMABAHÇE PALACE

Visit this palace if you want to experience the regality that ancient empires have to offer. Decorated in gold and crystal, Dolmabahçe Palace has 285 rooms, 68 toilets and 6 Turkish baths. It is now a museum and showcases art, decor, calligraphy and more. Visitors can only enter using a guided tour and no photography is allowed. 

Vişnezade, Dolmabahçe Cd./ 34357 Beşiktaş / 90.212.236.90.00

GALATA TOWER

A monument built by the Genoese in the 14th century. Come here for great views of Istanbul in a picturesque European style neighbourhood of the city. Surrounded by unique shops and dining opportunities. Prepare for huge line-ups in peak tourist season. This is a great, quaint area for couples as there are many romantic dining opportunities and little shops to explore. 

Galata Tower on LEO edit

Bereketzade, Galata Kulesi / 34421 Beyoğlu / +90.212.2938180

HEAD HERE FOR THE BEST OF

TURKISH COFFEE: MANDA BATMAZ

Everyone’s heard of Turkish coffee – but have you tried it? Don’t let its tiny size fool you as it packs a punch with flavour and a strong taste. Prepared in a traditional pot, cezve, Turkish coffee is made by mixing water with finely ground coffee beans and letting it come to a boil. In Turkish tradition, the coffee is also used as a method of fortune telling. Have a little fun: finish your cup of coffee and then let someone interpret the grinds that sunk to its bottom. You never know what your future has in store, right?

Manda Batmaz Istanbul on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of Istanbul.com

Asmalı Mescit, Olivya Gç. 1/A / 34430 Beyoğlu / 0212.243.77.37

BEST BAKERY: BAYLAN

For melt-in-your-mouth delicacies that range from rich specialty cakes, baked goods and liquor-infused chocolate truffles that make locals constantly come back for more.  

Baylan Istanbul on LEO edit

Bebek, Cevdet Paşa Cd. No:52 D:54 / 34766 / Beşiktaş / 90.212.358.07.60

BEST CAFÉ: HOUSE CAFÉ

The best mid-day spot. It’s not hard to see what makes House Café so popular: there is an amazing view, a welcoming environment, cozy décor, and a blended menu of Turkish classics to delicious burgers and international cuisines. This is perfect for couples and families. 

House Café on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of House Café

Yıldız, Ortaköy Salhanesi Sk. No:1 / 34349 Beşiktaş / 90.212.227.26.99

BEST ICE CREAM: PICK A STREET VENDOR

We don’t have a traditional ice cream shop to recommend here because Turkish street vendors are known for their ice cream tricks. While you can find ice cream at many bakeries and shops, stop at a street vendor instead to get a laugh and find out how much your reflexes suck. Vendors tend to play many ice cream tricks to show off and we’re willing to bet you won’t get your cone until you give up.

Best Ice Cream in Istanbul on LEO edit

SHOP & GROOM

BEY KARAKOY

Bey combines Scandinavian and European style with local designers. Bey is the perfect aesthetic for the guy that wants to be both trendy and stay comfortable. 

Bey Karakoy Istanbul on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of Bey 

Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa / Mumhane Cd. 54/A / 34425 Beyoğlu / 90.532.700.59.55

ORTTU

Think you have bold style? ORTTU may be for you. This boutique is for those who are bold, brave, and like to make a statement. Designers Artem and Victor created a brand that will allow men to express their individuality, creativity, and eye for design. Located in the ritzy Beyoğlu district, the ORTTU boutique offers a contemporary and unique design aesthetic with everything best described as a statement piece.

Orttu Istanbul on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of ORTTU

Tomtom, Boğazkesen Cd. No:71 / 34433 / Beyoğlu / 90.536.607.43.69

MELIK KAM

Head here if you consider yourself a traditional guy that likes to look stylish. Melik Kam is a trendy menswear store that offers a cosmopolitan feel with clothing that caters to current trends and classic silhouettes.

Melik Kam Istanbul on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of Melik Kam

Harbiye, Teşvikiye Cd. No:31 / 34367 Şişli / 90.212.965.40.16

KADIR ALKAN

Turkish men are known for taking grooming very seriously – so much so that Kadir Alkan created a specific way of cutting hair that he now teaches to others. Coined the “Anatomical Hair and Beard” cut, Kadir Alkan cuts hair specifically based on facial bone structure using the golden ratio rule. Kadir is also known country-wide as winning second place globally at the international hair championship (2015) in Italy. Enjoy everything the world-renown “Turkish shave” has to offer and embrace the hot towel shave, trimming, and even waxing that is offered.

Kadir Alkan on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of Kadir Alkan

Etiler Nispetiye, Peker Sk. no:52 / 34340 Besiktas / 90.0535.256.36.36

SABIT AKKAYA HAIR STYLIST, SWISSOTEL THE BOSPHORUS

Owner Sabit Akkaya is a hair guru in Istanbul – he’s worked backstage fashion weeks, on TV, magazine shoots while launching his career in the Swissotel in 1991. He now has three locations in hotels and serves a huge global clientele. Come here for luxe experience with the best of the best. 

Sabit Akkaya Hair Stylist, Swissotel the Bosphorus on LEO edit
Photo Courtesy of Sabit Akkaya 

Visnezade Mah. Acisu Sk. No:19 Floor:10 / Macka Besiktas / 34357 Istanbul / 212.259.02.29.32

Editor’s Note: Some of the activities, hotels, and restaurants listed on our website may be currently closed due to Covid health restrictions. We urge you to check before visiting and to exercise caution and follow CDC guidelines if traveling or visiting any of our recommendations.

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