Twenty-four hours in Europe – and Asia
Bigger, better, faster, hipper, more expensive: Istanbul is rapidly blossoming into an exciting metropolis. Once the decaying capital of two fallen empires, it is now an up-and-coming city of 13 million, stretching as far as the eye can see on both sides of the Bosporus. Particularly at the hectic heart of Istanbul, we encounter a Western openness here, Oriental hospitality there – as well as a host of temptations that are hard to resist. Join us on a day’s tour of the most important sights.
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Artists’ quarter and monuments - the world city of Istanbul
Barcelona? Berlin? Istanbul! Amid the Art Nouveau architecture of Beyoglu (formerly Pera), which originated as a Genoese merchant citadel, you could be forgiven for thinking you were on the streets of the Spanish metropolis. The city’s art and design scene bears a striking resemblance to the hipper areas of the German capital. A leisurely breakfast at one of the many cafés on the pedestrian street Istiklâl Caddesi is a fantastic way to start the day - observing the pulsating life of the district.
An absolute must for history buffs. The mighty Hagia Sophia was once the heart of Orthodox Christianity, the coronation cathedral of the Byzantine emperors, and later became the principal mosque of the Ottoman Empire. The so-called "Blue Mosque" and Topkapi Palace, two of the city’s other main attractions, are located in the immediate vicinity of Hagia Sophia, in the city’s old quarter, south of the Golden Horn.
Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya), Sultanahmet district, www.hagiasophia.com
Not far from Hagia Sophia there’s the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul’s famous covered market with around 4000 stalls and shops that sell everything from carpets and football T shirts, gold jewelry, souvenirs and (alleged) antiques to all kinds of knick-knacks. It is perfectly acceptable to haggle here and shoppers often get a free glass of tea into the bargain.
Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşi), Beyazit district, www.kapalicarsi.org.tr (Turkish) and www.grandbazaaristanbul.org. (English)
Ferries are a perfectly commonplace mode of transportation in Istanbul: They connect areas of the city on both sides of the Golden Horn and of the Bosporus - and during the few minutes’ duration of many crossings, they offer spectacular panoramic views of a city of millions that appears to go on for ever along the banks of its waterways.
Crossings to the Princes’ Islands and trips up and down the Bosporus make a pleasant outing for people with a little more time to spare.
Info: Various landing stages on the banks of the Golden Horn and the Bosporus
Evenings in Istanbul: mezeler and jazz
Back in Galata, a quarter of the Western-oriented district Beyoglu, we find the Galata Tower, one of the oldest – and most impressive – buildings of the former Genoese settlement. Almost 70 meters high, the tower has an observation platform and in the evening, a nightclub opens on the top floor.
Galata Tower, Galata district, www.galatatower.net (Turkish, English and German, among others)
The typical Turkish evening meal is a two to three-course affair, even in unsophisticated restaurants. The undisputed highlight of the meal is the mezeler platter, the Turkish version of antipasti and tapas, which are served in small portions but great variety. Cold mezeler are followed by warm before the next course, usually a piece of grilled fish or meat with rice, deep-fried potatoes and salad, is served with raki, the local aniseed spirit. Yakup 2 in Beyoglu is a simple restaurant that has become a favorite with artists and actors.
Yakup 2, Asmalı Mescit Sokak 35/37, Beyoglu district, www.yakuprestaurant.com
Undoubtedly one of the city’s top clubs: The Babylon originally gained its reputation chiefly as a live jazz venue, but rock, electric, indie, hip-hop and Turkish pop bands also perform here – and keep the party going to the wee small hours.
Şehbender Sokak 3, Beyoglu district, www.babylon-ist.com
pictures: getty images (5); Agentur Huber (2)