Things to do - general

The only city in the world that encompasses both Asia and Europe, Istanbul also straddles the ancient and modern worlds. The ghosts of marauding Crusaders and marching janissaries haunt the city’s historic alleyways—but this is no museum: the Bosporus is still a buzzing artery for maritime trade, and the sounds of building construction play a constant counterpoint to the shouts of street hawkers and the call of the muezzin. The skyline here is a glittering ribbon of palaces, mosques, and minarets, but also of sleek skyscrapers, where the sybaritic restaurant and nightclub scene easily rivals New York’s or London’s.

This beguiling city on the Bosphorus spans Europe and Asia. Today the cultural and financial center of Turkey, Istanbul was once the capital of three empires—Byzantium, Constantinople, and Ottoman. Our Istanbul travel guide puts Old Istanbul and the new at your fingertips.

Things Not to Miss in Istanbul

When you travel to Istanbul, one of the many sites you won’t want to miss is Topkapi Palace. Once home to many generations of sultans, the palace is filled with opulent gardens and courtyards, plush Turkish baths, and a secluded former harem, all overlooking the gorgeous sea of Marmara. Afterward, walk over to the Archeology museums or take a relaxing dip in one of its many baths including the Sülemaniye, Çemberlitaş, Galatasaray, and Cağaloğlu. Other Istanbul travel highlights include:

• Aya Sofya
• Basilica Cistern
• Blue Mosque
• Grand Bazaar
• Galata Bridge and the Galata Tower


  • The panoramic view of the city from Mikla, the rooftop restaurant at the Marmara Pera hotel (you can go up for a look even if you’re not a guest or a diner).
  • The ordinary ferries, not the tourist cruise boats. Go anywhere: It’s the ride, not the destination.
  • Grilled fish sandwiches sold from the backs of the boats near the Galata Bridge. Heap them up with lemon, salt, raw onions, and pickles.
Country Turkey

Sports & nature

7 great weekend getaways near İstanbul

This is the start of the months in which everyone wants to escape somewhere, even if for only a few days or just a weekend. And truly, this is the perfect time of year to witness the reawakening of nature and the blooming of so many flowers and shades of green in person. What follows is a list of 10 spots not far from Istanbul, all known for their natural beauty. This is the start of the months in which everyone wants to escape somewhere, even if for only a few days or just a weekend. And truly, this is the perfect time of year to witness the reawakening of nature and the blooming of so many flowers and shades of green in person. What follows is a list of 10 spots not far from İstanbul, all known for their natural beauty.

Abant: Lake, forest and a great abundance of oxygen

Abant is a great getaway spot not only for İstanbulites, but for people from Ankara, too. You can reach Abant from İstanbul via the TEM highway in only a couple of hours. Long walks around the shores of Abant Lake, surrounded by fresh pine trees, will give you your much-needed oxygen refill and satisfy your sports needs. What's more, you can also rent a canoe on this lake and go fishing. The flora and fauna of this region are rich and varied; there are many different kinds of birds living here in addition to otters and even deer. If you have a bicycle, don't forget to bring it with you to Abant -- what could be more relaxing that riding your bike along the shores of this gorgeous lake? On your way home, you might also be tempted by one or more of the many local food items for sale here; things like the local tarhana soup mix, homemade noodles, butter, cheeses, honey, walnuts, rosehips and thorn apples. If you want to stay overnight at Abant, one place you might really enjoy are the wooden Abant Houses

Ağva: A hidden paradise in İstanbul

For people working at fast, busy tempos in İstanbul, Ağva is a natural getaway. In fact, it's really not even right to think of Ağva as being separate from İstanbul. This place is only one-and-a-half hours outside of İstanbul; simply take the Ümraniye-Şile highway on the Asian side, following the Kabakoz, İmrenli and Kurfallı route, to arrive in Ağva. For those without cars, you can hop on one of the buses headed to Şile that depart from Üsküdar. Ağva lies between the Göksu and Yeşilçay rivers. You can paddle canoes on the river or walk on the shores of the Black sea here. Rent a bicycle and ride through the forest. There are plenty of "river homes" on the banks of the Yeşilçay River where you can spend the night. While in Ağva, definitely make it a point to eat some Black Sea fish for dinner. Also, make sure you wander over to see the "Woodyville" wooden homes, known locally as the "cowboy town."

Cumalıkızık village: Take a journey into Ottoman times

This little village lies at the base of the Uludağ Mountain and has managed to maintain a very Ottoman feel. In fact, this place is replete with examples of Ottoman civil architecture. A favorite site for the filming of various television series due to its historical look and feel, Cumalıkızık is only half an hour away from Bursa and boasts a little museum all of its own, displaying historical items. The 270 homes in this village are all under official protection and have all been restored. Open tables have been set up in front of many of the villagers' homes where homemade jellies, cheeses, butter, etc., are sold. Local women also make treats like gözleme, sıkma and mantı. A little ways above the village is a long walking trail. This is a great place to relieve stress in the spring, walking along the outskirts of the beautiful Uludağ mountains.

Polonezköy: No, not Poland, Polonezköy!

Some people refer to Polonezköy as İstanbul's back garden. This beautiful little village lies along the edges of İstanbul's Beykoz district and contains immense historical and natural attractions. The first hint that you have strayed outside of İstanbul is the number of pine trees that greet you here. Polonezköy transports you away from the stress and tempo of İstanbul but without requiring too much of a road journey to do so. There is so much to do here: ride horses or go for long walks in the forest. Ride your bike on Turkey's first real bike trail or go take a look at the bee-keeping museum here. Descendents of Polish immigrants who settled here from the mid-1880s now run some wonderful restaurants that offer lots of unique tastes.

The islands: For a relaxing weekend with no traffic

Büyükada, Heybeliada and Kınalıada… three islands in the Marmara Sea that lie only an hour or so away by ferryboat from İstanbul. As you head toward the islands, leave your stress, all the noise and the activity of the city behind you. These islands are the ideal weekend getaway spots, and with no cars allowed on the islands, you will be forced to rely on your feet or bicycles or perhaps horse-drawn carriages for transportation. The largest of the islands is Büyükada. The best time to head out here is during the spring or summer. Many trails and paths allow you to take advantage of all these islands have to offer while numerous great restaurants serve delicious dishes, many made with freshly caught fish from the sea.

Kaz Mountains (Mount Ida): Load up on your oxygen

The Kaz Mountains -- also known as Mount Ida -- lie on the Balıkesir-Biga peninsula. They are the ideal spot for people looking for a real replenishing of oxygen into their systems. Reaching this region is really very easy: All you need to do is get on the İstanbul-Bandırma ferryboat. There are many stone boutique hotels located in the Yeşilyurt village, on the outskirts of the mountain. Among the wonderful places to walk are the mountains, where you are almost assured of catching a glimpse of some of the rich and varied wildlife living here. With lots of olives and olive products around here, no doubt your appetite will be awakened at breakfast time!

Bozcaada and Cunda Island: Sea, history and nature all at once

The Aegean island of Bozcaada boasts a unique mixture of natural and historical wonders. It is the ideal spot for a getaway, with its crystal clear sea and its serene environment. Make sure you stop by the Bozcaada Museum and the little island of Ayazma while here. As for Cunda Island, it is one of the most popular stopovers for people traveling in the northern Aegean region. This little island is famous for its stone homes and for its Crete and Lesbos cuisines. The fastest way to reach Cunda from İstanbul is to get on an İDO ferryboat heading for Bandırma.

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Nightlife info

Top 10 Night Clubs in Istanbul

Night life in Istanbul is huge. There are many popular establishments — some aged over thirty years old and some very down to date. Being such a big city with several city centers, Istanbul has more than one entertainment destination.

On the Asian side Caddebostan “barlar sokağı” — a street of pubs on Iskele Street — and Kadife Street, both in the Kadıköy district, have a lot to offer. On the European side, night clubs aren’t concentrated in one location. There are numerous venues spread out over Nişantaşı in the Şişli district, Ortaköy in the Beşiktaş district or Taksim, Istiklal Street and Nevizade in the Beyoğlu district. In this article I can only mention the tip of the iceberg with a list of 10 night clubs locals put on the top of their lists.

Partying By the Sea — Ortaköy

Anjelique — Located on the shore of Bosphorus, it goes without saying that this three storey mansion offers a good view as well as a broad variety of food. The night club is located on the top floor. Some like the place for its music and some for the cocktails, while others go there for the trendy dynamic atmosphere.

Address: Muallim Naci cad. Salhane Sok. No:5 Ortaköy

Blackk — Resto-lounge, Club and Levendiz Greek Tavern. One of them will surely satisfy you. Decorated in 18th century Rococo style with angling forms of modernism, in Resto-lounge you will experience “taste” in more than one sense. Modern and classic blends elegantly in the Club, where you can enjoy the Bosphorus view as well as 18th century paintings in a club spirit.

Address: Muallim Naci Cad. No:71 Ortaköy

Reina— Opened its doors in 2003 and is located by the Bosphorus. In a spacious elegant design, Reina offers several bars, restaurants and dance floors. You can find different exclusive tastes of world cuisine in Reina thanks to their 5 restaurants.Reina is the pearl of the entertainment world. It hosted world wide famous stars like Bon Jovi, Kylie Minoque, U2, Uma Thurman, Daniel Craig, and Naomi Wattswith its exclusive entertainment concept.

Address: Muallim Naci Cad. No:44 Kuruçeşme Ortaköy

Sortie — An elite ambience, with a picturesque view of Istanbul located by the Bosphorus with a combination of six restaurants and 3 bars, open between 6 p.m. and 4 a.m. Sortie is one of the best escape places to relax and have fun.

Address: 141 Muallim Naci caddesi Kuruçeşme Ortaköy

SuAda — This night club actually plays in a league of their own, since SuAda is not located by the Bosphorus … but on an island in it! Located 165 meters away from the European shore in Kuruçeşme the island was a present for Serkis Kalfa, the head architect of the Ottoman palace, by Sultan Abdülaziz in 1872. Serkis Kalfa built a three-storey mansion on the island and lived there until he died in 1899. After World War I the island was rented and used as a coal storehouse. In 1957 Galatasaray Sports Club bought the island and transformed it into a social facility. Today, Suada is one of the top gear venues in Istanbul for glamorous events. Suada has a pool, a night club and six restaurants offering refined tastes ranging from sea food to Cretan, and from kebap to pasta.

Address: free (15 min.) boat trip from the Kuruçeşme shore.

In The city — Beyoğlu

Al Jamal — Middle Eastern style food, interior harem-like design, a mixture of oriental and western music and belly dancing shows are the ingredients of what Al Jamal has to offer, besides the great Bosphorus view of course.

Address: Taşkışla Cad. No:3 Maçka Demokrasi Parkı içi

Babylon — For more than ten years the venue serves as a multi-purpose performance center. It features a large variety of music, including jazz, reggae, world music, electronic, Latin or Turkish vibes as well as indie pop and rock acts. Food is not available whereas you will not stay thirsty since there is a bar in the place. There is no entrance fee, but you must get a ticket for the concerts.

Address: Şehbender Sokak No:3 Tünel Asmalımescit Beyoğlu

Living Indigo — Indigo provides a mix of technology and minimalism. This 400 m² clubbing place can host about 600 people to experience a great night out. Even though Indigo focusses on simplicity, it offers a variety of spectacular light shows. The state-of-the-art sound system plus an awesome projection system creates a dynamic visual experience. Indigo is another great place to enjoy live music. Check out their website for details on who’s playing.

Address: Istiklal Cad. Akarsu Sk. No:1-2-4-5, Beyoğlu

Jolly Joker Balans — A good option for the live music addicts since the construction was designed especially for live performances with a decor of “old pub design”. It is a good opportunity to experience Turkish rock, alternative and pop music from senior and fresh popular bands and singers.

Address: İstiklal Cad. Balo Sok. No: 22 Beyoğlu

Wan-na — If you are into Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese and Japanese cuisines you should pay a visit to Wan-na which opens at 5 p.m. You may want to experience the after dinner bar ambiance, various cocktails and music, especially with “Wan-na Friday Parties” that host world famous DJs.

Address: Kanyon AKM, Büyükdere Cad. No. 206, Levent

360 — The venue is located in a penthouse of a 19th century apartment building with 360 degrees fascinating landscape views of the Bosphorus, Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara. The place expresses itself with four elements: cuisine, design, entertainment and atmosphere. The club comes alive in the weekends, offering DJs and vocalists with live dancers and performances, and non-stop partying until the early morning hours.

Address: İstiklal Caddesi Mısır Apt. Kat 8 No:311 Beyoğlu

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Culture and history info

Istanbul is both an ancient and modern city. Its first Neolithic settlements date from 8,500 years ago. The Greeks founded Byzantium there in 700 BC, before it became, as Constantinople, the eastern capital of the Roman Empire, and then the capital of the Ottoman Empire for almost five centuries. Now, although Istanbul is no longer a capital, it is the largest city of a fast-growing nation-state. Its location on the Bosporus makes it a bridge between Europe and Asia.

Istanbul’s history and thus culture is apparent in its buildings. The city’s architecture mixes Western and Eastern styles. There are a few surviving Roman relics, such as the Hippodrome, Basilica Cistern and Column of Constantine, while the Genoese bequeathed the Galata Tower. However, it is the Byzantine and Ottoman buildings which define the city. Perhaps the most notable Byzantine one is the Hagia Sophia, which stood as the world’s largest cathedral for a thousand years, before being turned into a mosque under Ottoman rule. Today Hagia Sophia is a museum. The many great Ottoman buildings include the Topkapi Palace – for centuries the residence and administrative centre of the Ottoman sultans, now also a museum – and the Blue and Süleymaniye Mosques. The international significance of many of the sites is recognised by their inclusion in UNESCO’s ‘Historic Areas of Istanbul’ World Heritage Site.

Istanbul is, though, very much a modern city as well. Internal migration from rural parts of Turkey has led to a surge in the city’s population in recent decades, and it is now home to 20 per cent of Turkey’s people. It generates 22 per cent of the country’s GDP and takes 40 per cent of its tax revenues. Almost all of Turkey’s major cultural and creative businesses have their headquarters in the city, while 49 per cent of visits to museums and 30 per cent of cultural performances in Turkey take place there.

Istanbul’s contemporary culture is attracting increasing attention. It was one of the European Capitals of Culture in 2010. Many festivals, exhibitions and events were held, and two new museums were developed: the Museum of the Princes’ Islands, and the Museum of Innocence, established by the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk, which uses films, photos and other memorabilia to document daily life in Istanbul from the 1950s to the present day. Istanbul’s growing cultural impact is also reflected in the rising status of its Biennial, which started in 1987. It brings together Turkish and foreign artists, and has quickly established itself as a major event on the international visual art circuit. Nowadays it is ranked alongside the older São Paulo and Sydney biennials in prestige.

The national Ministry of Culture and Tourism sponsors a range of activity in the city including theatre and the film industry, as well as festivals, concerts, exhibitions, conferences and fairs. The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality also supports culture, with one of its goals being to spread access to cultural services out to the city’s peripheries. Istanbul’s private sector in the city is also increasingly involved in culture, with large companies and banks in particular keen to invest in art.

Cultural policy in Istanbul is shaped by a number of bodies. The main goals for cultural policy are to improve access and participation, to help social cohesion, and to realise economic benefits. However, the city faces challenges in achieving these ambitions. Cultural consumption is low, and few people are in the habit of visiting museums or attending cultural events. Libraries in particular are under-used. Public investment has been concentrated on cultural centres and on restoring cultural heritage. While the city has a number of public theatres, the OECD has pointed out that ‘for a city of its size, it possesses a remarkably low number of small theatres and other purpose-built spaces for arts, literature and music’. The OECD also thought Istanbul was not exploiting its cultural heritage assets sufficiently.

That said, the city also has considerable strengths – its growing wealth, its position as Turkey’s cultural leader and pioneer, and the increasing interest in the arts and culture, and most of all, its young, dynamic population. Istanbul is tapping into this energy and dynamism by rapidly integrating with other cities of culture, and its policymakers are positioning it as a ‘global city’.

Culture and history image

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