Last summer the American billionaire crew, led by Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, steered their yachts to the Turkish Aegean to frolic in the azure waters off Dalaman and Bodrum.
This year, we hear the yachts will be stopping near reenergized and revitalized Istanbul, where they’ll refuel their boats, take in the sights and shop till they drop.
Here’s our guide to Istanbul’s best hotels, restaurants and shopping districts (so you can visit before they appear as a backdrop in a TMZ shoot).
After all, the city is one of the rare world capitals where you can travel like the yacht crowd — with or without the billions.
Istanbul can be an overwhelming place — there’s so much to see and do, eat and drink and, of course, shop. While wandering through the Grand Bazaar or the Spice Bazaar alone is magic, if you are on a time crunch or want to first get your bearings, or have someone tell you the significance of — well, everything — you might want to hire a guide. Our pick? Istanbul Tour Studio.
Founded by Sinan Sokmen, a hospitality professional who is married to the former editor of Vogue Turkey, the company employs art historians, archeologists, gourmands and fashion advisers to guide you through not just Istanbul but all of Turkey.
The guides take you beyond the basics and show you the real beating heart of this ancient city’s coffee houses, tea gardens, bazaars and traditional workshops.
Where to shop
Until recently, the Galataport in the Karakoy district was a daunting eyesore — filled with warehouses, a worn-down ship terminal and an overgrown park. But the area has been transformed into a showpiece on the Bosporus. The result redefines Istanbul’s urban space, and is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
The cruise ship port, which can accommodate three extra-large ships (not to mention the smaller private yacht port nearby) is now underground, so those long lines of passengers and luggage no longer mar the view of Topkapi Palace or the Asian side of the city.
Spanning a three-quarter-mile stretch of coastline, the mixed-use development will incororporate offices as well as 250 retail and dining establishments, including some inside the old Post Office, which was renovated to keep its original footprint intact.
A formerly overgrown park has been transofrmed into an open space where families congregate and musicians play — all next to the Renzo Piano-designed Istanbul Museum of Modern Art and the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University Istanbul Museum of Painting and Sculpture.
The Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar is the largest and oldest market in the world, filled with ageless materpieces crafted by Turkish artisans. Be warned: The place is massive. And overwhelming. But worth it. Especially the Cevahir Bedesteni (a k a the Antique Old Bazaar), which dates to the 15th century. It still retains some of its original warehouse design, and boasts more than 120 shops selling all kinds of handcrafted treasures. Pro tip: Scout for Turkish bath towels which are pennies on the dollar compared to what they sell for in the States, as well as ceramics and (yes) rugs. Don’t be frightened to bargain and sit for a cup of tea while going in for the kill.
Near the historic Galata Tower is a tiny cobblestone street packed with boutiques and small shops carrying the best fashion Istanbul has to offer. There are no Zara’s, H&M’s or other international brands, just fashionable spots to browse, including the Arzu Kaprol boutique, the Atelier 55 or the antique-filled Kashif Sofa.
Where to stay
If you really want to feel like a sultan, why not stay in a sultan’s home? The Ciragan Kempinski, the only Ottoman palace and hotel along the Bosporus, was built by Sultan Abdulaziz in 1872 as his family home (although he only lived there for four years before he was mysteriously found dead inside after being dethroned).
The palace fell into a state of disrepair until the 1990s, when it was turned into a hotel by developers, who thankfully left its grand architecture intact. A stay here is a true once-in-a-lifetime experience, as everyone who enters its doors is treated like royalty.
Come for the view and the architecture and stay for the impeccable service and the food, some of which is straight from the original sultan’s menu. Although it may be more than 200 years old, the Ciragan Kempinski also has the amenities a modern-day VIP might need: a helicopter pad, a new yacht dock and many, many electrical outlets.
Later this year, the Peninsula will debut its first Istanbul outpost, right on the edge of the Galataport (so that well-heeled cruise passengers can walk directly from the ship to their five-star hotel). Designed to complement the historic Post Office next door, the hotel features classic architecture, 177 guest rooms and a Turkish spa.
This stunning hotel opened in November 2019 — just in time for a global pandemic. Comprised of two Ottoman-era mansions on the banks of the Bosporus in the Sariyer district north of Sultanahmet, the “boutique” hotel re-opened late last year, offering 45 rooms, some with fireplaces. Attention has been paid to original architectural details of the former mansions. The result is a true urban resort complete with spas, a commitment to sustainability, and a houseboat to take you and your friends on sunset cruises along the Bosporus.
Where to eat
The new restaurant inside the Gaglogu Hamajmi, a 300-year-old hammam, is a jewel box — a true secret garden hidden among the hubbub of the Cağaloğlu neighborhood. To get to it, you must pass through the hammam, enter a rabbit-hole-like corridor and finally wander into this hidden restaurant, which has a beautiful terraced garden overlooking the ancient hammam domes. While everything on the menu is spectacular, the Turitli Pide (which visually resembles a Turkish calzone — fresh bread stuffed with chopped lamb) is a must. It’s served with assorted side dishes of bone broth, sour cream and fresh oregano, all of which should be added to the Pide before eating. The result is a bit messy but miraculous — a dish we still dream about weekly.
This historic restaurant inside the Spice Bazaar founded by PanDeli Çobanoğlu, reopened its doors in December 2018 — but it has been open in one way or another, serving traditional Istanbul cuisine, since the early 20th century. PanDeli was renowned for feeding the likes of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Queen Elizabeth II and Audrey Hepburn. The new owners have kept the original ambience and basic menu, while adding a few new, must-try dishes, including sea bass cooked in paper, döner on pastry (su böreği) and hamsi pilav.
The intimate wine bistro, in the SuB Hotel Karaköy, is a huge cult hit with locals according to Sokmen, due to its unusual pairings of natural local wines with creative dishes that reinterpret endangered culinary delights of the region, including lakerda (pickled bonito) and topik (the ever-popular Armenian dish made of a potato and chickpea shell filled with a paste of onions, currants, pine nuts and tahini).
While in Istanbul, you must try lahmacun — the Turkish street food that resembles a pizza. Consisting of minced meat on top of a slice, it’s topped with lettuce, lemon, parsley and paprika and is utterly delicious. Look for a spot with a very long line of locals and dive in!