“Life can’t be that bad, I think from time to time. No matter what happens, I can always take a long walk along the Bosphorus. This is how the novelist Orhan Pamuk described his relationship with Istanbul, the bicontinental Turkish city known for being a gateway between East and West With sweeping views of the Bosphorus and stunning Byzantine and Ottoman architecture, Istanbul is the perfect destination for travelers who can’t decide between a European or Asian vacation.
As one of Istanbul’s trendier neighborhoods, Karaköy is filled with art galleries, shops selling handmade goods, and bakeries selling simit, Turkey’s favorite circular snack. There are tons of street art and coffee shops in the narrow alleyways; make sure to stop and pet all the cats (or bored in Turkish) you see along the way.
Hagia Sophia has a lot of history, first as a Greek church, then a mosque, then a museum and now a mosque again. Tourists flock to the monument to admire its high vaulted ceilings and stunning mosaics. There will be a queue to get in but it’s worth it.
The Grand Bazaar
The ultimate shopping destination in Istanbul, for everything from spices and gold to…fake designer goods? Yes, you will see many of them. But there are also beautiful Turkish tapestries and carpets, handmade lanterns, and my personal favorite: pistachios soaked in rose water, sold by the kilo.
You can’t go to Istanbul without eating some baklava (or a lot). The first ever baklava shop in the city, opened in 1843, this place is like the mecca of the Turkish dessert. Expect to be very overwhelmed by the flavor choices.
Turk Fatih Tutak
For fine dining, head to this Michelin-starred restaurant famous for its rotating tasting menu. The food is incredible, but even the decor is worth the trip.
Some may call the simit a “Turkish bagel”, but some may disrespect the simit as its own culinary art. The circular bread with sesame seeds is a popular street food, and one of its best incarnations is at this charming bakery, also in Karaköy.
With views of the Galata Tower and tons of all-weather indoor/outdoor seating, Zulu is the perfect place to kick back some raki and watch the sun go down.
Süreyya Teras Lounge
Who doesn’t want to sip a freshly squeezed juice or cocktail while enjoying the view of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul’s most iconic landmark?
One of the most famous tourist areas in Istanbul, Taksim is also famous for its nightlife, with plenty of bars, clubs and lounges, whatever your mood.
Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet
Tucked away on a cobbled side street around the corner from both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, the Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet is a quiet oasis tucked away in the bustling city center. The hotel was renovated in July 2022 with brand new interiors and it shows – the rooms are spacious, comfortable and the beds? The beds! One night I slept for 12 hours and it wasn’t even due to jet lag.
Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul
If “literal Ottoman palace” is more your vibe, Istanbul’s Kempinski is your place. The one-time Imperial Palace was converted into a 310-room hotel in the 1980s and boasts sweeping views of the Bosphorus area and a suite, called the Sultan’s Suite, that costs more than $35,000 per night. (Don’t worry, there are standard King rooms too.)
World House Boutique Hotel
If you are looking for a hotel that is independent and more affordable, World House is the perfect choice. In the young and hip Galata Tower area, it has only 10 rooms, but each one is furnished and decorated with impeccable taste.
Jessica Roy is the Site Director of ELLE.com. Previously, she worked as a news editor at TheCut.com. She likes baking, running and Instagrams of your dog.