Istanbul…where East meets West! Istanbul straddles Europe and Asia, has a population of 13 million and manages to be both lavishly ancient and vibrantly modern. But where do you go if you want to see and be seen in this restless, dynamic city? Well, we have decided to find out in our fifth and last feature of chic city break destinations in some of the most exciting countries of the world.
Before jetting off to this European Capital of Culture for 2010, we had heard for years that Istanbul calls itself ‘Europe’s coolest city’. It's certainly one of the most diverse, as it is both the centre of a country that is 98 per cent Islamic yet increasingly famous for its watermelon martinis! This is also the place where the Blue Mosque has an LCD screen flashing the time in Paris and Tokyo. Do we need to say more! Oh, perhaps it is worth mentioning that this cosmopolitan city has more billionaires than any city other than New York, Moscow and London.
Istanbul may be most attractive to many for its complex, layered past – its harems and mosques and cemeteries and bazaars. Yes, these are both fascinating and offer a glimpse of an exciting past but it's equally as much an intriguing image of the future. The minute you arrive in town you can feel the contemporary excitement that makes Istanbul one of the hottest destinations around. So why not party, shop and art your way through this fascinating city?!
The city’s over-abundance of important historic buildings and exciting new art galleries and museums provides visitors with more than enough to see during the day, but it’s at night that the place swings into high-velocity, mega-stylish action. Locals are flocking to see and be seen at an ever-growing array of bars, clubs and restaurants. Istanbul’s superclubs are as famous for their tough door staff and wallet-decimating bar prices as they are for their magnificent Bosphorus views. They’re worth it, though. The sybaritic strip between Ortaköy and Kurucesme is home to a clutch of nightclubs that epitomise the word indulgence!
And since we’re on the hunt for the best places to see and be seen, one of the hottest clubs in all of Turkey is Reina. Frequented by celebrities and the who’s who of Turkey, Reina doesn’t disappointed (save up for the €30 drinks though!). As a vast playground filled with bars, restaurants and dance floors, Reina welcomes up to 2,500 people at a time. This is serious partying! Given its positioning, the view from its dock, its atmosphere, and the huge chandelier that seems as if it is hanging from the sky over the club, Reina is definitely a must-visit place for party-goers of Istanbul. It is a chic and elegant place, a place where people reserve high-tables or lounges to dance into the morning, not just the night!
Following Rein, NuTeras is another entertaining, very trendy place with a spectacular view of the Bosphorus and Istanbul from the top of a large terrace. Compared to NuTeras, which is for the casually chic visitor, Anjelique is a trendsetter with its DJs, edgy music and themed events. Overlooking the Ortakoy mosque and the bridge, the club is preferred by locals who enjoy the enchanting and mystical view from the place during the night.
The international fashion and design press have been talking up Istanbul ad nauseam, but the most significant thing about the accolade ‘Europe’s coolest city’ is that Istanbullus themselves have come to believe it.
And it’s easy to see why! The bazaar district is chaotic and colourful. While glam Kanyon may be ground zero for sophisticated shoppers on the other side of the Golden Horn, serious shoppers bring their sharpened elbows here. If you want a calmer (and less violent!) shopping experience, stroll through the hidden Ottoman ‘hans’ (caravanserais) and labyrinthine shopping streets, where the waft of cinnamon and clove intensifies as you approach the historic Spice Bazaar.
Shopping in the Grand Bazaar is a unique experience in itself. Among the crowd, iPods and designer sunglasses vie with headscarves and prayer beads as the accessory of choice, which showcases the diversity of the 13-million strong local population.
For the ultimate upscale shopping experience, head to Istinye Park shopping centre. Don’t be surprised to find Aston Martin DB9s and Bentleys jammed outside a gilded avenue of fortresses labelled ‘Armani’, ‘Gucci’, Vuitton’ and ‘Dior’. True, it is a city where the Islamic world meets the global order, serving as a bridge between Europe and the outer edges of Asia, but still nothing will prepare you for the flash and glitter of it all.
For a day of mingling with the rich and famous of Istanbul, you can join the in-crowd at the city’s amazing art galleries. Socially aspirational Istanbullus know that there’s one foolproof way to build a public profile. All they need to do is build and endow an art gallery, preferably one dedicated to modern art. We can’t explain why the glam brigade has recently taken to culture in such high numbers, but this is indeed the case in Istanbul. This trend was initially started with the Proje4L/Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art in Levent, closely followed by Istanbul Modern in Tophane and the Pera Museum in Beyoglu. All of this is great news for all of us as this allows us to enjoy world-class exhibitions in beautiful and trendy surroundings complete with stylish gift shops and quality cafes.
For a wining, dining and gallery hopping experience extraordinaire, Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Ave) is not only the ideal place to do it, it is also a perfect metaphor for 21st-century Turkey. At one extremity is crazily busy Taksim Square, the symbolic heart of modern Istanbul. At the other extremity is Galata, home to meandering cobblestone lanes that have seen the comings and goings of umpteen imperial powers. This part of town retains a slightly louche and laid-back flavour. The best description of this place is that it is as European as anything east of the Champs Élysées.
So, why go…
Istanbul is hot. And we’re not talking about the weather. These days, there are more happening restaurants, bars, galleries and clubs around town than there are exquisite Ottoman mosques (and that’s a lot).