Our Istanbul design guide takes you through the city, from monuments to hidden clubs, and helps you discover this unique and fascinating city. Istanbul straddles the border between Europe and Asia, and is a vibrant blend of both cultures. It is unique because the city is divided by the Bosporus Straits so the western half of the city is in Europe and the eastern half in Asia – each with their own distinctive characters. Istanbul is a colorful mixture of a rich and amazing history, beautiful architecture, bazaars, and excellent cuisine – no wonder it is on so many people’s ‘wish list’! Use our Istanbul design guide to plan your trip today.
Widely regarded as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world – especially when floodlit at night, and is an iconic landmark in the city. Built in 537 AD, Hagia Sophia was a church for 916 years, before it was converted and used as a mosque for a further 482 years. In 1935, the building was turned into a museum with displays of tiles, mosaics, and calligraphy in the most spectacular surroundings. In July 2020, Hagia Sophia was once again converted into a mosque. This spectacular building will remain open to the public between the five daily prayer sessions.
A small neighborhood in the distric of Beyoğlu that is home to artists, writers, intellectuals, and a growing international community, the streets of Cihangir are bursting with creative energy and captivating design. The narrow streets are often blocked to cars, allowing you to peruse the sidewalk cafes and art galleries with ease. The shadowed streets house a lush garden tea house frequented by locals, and the it’s the perfect place to stop for a quick snack before hopping into another gallery or museum on your way.
The Blue Mosque
Situated in the Old City, this is the city’s most famous site and is absolutely beautiful with six stunning, slender minarets. Sultan Ahmed Mosque has the nickname The Blue Mosque because its interior is decorated with mosaics of thousands of small blue tiles. This mosque is still a working mosque so you are requested to dress properly when visiting it – long trousers should be worn and women must have their shoulders and heads covered.
Istanbul is a great center for shopping and all the world’s most well-known brands are available, in addition to handmade goods from local craftsmen. There are wonderful fashions to buy, ranging from trendy to haute couture with something for all budgets and styles. As well as the Grand Bazaar, there are street markets most days, as well as a dizzying array of malls and shopping centers throughout the city.
Istanbul has 200 shopping malls. The best on the European side include Kanyon and Metro City in the Levant District, and Cevahir in Mecidiyekay. On the Asian side, Emaar Square Mall in Ukudar and Capital in Altunizade are amongst the most popular. Taksim is the cosmopolitan part of the city and the famous Istiklal is a two kilometer long shopping street with an amazing selection of shops, interspersed with traditional coffee shops and pubs.
Sultanahmet is the neighbourhood where you will find many craftsmen if you are seeking to buy something traditional and authentic to take home with you. Among the best souvenirs to buy in Istanbul are the famous kilims (carpets) made in silk or cotton, ceramics, lamps, spices, and some boxes of delicious Turkish Delight. Silver and gold jewelry is always a good buy, and is available in both traditional and contemporary designs.
This is an absolute must for the visual feast as well as the shopping since it is the largest covered bazaar in the world with a labyrinth of 60 streets with more than 5,000 colorful shops and stalls. It has been a trading center since the 15th century, and is where local people do their everyday shopping. Artisinal carpets, ceramics and jewelry are amongst the best buys you can find here. The Grand Bazaar also contains mosques, hammams, and cafes.
Banyan’s motto is “food for the soul”, and their cuisine always hits the spot. An ingenious blend of Asian fusion fare that seamlessly combines the Western and Eastern influences of the city, their healthy dishes and stunning views make this spot a must. The restaurant is on the top floor of a historical building, and offers romantic terrace seating or chic indoor seating. Savor the duck satay, fresh cocktails, or dazzling dim sum while looking out over the city for a truly incredible evening.
Nar Lonkata is a wholly Turkish restaurant, from the decor to the dishes. Using traditional Ottoman recipes from centuries ago and seasonal farm-to-table ingredients, the food is sumptuous and freshly flavorful. You won’t be stuck for choice with seating as the restaurant has not only a spacious rooftop and quaint indoor area, but three lush terraces for you to enjoy. Like much traditional Turkish cooking, lamb is a prominent feature but seafood and vegetarian options are also worth checking out.
Asitane offers you the chance to step back into the past with the flavors of their very traditional dishes, as well as the surrounding buildings. Overlooking the Golden Horn and nestled in the foothills of Edirnekapi, and lying under the Chora Church, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled to a completely different time. Asitane prides itself on cooking forgotten recipes from the unique neighborhood that blends ancient Ottoman and Turkish recipes for a master class in regional cooking methods that date back hundreds of years. Check the dates next to your food to see when the recipes come from: some customer favorites include the 1882 lamb roast, the 1469 chestnut terrine soup, and the 1539 almond halva.
Nardis Jazz Club
Istanbul has a long and storied relationship with jazz, and boasts a number of smaller clubs and bars with live performances, as well as hosting jazz festivals annually. While there are quite a few to choose from, Nardis always tops the list. Their blend of live and recorded music, from solo artists to ensembles, encompasses a huge number of styles, geographies, and moods. Be sure to reserve a table next to the bar for the best experience available. The acoustics inside are fantastic, and the chic interior style doesn’t hurt. Along with their extensive bar, Nardis also offers a great selection of food to accompany your musical journey.
Babylon is a multi-purpose live performance and event venue that hosts everyone from up and coming local artists to international headliners. They’ve been revolutionary in bring Istanbul’s music scene into the modern century. Their shows aren’t limited to music alone, and they often feature dance performances in their lofty new location in the Bomontiada Campus. If you’re looking for an authentic experience that’s sure to elate you, don’t hesitate to visit this cultural cornerstone in the heart of Istanbul
Ulus 29 is a local’s restaurant, and a standby for upscale cuisine in Istanbul. Their food offerings range from handmade sushi to avante garde dishes, with traditional Turkish food always on offer. The interior design is breathtaking, offering a respite from the city with its panoramic views of all the major bridges and a unique overlook of the river. On the weekends, this stylish restaurant morphs into a popular club, and one of the best places in the city to see and be seen. Leading international DJs often headline here, so it’s worth dressing up to visit and people watch.