Straddling two continents, the beautiful country of Turkey has been the imperial capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, making Istanbul a major political, religious and cultural center for more than two millennia. Blending old and new, the country has invested a decent amount of coin into transforming the city into the modern capital of the world as we’ve known it to be. With plenty of new development in trendy neighborhoods, luxury hotels and tourism, Istanbul is once again, the number one destination to visit in the upcoming year.
The new Istanbul International Airport is officially open. Although plans for development are slated to continue well into 2028, the first terminal is now open and already claims to be the largest airport terminal in the world. With top of the line shops, eateries, and world-class lounges, the airport is soon to be the busiest international airport worldwide.
Upon completion, this airport will be home to four terminals, six runways, and can accommodate some 200 million passengers annually. As the new ultra-modern hub for Turkish Airlines, the airport is more than equipped to accommodate the 315 global destinations the airline currently serves. With routes to over 125 countries, the most in the world, Turkish Airlines continues to add new destinations annually. Their newest destinations include highly sought after locations amongst vacationers such as Cancun, Bali, and Marrakech.
Not to mention, their all-new world-class business lounge that’s far above the rest. With aisle’s of local dishes as far as the eye can see, you can sit back and relax in the various resting areas ranging from private suites, leather lounge chairs, or the cozy dining space which features a self-playing piano to keep the pre-jitter flying woes at bay. With five-star service, gourmet bites, and plenty of options to keep you comfortable, upgrading to business class amongst Turkish Airline’s is an obvious choice.
Speaking of great service, Istanbul may be a historic city, however, the accommodations you’ll find on the European side are far from outdated. New and trendy neighborhoods are popping up every day making modern-day luxury an undeniable staple for this city. At the Raffles Istanbul, for example, you’ll find undiluted grandeur as you enter a sparkling lobby that’s lined with one of a kind contemporary works of art. Offering five-star suites, excellent restaurants, sweeping views of the Bosphorus, as well as stupendous butler and turn down service, you’ll find this properties attention to detail, not to mention customer satisfaction, on another level that exceeds luxury.
With a long lineage of royal history, Istanbul is home to its fair share of Royal palaces. Starting with the oldest, the Topkapi Palace, which now serves as a museum, you’ll find several relics on display as well as one of the most impressive collections of royal jewels in the world. For a more modern take on royalty, you should head over to the Dolmabahçe Palace. This palace has served as the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1856 and is home to the world’s largest Bohemian Crystal Chandeliers with 750 lamps and an astonishing weight of 4.5 tons. For those of us who want to live like royalty, the Ciragan Palace Kempinski is a 123 room hotel that offers old-world glamours rooms with waterfront balconies, personal concierge, top of the line spa, and a gourmet restaurant serving sultan recipes, Tugra, for a feast that’s fit for a king.
Made popular during the Ottoman Empire, Turkish baths are an ancient spa tradition that we’re once seen as a meeting ground for social gatherings. This century-old ritual starts by relaxing poolside with a refreshing glass of herbed water followed by 10 minutes of relaxing in the steam room. Once you’ve opened your pores, you’re ready for your hammam where your skin will be exfoliated with natural ingredients, such as coffee and honey, followed by a wash in a fragrant cloud of soap, as well as a traditional massage should you choose to do so.
On the European side, you’ll find the busiest part of Istanbul. With many of Istanbul’s historical gems located in the Old City, you’ll find this area to be brimming with old city walls and grand Mosques. You’ve probably heard of Istanbul’s most famous mosque, popularly referred to as the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque, or the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, is aptly named after the blue tile adorned interior that amplifies the rich colors of the Bosphorus. Across the square, you’ll find the beautiful museum of Hagia Sophia, who’s exterior is just as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside. This church turned mosque turned museum offers insight into the religious melting pot that is Istanbul.
To completely immerse yourself into the history of Istanbul, you must first gain insight into the gateway between the east and west of the world. After recent initiatives to clean the waterway, the turquoise blue color has been restored to its former glory. In fact, former resident dolphins have recently returned to the waterway and can be see flocking amongst the waves. The strait is a huge symbol of Istanbul and the best way to explore it, of course, is by boat. You can take a dinner cruise or opt for a private boat where sweeping city views can be enjoyed both night and day.
Across the Bosphorus, you’ll find the Asian side of Istanbul. The seemingly more calm, cool and collected side of the city that features charming suburban neighborhoods, local food markets, and great cafes. You can arrive via ferry for encompassing views of both sides of the city for a small fee. Once you arrive in Kadikoy, wander through the local market where you’ll find everything from pickled vegetable shops to butchers preparing lamb to spiced stuffed mussels, which are a big hit amongst locals and foodies alike. While we’re on the topic of good food, be sure to dine at Ciya Sofrasi. A restaurant whose commitment to local ingredients and traditional recipes makes this café a must for classic cuisine.
Grand Baazar – Shopping
Shopping at the market is a huge part of Turkish culture. From spices to leather goods the bazaar is an experience all within itself. Although the days of bartering are long gone, bargaining is still in full swing at the Grand Baazar and no visit to the Baazar would be complete without a trip to the spice market. Where Turkish delights, spices, dried fruits, nuts, and Turkish teas are a must. Other highly coveted items include silk scarfs, leather accessories, and the staple of Turkish decor: Turkish rugs. The perfect way to take a one of a kind piece of Istanbul home with you.
Merissa Principe is a teacher and a freelance travel blogger from NYC. Teaching early childhood education has provided Merissa an opportunity to travel all over the world and live in new places. Be sure to follow her at Citygirlriss.wordpress.com for all things travel, beauty, fashion and New York City.