Turkey, who recently formally requested to change its name to Türkiye, is a country I have slept on for years. I’ve yet to visit, though my research on the country suggests that I am really missing out on getting to know this fascinating culmination of history, culture and craft. Istanbul, once the centre of the world, bridges Europe to Asia, and holds a special place in the heart of anyone who visits. Here are three neighbourhoods in Istanbul you shouldn’t miss.
Sultanahmet is a popular neighbourhood in Istanbul for those who enjoy historical landmarks and cultural reference points. The sixteen hundred year old Hagia Sophia mosque stands out immediately, with its majestic minarets towering over the skyline. The iconic mosaicked Blue Mosque of the Ottoman Empire shouldn’t be missed either. Take a traditional Turkish steam bath in Sultanahmet, where going for a midday hamman is typical. Pick up some spices to take home on an early morning walk around either the Arasta Bazaar or the Grand Bazaar.
Galata is hard to miss, sitting high above the Bosphorus river. If you’re in doubt, simply look out for the fourteenth century Galata Tower. In Galata, locals assemble in the many cafés to enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee. When you’re not tasting coffee, get a taste of local culture and watch an Islamic meditational performance of the Whirling Dervishes at the Galata Mevlevihanesi. Lively Galata also has great nightlife - start with a few drinks at the Restaurant 24 roof-terrace atop the boutique Georges Hotel Galata, best visited at sunset for glimmering views of the Bosphorus and Golden Horn.
Colourful houses line the cobbled streets of the historic neighbourhood of Balat. As one of Istanbul’s oldest districts, Balat is a must-see. Merdivenli Street and Sancaktar Sreet are popular, picturesque streets to potter around in your velvet Vivarini Espadrilles in magenta, matching the vibrantly coloured houses. Stop for breakfast at Forno, where only the freshest local ingredients are used to create hearty dishes. Go for the crispy lahmacun, the Middle East’s flatbreaded answer to pizza, topped with minced meat, veg and an assortment of herbs and spices.