Like all great cities, Istanbul has changed hands (and names) throughout the ages, and spanning the continents of Europe and Asia, the influences are varied and captivating. Despite the shellacking of signs and facades, the Ottoman elements shine through in the arts, architecture, and cuisine – from the mosques that pierce the horizon with their echoing minarets, to the carpets upon which residents rest while puffing on nargile and sliding backgammon. Oh yes, in Istanbul indulgence is the name of the game.
The Inside Scoop: There’s no better way to explore this megalopolis than with a local at the helm, so AirTV hit the streets with host, Petek, who offers an apartment with a beautiful downtown view. With both her own personal art as well as collections from around the globe adorning the walls, she clearly enjoys traveling the world as much as we do. Just steps from her door we found ourselves in the thrift-shop district, with shop owners beckoning us to investigate the hidden treasures they had to offer. With no shortage of turkish delight shops, she took us straight to her favorite one where we sampled the double pistachio and stocked up (ahem, bought at least ten boxes) to bring home! We finished off by sipping a traditional turkish coffee and having our fortunes read from the grinds. They predicted AirTV would definitely be back.
The Hood: We stayed in Beşiktaş, home of the city’s oldest sporting club and thus lending its name to one of Turkey’s top football teams. The location is ideal: situated on the European side of the Bosphorus, the ferry docks at its eastern border for a quick shuttle to Asia, and even with the horrendous traffic a ten-minute ride to bustling Taksim Square. Our host was the lovely Evrim, who stocked the fridge with homemade apricot bread as well as had arranged a taxi for airport pickup. It’s always nice to walk off a long flight to see a sign in the distance that reads, “Welcome Airbnb Team!”
Meetup: The most gratifying and inspiring part of our visit was getting together with our top Istanbul hosts and their guests at Rouge Wine Bar! We were impressed to see the variety of spaces, everything from Cheya’s luxury apartments to budget rooms like this one from host extraordinaire, Ercan. A few world travelers joined in from around the globe: Andre from Quebec City, Julian of Berlin, and Kate from Boston. We finally got to meet Airbnb photographer, Habib, who’s been snapping shots of fabulous places around the city, too! Have a peek at the meetup photos.
Cultural Attractions: Five times a day prayers sang by the imams of Istanbul’s mosques ring the streets, serving as a beckon call to the striking buildings of worship. The most renowned are the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia (once the largest cathedral in the world). We’ll spare you an inadequate description, but suffice to say they are simply epic and in close proximity, so they’re easy to see in one swoop. When in the area, drop by the Basilica Cistern, as well. But when you’d really like to get wet and unwind, a Turkish bath is what the doctor orders. Splendid and serene, give the hamam in Cemberlitas a go. When the shopping urge strikes, don’t miss the Grand Bazaar. It’s like the Mall of America from Ottoman times, a bedomed market sprawling sixty blocks and offers everything – from edibles and underwear, to electronics and purses – under the sun! Take note: it’s closed on Sundays.
Dining & Entertainment: To get your fill of homestyle Turkish eats, look no further than Çiya Sofrasi. Their version of a salad bar is festooned with piquantly spiced bulgar dishes, delicious mezes, and yummy pickled comestibles, and the hot items are on display behind the chef, making ordering easy for the non-Turkish speaking. Great for vegetarians, too! Fancy a drink after dinner? Head to Off Pera in Beyoğlu for a taste of Turkish and European pop with a lively crowd. For a more opulent experience with incredible views of the Galata Bridge, Reina lures gorgeous, well-heeled diners and tipplers. And if the dancing mood strikes in the wee hours, MiniMuzikhol is the place to be. It’s unquivocal proof that the Turkish love to party.