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Frommer's Istanbul day by day

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"Day by Day" guides have headed the best-seller lists in every year of the past decade, and the reason for their success is that they deal with fast-emerging touristic favorites. Istanbul is the latest example of an immensely-popular new destination. In 184 compact pages profusely illustrated with four-color photos and maps, Frommer's Day by Day Guide to Istanbul takes you to and through the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace (and its harems), the Grand Bazaar (operated since 1460), the many Turkish Baths, and more, while never failing to list the practical choices in lodgings, meals, shops, and other attractions.

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18 Favorite Moments

ePub

Galata Tower at dusk.

18 Favorite Moments

Every visitor to this continent-spanning city of over 15 million inhabitants, once home to two of the world’s greatest empires, will take away their own favorite moments. From Byzantine churches to Ottoman mosques, hip clubs and art galleries and thick black Turkish coffee to waterfront fish restaurants, there’s something for everyone in this great world city.

Head out of the Golden Horn and across the Bosphorus to Asia on a vintage ferry. Istanbul is a city both by and of the sea, and there’s no better way to view it than from a boat taking you from Europe to Asia. See p 17.

Wandering down Galip Dede Caddesi and listening to the sounds emerge from music stores—everything from electric guitars and keyboards to cymbals hand-crafted in Istanbul, the lute-like saz to the ney, the long Anatolian pipe. See p 85.

Eating fresh grilled fish by Karaköy Fish Market. It’s a bit rough and ready, but on a warm summer’s evening, with the Old City skyline ahead, it can’t be beaten for price and pure enjoyment. See p 59.

 

1 THE BEST FULL-DAY, TWO AND THREE-DAY TOURS

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Dazzling interior of the Blue Mosque.The Best in One DayIstanbul’s history centers on Sultanahmet. Here, the ancient Greeks built the city’s first incarnation; later, the district was the heart of both the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. This area is referred to as the Old City, or the Historic Peninsula of Istanbul’s European side. Over the Golden Horn (an “arm” of the Bosphorus), and still in Europe, is the thoroughly modern Beyolu neighborhood. This busy tour gives you a taste of both. START: Tram to Sultanahmet. Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya). One of Istanbul’s iconic landmarks, with a dusky red exterior and huge domes, there are usually long lines to enter what is today a museum. The first church built on this site dates to a.d. 360, but its present form dates back to the mid-6th century when it was rebuilt by Emperor Justinian I. Your first impression, on entering its dimly lit ground floor, is awe, as you stand beneath the magnificent 55m-high (184 ft.) dome, which measures 31.5m (103 ft.) in diameter. Also in the nave of the church are the omphalion, where Byzantine emperors were crowned, and the weeping column, so called because it is slightly damp to the touch. It supposedly cures all ills. Also at ground level, seen as you leave via the inner narthex (vestibule), is the best of the church’s mosaic panels, depicting the Virgin Mary. On one side of her is the Emperor Constantine, offering her a model of Constantinople; on the other side, Justinian offers her a model of the Hagia Sophia. The upstairs gallery, reached via a long sloping ramp, houses beautiful 11th-century mosaics, including that of Christ flanked by Emperor Constantine IX and his wife, Empress Zoe. Close by you’ll see Viking-era graffiti etched into the marble balcony and another stunning mosaic depicting Christ, the Virgin Mary, and John the Baptist. The church was converted into a mosque, the Ayasofya, soon after the conquest of 1453 (p 171). In 1934, it became a museum. Additions from its time as a mosque include the mihrab (Mecca-facing niche) in the apse, a minbar (pulpit), a loge or raised platform where the sultan would pray, and below the dome, great circular plaques inscribed with the names of Allah, Mohammed, and the first four caliphs.  90 min. Ayasofya Meydanı, Sultanahmet.  0212/522-1750. www.ayasofyamuzesi.gov.tr. Admission 30 TL adults, free for kids 12 and under; audio tours 10 TL. Tues–Sun Apr–Oct 9am–7pm, Nov–Mar 9am–5 pm. Tram: Sultanahmet.

 

2 The Best Special-Interest Tours: Arty Istanbul, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul with Kids, Byzantine Istanbul

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Scramble the battlements at Rumeli Hisarı Müzesi.Topkapı PalaceWith the Hagia Sophia, this palace complex is considered one of Istanbul’s two most famous attractions. Sprawling over some 80,000 sq. m (861,000 sq. ft.), Topkapı was built by Mehmet II in 1478 at Sarayburnu, at the tip of the historic peninsula overlooking the confluence of the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus, and the Golden Horn. It was both the seat of government of the Ottoman Empire and home to the Ottoman sultan and his wives for almost 400 years. Spend several hours enjoying its treasures. START: Tram to Sultanahmet. First Courtyard. Entered through the Bab-ı Hümayun gate, the first courtyard of the palace complex is today freely open to the public, as it was in Ottoman times, On your left as you enter is the Hagia Eirene (Church of the Holy Peace; admission 20 TL; Wed–Mon 9am–4pm). Most of what you see today dates back to the 6th century, when it was rebuilt, along with its much larger neighbor the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom; p 7), after the Nika riots of 532. The most impressive part of the interior is the apse, the semi-dome decorated with a simple black cross against a gold mosaic background. Below it is a semi-circular tier of seating used by clergy in the Byzantine period. Unusually, it was never converted into a mosque, though it served as an armory in the Ottoman period.

 

3 The Best Neighborhood Walks: Istiklal Caddesi, Eyup's Sacred Sites, Tunel to Karakoy, Uskudar, Fener & Balat, Beyazit's Bazaars & Mosques

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From Yeni Camii to Galata Tower, walk among Istanbul’s many sights.Istiklal CaddesiThis 3km-long (2-mile) pedestrianized boulevard (Independence Street), known in the 19th century as the Grande Rue de Pera, remains modern Istanbul’s main artery. It’s the city’s shopping hub and home to myriad bars, restaurants, and clubs; a plethora of churches; cinemas; a few mosques; and numerous Art Nouveau–style buildings. START: Bus, Metro, or tram/funicular to Taksim. Cumhuriyet Anıtı (Republic Memorial). This striking arch-shaped monument was commissioned by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk to commemorate the founding of the Turkish Republic and made by Italian sculptor Pietro Canonica in 1928. At last, the post-Ottoman era meant figurative expressions could now be used (previously forbidden in Islam). So one shows Atatürk the leader, with Ismet Inönü (the Republic’s first president) and Fevzi Çakmak (soldier and ex-prime minister) marking the foundation of the young Turkish Republic. Around the other side, Atatürk stands with soldiers, representing the War of Independence.  10 min. Taksim Meydanı.

 

4 The Best Shopping

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Shopping Best Bets

Best for Obscure Turkish Records

Lale Plak 1 Galip Dede Cad (p 84)

Best for Carpets for All Budgets

Nakka 6 Nakilbent Sok (p 86)

Best for Kookie Kitchenware

Karınca 2A Galip Dede Cad (p 88)

Best for Turkic Felt Designs

Cocoon 19 Küçük Ayasofya Cad (p 85)

Best Arty Glassware

Paabahçe 150A Istiklal Cad (p 88)

Best Luxury Ottomania

Sevan Bıçakcı 3/1A air Nedim Cad (p 89)

Best for Vintage Rummaging

By Retro Suriye Pasajı, off Istiklal Cad (p 86)

Best for Tasty Turkish Coffee

Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi 66 Tahmis Sokak (p 88)

Best for Bargaining Enthusiasts

Kapalı Çarısı (Grand Bazaar) Beyazit (p 90)

Best for Vintage Men’s Fashion

Civan 42 Çukurcuma Cad (p 87)

Best for Satisfying a Sweet Tooth

Hafız Mustafa 84–86 Hamidiye Cad (p 87)

Best for Wannabe Interior Designers

A La Turca 4 Faikpaa Yokuu (p 84)

Best for Gaziantep Pistachios

 

5 The Best of the Outdoors

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Escape city bustle in peaceful Gülhane Park.

Gülhane Park

Nestled in the original first courtyard of Topkapı Palace, Istanbul’s oldest park is also, at 66 hectares (163 acres), the city center’s largest. Used in Byzantine times as a barracks and a military warehouse, it became the sultans’ imperial garden and an important public meeting place. Today it’s a respite from the city, a locals’ favorite for weekend strolls and picnics. START: Tram to Gülhane.

Istanbul Islam Bilim ve Teknoloji Tarihi Müzesi (Istanbul Museum of the History of Science & Technology in Islam). This fascinating museum is located in the northwest corner of the park, right up against the late-15th-century crenellated walls that ringed the Topkapı Palace complex. Housed in former Ottoman imperial stable buildings, it was opened in 2008 by Turkish historian Fuat Sezgin. The museum tells the story of Islamic scientists and astrologers from the 9th to 16th centuries. With instruments and other objects recreated by a German university, it demonstrates how these great men were at the forefront of early intellectual discoveries. Exhibits cover the first astrological instruments in the Islamic world, dating back to the 9th century, and include spherical astrolabes, the precursors to the sextants that were used to measure celestial bodies and as navigation aids. At the main entrance, don’t miss the re-creation of a globe made by 14th-century Caliph al-Ma’mun, with Baghdad at the center of the known world. Learn about the first pioneers of calculus (perhaps bringing back memories of school math exams) and even the math of music, where the 13th century saw divisions of the octave into 17 unequal degrees. There’s even a 14th-century distillation apparatus for making rose-petal extract.  1 hr. Gülhane Park.  0212/528-8065. www.ibttm.org/ENG. Admission 10 TL, free for kids 6 and under. Wed–Mon, 9am–5pm. Tram: Gülhane.

 

6 The Best Dining

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The terrace at Mikla is one of Istanbul’s most romantic settings.

Dining Best Bets

The upscale Agatha restaurant.

Best Contemporary Turkish

Yeni Lokanta 66 Kumbaracı Yokuu (p 109)

Best Asian-Side Dining

Çiya 43, 44, and 48B Günelibahçe Sok (p 102)

Best for a Taste of the Caucasus

Fıccın 13/1 Kallavi Sok (p 103)

Best Homely Atmosphere

Datlı Maya 59/A Türkgücü Cad (p 102)

Best Old City View

Surplus 54 Ragıp Gümü Pala Cad (p 108)

Best Family-Run Meyhane

Sofyalı 9 9 Sofyalı Sok (p 107)

Best Cozy Home-Cooking

Hala 26 Çukurlu Çeme Sok (p 103)

Best Sultanahmet Seafood

Balıkçı Sabahattin 1 Cankurtaran Cad (p 101)

Best Value Tünel Meal

Lokanta Helvetia 12 General Yazgan Sok (p 104)

Best Dramatic Views

Topaz 50 Inönü Cad (p 108)

Best for Liver Lovers

Canım Cierim 162 Istiklal Cad (p 102)

Best Istanbul Photographs

Kafe Ara 8 Tosbaa Sok, off Yeniçarı Cad (p 104)

 

7 The Best Nightlife

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Nightlife Best Bets

Best Old City View

AYA Terrace 1 Tevkifhane Sok (p 114)

Best Local Craft Beer

Taps 119 Cevdet Paa Cad (p 116)

Best Leafy Courtyard

Cezayir 16 Hayriye Cad (p 117)

Best for a Wine & Cheese Evening

Corvus Wine & Bite 5 air Nedim Cad (p 114)

Best Long-Standing Gay Nightclub

Tekyön 63 Sıraselviler Cad (p 120)

Best for Electronic Music

Indigo 1–4 Arkasu Sok (p 118)

Best Terrace for Cocktails

360Istanbul 9/F 163 Istiklal Cad (p 119)

Best for High Society

Anjelique 5 Salhane Sok (p 118)

Best Vintage Decor

5.Kat 5/F 7 Soancı Sok (p 115)

Best for a No-Nonsense Beer

Arsen Lüpen 4/F 15 Mis Sok (p 114)

Best for Old City Nargile

Café Meale 45 Arasta Bazaar (p 116)

Best for Hipster Spotting

Unter 4 Kara Ali Kaptan Sok (p 117)

Live gigs at Jolly Joker. Previous page: Night crowds stroll the streets and markets of Istanbul.

 

8 The Best Arts & Entertainment

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Arts & Entertainment Best Bets

Riders at the start of a race at Veliefendi Racecourse. Previous page: Crowds at the parking lot basement at garajistanbul.

Best for Eclectic DJs & Fusion Bands

Babylon 3 eybender Sok (p 127)

Best Venue for an Orchestra

Hagia Eirene Topkapı Sarayı (p 126)

Best Experimental Theater

garajistanbul 11A Kaymakam Reat Bey Sok (p 126)

Best for a Cozy Jazz Night

Nardis 14 Galata Kulesi Sok (p 128)

Best Goal Celebrations

BeIKTA FC Vodafone Arena (p 129)

Best Music for a Summer Night

Cemil Topuzlu Açıkhava Tiyatrosu Harbiye (p 125)

Best Place to Bet on the Ponies

Veliefendi Veliefendi Hipodromu (p 129)

Best for Avant-Garde Bands

Salon IKSV 5 Sadi Konuralp Cad (p 128)

Best Spiritual Experience

Whirling Dervish Ceremony, Galata Mevlevihanesi 15 Galip Dede Cad (p 127)

Best Night at the Opera

Süreyya Opera House 29 Bahariye Cad (p 126)

 

9 The Best Lodging

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Lodging Best Bets

Best Location for Grand Bazaar

Hotel Niles 19 Dibekli Cami Sok (p 138)

Best Secret Garden

Hotel Empress Zoe 4 Akbıyık Cad (p 137)

Best for Famous Guests

Pera Palace 52 Merutiyet Cad (p 140)

Best Sympathetic Period Conversion

House Hotel Galatasaray 19 Bostanbaı Cad (p 139)

Best Use for an Old Distillery

Sumahan on the Water 51 Kuleli Cad (p 141)

Best Contemporary Style

Witt Istanbul Suites 26 Defterdar Yokuu (p 142)

Most Affordable Jacuzzi

Tan Hotel 20 Doktor Eminpaa Sok (p 141)

Best for Secluded Romance

A’jia 27 Çubuklu Cad (p 135)

Best Sultanahmet Cheapie

Peninsula 6 Adliye Sok (p 140)

Best Ultra Chic Lobby

W Hotel 22 Süleyman Seba Cad (p 142)

Best Circular Bed

Eklektik Guest House 4 Kadribey Çikması (p 137)

Best Value in Beyolu

Büyük Londra 53 Merütiyet Cad (p 136)

Best for Making the Most of an Ex-Nunnery

 

10 The Best Day Trips & Excursions

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Eski Cami, Erdine.

Princes’ Islands

The jewel-like cluster of nine islands off Istanbul has a colorful history: Summer houses for the elite; a haven for Jewish, Greek, and Armenian minorities; and exile for “White Russians”—today, they’re a traffic-free escape for locals. You can’t visit every island in one day, so head to Heybeliada and Büyükada to walk, cycle, or hire a phaeton (horse and carriage). Stick to weekdays to avoid the crowds. START: Heybeliada ferry pier.

Deniz Lisesi (Naval High School). You can’t miss the huge waterfront naval school from the ferry pier on Heybeliada (literally, “Saddlebag Island” due to its shape). Originally, the Naval War Academy was set up in 1852. It’s been a high school since 1985, and the white facade makes a striking sight. It’s closed to the public, and uniformed cadets on patrol will prevent you from taking photographs close up. Heybeliada Iskele.

Hagios Nikolaos Church. Dominating the village’s main square, this Greek Orthodox church, dedicated to St. Nikolaos, patron saint of mariners, celebrated 150 years in 2007. It’s usually locked except during Sunday services, attended by around 30 locals. The interior is adorned with gold, chandeliers, and frescoes. Opposite, in the square, are several bicycle hire shops. If you prefer to travel by phaeton, head back to rent one by the ferry pier. Belediye Meydanı, Ayyıldız Cad. Service: Sun 9–11am.

 

The Savvy Traveler

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Istanbul sign posts.

Before You Go

Government Tourist Offices

In the U.S.: 821 UN Plaza, New York, NY 10017 ( 212/687-2194); 2525 Massachusetts Avenue, Washington, DC 20008 ( 202/612-6800); 5055 Wilshire Boulevard Suite 850, Los Angeles, CA 90036  323/937-8066; www.tourismturkey.org). In the U.K.: 4/F 29–30 St. James’s St., London SW1A 1HB ( 020/7839-7778; www.gototurkey.co.uk).

The Best Times to Go

May to June and September to October have a comfortable temperature (daytime 16°–25°C/61°–77°F) and many events. During humid August, some hotels offer discounts due to fewer business visitors. Many Istanbullus head to the coast for holidays.

Business and opening hours alter during Ramazan (the month-long fasting from dawn to dusk). The Islamic lunar calendar is used, so its date moves approximately 11 days annually. Ramazan for 2015 begins June 18 (estimated). During this month, avoid eating, drinking, or smoking in the street out of respect for those fasting. Smaller restaurants, especially in conservative neighborhoods, may close all day; all places are generally busy for iftar (meal to break the fast). During the two biggest religious festivals, eker Bayram (3-day festival marking the end of Ramazan) and Kurban Bayram (Feast of Sacrifice, 10 weeks later), many attractions and shops close for 2 days. Hotels and flights fill up in advance and are more expensive. Many people travel to, and from, Istanbul to visit family.

 

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