Ten Rules for Istanbul

We traveled to the former capital of the Ottoman Empire to discover firsthand why the Turkish way of life is so much fun.

Text: Roberto Schiattino  |  Photos: Ari Espay & liza politi



Visiting a mosque has never been more fun

The numbers will wow you. This bustling city of towers and minarets is home to more than 3,000 Islamic religious centers and mosques, living in harmony with other religions and surrounded by hordes of tourists and overflowing trade. The human and the divine: all jumbled together. Nothing symbolizes this mixture better than Hagia Sophia. The only site in the world that has housed three separate religious is now a museum, and in summer, children bathe in the fountains and eat cotton candy here.




Everything is for sale here

Turkish is simply incomprehensible to Spanish speakers – and perhaps to English speakers as well – so don’t even try to understand it. All you need to know is “indirim.” It’s a magic word for folks who love to shop (and I toured the city with two pros). Indirim means that it’s clearance season. The Grand Bazaar and Spice Market are the typical places to shop, but everywhere you look, you’ll see places that are worth a visit, like the colorful candy stores selling Turkish Delight or the men stationed at every corner in the central district of Galata selling toasted walnuts or smoked mussels from handmade trays. That’s right, mussels with shells and all. The lemon is free of charge.




Just walking down the street is an event

With 14.5 million inhabitants – according to official estimates – the city that was once ancient Byzantium (later Constantinople) is today one of the most populous metropolises in the world and definitely one of the most culturally diverse. Napoleon once said, “If all the world were a single country, its capital would be Istanbul.” In this part of the world, it’s not at all unusual to see two men walking arm in arm or sharing a hug. This casual camaraderie is not a sign of romance but of a different culture, stretching back through the ages.




It’s always teatime

Anywhere, at any given time, you’ll see groups of people enjoying tea on a terrace or in a makeshift corner spot. Delicious and intense, Turkish tea is served in small glasses around little, low tables. It’s the perfect way to take a break in a city that never slows down.




Catch a glimpse of two worlds

This “City of Seven Hills” is the only metropolis that straddles two continents – Asia and Europe – intersected by the Bosphorus, which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. The hills of Istanbul all offer stunning views of one or both continents, so it’s no surprise that everyone says the best rooftops and terraces are found here. Enjoy good food, a few drinks and even a DJ on high. Recommended: The restaurants Leb-i-derya and Zuma.



“Those hips are not from the West!”

That’s what a friend said the first time we went dancing and saw how the women and men moved their hips. Going to one of Istanbul’s many clubs is almost like experiencing Carnaval in Rio: being told about it can’t compare to actually being there. And make sure you listen to some local pop. Turkey is one of the few countries in the world with its own music industry: with the notable exception of Shakira, you won’t hear any Western artists. They even have their own version of Lady Gaga: Hande Yener. Check her out!




Take a dip in Kate Moss’s bathhouse

There are scores of Turkish baths, and each hamam is an architectural delight that can date back centuries. Open since 1941, Cağaloğlu is the oldest hamam in Istanbul, where guests can enjoy a massage, a haircut or a shave in the famous barbershop. As their advertising campaigns demonstrate, illustrious visitors include Cameron Diaz, Kate Moss and John Travolta.




The best beaches aren’t beaches

A boat trip on the Bosphorus is an essential part of any visit to Istanbul, but not everyone is up for crossing to the Asian side to explore the picturesque waterfronts. Do as the Turks do: bring a blanket or towel and relax in one of the parks. Then don a bathing suit and take a dip the sea if you like: stairs on the rocks let you descend safely.




Men in skirts rock

Dervish dancing is aesthetically and traditionally the most daring dance in Turkish culture. The hypnotic ritual is performed by Sufi mystics and considered pagan in origin. Wearing wide skirts, the men spin with remarkable grace without losing balance, leaving the audience enthralled. There are several places (with a range of prices) where you can see whirling dervishes, but your best bet is the dance at the Mawlawi Galata House Museum, Sundays at 5:00 p.m. Advance reservations are required.



All aboard and full speed ahead!

Tech and travel enthusiasts will love this tidbit: Istanbul is about to launch the second stage of the revolutionary Marmaray project. On this 47-mile railroad half a block under the Bosphorus, trains will travel at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, part of a route that will connect London and Beijing. in


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