Great Escapes: A Cultural and Historical Bounty in Istanbul

Istanbul has been at the crossroads of competing empires and civilizations for thousands of years. Powers have risen and fallen, rulers have come and gone, but Istanbul remains. As the modern day country of Turkey—which has made a formal move this year to be internationally recognized as Türkiye—approaches a century of independence, Istanbul has emerged a global nation that celebrates its past alongside a taste of its present and future.

The many travelers who pass through the glimmering, massive new Istanbul Airport—it opened in 2019 and by 2021 was serving the second most international passengers in the world—come to the city for many reasons. Istanbul has an abundance of well-preserved historical sites, unique cross-continental straddling appeal, and sensational food. The way its many past iterations are intermeshed with its current presence, along with the sheer, standout splendor of its architecture and history, cannot be easily rivaled or replicated elsewhere.

Turkish Airlines is expanding its already large presence in the include 14 gateway cities with direct flights to Istanbul. For those heading farther afield, the airline offers Istanbul stopovers with complimentary multi-night hotel and tour packages for business class travelers.


The pool at Raffles Istanbul.

Jake Emen

An array of five-star stays are available, including options from luxury brands including Six Senses, Mandarin Oriental, the Ritz-Carlton, and two entries from the Four Seasons. The
Ciragan Palace Kempinski,
meanwhile, has a special presence in a 19th-century Ottoman palace which has made it a much-coveted stay.

Raffles Istanbul is located atop a hilltop perch overlooking the city and the Bosphorus below, seemingly lording above its surroundings. The hotel is surrounded by a quiet residential area, offering a reprieve from the city’s chaos and clamor, and shines by delivering attentive service from within its luxurious confines. Amenities include an enormous spa with an indoor relaxation pool and traditional Turkish hamam, along with an outdoor pool deck and the group’s signature Long Bar.


The famed Blue Mosque.


Most first-time visitors devote several days to expansive tours of Istanbul’s grand heritage. The list is likely topped by the
Hagia Sophia,
which is once more a functioning mosque, rather than a museum. It’s open to the public and free to visit. The elaborate patterns of the Blue Mosque and its six minarets can be found at the opposite end of a large plaza. Other nearby sites include the Obelisk of Theodosius amid the ruins of the Hippodrome, the Theodosius Cistern, and the Topkapi Palace Museum.

Don’t skip the Suleymaniye Mosque with its more tranquil environment, and its beautiful, symmetrical construction and designs. Elsewhere, be sure to visit the Galata Tower, and reserve a few hours to stroll through and get lost within the Grand Bazaar. Rather than an outdoor souk, it’s more of a covered, indoor mall, except an ancient one with 66 streets, 22 gates of entry, and more than 2,000 stores, specializing in everything from carpets, lamps and ceramics to gold, jewelry, and leather.


Best laid eating plans are often cast aside in Istanbul, where a new shop tantalizing visitors off their pre-mapped tracks can be found on every corner, and wonderful restaurants specializing in one dish or another are hidden in any number of nooks and crannies and back alleys of the city. A street food tour is the most efficient way to sample as much as possible from quality vendors, with local operator Istanbulite serving as a trusted choice. 

Most luxury hotels include lavish Turkish breakfasts, which are delicious spectacles not to be missed. For kebab, and Adana kebab in particular, seek out spots such as Yirmibir or
Adana Ocakbasi.
Lokanta 1741, a rooftop restaurant located within famed celebrity hamam haunt
Cagaloglu Hamam,
is known for excellent kebabs, hummus, and pide. Head to the sprawling new Galataport, a US$2 billion construction project including a wide range of international dining destinations, and consider grabbing a beer at The Populist, one of the city’s several craft breweries. Istanbul is home for those with a sweet tooth, and
Karakoy Gulluoglu
is its most famous destination for baklava, a veritable temple of the indulgent arts of filo dough, chopped nuts, and honey.


The METT Hotel & Beach Resort opened in 2021.

Jake Emen

The resort destination of Bodrum awaits a short 75-minute flight away from Istanbul. Bodrum encompasses its namesake town as well as the surrounding peninsula, and has emerged as a vacation getaway rivaling anything found in the Mediterranean. It rests on the Aegean Sea, adjacent to the Greek Isles, and provides travelers much of the same experience, with its own Turkish touches, of course. 

The METT Hotel & Beach Resort opened in 2021, and has a prime position within the town of Bodrum. It also has its own stretch of sandy beach, a rare amenity in the area, beautiful waters in a calm bay, and accommodations ranging up to multi-bedroom villas. The lifestyle-centric property boasts several dining options, including the rooftop Isola, as well as the attached beach club and restaurant Folie.

The most popular activity in Bodrum is spending an afternoon on the water with a Gulet boat tour. Public boats and private charters are available, often including lunch and several swimming stops in secluded bays around the peninsula. 

Bodrum was the location of the Halicarnassus Mausoleum, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. The stones of the ruined wonder were then used to construct the still-standing Bodrum Castle, which itself has been refashioned as the home of the Museum of Underwater Archaeology. Take in a sunset at the western tip of the peninsula from
Limon Gümüşlük
restaurant, known for its views, entertaining scene, and top-flight meze. Karnas Vineyards offers wine tastings and wine pairing dinners, emphasizing local produce alongside its wines.

The writer was hosted by Turkish Airlines and the Turkish Tourism Board.

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