Esquire travel guru Tom Barber hits Europe’s newest party hotspot.
Once reserved for genteel cultural mini-breaks, the ancient metropolis of Istanbul is beginning to rival Berlin and New York in the party-city stakes.
Both antiquated and modern, religious and secular, backward and progressive, Turkey’s biggest city will have you one minute gaping open-mouthed at the 1,500-year-old Hagia Sophia cathedral, the next sipping cocktails in one of the hippest bars this side of the East Village.
Istanbul is a Muslim city, but thanks to a youthful population (over 50 per cent of the 15 million residents are under 30) and growing wealth, partying now takes precedence over piety.
For the best of contemporary Istanbul, by day and night, hit the districts of Beyoğlu and Nişantaşi and make sure you visit at least one of the many rooftop-terrace bars. With warm summer evenings and one of the world’s best cityscapes spread out in front of you, that glass of raki (Turkey’s anise-infused national spirit) will taste all the sweeter.
1. Where to Stay
Several high-profile boutique hotels have opened of late, but it’s still all about the Four Seasons at Sultanahmet. Perfectly located between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia, this building was once the city’s prison. The suites are enormous (and as sumptuously decorated as you’d expect) and the brilliant spa offers a range of treatments curated specifically for men.
Try the Forget Jet Lag facial and massage experience, though we’re imagining that the two-hour time difference won’t have left you feeling all that sleep-deprived. fourseasons.com
2. Where to Eat Lunch
Grab one of the best kebabs in town (trust us, these are like no doner you’ve ever tasted) from the rooftop restaurant, Hamdi. You’ll find it next to the Spice Bazaar. hamdi.com.tr
3. Where to Drink
For cocktails and panoramic views of the city in the company of Istanbul’s beautiful people, head to the aptly named bar, 360. Try the Satsuma Dream — a blend of vodka, satsuma and lime syrup — it’s the perfect summer-evening refresher. Be warned, the entrance is very discreet — you’ll find it next to the World House café on the Istiklal Caddesi. 360istanbul.com
4. What to Visit
Istanbul Modern, housed in a former customs warehouse, is an enormous cultural centre that hosts a cinema, exhibition spaces and a library.
Go and see Fifty Years of Urban Walls: A Burhan Doğançay Retrospective, which showcases the Turkish artist’s graffiti-inspired paintings and collages. The restaurant is great for a quick lunch as well.
Fifty Years of Urban Walls is open until 23 September. istanbulmodern.org
5. Where to Party
Summer sees the all-night partying transfer to a series of clubs lining the Bosphorus in Ortaköy.
Anjelique (owned by Istanbul’s trendy Doors group) is currently the best of a very good bunch, complete with restaurant, several bars and a couple of dance floors heaving with Istanbul’s beautiful people.
Cool off on the open-air terrace overlooking the water and arm yourself with a chilled Efes beer. A tip: get your name on the guest list and arrive by Riva-style motorboat at the pier to avoid the queues. istanbuldoors.com
6. What to Buy
Is it a bar? Is it a bistro? Is it a store selling the latest must-have togs from Turkish designers? Well, actually, it’s all three. Building: Food Lab & Apparel is one of Istanbul’s best new concept stores.
Tucked away in a side street on the Beyoğlu side of Galata Bridge, it serves contemporary Turkish cuisine and great cocktails upstairs while clothing by designers including Vivienne Westwood is sold below. building.com.tr
7. Where to Have dinner
How’s this for multitasking? Owner Ferit Sarper masterminds the menu, distils the house raki and even DJs at Münferit, a modern take on a traditional Turkish tavern or meyhane designed by hip Istanbul architects Autoban.
Make like the locals (and the sprinkling of visitors in on the secret) and order the squid-ink calamari couscous, but be sure you book a table at least a fortnight before you arrive in town. This place gets packed. munferit.com.tr
8. What to Avoid
Don’t spend too much time in taxis, the traffic is horrendous.
Tom Barber is a founder of award-winning travel company Original Travel - originaltravel.co.uk