Istanbul is one of the few places where giving someone an evil eye is a good thing. The charms ward off jealousy — which you’ll definitely have to deal with when recounting your thoroughly modern stay to friends.
Though you want to see and be seen — not to mention eat and drink — at the always-buzzing boutique chain The House Cafe, now you want to sleep there, too. After opening a twenty-suite Galatasaray location inside a four-story mansion from the late 1800s and, most recently, a 45-room design den in shopping destination Nisantasi (don’t miss the mix of local lines, like Mehry Mu handbags, and international labels, like Vanessa Bruno, at nearby Midnight Express), there’s a third in the works in charming Ortaköy. But if you want to skip The House Hotel’s scene, check into one of the The House Apart’s stylish, full-service flats located throughout the city.
Spend an afternoon wandering Galata. Hit backstreet Serdar-i Ekrem for a mix of high-concept shops like Building Idea Engineering (Serdar-i Ekrem Sk. 27A), where you’ll spot young designers, like Burcu Kuru, and local hangs, such as Galata Sarküteri (Serdar-i Ekrem Sk. 30A; +90-212-245-4345), a tiny, all-natural deli. Duck into Laundromat around the bend for a well-edited selection of women’s wear. Then find your way to Camekan Sokak to check out Ahmet Baytar’s shoes at ParisTexas (Camekan Sokak 4B; +90-212-252-4990) and contemporary takes on classic Turkish scores at Adem & Havva (Camekan Sokak 3B; +90-212-245-0551).
Leisurely lunch at the alleyway Kafe Ara (Tosbag Sk. 8A, Galatasaray; +90-212-245-4105) to people-watch and feast on hearty plates. As the sun goes down, head downtown to Mikla on the rooftop of The Marmara Pera hotel for stunning 360-degree views, stiff mojitos, and Mediterranean fare with a Scandi influence. As crazy as it might seem, the best late late-night scenario is to find yourself at Reina — yes, the expansive open-air nightclub on the Bosphorus — with a bit of an appetite and even hungrier friends. Stone-cold sober or a few rounds of raki in, the dolma, kebabs, and rest of the tastes of Anatolia menu hit the spot.
Grand Bazaar can be, well, totally bizarre — and you wouldn’t want it any other way. One second you’re drooling over real-deal diamonds and gold in the windows of fabled Mavi Kose (Inciciler Sk. 10-12); the next you’re navigating through plastic hookahs and apple tobacco smoke. Along the way, stop for antique statement silver pieces from The Brothers Jewelry (Icbedensten Serifaga Sk. 30-31), heavenly all-natural linens from Abdulla (Alibaba Türbe Sk. 25), and a piping-hot pick-me-up coffee at traditional cafe Etham Tezçakar Kahveci (Halicilar Caddesi) in the middle of it all. (If you miss out on the perfect scarf, you can always nab one at Satine.)
Though it’s nearly impossible to go an hour without bumping into an impressive, important historical site, especially seek out the Sakip Sabanci Museum for its collection of early paintings and calligraphy and the contemporary works at Istanbul Modern, housed in a converted warehouse overlooking the Bosphorus (on which an afternoon cruise is never a bad idea). Or relax and learn at the same time with a traditional scrub and massage at the massive marble Cagaloglu Hamami. Tea on the deck will really take you back, say, about 300 years. Though you’ll want to come back much sooner.
Photos: Maistora / Flickr; Michal Sacharewicz / Flickr; 7bikeframesweldedtogether / Flickr; Stew Dean / Flickr; Courtesy of Sakip Sabanci Museum