Minarets and church spires. The call to prayer and tantric beats of lounge music. These are just a couple of the contrasts you'll encounter wandering the streets of Istanbul, Turkey. The dynamics of this city have been thousands of years in the making and while it's known for its history, this fascinating international hot spot is quickly gaining a reputation for its contemporary culture. A city like this could take a lifetime to explore entirely, but if you're en route to one of Backroads' Turkey trips, this little itinerary will help insure that even the quickest layover in what was once Constantinople is a highlight of your travel, not just a pit stop.
5 p.m. - Take in the Scene: Go for an early evening wander down Istiklal Caddesi, a pedestrian thoroughfare in the Beyoglu district lined with boutiques, patisseries, restaurants, galleries and cafés. Peruse, or pick a chair at any one of the spots that intrigues you and order a Turkish coffee to soak in the diversity strolling by (everything from conservative Muslim women dressed in head scarves to fashionable teenagers sporting designer threads.)7 p.m. - Dinner in Modern Anatolia: Little birds have been twittering about a culinary revolution in Istanbul and the artistic, yet distinctly Anatolian, Yeni Lokanta is the first robin. Reservations are a must at this not-to-be-missed restaurant where the scene and the menu--infused with bold flavors of mint, pomegranate, harissa (Tunisian hot chile pepper paste), sea, smoke and cream--are equally delicious.
10 p.m. - Ghetto Music: Down the steep streets of Cihangir, a small neighborhood in Beyoglu, contemporary beats lead you to the funky Ghetto music lounge. The vaulted ceilings of this former bakery seem to create a church-like setting for new progressive, jazz and world music artists alike.
10 a.m. - Eat Breakfast Artfully: The converted warehouse containing the Istanbul Modern museum is also one of the best places to brunch on the Bosphorus. Reservations are recommended, especially on the weekend when everyone wants to sit on the airy patio. After breakfast, be sure to check out the three floors of contemporary artworks by local artists, as well as the sculpture garden and library.1 p.m. - Choose your Own Adventure: With just one afternoon to spend in Istanbul, you'll find it hard to choose what to see and do. Here are your best bets:
Step Back in Time: If you're fascinated by history and architecture and don't mind crowds or lines, you'll want to infuse your stay with bits of Muslim and royal tradition with visits to the historic sites of the Hagia Sofia, Topkapi Palace and Sultanhamet Mosque ("Blue Mosque").
Cruise the Strait: Make your way through the throngs of locals commuting at the Eminonu ferry dock at the end of the Galata Bridge, and purchase a ticket aboard the Turyol ferry. Enjoy the 90-minute trip up and down the Bosphorus and the scenes of the strait; an enjoyable pastime for tourists and Istanbullus alike. Grab a fish sandwich or snacks from one of the many vendors on the dock and enjoy a floating picnic!
Soak the Day Away: After a challenging trip with us, or in preparation for your Turkish adventure, a day at the spa might sound like a dream but a visit to the Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami is probably unlike any day spa you've ever visited! Constructed in 1580 to serve the levends (marine forces in the Ottoman navy) the hammam has undergone intensive restoration, and now offers service to both men and women (each sex with their own exclusive hours of admittance) and is one of the more chic bathing experiences you can have in the city. Be sure to pre-book an olive oil massage, and plan for time after your service to relax and enjoy a snack in their lounge area.4 p.m. - Spice it Up: Back on land in Eminonu, you'll be proximal to the Misir Carsisi (or Egyptian Spice Market) and to the opportunity to be entirely overwhelmed with the scents, sights and scenes inside. This is a great place for souvenir shopping and spice hoarding. Not all vendors are created equal so check out the Malatya Pazari at #40 for spices and sweets where the shopkeeper will happily offer you samples of delicacies and treats while you make your selections. Artifoglu at #33 sells an excellent pomegranate molasses, and Sufi at #45 offers the best jewelry, art and personal accessories in the market.
7 p.m. - Unwind in Old Pera: By now you'll surely have weary feet and sensory overload so retreat to dinner at Mikla Restaurant at the Marmara Pera Hotel, known for its stunning views and modern elegant décor. The Mediterranean-Scandinavian menu is unique among restaurants in the city, as is the feeling that you're part of the skyline while sitting at your table.