Day and night, Istanbul is full of old and new treasures to discover and explore. Local resident Malika McCosh picks some favourite features that sum up her love affair with this melting-pot of a city
The engineers who built Istanbul’s much-needed metro had a major international waterway, many hills and the city’s rich and fragile heritage to contend with. The intersection at Yenikapı uncovered a Byzantine harbour complete with wooden boats (a museum is promised in the near future). An elegant new bridge was built over the Golden Horn with wonderful views of the Old City and the ancient walls on the Galata side, while the underwater Bosphorus leg led to the first transcontinental metro line, Marmaray, which opened in October 2013. Linking the metro systems of the European and Asian sides of Istanbul, Marmaray comes out in the old Orient-Express railway station at Sirkeci, a welcome reminder of the romance of train travel.
To fully understand the size and stature of the Ottoman Empire, one needs to visit this former bank on Bankalar Caddesi in Galata, once Istanbul’s Wall Street. With its glass ceiling characteristic of Ottoman banks and the vaults reworked as book storage for a research library, this building is now occupied by arts centre SALT. The imposing marble staircase and the repurposed fountain at its foot, combined with the views over the Golden Horn to the Old City, make this a great place for a coffee. Don’t miss the picturesque Camondo Stairs across the street, which were built by one of Istanbul’s most prominent banking families in the early 20th century.
Bankalar Caddesi 11, Karaköy.www.saltonline.org
You will smell Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi before you see it. Occupying a corner spot outside the Spice Market since 1871, you could get your caffeine high just by standing in the queue outside this family-run shop as the beans are roasted inside. Customers love to watch the brown-coated shop assistants as they pour the ground coffee into paper packets. Look out for the stunning 1930s logo.
Tahmis Sokak 66, Eminönü.www.mehmetefendi.com
CATCH OF THE DAY
The fish-loving Turks have a host of words for the sizes of various fish and the lüfer (or bluefish) is the symbol of Istanbul. It spawns in Balaklava (its name comes from the Turkish for “fish nest”) in Crimea on the Black Sea and swims down the Bosphorus to the city, but its fragile numbers now need protection from overfishing. The Beşiktaş district is known for its fish market selling bluefish, sea bass and sardines alongside vegetable stalls, and nearby fish restaurants can cook the fish for you. The tiny hamsi (or anchovy) is another Istanbul favourite; the season lasts from November to February, during which one can often see hamsi fishing boats bobbing bravely between ferries and oil tankers. If you’re lucky you might see a pod of dolphins near them, even in the centre of the city.
Beşiktaş Fish Market, Sinanpaşa Mumcu Bakka Sk, Beşiktaş
Started as a monthly themed weekend bazaar in 2014 by ex-Vogue features editor Yaprak Aras, Souq Karaköy now also has a permanent store (open every day except Monday) in a garage in Karaköy, the city’s ex-port and dockers’ neighbourhood, where you are more likely to find asymmetric coffee bars and selvedge denim than ships leaving for Odessa. Filled with racks of vintage clothes and stalls selling chocolate, terrariums, hand-made bicycles and stationery by local designer-makers, as well as a record store, the bazaar is an ever-changing showcase of the best of Istanbul’s design scene.
Mumhane Caddesi, Murakıp Sokak 12, Karaköy.www.souqkarakoy.com
Misela’s instantly recognisable chevron print makes the boutique’s elegant and practical bags and clutches hugely popular among Istanbul’s jetset. Designer and founder Serra Turker, a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design and the Parsons School, studied textile design before moving to accessories. Grab a coffee at Gram next door before or after gorging on the geometric offerings in the boutique in Beyoğlu. A second branch recently opened in Bodrum.
Asmalı Mescit Mah., Mesrutiyet Caddesi 107E, Beyoğlu.www.miselaistanbul.com
Tucked down an alley off busy Istiklal Caddesi, Cemil Pilik has been serving one thing for two decades: a Turkish coffee that tastes like sipping chocolate velvet. Mandabatmaz means “the buffalo would not sink”, a testament to the voluptuous texture of the cup he serves to devotees, who perch on stools outside when the small cafe gets too full.
Olivia Geçidi 1a, off Istiklal Caddesi, Beyoğlu.www.mandabatmaz.com.tr
Much has been made of the fact that this ultra-modern mosque in Üsküdar, built in 2009, is the first to be designed by a woman. Indeed, Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu designed the interior, but the exterior was by male architect Hüsrev Tayla. A refreshing change from modern pastiches of Sinan mosques in Istanbul, the Şakirin Mosque uses modern materials such as acrylic and perspex, and glass water droplets for an asymmetrical chandelier to reflect God’s grace. A spherical water fountain by British sculptor William Pye graces the courtyard. The mosque sits at the foot of the vast Karacaahmet cemetery, the country’s largest graveyard.
Corner of Nuhkuyusu Caddesi & Dr Burhanettin Üstünel Sokak, Üsküdar
ON THE RECORD
At the top of Istanbul’s Tin Pan Alley in Tünel, the heart of its music industry, is the record store Lale Plak (Tulip Records) with its ever-present tulips in the window. A family business started in 1959, it is currently run by Hakan Atala, the founder’s nephew. A jazz album from Turkish label Doublemoon makes a great souvenir, as does an Anatolian rock album by groups such as Moğollar or the more psychedelic BaBa ZuLa. If your taste is more pop-orientated, give Sezen Aksu, Ajda Pekkan or Nilüfer a try.
Galip Dede Caddesi 1, Tünel, Beyoğlu
JUST FOR MEN
Just as the UK has pubs, Istanbul has kiraathanes, men-only coffee houses where locals come to drink coffee, smoke, discuss politics, read the newspaper and play games such as Okey (a form of mahjong) or backgammon. With big windows looking on to the street and often a television showing a football match, kiraathanes are liveliest at night, even though most members are retired. Kiraathanes are also often unofficial local headquarters for men from certain areas of Turkey, reflecting the fact that Istanbul is made up of lots of villages, the inhabitants of which generally all come from one region or town.
GOLDEN AGE OF TRAVEL
Time was when you could hop off the ferry and on to a train to anywhere in Turkey from Haydarpaşa station on the Asian side. Designed by German architects and finished in 1909, the last train pulled into this magnificent station in 2013. The future of the building is uncertain due to metro-building work, but the most recent news is that it will reopen as a station rather than as a luxury hotel. A restaurant still operates on the eastern side.
Haydarpaşa Gar Sokak, Haydarpaşa
Calling wall scrawls “graffiti” seems so 2004. These days it’s all about street art, and the Turkish municipalities seem to agree, saving their trademark grey paint for political slogans rather than the giant murals that have bloomed on the city’s buildings. Local artist Leo Lunatic’s hilarious angry pandas are fast becoming a city mascot, while international scribblers come every year for the mural festival in Yeldeğirmeni in the Kadıköy district on the Asian side.