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Three Perfect Days: Istanbul

The fabled capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires is a glittering, glorious muddle of influences and impulses

Author Jacqueline Detwiler Photography Jan McGready

Istanbul, seen from Topkapi Palace

Picture 1 of 12

The Inside Scoop From Those In The Know

Asli Gezmis


“I like to meet up with friends in Nişantaşi to drink and eat at trendy restaurants like Juno. It’s a posh area with a lot of stores, so it’s also good for shopping—or, more often, window shopping.”

Coşkun Uzunkaya


“There is a great place called Sirevi where I like to go and sing karaoke when I’m done working. Everyone is really nice there, whether you can sing or not.”

Didem Şenol


“I often go to Tahtakale near the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar to search for different kinds of kitchen items and get lost in the small streets. There are so many little things to buy that you can cook with.”

Here’s the Thing(s)

An award-winning author displays the items that inspired his work

Istanbul native and Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk developed a strange habit while writing his 2008 novel, The Museum of Innocence. Having both bought a 19th-century house in the Çukur-cuma district and used it as a setting for his story about a wealthy man, Kemal, who worships his lover, Füsun, by obsessively collecting the mundane objects that touch her life, Pamuk actually began collecting the objects he wrote about.

In April of this year, Pamuk used those artifacts to open the Museum of Innocence—a hushed, ghostly affair, punctuated only by muted gasps from book-loving visitors viewing cases of knickknacks—in that same Çukurcuma row house. For Pamuk fans, visiting the three-story museum is making a pilgrimage of sorts to contemplate items, like Füsun’s 4,213 discarded cigarette butts, the same way Kemal does. “Attachment to things, piling them together … is common to human hearts, in every geography,” Pamuk has said. “And I really like small, neglected museums.”

That’s Rich!

Prices rise steeply just outside Istanbul’s iconic market

While haggling in the Grand Bazaar can be a dizzying affair, it’s nothing compared with the high-stakes game in play just beyond the Nuruosmaniye Gate, one of its busiest entrances.

Less than a minute’s walk from the bazaar, on the relatively quiet, tree-lined Nuruos-maniye Caddesi, you’ll find shops that deal almost exclusively in goods bought by the kinds of travelers who have their own customs agent on retainer.

Take Sevan Biçakçi, a jewelry boutique favored by everyone from Catherine Zeta-Jones to Lady Gaga.

It showcases rings in which scenes are cut and painted in bas-relief inside massive precious stones (typical price tag: $10,000-$20,000) and mesh bracelets held together with tiny dagger-shaped clasps. Nearby, you’ll find Sofa Art and Antiques, whose carefully curated collection includes gold-leaf Islamic calligraphy, Russian Orthodox icons and mosaic-patterned ceramics.

Finally, there’s Orient Handmade Carpets, which employs weavers who work so single-mindedly that some of them finish only 30 to 40 pieces in their entire career. As you might be able to afford just one or two of their creations in your entire career, you would do well to bargain wisely.

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3 Responses to “Three Perfect Days: Istanbul”

  1. Sue Willingham Says:
    October 2nd, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    I enjoyed your 3 days in Istanbul as that (and Turkey) are my favorite places on earth. BUT — many of United’s customers are budget travelers and these three days probably cost as much as a month traveling in Turkey. I spent an average of $50/day staying in nice enough pensions and eating delicious food and taking buses in 2008 and only a bit more than that in spring 2012. It would be good to offer a more affordable view of these wonderful places. Istanbul is a gem, and can be very affordable.

  2. Norma Kalife de Drexel Says:
    March 23rd, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    as I was flying last October to Istanbul I found the Hemisphere Magazine with this article we followed each step and we enjoyed lots more of the city with this guide, thank you and keep writing this great travel tips and ideas, I will love to go back to Istanbul one of the best cities in the worild!!!

    The only thing that we didn´t love so much was the last restaurant recommended for the the last night it was empty and no bellly dancers as the article said but then again my husband and I had a romantic, cold, and lonely nice dinner!!!

  3. berat user Says:
    May 20th, 2013 at 10:37 am

    “Lokanta Maya” in karakoy district is one of the best restaurants in the city now. If you are staying in Kempinski i would recommend maya for the dinner.

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