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24 Hours in Istanbul AKA A Tale of Two Cities

Net-A-Porter, May 2019

The majestic Bosporus bridge rising in the distance mirrors the pervading sense of coalescence and divergence permeating this millennia-old metropolis.


Accommodating roughly 15 million inhabitants, Istanbul is the world’s largest city to span two continents, making it a truly magical meeting point between East and West. Devoutness and non-theism, Westernization and century-old traditions, collision and integration… Istanbul is a unique cultural crossroad, offering eclectic fusion in architecture, cuisine, aesthetics and lifestyle.


Let the gentle hum of the goings-on in the upscale Dolmabahçe district wake you from your slumber and take in the breath-taking view from one of the newly refurbished Bosporus View Suites: a picturesque cityscape dotted with spectacular mosques, ferries gliding serenely along the glistening waters below. In redesigning the 243 guestrooms and 23 sumptuous suites of the perfectly located Ritz-Carlton hotel, acclaimed artists and architects, including Portuguese designer Patricia Pina, have captured the essence of the city itself. Here, rich Anatolian elements blend in seamlessly with sophisticated, modern flourishes, making for a truly unique sensory experience. Intricate works of cobalt blue ceramic harmonise with gold and copper hues reminiscent of the Golden Horn’s aureate gleam. 


Feast on a lavish breakfast of local and international delicacies such as menemen, local cheeses and fresh juices at Atelier Real Food, the hotel’s gastronomic beating heart. Then, head out to one of Istanbul’s most celebrated landmarks: Sultan Ahmet Camii, also known as the Blue Mosque. Dominating the city’s skyline, it truly is a sight to behold. Completed in 1617, this active mosque owes its moniker to its countless azure tiles, adorned with tulips (Turkey’s national flower), lilies and abstract patterns. Take a stroll through the serene courtyard and marvel at the many elaborate arches and domes. The muezzin’s call to prayer echoing in the distance will remind you that, like an unspoken pact, in Istanbul, past and present coexist in perfect harmony. Keep in mind that the inside of the mosque is closed for visitors during prayer times, so be sure to plan ahead.


Next, wander over to the Hagia Sophia, affectionately dubbed the 8th Wonder of the World. Having served as Istanbul’s principal mosque for nearly 500 years, it was once considered one of the holiest Islamic temples in the world. Today, it remains one of the city’s top attractions. Each day, nearly 10,000 visitors admire the stunning Christian mosaics, which were concealed during the building’s tenure as a mosque, only to be re-exposed when the Hagia Sophia was secularised and converted into a museum in 1935. Before you leave, don’t forget to pet the Insta-famous Hagia Sophia cat whose most prominent fan is none other than former US president Barack Obama.


No visit to Istanbul would be complete without getting lost in the city’s eye-popping Grand Bazaar. One of the largest and oldest markets in the world, this iconic, labyrinth-like city-within-a-city houses over 4000 shops, 61 covered streets and 18 ornate gates opening up to reveal promises of adventures off the beaten path. Feast your eyes on beautiful gold and silver jewellery, colourful spices, precious stones, leather goods and ceramics. It is also the perfect spot to stock up on souvenirs.


Locals and (clued-in) visitors alike know that Pandeli, located on the top floor of the Spice Market, is the perfect epicurean hideaway. Founded in 1901, this hotspot is Istanbul’s very first licensed restaurant, offering a dazzling array of delicacies away from the hustle and bustle. Choose from a wide selection of delicious mezze and mouth-watering mains. The “Pouf” Turkish pastry with cheese and herb filling, anchovy patties, and Sultan’s Delight lamb stew served on roasted eggplants are not to be missed. After, walk across the Galata Bridge and you’ll find yourself in Karaköy, a trendy neighbourhood famed for its Ottoman-era buildings, quaint shops and countless art galleries. For dessert, pop into the city’s most famous baklava shop, family-run Karaköy Güllüoğlu, and savour delicious pastries and Turkish tea.


To understand Istanbul is to understand how its nautical nature and unique geography have, in tandem, shaped the city it is today. And what better way to experience its most striking monuments than cruising along the Bosporus on a private yacht? Connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, this 31km long strait offers unobstructed views of magnificent palaces, striking bridges, man-made islands and ancient fortresses. Listen to the seagulls’ calls as you coast along what Byzantine historian Procopius once called “a garland of waters,” simultaneously binding and dividing the city. 


Head back to the hotel and pamper yourself with one of the many indulgent treatments offered at the SPA at Ritz-Carlton. Choose from an endless selection of decadent signature treatments, including massages, body treatments, facials and traditional hammam rituals. In addition to being the only open-air spa with sweeping views of the city (best enjoyed in summer), the lush indoor pool, steam room, sauna, fitness center and jacuzzi will have you feeling like royalty. 


Let the chefs at Atelier Real Food Restaurant treat your taste buds to culinary, farm-to-table delights inspired by contemporary world cuisine and the exquisite dishes of the Ottoman palace. For an exclusive dining experience, request the Chef’s Table adjacent to the impressive showcase cellar housing 150 local and international wines. Gastronomic highlights include the sea bass ceviche with bodrum mandarine sauce (best paired with the Sevilen Isabey sauvignon blanc), the foie gras with pomegranate molasses (perfect with the Chamlija pinot noir) and the grilled sea turbot fillet with fennel and a butter garlic sauce (try the Kavaklıdere Egeo chardonnay). 


What better way to end the day than over a handcrafted cocktail in the hotel’s Bleu Lounge. Let the glow of the floodlit Bosporus Bridge wash over you as you watch passenger ships drift into the distance, quietly bridging the gap between East and West.

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