36 hours in Istanbul | Vancouver Sun

If Turkiye is the crown that bridges East and West, Istanbul is its crown jewel

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Whether the starting point for a visit to Turkiye is a pre- or post-cruise excursion or a pit stop between flights, as part of Turkish Airlines stopover program, Istanbul never fails to delight.

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Straddling two continents at the confluence of three waterways (the Bosphorus, the Sea of ​​Marmara and the Golden Horn), the pulsating megalopolis of 15 million people seduces with its combination of old-world mystique and power. modern.

The bustling Bosphorus, half a mile at its narrowest part, is one of the busiest sea passages in the world with more than 40,000 ships passing through it each year. East and West come together here: Asia on one side, Europe on the other. There is nowhere like it in the world. And even the briefest of stays offers a myriad of Turkish delights.

Editor’s note: The Canadian government has replaced the name Turkey with the official Turkish spelling Turkiye.


5 p.m. Registration

For an unforgettable getaway, choose Istanbul’s famous Çiragan Palace Kempinski hotel. Located directly on the Bosphorus, the ornate ancient palace graces Istanbul’s bustling Besiktas district. While the modern hotel offers a variety of room options, a stay in one of the 11 palace suites in the original historic part of the property is an unforgettable experience.

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The sumptuous two-story suites feel like private apartments, complete with butler and helipad. It’s the stuff of fantasy and a highly sought-after wedding venue. “Many girls dream of having their wedding at the Palace,” explains Cansu Bas, the hotel’s marketing manager.

Among the many in-room amenities is a custom “soap service” cart, deployed by your butler who uses a ceremonial sword to cut chunks of handmade soap from huge blocks.

Inside the Ciragan Palace Kempinksi Hotel.
Inside the Ciragan Palace Kempinksi Hotel. Photo by Vanessa Pinniger

6 p.m. But first, spa

With soap now in mind, head to the hotel’s Sanitas Spa hammam. The authentic bathing ritual, an essential part of Turkish culture, involves vigorous exfoliation from head to toe, followed by a lather of soap thrown from a cone-shaped towel resembling a piping bag, then a full head and body massage.

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Lie on the marble slab in the middle of the steam-filled room, succumb to the friction, then float like bubbles. After sipping tea and munching on Turkish delights in the relaxation lounge, you’ll feel refreshed.

8 p.m. Dinner like a sultan

End the evening at Tugra, the gourmet restaurant on the first floor of the palace. Enjoy the authentic Ottoman experience overlooking the Bosphorus in the high-ceilinged room or on the terrace. The Casserole of beef rib steak cooked in a clay pot is a must, served directly at the table.

The magnificent AKM library.
The magnificent AKM library. Photo by Go Turkiye


10 a.m. Retail Therapy

Immerse yourself in the chaos of the Grand Bazaar with its countless designer counterfeits and enthusiastic shopkeepers who make haggling a sport.

Or head to the Galataport to discover high-end boutiques showcasing local designers, international high-end brands, galleries and chic restaurants, all located in the old post office. Part of a US$1.7 billion mega project that revitalized 1.2 km of waterfront in the Karaköy district, the resort is the city’s newest shopping and dining destination; cultural, artistic and design centre; and cruise port.

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The impressive 29,000 square foot underground terminal uses a trapdoor system – the first in the world – that raises the pavement when a ship docks, revealing ramps that lead down to customs and security, while allowing the walkway of the waterfront to remain open to the public. The project is completed by a 177-room Peninsula Hotel and the new Istanbul Modern Art Museum designed by Renzo Piano.

2:00 p.m. Cultural tour

The new Atatürk Cultural Center, AKM, up the hill in Taksim Square, is also sparkling. The venue, which reopened in 2021 after a 13-year reconstruction, combines concert hall, theater, cinema, library, museum, art gallery and restaurants under one roof.

At its center, the Opera House is a stunning spherical auditorium made up of more than 15,000 handmade, dark red ceramic tiles.

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4:00 p.m. Grand Views

Cross Taksim Square and stroll down Istiklal Street to the iconic Galata Tower. Dominating the skyline since 1348, when it was built as the city’s tallest structure, the 62-meter tower offers the best panoramic views of the city. Note: an elevator takes you to the nine floors but to get out you have to go down the spiral staircase of the old watchtower.

The iconic Galata Tower has adorned the city since 1348.
The iconic Galata Tower has adorned the city since 1348. Photo by Go Turkiye

7 p.m. Nomadic food

Dine overlooking the Bosphorus at Alaf Restaurant in the bustling Kurucesme district. Considered a nomadic dining experience, this is traditional Anatolian street food. (The word Alaf, with Kurdish roots and other cultures in the Anatolian region, means a burning fire of amber, a nod to the wood-fired oven at the open-air rooftop restaurant.) Here, the chef Deniz Temel, who interned at Copenhagen’s NOMA, showcases his touch on the region’s dishes. Yogurt is based on fermented pine leaves; the bass is drizzled with sumac syrup; raw salad with cream cheese and pistachios. And the Turkish dumplings will have you planning a return visit.

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A view of the enormous Hagia Sophia.
A view of the enormous Hagia Sophia. Photo by Go Turkiye


11 a.m. Morning prayers

No trip to Istanbul is complete without a visit to Hagia Sophia, one of Turkey’s most popular sites. The imposing architectural marvel, originally built as a Christian cathedral in the Eastern Roman Empire in the 6th century, was converted from a monument to a mosque in 2020. The call to prayer now rings from its minarets five times a day.

12 p.m. Sumptuous lunch

Stop at Matbah for lunch, royal palace style. The bright and airy space with retractable roof is located next to Hagia Sophia inside the Ottoman Hotel Imperial. Here, unique seasonal menus are recreated from centuries-old recipes by chefs who have scoured imperial archives and consulted historians from the Palace Library and the Guild of Cooks for dishes once served at the court of the Ottoman Empire in the kitchen of the sultan’s palace. The dates written next to each dish indicate the oldest written source from which the recipe was taken.

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The gates of Topkapi Palace.
The gates of Topkapi Palace. Photo by Go Turkiye

2 p.m. Visit of the Palace

Then visit the real Sultan’s kitchen at nearby Topkapi Palace. Perched like a citadel on a promontory overlooking the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn, it was the imperial residence of the Ottoman sultans for 400 years. Now one of the largest palace museums in the world, it is the highlight of any visit. Step through the Sultanate Gate to enter another world – the hustle and bustle of the city replaced by the tranquility of lush courtyards dotted with shady trees and flowing fountains. The 173-acre sanctuary is a collection of jewelry and textiles, Ottoman, Baroque and Neoclassical architecture, and Rococo decoration.

Tip: Buy the Istanbul VIP Combo ticket to skip the lines with fast-track access to both Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace. Note: The harem requires a separate ticket.

The writer traveled as a guest of Turkish Airlines and Go Turkiye, who did not review or approve this article prior to publication.

If you are going to

Turkish Airlines now offers nonstop flights between Vancouver and Istanbul three times a week. As part of its Stopover Free Hotel Service, passengers with a stopover in Istanbul can stay for free at selected hotels in the city. Business class passengers receive two days of free accommodation in a five-star hotel; those who travel in economy class get a day in a four-star hotel.

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