Your essential guide to Istanbul

Katie Nadworny

By Katie Nadworny

Katie is an Istanbul-based writer who contributes to National Geographic, The Guardian, The Independent, and BBC Travel

Find your bearings

Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus, Istanbul Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus, Istanbul is located in charming and exclusive Kuruçeşme. Perched on the sparkling shores of the Bosphorus Strait within sight of Istanbul’s first transcontinental bridge, it offers a front-row seat to watch ships slink by on the sea and admire Ottoman waterfront mansions.

Feed your mind

Blue Mosque, IstanbulA short drive from the hotel is Istanbul’s old city peninsula, anchored by the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, a church-turned-museum-turned-mosque. Just nearby you’ll find the Basilica Cistern, the Hippodrome and the splendid Topkapı Palace with its blue-tiled Harem. Explore Istanbul’s vibrant art scene at the Istanbul Modern Museum in the Beyoğlu district, not far from the buzzing energy of Taksim Square and Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul’s main thoroughfare.

Shop like a local

Gran Bazaar, IstanbulJust upstream along the Bosphorus shore from Mandarin Oriental is the stylish Bebek neighbourhood, dotted with high-end shops, local boutiques, and artisanal perfumeries. If you head east, you’ll stumble upon the luxurious neighbourhood of Nişantaşı with its cluster of international fashion brands and local haute couture ateliers. For traditional goods, venture further afield to the Grand Bazaar, the historic centre of goods and commerce in the city. Expert crafts artisans have their workshops here, and it's possible to find new and antique jewellery, copper, leather goods, and more.

See some sights

Waterside mansions of ArnavutköyA short walk from Kuruçeşme is Arnavutköy, notable for its distinct pastel-coloured wooden waterside mansions and cobblestoned backstreets. For the full scope of Ottoman architecture, head to Süleymaniye Mosque to experience celebrated architect Mimar Sinan’s 16th-century masterpiece – and make sure to take time to enjoy the sweeping views from the mosque’s courtyard. Stroll up the Golden Horn to experience the textures of the Fener, Balat, and Eyüp neighbourhoods, where synagogues and Byzantine churches intermingle with trendy cafés and antiques shops. Hop on a ferry to see Istanbul’s Asian side, where you can explore the arty enclave of Kadıköy or the Ottoman mosques along the waterfront at Üsküdar.

Toast your arrival

Clear cocktail in coupe glassEnjoy the shimmering sunset on the Bosphorus with an elegant aperitivo at MO Bar. The bar offers inventive small plates to savour alongside your cocktail. Alternatively, wend your way to Alexandra Cocktail Bar in Arnavutköy, with its cosy candlelit tables and sweeping rooftop views.

Make time to unwind

Yildiz Park, Isatanbul

Make time to unwind

Spa & wellness

Luxuriate at the in-house five-star hotel spa with its traditional Turkish hammam, Thai massage treatments, and a VIP room with private Jacuzzi. Enjoy the beauty treatment rooms, spacious indoor pool, fitness and yoga rooms, and outdoor garden. Afterwards, head over to the regal Yıldız Park – formerly the imperial grounds at Yıldız Palace – and idle in the expansive public green space.

Dine in style

Interior of fine dining restaurant at Mandarin OrientalSate your appetite with the fusion offerings at Mandarin Oriental’s all-day dining Restaurant, tucked under shaded olive trees. Share dishes that draw from Turkish, Italian, and Asian cuisine while soaking in the Bosphorus views and Anatolian-inspired artwork. For al fresco seafood, head for the lush gardens of The Mandarin Club and enjoy the Mediterranean meze selection. If you prefer to venture farther afield, taste the contemporary Persian-Turkish cuisine and impeccably crafted cocktails at Aheste.  

Istanbul from Camlica Hill

Istanbul’s best views and vantage points

Çamlıca Hill

Galata Tower lookout point

Istanbul’s best views and vantage points

Galata Tower

People sit at cafe tables on terrace

Istanbul’s best views and vantage points

Pierre Loti

Rumeli Hisarı bridge view

Istanbul’s best views and vantage points

Rumeli Hisarı

Maiden’s Tower (Kız Kulesi)

Istanbul’s best views and vantage points

Maiden’s Tower (Kız Kulesi)

Istanbul skyline from Bosphorus

And finally

Istanbul is best experienced on the water, so take a cruise on the Bosphorus and soak in the layers of history along the Strait, from historical wooden summer houses to opulent palaces to lavish imperial mosques.