With grand palaces and ancient ruins, exotic bazaars and sweeping water views, Istanbul is a city that takes your breath away. It’s also a heady mix of Europe and Asia (the city straddles both continents, with the Bosphorus Strait in between), as well as old world and new, with trendy boutiques and lively nightclubs existing alongside traditional daily life. A honeymoon here promises to be filled with romance and splendor — and plenty of tasty meals.
Photo Credit: Go Turkey Tourism
Don’t miss the city’s signature sites — the Byzantine St. Sophia church and museum, the awe-inspiring Blue Mosque (topped with six minarets and filled with blue tiles) and the Topkapi Palace, home to Ottoman emperors for more than 400 years (and now, excellent jewelry, porcelain and costume museums).
Get swept up in the tangled alleys of the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market (don’t forget to bargain!); at night, head to the Taksim area for intimate live music clubs and rooftop bars with sweeping views. Honeymoon specialist agencies like Travel Atelier can help arrange Bosphorus cruises, complete with seaside lunches and visits to the charming villages on the Asia side.
Where to eat:
Savor fresh, authentic seafood dishes at the moderately priced Cinar Alti Restaurant, a local fave set in a Bosphorus-side square; reservations are recommended for Friday and Saturday nights. To experience the famous Turkish meze (an endless amount of shared smallplate dishes), head to Haci Baba, a traditional eatery in the Beyoglu neighborhood, where the menu also includes grilled kebabs and specialties like lamb steaks and eggplant stuffed with lamb. For the most authentic experience, ask for a table on the terrace.
Also in Beyoglu, Galata Restaurant offers a convivial, nostalgic atmosphere and live fasil (Turkish folk) music every night but Sunday. Top it all off with some potent traditional Turkish coffee, boiled in a small copper beaker.
Where to stay:
One of the city’s newest upscale properties, the Marti Istanbul features a lovely East-meets-West style incorporating both traditional and contemporary design elements, along with a great location in Taksim, a lively neighborhood for shopping and culture. The 270 rooms come with perks like pillow menus, the 11th-floor spa offers locally inspired treatments and has four marble hammam (traditional steam baths) rooms with private attendants. On-site dining ranges from a relaxed brasserie/grill and an in-house sweet shop to a restaurant outfitted with an Ottoman tent (room rates start at $390 a night; martiistanbulhotel.com).
Turkey’s ancient culture of hammams is still wildly popular. And Istanbul is home to some of the country’s most historic bathhouses. Built in 1584, and in continuous use ever since, the dome-topped Cemberlitas Hammam is both traditional and visitor-friendly, with separate sections for men and women offering self-service and full-service options.
In the former, you can steam in a variety of temperatures on smooth marble platforms and wash off on your own, while in the latter, attendants will give you a massaging body scrub and cleansing. Reflexology and head massages are also available.