Divided by the Bosporous, Istanbul is where Asia and Europe collide. There are still beautiful, ancient, low-slung wooden buildings on the vibrant Asian side, while modern condominiums, designed by world-class architects, rise up across the river. The city’s denseness and palpable intensity stem from the way it holds on to its past as it embraces the future. There’s a sense of progress, but it’s never quite clear which way things will break. The tension is real, which is why it’s so spectacular.
Stay: The Turkish firm Autoban designed the House Hotel Bosporous, a 23-room operation in a historic building known for its Ottoman-era architecture. It’s elegant without being pretentious. Rooms start at $285; Salhane Sokak 1; 90-212/244-7577; thehousehotel.com.
Visit: The Sakirin Mosque has been called the country’s most modern. And it’s the first to have had a woman-led interior design team, which resulted in some controversy—and an extraordinary space. At Nuhkuyusu Cd. 2; sakirincamii.net.
Eat: Chef Nazmi Demirbas’s cuisine may be Mediterranean, but his restaurant, Big Plate, provides a dose of Latin flavor. Friday nights mean DJs and dancers on the terrace. At Hillside City Club Girisi, Istinye Park; 90-212/345-6288; bigplate.com.tr.
See: Turkey’s largest art fair, Contemporary Istanbul, returns this November, incorporating a huge variety of mediums and showcasing works from galleries worldwide. November 7–10; Istanbul Convention and Economic Center; contemporaryistanbul.com.
Decorate: The Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts shop, IKSV Tasarim, stocks stationery, paintings and other unique decorative items. These ceramic cups ($30 each) were handcrafted by a Turkish potter. At Sadi Konuralp Cd. 5; 90-212/334-0830.
Shop: Midnight Express is the creation of fashion designer Banu Bora and architect Tayfun Mumcu. The store’s inventory ranges from furniture to Bora’s coveted ready-to-wear clothing to Helmut Lang. At Kucuk Bebek Cd. 7; midnightexpress.com.tr.
A Few More Details
Istanbul’s hottest contemporary gallery is Galeri Manâ, in Tophane (Ali Pasa Degirmeni Sokak 16–18; galeriemana.com). A few minutes north of the city is Santral Istanbul (Kazim Karabekir Cd. 2; 90-212/311-7809), a cultural space that includes a modern art museum, an amphitheater and a library. Asmali Cavit (Asmalimescit Cd. No. 16/D; 90-212/292-4950) is an excellent bistro specializing in meze platters and fish. To see and be seen, visit Munferit (Yeni Carsi Cd. 19; 90-212/252-5067; munferit.com.tr), a tavern that turns into a club on the weekends.