The Kanal Istanbul project will dramatically change the European side of Istanbul. // © Turkey Tourism
This summer, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan announced a $10 billion canal project that will bypass the legendary Bosphorus strait. Scheduled for completion in 2023, Erdogan's controversial Kanal Istanbul project will bisect the European side of the city, eliminating commercial traffic on the Bosphorus and radically altering city life.
A maritime mainstay for nearly 2,500 years, the Bosphorus made Byzantium into a global powerhouse in the 5th century BC and was a strategic stronghold for both the Roman and Ottoman Empires. It remains one of the most important waterways in the world, with 3 million commuters crossing daily.
As Istanbul prepares for this monumental change, travelers should know about the latest happenings on its iconic waterway. The Bosphorus has witnessed a wealth of new activities and attractions.
Armaggan, a five-story design institution in Sultanahmet, features exhibitions by young Turkish artists, a gourmet shop with locally sourced products and ateliers selling couture fashion, fine jewelry and objets d’art inspired by Ottoman-era artifacts. At the rooftop restaurant, lunching locals and the occasional Turkish television star tuck into regional fare, made with locally sourced Nar Gourmet products, such as organic olive oil from Mediterranean-facing port city Canakkale. Minutes from the Grand Bazaar, Armaggan is also walking distance from the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia.
Koray Sahmali, an Istanbul-based travel agent and managing partner of travel provider InS Luxury Travel, considers Armaggan a must-visit spot.
“It is Turkish tradition presented in contemporary style, and it’s right in the middle of incredible historic heritage,” said Sahmali.
Outside of the Old City, emerging neighborhoods are launching cutting edge attractions. The Museum of Innocence, opened by Nobel Prize-winning author and Istanbul native Orhan Pamuk in 2012, redefines the once run-down Cukurcuma quarter. The nearby design shop Leila Butik sells Anatolian-influenced jewelry and globally sourced goods for collectors and consumers alike.
In the cobblestoned Nisantasi area, stylishly bespectacled locals shop for sophisticated wares by trendy Turkish designer Arzu Kaprol. Her flagship store sells bold bubble coats and yellow-and-black leather briefcases. Up the road, a stylish crowd gossips over coffee and complimentary Wi-Fi at open-air cafe Mavra. Skip a trip to the top of the nearby Galata Tower, which Sahmali considers overrated, and instead book a table at Nupera, a popular restaurant and dance hall with stunning views. In the summer months, Nupera opens a swinging rooftop nightclub called Nuteras.
A spate of new hotel openings is rejuvenating the city’s waterfront, but the hottest spot in town is the new Shangri-La Bosphorus. Formerly a tobacco warehouse, the 1930s-era structure opened as a five-star hotel in May of 2013. It has 186 rooms and suites, many with impressive views of the Bosphorus and all with complimentary Wi-Fi access. At its chic bar, well-dressed patrons sip the sort of inventive drinks that would make New York cocktail czar Sasha Petraske blush.
Next door, the Naval Museum unveiled a sleek renovation in October 2013. Its restored collection of 20 million historic documents and 20,000 maritime artifacts pay homage to the lasting legacy of the Bosphorus, giving visitors a moment to reflect as the city sits on the brink of transformation.