On the Rise

History, culture and luxury blend together in Istanbul to attract tourism

By: By Jimmy Im


Cagaloglu Hamami


City’s Nisanti

The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul Suzer Plaza
Elmadag, Askerocagi



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Whether it’s the allure of Old Istanbul, the commanding skyline of mosques and minarets, the rich history (Istanbul is the former capital of three empires) or the burgeoning luxury scene, Istanbul effortlessly attracts visitors from all over the globe. In fact, tourism numbers are substantially increasing annually. So far, in 2008, there has been a 13 percent increase by air and 29 percent increase by sea compared to 2007.

Istanbul’s Blue Mosque is emblematic of the city’s East meets West culture. // (c) Ming-yen Hsu
Istanbul’s Blue Mosque is emblematic
of the city’s East meets West culture.
(c) Ming-yen Hsu

Recently, Istanbul was chosen to serve as the 2010 European Capital of Culture, proving that its modern culture and arts scene — in addition to a wealth of UNESCO World Heritage Sites — is reflective of a destination on the rise. With a focus on the international event, the ancient city is getting a major facelift. Everything from city parks to public toilets are getting an upgrade. 

For visitors heading to Istanbul, tell them to pack their best sneakers as major archaeological attractions abound. Most travelers head straight to the Topkapi Palace, a national emblem and icon of Turkey’s history. It was the Imperial residence of the Ottoman sultans for nearly 400 years and remains one of the largest and oldest palaces from that period to currently survive in the world. Here, clients can navigate gorgeous courtyards and browse ancient artifacts, like the treasury and sacred relics.

While Topkapi embodies Turkey’s ruling empires, the Blue Mosque is iconic of the country’s conviction to Islamic beliefs. It’s a captivating attraction: The interior walls are lined with 20,000 blue tiles and the dome soars to 140 feet high. Built in the early 1600s, the mosque still serves as a functioning place of worship.

Shopping in Istanbul is quite unique, and clients can spend hours navigating street markets. The mother of all markets, however, is the Grand Bazaar, which was constructed in the mid-1400s and is one of the largest markets in the world. The Grand Bazaar boasts more than 6,000 shops offering a variety of goods, from handcrafted ceramics to rugs and Turkish coffee.

For a more modern approach to shopping, head to the Taksim area,  which is full of boutiques and bustling cafes. When the sun sets, Taksim transforms into a riveting nightlife scene with popular clubs and bars.

Like its long-serving empires and kingdoms, Istanbul continues to offer amenities for those who like to travel with a fine taste. The burgeoning, high-end shopping district Nisantasi (admired for its art-nouveau apartment buildings) offers local boutiques of fashion and furniture, as well as luxury shops like Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Opened this year is City’s Nisantasi, an upmarket lifestyle mall.

Considering Istanbul is the world’s third most populous city, with a population of approximately 11 million, visitors will no doubt come in contact with its bustling and sometimes frenetic pace, and it’s nice to have accommodations that serve as a quiet retreat.

The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul is located in the heart of the famous Dolmabahce Quarter, removed from the other luxury hotels in its own contained property. Along with contemporary accents, the decor and design heavily reflect Turkey’s historic legacy, including influences of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods: green and bricked marble floors; pastel colors used in handmade Turkish carpets; timeless artifacts and original; antique doors from old Turkish houses. The 244 rooms embrace the medieval Ottoman period with cobalt blue Iznik tiles in the bathrooms and tulips as the leitmotif on fabrics.

If you really want to indulge in a Turkish delight, check in to one of the several hammans for a truly authentic experience. This traditional bathing culture still remains popular and is central to Islamic purifying beliefs. The Cagaloglu is the oldest existing bath in Istanbul (nearly 300 years old), decorated with pillars, arcs, arches and fountains.