From Minarets to Modern Cuisine

Istanbul feels like the exotic crossroads of everything: It’s at the intersection of old and new, of Europe and Asia, of Christianity and Islam, and of pleasures both historical and contemporary. There’s no better place to start exploring these facets of the city than the Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah. The hotel was built in 1892 as an elegant respite for the elite travelers disembarking the Orient Express (today, travelers can fly nonstop from JFK to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines). And a celebrity clientele that included Ernest Hemingway and Agatha Christie passed under the gilded ceilings of the grand marble lobby. The hotel recently underwent an extensive renovation to modernize the rooms, which now boast Carrara marble, Murano glass chandeliers, antiques, and hand-woven rugs. Be sure to request one with views of either the bustling Beyoglu District or, spectacularly, the Golden Horn.

When it’s time to venture outside the Pera Palace Jumeirah, head to the Hagia Sophia, to see firsthand Istanbul’s connections and contradictions. The Hagia Sophia, built as a church by the Emperor Justinian in the year 537 AD, was converted to a mosque by the Ottomans in the 15th century. Hire a private guide (the Pera Palace has several it works with regularly) to decipher the iconographic Christian mosaics and Islamic calligraphy painstakingly preserved side by side. A short walk down the road, find the equally massive Blue Mosque—one of the few mosques in the world to boast six minarets.

If you’ve had enough history, you can opt for an ultra-relaxing traditional Turkish bath at the Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam, which dates back to 1556. Or, pamper your skin with pearls and silks (literally) back at the Pera Palace during its signature skin-hydration treatment. 

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Shopping, too, is a mix of traditional and contemporary: find hidden gems—antique silver and gold jewelry inlaid with precious stones, or lush silks and handwoven carpets—at the labyrinthine Grand Bazaar one moment, then check out the stylish and modern goods at the upscale department store Armaggan the next. 

When it’s time to eat, inspiration should come from the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus beyond it. Find a restaurant that not only serves seafood from local waters but also offers dazzling views of it. Glass-enclosed dining rooms and roof decks are de rigueur here; try Hamdi Restaurant, Sur Balik Arnavutkoy Restaurant, or, for a little nightlife, snag a sleek, white table at 360 Istanbul, a rooftop bar with wraparound views of the city at night. 

Suites start at $350 per night.

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