Between the Tower, the Galata Mevlevi Whirling Dervish House, the mythical Pera Palace, and the best baklava pastry in the country, the Galata district, one of the oldest in the city, deserves at least a morning.
7 centuries of Night's watch over the Golden Horn
Getting an overview of the city is the best way to get started before starting the tours. Even if it's difficult not to rush, like Mehmet II, to Saint Sophia, I advise you to start your visit with the medieval Galata tower, former astrological observation tower and Ottoman prison, to enjoy the panoramic view of the city and see the separation of the two continents on the Bosphorus. Indeed, built by Genoese merchants 7 centuries ago, it overlooks the Golden Horn.
You can see here what it means...
Don’t worry, there’s an elevator !
Experience the Flyride Tour Simulation in 4D on the 2nd floor of the tower is ideal to have a first view of the main monuments and teaser the weekend !
For the hard-core, it's also possible to do a real helicopter tour. The service starts from €124, which is rather cheap when you know the usual price. In addition, the price is different depending on your investment, which is pretty legit, because it doesn’t happen everywhere (in La Réunion or New York you pay the same price whether you are in the middle or sitting next to the pilot, while the vision is not the same. Very frustrating).
Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi, the legend of the Ottoman superhero
Ahmed Çelebi, a courtesan of Sultan Murat VI, would have managed to reach the Asian shore from the Galata tower, using wings made by himself (presumably according to the drawings of Leonard Da Vinci), unlikely for the time. The population then renamed him Hezârfen «the man with a thousand sciences». But the sultan, and especially his advisers, saw with a bad eye this man capable of such a feat. Hezârfen was exiled to Algeria. He dies at the age of 31. Hard time for geniuses.
Hezârfen represented in the series Muhtesem Yuzil Kosem.
The area is full of small shops, friendly though tourist.
With its small Montmartre look and its tower, the area is a landmark for instagrammers.
Best time to go. Never during a weekend, you'll risk wasting your time waiting in line for hours (even out of season) when it is completely avoidable. Go there ideally around 9am/10am and on weekdays.
Budget. 7.40€ (35 TRY) for the tower + fly ride
The Galata Mevlevi Museum
Dervishes, derived from the Sufi Muslim movement, are a symbolic figure of Turkey. You will find this little «convent» by going up the alleys of Galata. It has a part museum, which is quickly turned around, but which is nevertheless interesting, and peaceful. The venue offers shows of dervishes turning some days of the week. However, some performances can be cancelled, especially during the off-season, so make sure to check in as soon as you arrive.
Best time to go. Open from 9am to 4:30pm. You won’t meet many people there except for the evening performances. Just remember to book in advance.
Budget. 2€ (10 TRY) included in the Museum Pass.Show : from 10 to 17€ (depends on the number of people. Not included in the Museum pass)
It's also possible to attend a show of spinning dervishes at the Hodjapasha center located in the Fatih district next to Sutanahmet : the show lasts 1 hour and costs 18€ (85 TL) every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 7pm.
A semâ at the Hodjapasha center.
The Pera Palace
« The ultimate murmur of the West on the way to the East »
Beyoğlu district (Pera)
While there are plenty of luxury hotels around the world, few have the legendary aura of Pera Palace. Here, the luxury blended with Art Nouveau and Orientalism combines with the intrigues of History to create a unique atmosphere. A place where one can easily imagine meeting euphoric travelers descending from the Orient Express (the hotel was built for them), clad in heavy and cumbersome trunks, still resound the voices of the beautiful champagne, double agents quietly observe the entrances behind their newspaper (a sign told them to leave the seats to the hotel’s real guests!), Hemingway sipping at the bar (his favorite activity), Ataturk eyeing the clientele with his bright and threatening eye, Agatha Christie hiding in her room, incognito, tapping on her machine, Greta Garbo going down the stairs, majestic.
First departure from the Orient Express, from the Gare de l'Est. This train finally allows passengers to enjoy a certain comfort during their journey (thanks to a new system allowing the stability of the furniture on board), and especially to sleep, thanks to the invention of the berths on board. It becomes The place to be and welcomes maharadjas, lovers on the run, secret agents. A real fantasy machine.
Many years ago, when I went to Paris or the Côte d'Azur, I was always fascinated by seeing the Orient-Express in Calais and dreaming of myself as a passenger on this train. Since then he has become an old friend, but the thrill has never completely disappeared. I travel on board ! that’s it ! I'm inside one of these blue wagons where it's simply mentioned CALAIS-ISTANBUL.
The Compagnie des wagons-lits then built a palace equipped with modern comforts (bathrooms, showers, radiators, electric lighting) to accommodate its new European travellers. It’ll be the Pera Palace.
The Pera Palace in 1920.
Hard not to let one's imagination get carried away in this headquarters of wealthy travelers, the first hotel in the city to have electricity and an elevator, always available on request.
5-star meter, Carrara white marble and Murano glass chandeliers, spectacular views of the Golden Horn, indoor pool, spa, woodwork, chandeliers, marbles and velvet.
Historic hotel, on the same level as the Sacher de Vienne, the Ritz, the Negresco in Nice or the Astoria Hotel in Brussels, it has also welcomed the greats of this world; crowned heads, presidents, artists, spies, and novelists, which it inspired.
King Edward VIII, Queen Elizabeth II, Emperor Franz Joseph, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Mata Hari, Greta Garbo (room 103), Sarah Bernhardt (room 304), Josephine Baker, Ernest Hemingway (but where didn’t he go?!), Léon Trotski, Haïlé Sélassié, Isadora Duncan, Alfred Hitchcock, Pierre Loti the greatest fan of the city (room 102), or more recently, Luc Besson.
It was presumed that Agatha Christie wrote her worldwide success Murder on the Orient Express, inspired by the actual blocking of the train in the snow for 6 days in Turkey, where the story takes place in part. While it's true that she stayed at the palace several times during the same period, the best seller was actually written in Iraq, where she played adventurous archaeologists with her lover.
In 1926, the novelist mysteriously disappeared for 11 days, following the loss of her mother and the discovery of her husband’s infidelities.Imagine an accident, organize beatings, but no bodies. She hides, dresses up, changes her name, everyone’s looking for her, the case is highly publicized.
The extravagant novelist loved to dress up.
Still as mysterious, she will write in her memories that the secret of this disappearance is in room 411 of the Pera Palace, since dedicated to the novelist.
The Mystery of The Yellow
In 2014, the Palace even hosted Black Week, a week of police intrigue and black fiction, on the occasion of Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday.
Room 101 occupied by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first president of the Turkish Republic, has been transformed into a small museum, which can be visited from 10am to 11pm or 3pm to 4pm. Small window but good excuse to come visit the place, and finish at the tea room of the hotel.
Budget. If the suites like Ernest Hemingway or Pierre Loti's one culminate at 240€ per night, other rooms are more affordable since the rates start at 126€. For two, it is 88€ per night in a mythical hotel with exceptional decor. That is still available.
Where ? 5 minutes walk from Şişhane Metro Station
Karakoy Gulluoglu, the best baklava in Istanbul
Turkish pastries are everywhere : in tearooms, in stores, in the Grand Bazar, but to optimize the experience and to chew a dough tenderly softened by honey, to feel the almonds and pistachios cracking under the tooth, This is where it happens.
The house, opened in 1800, offers all kinds of freshly cooked baklava : traditional, double pistachio, filled with curdled cream, chocolate, or Stevia-based for diabetics.