It’s late afternoon and I’m travelling by private yacht to my hotel. To my left, water taxis are ferrying people in and out of the city, bypassing rush-hour traffic. Ahead, the setting sun is casting the perfect light on a neighbourhood of waterfront estates. No, I’m not on the canals of Venice overlooking the Rialto—I’m headed for Istanbul, nestled on the ancient Bosphorus channel, which marks the boundary between Europe and Asia. Aside from its proximity to Greece—where I honeymooned 10 years ago—I admit I didn’t know much about Turkey as a travel destination. But after the numerous #wanderlust posts on my social-media feeds highlighting the old-meets-new-world charm of Istanbul—which was the fifth-most-hashtagged city in the world in 2016—I knew I had to go. Here’s my Instagram-worthy highlight reel.
Best chance for a celebrity selfie: I receive star treatment (fresh flowers for the room and a jasmine-scented warm cloth) when I arrive at my hotel, the Çiragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul. It’s a fitting gesture given that the boutique property, located in the leafy Besiktas district, is beloved by actual and Hollywood royalty. Photos of princes and princesses embellish the lobby walls along with snapshots of A-listers. Also worth noting: Madonna and Oprah have both stayed in the Sultan suite (price tag: $45,000 a night). The view from my (slightly smaller) suite serves up lavish scenery like manicured grounds and an infinity pool.
Insider tip: Stroll over to the Imperial Palace—a separate building with 11 executive suites, including the Sultan suite—and take in the palatial terrace. You’ll likely share your selfie space with newly engaged couples, but the Bosphorus views are worth it.
Best spot for a flat-lay shot: If there is one thing Turks know how to do, other than hammam, it’s eat. On the menu? Always mezze. It’s the starter course (which, tbh, feels more like the main), and it’s made up of sharing dishes like hummus and muhammara. (The latter is a dip made from roasted red peppers and walnuts.) The standout meal in a sea of many is at Neolokal, an Anatolian fusion eatery that’s housed in a former Ottoman bank. This place is putting Istanbul on the foodie map. Case in point: While there, I spy legendary British food writer Nigel Slater interviewing the chef, Maksut Askar. His photogenic dishes are based on traditional food from his youth but done with an artful twist.
Insider tip: For an incredible meal with an equally incredible view, make a dinner reservation at Mürver. This resto uses different fire methods to cook local seasonal food. Request a table on the lavender-scented balcony overlooking the river.