Here are my top choices for hotels and restaurants in Istanbul. Unlike the usually rather cheap accommodation and dining options in Istanbul, these choices are all at the upper end of the price scale and thus to be recommended to business travellers with a considerable budget allowance, or to holiday makers who seek something very special and are prepared to pay for it.
I have been lucky to work for a company which provided for very decent dinners and hotels, yet even this one did not pay for what must be the ultimate sleeping and dining experience in Istanbul, the Ciragan Palace Hotel Kempinski, and its own gourmet temple, the Tugra Restaurant. Should you wish to try it for yourself, here is the address:
Ciragan Palace Hotel Kempinski
84 Ciragan Caddesi
Tel: +90 (212) 231 4650
84 Ciragan Caddesi
Tel: +90 (212) 258 3377
Another prestigious hotel choice I haven’t been able to test myself so far is the Four Seasons in Sultanahmet District (just too far from the business centres) – a former prison turned into a luxury hotel, some say the best in Istanbul, with only 54 rooms and eleven suites.
Four Seasons Hotel
1 Tevkifhane Sokak
Tel: +90 (212) 638 8200
Before you start doubting that I have ever been to Istanbul myself, we shall come to my own choices of hotels and restaurants. Choices for business travellers that is, selected close to the commercial centres of Taksim, Sisli, Besiktas and Levent.
Blok A Spor Caddesi
Tel: +90 (212) 227 4404
On top of the BJK Business Centre, Le Vogue offers not only excellent cuisine, but also a fantastic view of the Bosphorus. This venue includes a restaurant, a sushi bar (one of only two in town), a regular bar, and three terraces which are open in summer. The restaurant serves both Turkish and international cuisine and is best tried for grilled fish and meat. The bar comes with the best margaritas in town. Le Vogue is extremely popular with the young Turkish elite and absolutely packed late at night. THE place to experience modern Turkish urban lifestyle over a good dinner. Valet parking available. Reservation required.
The Downtown Restaurant & Bar
Abdi Ipekci Cad 7/2
Tel: +90 (212) 224 3915
Directions: follow Cumhurriyet Caddesi half a mile north from Taksim Square, until – behind the Hilton Hotel – it splits in two streets. Take the right street (Valikonagi Caddesi). The Downtown Restaurant is situated in the second side street to the right, on the left-hand side of the street.
The Downtown is a typical nouvelle cuisine restaurant with extremely small portions, but excellent quality. International cuisine, both fish and meat, and absolutely fantastic desserts. With around ten tables it is rather small and ideal for elegant private dinners. Good to be combined with a stay at the Downtown’s own bar, which is a typical after work meeting place for Istanbul’s business people.
Turkish Yachting Club
Kabatas District (below Dolmabahçe Palace)
One of the best seafood restaurants in Istanbul, the Turkish Yachting Club is situated directly on the Bosphorus, on Kabatas seaside promenade. Dining is outside on the terrace in summer, only inches away from the water. The TYC can also accommodate larger groups, which makes it a popular venue for after work and business dinners. It’s hard to recommend any special meals here, because the catch of the day is usually the best. From the regular menu, sea bream and sea trout are worth trying. The TYC stands out for its very good wine selection, which is not common even for good Turkish restaurants. Very professional service. Valet parking available.
Swissotel The Bosphorus
2 Bayildim Caddesi
Tel: +90 (212) 326 1100
Member of “The Leading Hotels of the World”; the only other one in Istanbul is the Ciragan Palace. The Swissotel is probably the most professional hotel in Istanbul, with a complete product and service range that leaves no wish unfulfilled.
The rooms are a spacious 25m², and nicely furnished in mahogany. Best suited for business travellers, the rooms come with a very large workspace with plugs for all kinds of PC & telecom connections. In addition to the extremely large beds, there is also a divan sofa. The bathrooms are the best fitted I have seen in any hotel. Both in the workspace and the bathroom, they have added all the accessories you could possibly think of and which in most hotels have to be ordered separately, if available at all. There is a remote control for all technical functions of the room. Most rooms have a Bosphorus view (northeast: Bosphorus bridge, southwest: Virgin Tower).
The Executive Level (floors 14 to 18 of the northeast tower) comes with extra amenities. Executive Rooms are fitted with a high-end multifunctional fax/copier/printer which connects to your laptop with the included drivers. There is also a personal butler service for Executive Level guests. The Executive Lounge offers an extensive breakfast, cakes and biscuits at teatime and cocktails at night, all for free and in a spacious lounge area with panoramic round view. However, due to the large size of the hotel and the Executive Level, you will miss the personal atmosphere and attention which you receive at the Hyatt (see below).
Having too often been disappointed by the cuisine even of luxury hotels, I was surprised by the high quality of the five restaurants in the Swissotel, which cater for every taste. The Swissotel has a perfect business centre with secretarial service, and provides extensive leisure facilities, including indoor and outdoor pools, two tennis courts on the roof, sauna, Turkish bath, gym and massage. In a city where parks and green spots are very rare, you will appreciate the Swissotel’s extensive park estate.
Agency rates for standard rooms start at $185 excluding breakfast, executive rooms come at $225 including breakfast. Off-season weekend specials are available from $165 excluding breakfast. Prices are per room per night. Don’t book the overpriced rack rates directly at the hotel, i.e. $370 for an executive room, always book through an agent.
Hyatt Regency Istanbul
Tel: +90 (212) 225 7000
Of the large international 5-star hotels in Istanbul – including the Hilton, Conrad, Swissotel and Inter-Continental – the Hyatt Regency offers by far the most friendly and personal service and the most comfortable atmosphere. There is a recognition effect among the staff already upon your second stay, which often results in a free room upgrade.
The rooms are around 22m² in size, decorated in light colours and teak fittings, with accessories resembling something like Versace style. There is no special work space, but a nice living-room table which can be used as such. The bathrooms are very, very nice, tempting you to make your shower last for an hour. Bosphorus views are only available from the Regency Club rooms on the 8th and 9th floors, as an old city palace blocks the view from the lower floors. Standard, Superior and Regency Club rooms don’t differ in layout or design, only in service.
On longer stays in Istanbul, I have made the Regency Club Lounge my living-room. This is a small, elegant and sunny lounge with its own library and bar, and it offers a nice view over the Hyatt’s park and sports area. Breakfast, snacks and biscuits at teatime, and cocktails at night are free, as usual on the executive floors of luxury hotels. Once you get to know the dedicated Regency Club staff, they will drop their artificial smiles and let you into their conversations. All of them are well-informed and very friendly.
The Mezzanine Level is filled with bars, restaurants, café, in addition to another lounge bar on the ground level. The Spazzo bar often features live jazz music. The whole Mezzanine Level exudes the atmosphere of a distinguished country club. At the rear of the hotel are the pool area, tennis courts and pool bar. The pool bar in particular is a very inviting place on mild summer evenings, I have often preferred it over going out to the nightlife quarters of Istanbul.
Agency rates start at $175 for standard rooms excluding breakfast. Regency Club comes at $215 including breakfast, but is often booked out. Considering the price of breakfast at around $25, the Regency Club is better value for money, but requires around a week’s advance notice. A real “bargain” are the suites, which start at $300, compared to $500 and more at other hotels in Istanbul.