3 Faces of Istanbul: Contemporary

By Andrew Wong,

Istanbul, a city with more than 1600 years of history under its belt, continues to redefine itself in the modern age. While its main sights may largely favor the Ottoman era, it certainly pays to verse yourself in the contemporary conditions of the city. After all, with 49 universities and the Taksim Meydanı, famed for its modern shops and restaurants, within its city limits, there’s no doubt that this dynamic city is brimming with progressive thinkers and convention defiers. Don your hipster frames, pack a cold brew — Istanbul is all about here and now.

See other Faces of Istanbul: Stuff yourself with our Epicurean Guide or snap into shape with our Lean & Green Guide

Istiklal graffiti

Some urban art along Istiklal Avenue.

Post-modern reflections

Beyoğlu with its emblematic Galata Tower is the undisputed stomping ground of Istanbul hipsters with no shortage of bona fide art spaces. On your climb up to Istiklal from Karaköy, detour to the left for a visit to SALT Galata. Housed in the grandiose former headquarters of the Ottoman Bank, the smart marble interior and common spaces of SALT Galata are candy for architecture and design buffs. In the research wing of SALT, you can stray into the stacks of information on everything art and design from the Turkish Republic and further afield. Near the rear of the building, a floating staircase weds the café-terrace with the upstairs restaurant.

SALT Galata Ottoman Bank SALT Galata lobby

On your visit, don’t forget to dig below to the temporary exhibition space and the secured Ottoman Bank Museum. On display in the vaults of the former bank is a thorough overview of the many trading communities that once operated in Turkey and the bonds that helped finance their stays. Crawling deeper into the vault, you can go two additional floors lower to see the most inner crevices of the bank where visitors can inspect fat bundles of retired Ottoman banknotes. After cashing out of SALT Galata, scale your way to its sister location SALT Beyoğlu, a stone’s throw away from Arter, yet another contemporary art space with free admission for curious pedestrians and determined connoisseurs alike.

Istanbul Modern

The Istanbul Modern is right on the Bosphorus.

Rolling back to the waterfront, set aside a good portion of a morning or afternoon to take in Istanbul Modern at the base of Tophane. One of the city’s premiere art institutions, Istanbul Modern does a marvellous duty of curating the best Turkish talent in sculpture, photography, mixed media, and visual arts among an even wider spectrum. With handsome views overlooking the Bosphorus, visitors should not be surprised if their attention is being hogged between the beauty of elements within and without the gallery. Although not included in the privileges of the Museum Pass İstanbul, the affordable entry fees are reasonable for an art institution of its caliber.

Istanbul Modern

Hanging out. Photo by Hendrik Wieduwilt CC BY

Dressing the part

Istiklal Tram Sticker

A symbol of Galata.

Lucky for you, returning to Istiklal also presents the opportunity for a bit of shopping. Give your buns a rest on the climb up Boğazkesen Cd. by popping into some of the excellent boutiques lining Serdar-ı Ekrem Cd. like on-hype 290 Square Meters, the Lomography Embassy Store, and gift shopping at Lunapark. Fuel up with a brew at The Gourmand, before climbing to one of the world’s largest prop/costume (and hence) vintage clothing shops, By Retro. Tucked into the Suriye Pasajı, Istanbul’s performing arts community has now let the masses into their outfit emporium. A trove of funk, this second-hand spot has every costume piece you could ever want and not need from formal to Ottoman to 70s to Halloween and back again.

Feriköy antique market

A Traveller de Luxe for the luxury traveller.

Looking to pick up a real find? Sundays in Feriköy mean that Saturday‘s organic farmers market gets evicted for the neighborhood’s weekly antique market. Take your time browsing the aisles upon aisles of stalls. The market checks all of the usual boxes when it comes to fine China sets and vinyl but how about hammering out a letter home on your new FGĞIOD keyboard typewriter, plotting your next hike on an antique Arabic map or completing your vintage look with an original pair of sun specs. Famished treasure hunters can treat themselves to a snack at the gözleme (stuffed crêpe) stand staffed by the requisite legion of rolling pin-armed grannies.

A view without equal

Valide Han

Finally, wrap up your tour of this metropolis of contrasts with a panoramic view that brings its many layers into focus. Sandwiched in the serpentine alleys between Eminönü and the Grand Bazaar, climb up past the ateliers to the sleepy rooftops of Valide Han. Once the merchant quarters for the nearby bazaar, visitors can take in the inspiring vistas of Galata, Yeni Cami, Süleymaniye Cami, the three bridges crossing the Golden Horn in addition to the corners of Gülhane Park and Üsküdar and the skyscrapers in Levent.

Valide Han Panorama

A bit tricky to find, but the view makes it all worthwhile. Photo by Eusebius@Commons CC BY

trivago’s Contemporary Hotel Pick: Mama Shelter Istanbul

Dream of exposed brick? Look no further than Mama Shelter Istanbul right on Istiklal. Championed by Monsieur Philippe Starck himself, the smartly-dressed rooms range in sizes from a solitary S to an expansive XXL. Scrub yourself clean with the Mama Skin collection of bath amenities by absolution. A teak balcony, a chalkboard ceiling and a white-on-white aesthetic may just follow you home and taunt you to do some of your own redecorating.

Mama Shelter Istanbul guestroom

Do you ever check-in and wonder if a Bugs Bunny or Batman mask will be waiting in your room? Photo via trivago

Stay at Mama Shelter Istanbul

You’ll find a hard time getting some shut-eye with so many diversions around the hotel. The well-curated Mama Shop has all the design odds and ends, private label apparel and travel essentials. Next to it, a digital concierge is ready to dish on the neighborhood’s best finds. Beyoğlu’s fashion-forwards grab their cocktails at the hotel bar and rooftop. Only then will you finally be able to retire to your room, where free on demand movies await. A prime location, playful vibes and a superstar designer signature has us sold on this mega value contemporary pick.

Mama Shelter Istanbul roof

Toasting to a day of urban exploration. Photo via trivago

Want to see more of former Constantinople? Taste it with our Epicurean Guide and breathe it with our Lean & Green Guide.

Feature image by Tom Page CC BY

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