Where to stay & what to do in Karakoy, Istanbul `s hipsterville .
The rags to recherché transformation began when Istanbul Modern, the city’s contemporary art gallery, opened on the edge of Karakoy in 2004. More galleries opened, cafes arrived to service their clientele and smart restaurants and boutique hotels followed. Close to the Galata Bridge and within walking distance of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace and the Beyoglu district – another cool customer – Karakoy is a prime base for the edge traveller looking for an updated, up tempo take on this sepulchre of a city.
From the style-conscious House Hotel Group, Vault Karakoy makes the most of the opulent character of this former bank building. Rooms are a soothing, modernist version of the classical Edwardian look, with state-of-the-art plumbing, iPod docks and brilliant lighting. There’s also a smart restaurant and bar and a spa with a Turkish hammam. SuB Karakoy brings an industrial designer’s eye to the hotel room. Polished concrete walls, beds wrapped in curvy steel frames, and stone-tiled bathrooms create a brittle aesthetic but bath towels are supremely soft and the beds are dreamy.
Lokanta Maya is Karakoy’s savvy, unpretentious take on the modern urban bistro. Trained in New York, chef and restaurateur Didem Şenol has orchestrated a relaxed dining experience based on seasonal, local, and primarily organic ingredients. Book well ahead, it’s popular.
Karabatak brings a touch of Viennese whimsy to the heart of Karakoy, and the vine-draped lane at the front of this pretty corner café is the place to be seen with your iPad. The coffee is some of the best in town, as you’d expect from a café engineered by Austrian-based coffee merchant Julius Meinl. The reading room on the floor above is bookishly quiet and wifi is free.
Originally a Customs Warehouse, Istanbul Modern is the city’s dedicated gallery for contemporary artworks, a showcase for Turkish art in all mediums. Ballast comes from the gallery’s extensive collection of Turkish 20th-century art, complemented by changing international shows. The restaurant offers some of the best views across the Golden Horn to the old city.
Launched in 2009, Istanbul 74 International Arts Festival has become a dynamic platform for a wide range of events, fashion shows to jewellery exhibitions to book readings, but its strength is the art events that have helped put the city on the avant-garde art map, with shows by Tracey Emin, South African Robin Rhone and Sandro Kopp.
Elipsis is disconcertingly hard to find, but this is Istanbul’s only dedicated gallery of photography, showing works by internationally recognised and emerging local photographers. The gallery is the work of London born and raised Sinem Yoruk, who dates her passion for the medium from time spent in her family’s professional photo lab.
Elegant Fransiz Gecidi Is Merkezi, also known as the French Passage, is home to fashion@EYE which stocks a judiciously curated collection of vintage eyewear for the fashion-conscious urbanite.
Right next door to Lab Istanbul, Kagithane – “house of paper” is a funky concept store that takes its cues from the city’s flowery Ottoman architecture and its ubiquitous cats, ideal if you’re looking for a clever souvenir.
At Karakoy’s extreme north-east boundary, Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami is a classical Turkish bath, designed in the 1580s by Mimar Sinan, the architect to Suleiman the Magnificent. The bathhouse only recently re-opened after seven years of meticulous restoration, and now adds its elegant, minimalist design to the pleasures of the hammam. In the company of a therapist, clients are led through the rituals, from the marble water basin to the hexagonal slab of heated marble, the exfoliating scrub and the bubbly soap wash. From 8 am to 4 pm it’s women only, from 4:30 pm to 11:30 pm, men come on deck.
Ali Yalniz is a private tour guide with an excellent reputation for the small-group tours that he organises in Istanbul. Theme tours that revolve around history, culture and food are a specialty.