This itinerary is part of Travel Tales, a series of life-changing adventures on afar.com. Read more stories of transformative trips and inspired itineraries on the Travel Tales home page. Though COVID-19 has stalled many travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.
There’s something special about Turkish carpets. Yes, they’re beautiful and intricate; but it’s the technique of weaving with double knots that truly distinguishes them. Purchasing one makes for a special keepsake, of course. But in the process of shopping for one in Istanbul, you’ll learn more about the culture of this fascinating country at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.
Inspire your artistic exploration by staying at a design-focused hotel, the Gezi Hotel Bosphorus—a member of the Design Hotels collection. The curved, 17-story building was restructured by Turkish architect Sinan Kafadar to evoke decades-old themes in a cutting-edge way. And plenty of panoramic windows mean that all of the cozy 56 rooms and 11 suites offer thrilling views of the Bosphorus River.
You might be focused on carpets, but don’t skip one of the world’s most important monuments: The Hagia Sophia, the Byzantine cathedral turned Ottoman mosque turned museum that was once the world’s largest building. Be awed by its scale and inspect its intricate details.
Then head to the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, set in a 16th-century former palace. You’ll find an important collection of huge, centuries-old rugs and carpets, but be sure to also see the sacred relics of the Prophet Mohammad.
Begin your carpet shopping in earnest at Istanbul’s famous Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s largest and oldest markets, with more than 4,000 shops spread over 61 streets. Fuel up at Keyf-i Mekan Cafe and Restaurant, hidden on a backstreet just outside gate 16; the small menu features delicious Turkish-style home-cooked food. Then duck into carpet stores to check out at antique and contemporary options. A couple hints: Know what you want to spend, enjoy the mint tea, and take your time while evaluating and in negotiating the price.
Now that you’re in a groove, check out two nearby stores: Hereke Carpet, which features old and new carpets made of pure wool, wool on cotton, pure cotton, and pure silk; and Sedir Art Gallery, which sells dazzling carpets.
Start today by exploring the Çukurcuma neighborhood, where you’ll find shopping inspiration among the antique, vintage, and retro stores. Peruse everything from modern art to antique jewelry as you stroll the cobblestone streets and sample the funky cafes.
Head the Karaköy area for lunch at the elegant Karaköy Lokantasi, run by owners Oral Kurt and Aylin Okutan. Dine on Ottoman and Turkish dishes like hünkar beğendi, a meat stew on smoky eggplant puree.
Continue shopping at Hiç Contemporary Crafts. You’ll not only find a selection of Afghan and Turkish carpets, but also—if you’d like a less-expensive souvenir—ceramic tableware and contemporary crafts.
Then, whether you’re toasting the purchase of your dream carpet or winding down from browsing, finish up at one of the world’s top restaurants. Mikla combines an elevated approach to Turkish cuisine with amazing views out across the stunning city. Can’t get a reservation? You can still enjoy the view with a cocktail at the bar or out on the terrace.
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