Romantic Istanbul

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Romantic Istanbul
Istanbul is where Sultan Suleyman broke Ottoman tradition to wed his concubine Roxelana and where Emperor Justinian repealed a law to marry the actress Theodora. Romantic stories are a part of the city's soul.
By Jessica Lee , AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism
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    Spa Treatments with Your Partner
    Cap a day of sightseeing with a trip to a hammam, or Turkish bath. In these Ottoman-era spas, you get soaped up, scrubbed, and massaged, all amid the splendor of the sultanate's architecture. At the end, you're left to steam away any remaining stress in the sauna. Indulge yourself and your partner (separately, of course) with this age-old luxury at the Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamami in Sultanahmet. It was constructed at the request of Roxelana, Sultan Suleyman's wife, in the 16th century. Another, equally historic, option is Kilic Ali Pasha Hamami, in Karakoy.
    Photo courtesy of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism
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    Dessert for Two
    In Istanbul dessert is a bigger deal than marking the end of a meal. Restaurants have sparse dessert menus because they know Istanbullus move on to a specialty shop for their evening treat. A muhallebici sells milk pudding, and a pastane sells cake (and usually baklava, too). Other popular sweets include silky firin sutlac (rice pudding) and sweet-cheese kunefe. After dinner cross the Galata Bridge and make your way to the Karakoy seaport. Here you can indulge in a treat at Gulluoglu, home to the city's most swoon-worthy baklava.
    Photo courtesy of Backpacker Concierge
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    Cruising the Bosphorus
    The Bosphorus plays a role in one of Greek mythology's greatest love affairs. When Zeus's tryst with the nymph Io was discovered, Zeus turned Io into a cow to protect her from the wrath of his wife, Hera. But Hera created a gadfly to torture the cow. Io forded the water between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea to escape, giving the strait the name Bosphorus ("Ford of the Cow"). Today, Greek gods may not be fighting their wars of passion here, but a cruise on the water is still a romantic idea. Board a ferry at Eminonu for a day trip to take in the dreamy scenery of coastal mansions and minarets.
    Photo by Martin Siepmann/age fotostock
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    Make Time for Tea
    Tea gardens are an Istanbul institution. At these traditional cafes, friends gather to gossip and smoke apple-scented nargile (hookah pipes), couples go on dates, old men watch the world go by, and everyone comes to drink copious amounts of tea from small tulip-shaped glasses. A tea break halfway through a day of sightseeing or at night to unwind is part of the Istanbul experience. After visiting Topkapi Palace, you can't beat the sweeping views of the Bosphorus from Set Ustu Cay Bahcesi in Gulhane Park. To drink tea on cushions with the locals, join the throngs of university students at Lale Bahcesi behind the Suleymaniye Mosque.
    Photo by Lentine Zahler
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    Moonlit Stroll in the Old City
    As dusk sets in, Istanbul's minarets and domes shimmer with the last rays of the sun, the city lights turn on, and the muezzin's call to prayer echoes across the streets. Join other couples strolling arm-in-arm through Sultanahmet Park and admire the hulking silhouettes of the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque. Then go downhill to Eminonu, where seagulls swoop low across the water for one final sky patrol. As the moon comes into view, wander across the Galata Bridge and watch the last of the fishermen pack up for the day. If you aren't in the old part of the city, no matter: Istanbul in the evening is tinged with a wistful ambiance and made for aimless meandering, no matter where you are.
    Photo courtesy of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism
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    Romantic Dining
    A romantic meal in Istanbul is as much about the view as the menu. Forget cozy candlelit dinners. For a special occasion, you want a perch that overlooks the city and the stream of boats floating down the Bosphorus. Grab a rooftop or terrace table, and you're bound to have a memorable meal. The stylish Topaz Restaurant near Taksim Square offers abundant waterway views and fresh Mediterranean flavors. In the heart of Beyoglu, Mikla—located on the rooftop of the glamorous Marmara Pera Hotel—is another restaurant that never fails to impress with its city panoramas and modern Turkish cuisine.
    Photo courtesy of Topaz
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    An Island Escape
    In the Sea of Marmara, return to a bygone era on the Princes' Islands, where you'll find wooden villas and car-free cobblestone lanes. In Istanbul you catch the ferry from Kabatas and then enjoy the waterway views as you leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind. Get off on the island of Buyukada, where well-preserved Ottoman mansions lead uphill to the Monastery of St George, or on the island of Heybeliada, where you can wander through the old-fashioned streets. In between lazy strolls and bike rides, go for a picnic or ride in a horse-drawn carriage.
    Photo by Stephanie Chen
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    Cafe Culture
    The coffeehouse was an Ottoman invention. Although espresso and cappuccino may be as widely available today as syrupy Turk kahve (Turkish coffee), the cafe tradition lives on in Istanbul. Beyoglu is full of stylish and modern cafes where laid-back brunches and lazy afternoons are the name of the game. For a traditional brew, pop into Fazil Bey'in Turk Kahvesi in Kadikoy. This small coffeehouse pours the city's top Turkish coffee. Couples who want to refuel for their next adventure should head up the hill at Eyup to the Pierre Loti Cafe. The coffee shop's namesake, a French writer, is said to have found inspiration for his novels on the terrace, which overlooks the Golden Horn.
    Photo by Martin Siepmann/age fotostock
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    Glamour in the City
    Once the sun sets, Istanbul's glitzy side comes into view as beautiful, party-bound Istanbullus emerge. To take part in the spectacle, head to the Golden Mile, located between the Ortakoy and Kurucesme neighborhoods. If you enjoy dressing up, dancing into the early morning, and people-watching, the clubs and cocktail bars of this strip should be on your Istanbul hit list. For the complete experience, party at the popular club Sortie, which overlooks the Bosphorus in Kurucesme. Or spend your night dancing to the beats of international DJ's at the sophisticated Ulus 29.
    Photo courtesy of Sortie
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    Garden Promenades
    Turkey is the land of the tulip (the Dutch brought the flower to Holland from here). During the spring, Istanbul's parks and gardens are a colorful kaleidoscope of tulip blooms. The city's green spaces are a welcome retreat from the busy streets at any time of the year, but on sunny days, they're full of strolling couples and picnicking families. In the center of the Old City, you can find shady trees and well-tended rose bushes at Gulhane Park, a former garden of Topkapi Palace. For more regal garden splendor, visit Yildiz Park. The Ottoman sultans once used it as their private hunting ground, but now everyone can enjoy the peaceful pathways and beautiful pavilions.
    Photo by Lynne Nieman