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Romantic Istanbul

Turkish Spa Day
Romantic Istanbul
Full of atmosphere and intrigue, the Bosphorus and its romantic stories and bewitching power are part of Istanbul's soul. Continue your love story while you explore Istanbul's historic palaces and dine with breathtaking views.
By Jessica Lee , AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism
  • 1 / 10
    Turkish Spa Day
    Turkish Spa Day
    Cap a day of sightseeing with a trip to a hammam, or Turkish bath. In 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. Men and women visit separate hammams, but you can each indulge in this age-old luxury at the Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamami in Sultanahmet, between Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. The hammam was constructed at the request of Roxelana, Sultan Suleyman's wife, in the 16th century. An equally historic option is Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı in Karaköy, steps from Istanbul Modern.
    Photo courtesy of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism
  • 2 / 10
    Dessert for Two
    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 muhallebicisi sells milk pudding, and a pastane sells cake (and usually baklava, too). Near the Galata Bridge (a perfect spot for a romantic sunset stroll), you can find the city's most swoon-worthy baklava at Karaköy Güllüoğlu. Other popular sweets include silky fırın sütlaç (rice pudding) and künefe, a sweet-cheese pastry. If sticky sweet lokum (Turkish delight) delights you, look for it in the Spice Market, especially when made with honey.
    Photo by age fotostock
  • 3 / 10
    Moonlit Strolls
    Moonlit Strolls
    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. In the Old City, you can stroll arm-in-arm through Sultanahmet Park and admire the hulking silhouettes of Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, or wander across the Galata Bridge to see the moonlit Galata Tower loom above the nightlife in Beyoğlu. Up the Bosphorus, couples picnic and pose for photos with the Ortaköy Mosque and Bosphorus Bridge in the background. On the Asian side, young Istanbullus flirt in the cafés of Kadıköy and on the cobblestone streets of Moda. 

    Photo courtesy of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism
  • 4 / 10
    Cruising the Bosphorus
    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 heifer 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. Take a Bosphorus cruise day trip to see the dreamy scenery of coastal mansions and minarets, or a ferry ride to Kadıköy, passing the Maiden's Tower, which also has Greek mythology behind it. According to one story of Hero and Leander, the tower was the setting for the lovers' romantic rendezvous—but also the place for their untimely deaths.
    Photo by Martin Siepmann/age fotostock
  • 5 / 10
    Make Time for Tea
    Make Time for Tea
    Tea gardens are an Istanbul institution. At these traditional cafés, friends gather to gossip and smoke scented nargiles (hookah pipes), couples go on dates, old men watch the world go by, and everyone comes to drink copious amounts of çay (tea) from small tulip-shaped glasses. A tea break halfway through a day of sightseeing or to cap a night out is part of the Istanbul experience. After visiting Topkapı Palace, find a peaceful spot of tea in Gülhane Park. To drink tea on cushions with the locals, join the throngs of university students at Lalezar Çay Bahçesi, behind the Suleymaniye Mosque near Rüstem Pasha Mosque.
    Photo by age fotostock
  • 6 / 10
    Romantic Dining
    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. In the heart of Beyoğlu, Mikla—located atop the glamorous Marmara Pera hotel—never fails to amaze with its city panoramas and modern Turkish cuisine. Nearby, the rooftop terrace at the Grand Hotel de Londres has been impressing guests for a century, while 5.Kat is known for its international menu, world music, and only-in-Istanbul views.
    Photo by Paul Osterlund
  • 7 / 10
    An Island Escape
    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. Catch the ferry from Kabataş and then enjoy the waterway views as you leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind. Get off on the island of Büyükada, 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. Bring a picnic for a beach day or ride in a horse-drawn carriage.
    Photo by Stephanie Chen
  • 8 / 10
    Café Culture
    Café Culture
    The coffeehouse was an Ottoman invention, and while espresso and cold brew may not be as widely available today as thick Türk kahvesi (Turkish coffee), the café tradition lives on in Istanbul. For modern coffee drinks in the Old City, have a sip at Brew Coffeeworks. Across the Galata Bridge, Karabatak is the most atmospheric of Karaköy's cafes, while Aşşk Kahve and the House Café caffeinate diners with Bosphorus views.
    Photo by Martin Siepmann/age fotostock
  • 9 / 10
    Winetastings
    Winetastings
    While many Turkish wines can be hit or miss, a few places in Istanbul can help you find your perfect sip. Just off busy İstiklal Avenue, Solera Winery serves a range of domestic wines, from crisp Cappadocia reds to refreshing Izmir whites, by the glass or to take away by the bottle. Viktor Levi serves a dozen house varietals in a lush garden setting on the Asian side. While The Populist mostly serves craft brews, wine drinkers will find plenty to keep them satisfied at the massive Bomontiada complex.
    Photo by Paul Osterlund
  • 10 / 10
    Garden Promenades
    Garden Promenades
    Turkey is the land of the tulip (the Dutch brought the flower to Holland from here, where it was cultivated during the Ottoman Empire), even influencing the shape of the tea glass. In 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 rosebushes at Gülhane Park, a former garden of Topkapı Palace. For more regal garden splendor, visit Yıldız 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