5 Romantic Moments in Istanbul

The wondrous landscape and charming architecture of Istanbul has graced the backdrops of many legendary love stories. The mythological lovers Hero and Leander have a story here. So do the all-conquering 16th-century lovers Sultan Süleyman and Roxelana. There’s also Pierre Loti and Aziyade of the 19th century. Yes, gazing at the city from rooftops, giggling with friendly locals, and canoodling in the Bosporus breeze is indeed romantic.

Eyüp Merkez Mahallesi, 34050 Eyüp/Istanbul, Turkey
Overlooking the Golden Horn in Eyüp, Pierre Loti Hill offers a spectacular panoramic view of Istanbul’s seven hills. Linger here for a while and partake in keyif—the Turkish art of idle relaxation—at one of the rustic teahouses and restaurants that immerse you in one of Istanbul’s most captivating locations. The hill is named after Pierre Loti, a French novelist and naval officer who wrote his first novel, Aziyadé, after sojourning in the teahouses here in 1876. The novel, originally published anonymously, detailed a semi-autobiographical story about Loti’s forbidden affair with a Circassian harem girl named Aziyadé. The love between the 27-year-old officer and the 18-year-old woman was so enduring that Aziyadé died of a broken heart when Loti left Istanbul. Legend also says Loti always wore a gold ring inscribed with her name. Loti’s subsequent novel, La Turquie Agonisante (Turkey in Agony), went on to win the hearts of the new Turkish Republic, which then named a cafe and avenue on Eyüp hill in honor of the author. The name has stayed, the tales remain, and the view continues to inspire the artist within many. To get there, take a bus or ferry from Eminönü to Eyüp, then take the cable car near Eyüp port to the top, or wander past the Eyüp mosque and up through an old Ottoman cemetery. Avoid going on the weekends when crowds vie for the best seats in the house. Alcohol is forbidden due to the proximity to Eyüp mosque.
Gentlemen, if your lady appreciates the simple things in life and you both romantically revel in truly unique, off-the-beaten-path experiences, then you should head to Eyüp hill for the panoramic view from Pierre Loti Café. Then, instead of getting the ferry or the bus back to Eminönü, consider hiring a private “kayık” (a modest wooden boat) from a local fisherman. Kayıks are certainly not the luxury gondolas of Venice (nor the price of one), but a cruise on one of these authentic Turkish motorboats will be a memorable experience for adventurous, easygoing couples. Just you, the captain, the cool breeze, and the sound of the tiny wooden boat putt-putting past the sites lining the Golden Horn. The extra challenge is that it’s so authentic, most captains do not speak English. Take a map or paper to show you want to go to “Eminönü.” They will probably try to charge 50TL (ellie lira) or more, but you could try bartering down to 40TL (kirk lira). The five-kilometer cruise will take about 30 minutes and provides plenty of opportunities for photos along the way. You will find the boats moored near the Eyüp port, and if the bartering fails or the size of the boat concerns you, then the ferry to Eminönü leaves every hour from the port nearby. The kayık will dock among the private boats just before Galata Bridge.
Salacak Mahallesi, Üsküdar Salacak Mevkii, 34668 Üsküdar/İstanbul, Turkey
The Maiden’s Tower, which seemingly floats in the Bosphorus off Asia, is one of the more popular symbols of the city. Once a Byzantine tollbooth and later an Ottoman lighthouse, it’s most famous for a legend involving a princess and a prophecy that she would die from a snakebite. Her father exiled her to the tower in the hope of protecting her but, alas, the prophecy could not be avoided—a snake made its way to the island, either in a bouquet of flowers or a basket of grapes (depending on the version of the tale).
Süleymaniye Mahallesi, Mimar Sinan Cd. No:20, 34120 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Most couples will want to experience all of Istanbul’s attractions together, and enjoying a hammam (Turkish bath) is no different. The majority of the authentic bathhouses in the city have separate male and female bathing areas, making it impossible for couples to bathe together. The hammam in the Süleymaniye Mosque complex high above Eminönü, however, specializes in providing hammam services for couples. The hammam provides a private changing room and a more intimate and personalized hammam experience for the two of you. This includes a sauna, scrub, and massage with masses of soapy bubbles. In total the treatments last 60 to 90 minutes. If you’re lucky, you may have the hammam to yourself, but do expect to share the hammam space with others. Therefore, ladies will want to pack a bikini or use the disposable bra and shorts provided. Men can also wear a swimsuit. Both will be given a peştemal (towel) for additional coverage. The hammam itself was designed by celebrated Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan in 1557. The sauna is more authentic and at a higher temperature than most local hammams, so it can get a little hot and steamy in there. Take some water with you and rehydrate after. Bookings are essential.
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