The Rooftops of Istanbul
Of all of the great cities in the world, Istanbul must be one of the most beautiful from above. On a good day, some visitors will be lucky enough to witness the outline of the Bosphorus, where Europe passes to Asia, from the seat of their airplane as they arrive at or leave the city. But to soak up the Turkish atmosphere as you gaze upon the skyline of the grandest and most eye catching city in Europe, you need to find some of the best rooftops in the city. To enjoy the serenity of the views that Istanbul has to offer as the crazy city life continues below you is quite something. You also get to experience some of the landmarks that Istanbul has to offer from a very different perspective. Thankfully, Istanbul has some of the best rooftop locations of any city in the world.
Rooftop lounge culture is something that has been developing steadily over the past decade and is now one of the most popular activities for any socialite in the city. Al fresco dining has always been a Turkish tradition as the beautiful climate allows it. While Istanbul can experience some nippy winters, for nine months of the year, the city is covered in sunlight and warm weather, the type of atmosphere that draws you outside. Citizens and visitors became more than used to enjoying a good meal or an evening drink on the streets of the city, and then came the rooftop bar to make that experience even more special.
Istanbul is a city built on seven hills that straddle two continents; the perfect setting for a city of views. As a result, a huge variety of rooftops can be found in Istanbul, from the cozy, laid back, sofa filled café bars to the high end Michelin starred restaurants. Whatever your style, there is a rooftop bar for you. But in these modern times, everybody is cashing in on Istanbul’s incredible views, even Starbucks and Café Nero have their own panoramic views across the Bosphorus, so we have compiled a list of our favourite spots in the historic and atmospheric city to enjoy the wonderful views.
360istanbul is a multi award winning penthouse restaurant in the Beyoğlu district of the city, the most active art, entertainment and nightlife centre of Istanbul. It is known to be one of the best rooftop bars in the city and has been since it opened in 2005. The restaurant itself is famous among locals for its forward thinking art galleries and 360 degree panoramic view of Istanbul. From the bar’s terrace you can enjoy views of St Anthony’s church, Hagia Sofia and all the way to the Bosphorus river and the Sea of Marmara. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, offering a modern twist on Turkish meze alongside international cuisine. The venue’s mission is to create four crucial elements; cuisine, design, entertainment and atmosphere, something they do with style, creating a vibe and ambience fit for the elite of the city.
The food here is of the highest standard and they have award winning cocktails to wash it down with. 360istanbul is particularly sought out for their delicious deserts and fresh fruit mixes. At the weekends the restaurant becomes Club360, promoting talented DJs and vocalists with live dancers and top notch performances. Artists who have performed at Club360 in the past include Boy George and Roger Sanchez, which just gives you an idea of the kinds of faces you’ll find gazing across the skyline.
This high end rooftop location can be found at the very top of the Mısır Apartments on İstiklal Street, not far from Taksim Square. Considering their usual clientel, the smart dress code is strictly enforced at all times. You’ll more than enjoy this place if you are looking to find some international celebrities to hang out with!
One for Asia
People are so intent on spending time in the historic district of Istanbul and wandering the streets of the European side of the city that they forget that part of the city sits in Asia and actually, the view is better over there! Enter 360istanbul East Moda! Some often say that you want to look at the view, not be a part of and that is exactly what this rooftop bar does, it puts you in the best location to enjoy everything that the European shores of Istanbul has to offer. You want to gaze at Hagia Sofia, and the Blue Mosque, and the Galata Tower, and the Bosphorus River, and the famous bridges?? Well then, you need to be in the Kadıköy district, in Asia!
360istanbul East Moda is perched at the top of the Hilton Doubletree hotel and has an extensive summer terrace with its own swimming pool. Everything else takes after its big brother in Beyoğlu, even the menu is the same, though the prices are slightly cheaper.
The Celebrity Chef
Born in Austria, trained in Paris and made famous in Hollywood, Wolfgang Puck is the ultimate celebrity chef. Puck arrived in Los Angeles in 1975 and quickly found the spotlight among the Hollywood elite as a chef and eventually part owner of Ma Maison restaurant in West Hollywood. Here he was the main attraction and it was his culinary brilliance that made Ma Maison a magnet for the rich and famous. From here, Puck went on to create his first flagship restaurant, Spago, on the sunset strip which won several awards including the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef of the Year in 1991 and 1998, and Restaurant of the Year in 1994.
Since the success of the original Spago, Wolfgang Puck has opened many restaurants all over the world and Spago in Beverley Hills has recently earned two Michelin stars. The Istanbul branch of the chain was the first Spago to make international waters and is located at the top of the St Regis Hotel, the accommodation’s signature culinary experience. The restaurant offers modern and imaginative seasonal menus and a fantastic wine selection mixed with contemporary design and incredible views of Maçka Park and the Bosphorus River.
In contrast with 360istanbul, Spago offers another high end, celeb spotting experience, but with a more suave atmosphere. The decor is sophisticated and almost understated in its modernity with leather backed chairs and black stone fireplaces; even Andy Warhol paintings line the walls its so uber trendy! The food is more laid back, serving Puck’s Hollywood famous oven baked pizzas and pastas. But it is the glamourous outdoor terrace and circular bar which acts as the venue’s focal point, with Mediterranean features, pine trees and florals dancing in the breeze between the tables and a romantic view over the city. It’s a breezy atmosphere which allows the customers to bask in the Turkish atmosphere up in the heavens and forget the busy city life below.
The Hipster Joint
If funky is what you are looking for, then find your way to 5.Kat, named so as it sits on the 5th floor of the Bilsak building, which was once the Science Art Institute, Istanbul’s oldest civilian cultural centre. The bohemian vibe of the place is undeniable, with rustic, vintage and retro decor all rolled into one. The terrace is kitsch with vintage chairs, wooden tables and colourfully filled flowerpots everywhere. The view is undeniably gorgeous though, you will see water for as far as the eye can see. 5.Kat is open for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner and prides itself on its homemade food. Bonus points also go to 5.Kat for having more than reasonable prices so that you don’t feel like you’re paying a surcharge for the view!
Modern but Understated
Located on the top floor of the Beşiktaş Plaza, Vogue Istanbul is considered to be one of the world’s best bars and is a favourite with locals. The ‘Zagat Survey’ which determines the world’s bests in the food and beverage sector, named Vogue one of the best restaurants in Istanbul. Time Out also awarded Vogue that accolade in 2002. Opened in 1997, it was also one of the first rooftop lounges, perhaps even the bar that kicked off the growing trend in Istanbul. The rooftop restaurant has a capacity of 240 people in the summer when all three of its incredible terraces are open.
You can enjoy live music here every night and an extensive menu of over 200 wines which can be accompanied by a speciality cigar should you wish and the sushi is to die for if you fancy a snack. The atmosphere is warm but sophisticated and you feel no pressure to conform to any trends while you’re up there. In fact the music level is always low enough for you to hold a conversation and there’s a substantial bookshelf covered in magazines and coffee table books if you just want to hang out with a glass of çay on an afternoon. What else could you possibly ask for once you have enjoyed the 360 panoramic view of Istanbul from each of its three terraces??
Back to Ottoman Roots
If contemporary is not what you are looking for in Istanbul and you want to experience something a little more traditionally Turkish, then book yourself a table at Safran Restaurant at the high-rise InterContinental Hotel. We may have saved the best for last here. Safran is internationally recognised and an “Academie Internationale de la Gastronomie” award winner, offering the finest Turkish and Ottoman cuisine in Istanbul. Not only that but the breathtaking views of the city, including the Bosphorus bridges, the Galata Tower, Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque, are unparalleled.
While you are there sampling the finest of Ottoman cuisine and looking out over one of the most historic cities in the world, you can hold your ear to some traditional ‘fasıl’, live Turkish classical music which dates back to the days of the Ottoman Empire. Nowhere else in Istanbul can you have such a traditional Turkish experience with such an incredible view.
Not Looking for a Restaurant?
Rooftop dining isn’t for everybody, but fear not, Istanbul has plenty of other places to enjoy that 360 degree panorama of this incredible city. Stay at the Four Seasons in Sultanahmet and you will find yourself gazing at Hagia Sofia one minute and the Blue Mosque the next. You couldn’t find yourself in a better location for views of two of the top tourist attractions in the historical district, set to the side of Sultan Ahmed Park, directly between the two incredible landmarks. While sightseeing in this district, take some time at the Topkapı Palace and the Galata Tower, which both offer incredible views of the city. Otherwise, make your way to the viewing floor of the Istanbul Sapphire in the business district of Levent; Istanbul’s tallest building. This is the best 360 degree view of Istanbul that you can get. There is a restaurant up there too if you fancy it after all!
The company ‘Istanbulite’ offers tours of the city’s rooftops, taking you to hip boutique hotels in the Tunel and Galata districts, an art gallery in Karaköy and to Büyük Valide Han, a historical inn near the Grand Bazaar that boasts some of the best views in the city, only accessible through secret passages, narrow streets and hidden doors. Tour company ‘Walks of Turkey’ offers the incredible opportunity to access the rooftop of the Grand Bazaar itself on their ‘Artisans & Rooftops: Behind the Scenes at Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar’ tour. Up there, you’ll be following in the footsteps of Daniel Craig and Liam Neeson as you see the very views they did while filming ‘Skyfall’ and ‘Taken 2’.
If you’d rather stay with nature, you could create your very own rooftop lounge at the top of Çamlıca Hill, the highest natural point in the city. It is a place that has become subject to many poems, songs and literary works over the centuries thanks to its romantic ambience and escape from the city. Located over on the Asian side, a little further out of the city centre, you might just feel like you’re in a different world up there. Forget the high-end eateries and the celebrity filled venues with the trendy hipsters hanging on. Take yourselves a blanket, perhaps a cushion or two, a bottle of wine and a gourmet picnic and find your own piece of paradise with a view of the city and of the stars that watch over it.