Olivia's Guide to Istanbul

Follow me to the land of cherry tea, baklava, and endless hospitality

In this city guide we explore the diverse districts of modern and ancient Istanbul...

Dine with artists and bohemians in creative Cihangir...

Visit the ancient port in Karaköy...

Explore the Old City and its hidden gems...

and so much more.

I will share with you where my friends and I eat, drink, dance, and holiday in and around one of my favourite cities in the world - Istanbul.

The teashop of the artists

This famed teashop lies directly across for the Firuzağa mosque at the heart of the neighbourhood comprising Cihangir, Çukurcuma, and Galatasaray. Here you are likely to spot one of the many actors and actresses who live in this area crossing Taksim Square, or browsing in a small antique shop, full of treasures.

I really enjoy this area for the architecture and also because it’s where I usually meet my friends for breakfast, coffee or dinner. The antique shops in the area of Cukurcuma are well curated and are a wonderful for home inspiration.

EAT and DRINK

Journey Cafe - A local favourite serving delicious, healthy food with a variety of vegetarian options amidst a cosy atmosphere. The perfect place to read or get some work done. I always get a raw ginger shot, espresso and scrambled eggs on their home-made chia bread.

Cuma Cafe - For a more traditional Turkish brunch vibe, where you can try Çılbır (poached eggs with garlic yohgurt) a dish from the Trakya Region of Turkey.

Twins Coffee Roasters - My friend Agah founded this place. It’s hard to get a good coffee near Taksim Square so this is a rare gem. Tell them I sent you!

Old Java Coffe Galata - A cute coffee shop where you can sip while you work.

EXPLORE

Çukurcuma Antikacılar – Looking for something to take back home, to adorn your house or gift to a friend? Every antique shop in this area is worth a visit - although you might end up spending your whole trip here! There is an endless array of textiles, and other beautiful handicrafts to peruse.

Sofistic Kovboy Çizme / Erdal Aydın – This family business, run by brothers Erdal and Erhan, has been in operation for 39 years. They make cowboy boots in the same way that their father taught them, during his heyday as one of the best ‘Kunduracı’ (shoemakers) in Istanbul. His interest was sparked by the comic books Texas and Tommix, which were Westerns that were immesely popular in Turkey in the 80s.

Completely handmade by the brothers, the older one specialises in the base of the boot, while the younger does the sewing, decorating and finer, more intricate details.

Each pair takes about a week to make. I can't wait to return to Istanbul; on my next visit I plan to get a pair of hot pink ones made!

Image of Radiant Shams Earrings - Solid Gold

Radiant Shams Earrings - Solid Gold

The Shams earrings represent the warming rays of the sun - a key symbol within the Middle East. They remind me of long, warm days of browsing rugs and antiques beneath the Eastern sun.

Image of Carnelian Lion Pendant with Sapphire - Sterling Silver

Carnelian Lion Pendant with Sapphire - Sterling Silver

The King Ashurbanipal was known as a lover of lions. He was from what was then known as Assyria, a land which includes Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. the lions he loved were painted on his palace walls as a sign of courage and protection. Such imagery is still able to be seen in Turkey today where lions are still an important cultural symbol.

Image of Seljuks Dinar Luck Pendant - Vermeil 24K

Seljuks Dinar Luck Pendant - Vermeil 24K

The Dinar is a Turkish currency that spread as far as present day Europe during the Ottoman Empire. The luck pendant brings good fortune, whether browsing for antiques or travelling to a new and unknown destination.

Image of Mini Neptune Braid Hoops - 18K Gold Plated

Mini Neptune Braid Hoops - 18K Gold Plated

These hoops are a classic design the technique for which I learned from artisans in the Grand Bazaar. These tiny golden balls are cast from a hand-carved wax mould process.

Timeless sea breezes,
that for aeons have
blown ancient rocks,
you are purest space
coming from afar...

Oh, how a fruit-bearing
fig tree feels your coming
high up in the moonlight.

- Rilke's Song of the Sea

The areas of Karaköy, Pera and Şişhane snuggle against Istanbul's coastline, making up its port. The neighbourhood is an eclectic mix of beautiful high end architecture from the last 40 years, major art institutions, and dockland scenery.

EAT and DRINK

Karaköy Lokantası - I love the tiling and the chic mezze you can get. Make sure to book ahead.

Karaköy Balıkçısı - Two restaurants sandwiched together in the same building. Head downstairs for an intimate, relaxed lunch, or upstairs for your evening meal. Known for their delectable fish, cooked in paper (kağıtta levrek).

Double Mezze Bar - With views of the Haliç waterway, you can relax on this rooftop of a central Pera hotel. Munch on mezze with a modern twist, then kick up your heels to the vintage Turkish tunes as the venue transforms into a semi-nightclub. I have a real thing for retro Turkish music, so this is a place I absolutely love. http://www.dublemezebar.com/

Güllüoğlu Baklava- You can’t go to Turkey without eating baklava. I come here and get a “Porsyion” of baklava and pick out the ones I love. I always get classic pistachio (fistik) and walnut (ceviz).

Sensus – A cave like wine shop right next to Galata Tower with an unmatchable atmosphere. Partake in a wine tasting or simply enjoy a leisurely glass at the bar.

EXPLORE

MaeZae Concept store – As this area changed over the last few years, the small side streets have become vibrant and exciting. MaeZae is one such recently opened store, located below ground, where you can find many amazing local and international designers.

Galata Simitçisi- My favorite simit place in İstanbul by far! İf you are nearby at the right time (when the furnace is burning) it is impossible to pass by without the smell of amazing simit dough tempting you inside! Its a great idea to buy your simit hot from this furnace, to accompany you on a ferry ride, the dock for which is just a couple of minutes away. Don't forget to pair the simit with some delicious tea.

İstanbul Modern – For now the museum, which is located here has been relocated to Şişhane, thanks to consturction going on in the port area. This museum gives a more modern insight into Turkey today. I do, of course, still enjoy the ancient art museums of Turkey but Istanbul Modern gives a nice contrasting perspective.

DO

Hamam: Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı

Visiting a hamam is a must while in Turkey. This one, with its majestic dome, and long lifespan couples with some very meticulous modern restorations, is one of the finest.

This Haman was built between 1578-1583 and only recently reopened after 7 years of preservatory and renovatory work. It is named after a man who rose from the status of oar slave, to hero, receiving the honorary title of "The Sword" for his masterful captaining and bravery in battle later in life. He even met the author Cervantes, and is referenced as a character in Don Quixote.

The steam bath opens pores and releases impurities. The warmth relaxes ones body. The communing with other women provides solace to the soul.

COMMISSION A BESPOKE PIECE FROM OUR ISTANBUL STUDIO
Image of Nausica Pendant - Vermeil 24K

Nausica Pendant - Vermeil 24K

The image of Nausica as a protector and saviour has endured through the ages, as the princess who rescued Odysseus from the riverbank reeds at the end of his long journey. She is a healer, and a fighter, who stood up for what she believed. She represents nobility, kindness, and a blend of gentleness and strength. On the rear of the pendant a riverbird is depicted - the image of Nausica’s wild beauty in natural form.

Image of Venus Ring in Garnet - Solid Gold

Venus Ring in Garnet - Solid Gold

While all delicate jewellery needs to be treated with great care, solid gold can be a lifelong treasure, even withstanding limited amounts of seaside living. The Venus Ring in Ruby radiates love, positivity, and new beginnings.

World of Spices

Located at the historical peninsula, organised around ‘yeni cami’ Eminonü has been a commercial trade centre of İstanbul since Byzantine times as well as during the Ottoman empire. The most famous tourist attraction is the spice bazaar, always crowded during the day with locals and tourists.

EAT and DRINK

Hamdi - I am always bringing visiting friends and family here because the view is exceptional and the food very good quality. I always get the grilled lamb with mezze starters.

Hacibekir - A small shop selling double roasted lokum, acı badem, and helva. My mum always requests the double roasted lokum (Turkish delight) and orange rind dipped in dark chocolate. Each time I pass I get myself an aci badem which is a very delicious almond biscuit.

DO

Drink Narsuyu on the streets - Each morning on my way to the Bazaar for work, I stop for my daily pomegranate juice (narsuyu) which is something for me that I associate with my life in Istanbul.

Drink Sahlep during winter - A hot and creamy drink sure to warm you to your core.

EXPLORE

Tahtakale- Coming from the Arabic word ‘taht-el-kalaa’ which means out of the borders of the city walls, this part of Eminönü is a crazy street market where you can find anything and everything. The most entrancing part is witnessing the daily routine of the local esnaf (artisans) who ply their wares in this bustling commercial centre.

Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi- İnside the streets of Tahtakale lies the home of the first ever coffee roaster in Turkey. Located at the heart of Eminönü there is always a long line of people waiting to buy freshly roasted Turkish coffee. The smell from the coffee roasters wafts down the whole street, where you can find all different types of roasted nuts and varieties of Turkish Delight. I love lining up in the hustle and bustle to pick up my Turkish coffee supplies and watch them hurriedly wrap the coffee in paper bags and weigh it on old fashioned scales.

Süleymaniye Camii - I am in love with this view of Istanbul. Sometimes when I have had a long day in the Grand Bazaar, I walk down and admire the city while the sun goes down.

About the Süleymaniye Camii

The structure is one of the most important examples of Classical Ottoman architecture, built by the great Ottoman Architect known as Mimar Sinan.

The dome of the mosque sits on top of 4 elephant legs. At each corner sits a stately minaret, making four in total. This is because Kanuni Sultan Süleyman (the sultan of the day) was the 4th to rule after the conquest of İstanbul.

The mosque was designed masterfully, so that all the soot from the oil lamps would collect in the room, at the main entrance of the mosque. The soot was later used to produce ink.

The structure also holds the tomb of Kanuni Sultan Süleyman. The dome of the tomb is covered with metal sheets that hold diamonds in them, which represent the starry night sky.

Image of Mori Bracelet - 18K Gold Plated

Mori Bracelet - 18K Gold Plated

Leather and gold feature prominently in the markets of Turkey - both are worked intricately and with great skill. It was from these artisans that I learned my own trade.

The Old City

Old city, Beyazit and Kapalıçarşı are, according to one of my Turkish friends, where the magic happens. Need I say more? This historical centre is located along Istanbul's peninsula and houses the Grand Bazaar and many of the city's oldest buildings and businesses.

EAT and DRINK

Rejon Kebap House (Kilis Tavasi) - When I take a break from hammering metals and running errands in the Bazaar, I usually go here with other workers for a kebab, ayran and salgam suyu. This place is located within the Grand Bazaar and it has to be one of the best quality kebab houses in the area.

Künefeci (Özlem et lokantası) - If you have never tried künefe, this needs to happen during your trip to Turkey.

EXPLORE

Nargileci – Erenler Nargile - This is where a lot of my friends who work in the Grand Bazaar go to smoke water pipe after work. If you don’t smoke you can sit and drink multipe çay (black Turkish tea) while watching the world go by.

Arkeoloji ve İslam Sanatları müzesi

The archeological museum of Istanbul was founding in the late 1800s upon the discovery of the sarcophaguses of Alexander the Great, and the Phoenician King, Tabnit.Founded by the painter and archeolog Osman Hamdi Bey under the name The Empire Museum, the structure first opened its doors to visitors in 1891. Build by the architect Alexandre Vallury (the same architect of the Pera Palace Hotel) the museum today holds many treasures from the Anatolian lands

About Künefeci

This amazing desert dates harks from the Middle East in the 10th century. Because of the close relationship between Arabic and Ottoman countries it made its way to Anatolian lands.

Especially known in cities like Hatay, Mersin and Gaziantep, the dessert is made by using Kadayıfı (a unique kind of Turkish dough), cheese, and sherbet. Best when cooked in an oven, on the outside it is very crispy thanks to its being decorated with pistachios. Inside there is the surprisingly delightful harmony of melted cheese and the sherbet.

Image of Nazar Boncugu Necklace - 18K Gold Plated

Nazar Boncugu Necklace - 18K Gold Plated

Image of Nazar Hoops - 18K Gold Plated

Nazar Hoops - 18K Gold Plated

The Nazar Boncuğu, or “eye bead”, is a part of an amuletic and artistic practice from Turkey, Greece, Persia, India, Pakistan and the surrounding regions.

It’s design has changed little over thousands of years, dating back to the earliest traditions of glass moulding.

Despite persecution, the tradition of glassmaking has survived, to ensure that the evil eye can continue to perform its protective service over the people who carry it on their person.

Sun and Moon

The district comprising Balat, Fener, Edirnekapı and Fatih is home to two of Turkey's most lovely mosques. These are situated in relation to the two major celestial bodies. The first has a single minaret that mirrors the course of the sunrise. The second has two minarets that cradle the moon in the sky.

The mosques were built by the Mihrimah Sultan, whose name Farsça’da ‘Mihr ü mah’ means sun and moon.

EAT and DRINK

Forno - Great baked eggs and lahmacun. When I lived in Balat, my friends and I would do breakfast here each Sunday morning.

DO

Mihrimah Sultan Hamamı - This is my go-to hamam because for 90-100 TL you get a “package” which includes a full body scrub with Turkish coffee beans.

EXPLORE

Kariye Müzesi – The best mosaics for sure. This is my Father’s favourite sight in Istanbul and it’s off the tourist track. Absolutely breathtaking mosaics and the history is phenomenal.

Astrally inspired jewells selected for you...

Image of Mini Apollo Sun Earrings - 18K Gold Plated

Image of Ruby Moon Face Pendant - Solid Gold

Image of Eanna Ring with Australian Sapphire - Sterling Silver

Image of Apollo Sun Amulet Ring - 18K Gold Plated

Image of Leonids Ring - Solid Gold

Image of Pentas Ring with Sapphire - Sterling Silver

Image of Chiron Ring - Rose Gold

Image of Sani Studs - Solid Gold

Island Escapes

Burgazada is an island about 1 hour away from Istanbul, known as the second of the Prince's islands. It is scattered with little white houses with terracotta roofs, flowering purple vines, and surrounded by a crystal blue sea.

EAT and DRINK

Kalpazankaya Restaurant - Has an amazing sunset view. I highly recomended you to go there in the afternoon for an afternoon swim in the sea. Then climb the rocks (the restaurant is aptly named, with kaya meaning "rock" in Turkish) and sit down for an amazing dinner at sunset. They have typical Turkish meze and fish on the menu.

4letter word coffee - When it’s Summer and my friends and I get the ferry to Burgazada, this is our go-to coffee shop. The best place for cakes, and for cookies!

EXPLORE

The whole island! The island is great for trekking, boasting lovely views from its more elevated areas.

Image of Theodora Earrings in Aquamarine Zircon - 18K Gold Plated

Theodora Earrings in Aquamarine Zircon - 18K Gold Plated

These gold hoop earrings are adorned with three freshwater pearls, interspersed with either emerald or aquamarine-toned zircon gems. Named for Queen Theodora, a Byzantine Ruler, these earrings recall the skill of feminine leadership and conciliation. In the midst of an uprising between two factions known as the greens and the blues, Theodora made a powerful speech that convinced the two sides to reconcile, and put an end to violence in her city. She was one of the first rulers who advocated for the rights of women, and stood up for her own religious beliefs against her husband, Junstinian. After her death Justinian honoured her memory by continuing her legacy of religious tolerance. Due to 5 years spent living in Istanbul and training under the usta there, Olivia is deeply inspired to keep the traditions of Byzantine design alive while applying her contemporary maximalist design aesthetic. The Theodora Earrings are directly inspired by this idea of supporting Byzantine designs and smithing techniques from the 5-6th Century.

A wandering mind

Alongside all these places dear to my heart, there are a few more recommendations of special places I'd like to share with you. If you have some of your own, feel free to email us and let us know.

Gayrettepe / Petra Coffee - A delicious coffee house.

Ulus /Aşkana Mantı – A wonderful little mantı place. Mantı is a Turkish dish, like pasta, with meat and garlic yoghurt. Delicious!

Our range of designs draws heavily on my experiences living and working in Turkey, alongside generations of artisans who later became good friends.

To see the full range click below, or to see highlights of items directly inspired by my time in Istanbul, click on the following keywords for distilled search results: Ottoman, Seljuks or Byzantine.

Love, and happy travelling,

Olivia

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