See Why Modern Istanbul Is The Coolest City In Europe

Outdoor cafe Istanbul

Photo: Jennifer Polland /Business Insider

Located at the point where Europe meets Asia, Istanbul spans both continents and is the place where cultures mix and mingle: where east meets west and ancient meets modern.Click here to jump to the photos >

And though the city is traditionally known for its mosque-dotted skyline and its spectacular historic monuments and palaces like the Aya Sofya and Topkapi Palace, today Istanbul is taking on a new role as hipsters, foodies, artists and fashionistas are quickly transforming the city into a bastion of cool.

Perhaps it began to truly morph into its current shape around 2010, when Istanbul was designated as the European Capital of Culture and it underwent drastic renovations to prepare for the year it hosted a series of cultural events. Since then, the city has become a playground for the young and hip.

Today all around the district of Beyoglu, on the European side, once-crumbling buildings have been renovated and turned into fancy boutique hotels, designer shops and trendy restaurants. The neighbourhood of Ortaköy, which was once a small fishing village, is now home to sophisticated nightclubs and restaurants right on the Bosphorus. And entire swaths of the city which were once run-down and neglected, given over to prostitution and other illicit activities—like the leafy neighbourhood of Cihangir—are now gentrified hotspots.

And there’s so much ongoing construction—the city is constantly buzzing with the sounds of jackhammers and machinery—that the face of Istanbul will continue to be transformed.

Located in a former warehouse on the Bosphorus, the Istanbul Modern showcases cutting-edge contemporary art from Turkish artists.

The restaurant at the Istanbul Modern serves modern international cuisine in a sleek design-conscious setting.

Nearby, the neighbourhood of Cihangir is quickly becoming one of the coolest areas in Istanbul, attracting hipsters and artists with its Bohemian chic vibe and its cafes, shops and galleries.

There's a bustling Sunday brunch scene in Cihangir, where people linger at leafy outdoor cafes over coffee and baklava.

Eclectic cafes serving international fare, like Susam Cafe, have sprouted up all over the area.

There are lots of quaint used book stores full of hard-to-find Turkish and English books.

And trendy hipster-friendly thrift shops.

The Witt Istanbul is a modern all-suites boutique hotel with 18 giant and stylish suites in Cihangir.

Istiklal Caddesi is Istanbul's main pedestrian artery. Here, shops pandering to tourists—touting Turkish delights, ceramics and other souvenirs—sit beside trendy cafes and Western imports like Starbucks, Nike and Burger King.

Vendors sell simits, Turkish bagels that are covered in sesame seeds, all over the city. The iconic street food costs about 1 Turkish Lira (50 cents).

Tünel Pasaji is a quiet arcade-style passageway at the end of Istiklal Caddesi that's filled with happening cafes, antique shops and used book stores.



At night, this passage fills up with young Istanbulites who linger at cafe tables over cigarettes and drinks.

The House Cafe is a local chain in Istanbul where trendy Istanbulites gather for cay (Turkish tea) and mezze. There's a branch on Istiklal Caddesi.

The House Hotel, affiliated with The House Cafe restaurants, is a local chain of trendy boutique hotels with several locations in Istanbul.

The 19th-century Misir Apartment building, on Istiklal Caddesi, is home to edgy art galleries, like Galeri Nev.

On top of the Misir Apartment building is 360, an uber-trendy restaurant and bar. It's open for meals, but the best time to go is probably for sunset.

At the end of the day, everyone retreats to rooftop bars, like the one atop the sleek Marmara Pera hotel, to catch the incredible views.

Local beers like Efes and Turkish wines abound at these happy hours, along with Turkish bar snacks like olives and spiced nuts.

Endless streams of people parade up and down Istiklal Caddesi all night long.

There are lots of nightclubs and bars nestled among the warren of streets around Istiklal Caddesi.

At night, the area around the Galata Tower becomes a meeting place for students and hippies, who sit around the base of the historic tower with beers, guitars and drums.

There are impromptu guitar circles and jovial live music here nearly every night.

For a more sophisticated nightlife scene, the neighbourhood of Ortaköy has chic nightclubs right on the Bosphorus, like the legendary Reina, which is frequented by trendy Istanbulites and celebrities like Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant.

There's an incredible array of late-night eats available, but one of the best spots for a midnight snack is along the Bosphorus at the Galata Bridge near the Karaköy fish market, where vendors sell fresh grilled fish sandwiches made to order.

Or you can stop at any of the kebab shops on Istiklal Caddesi, which are open late.

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