This week’s travel dream: A thriving, reinvented Istanbul

Turkey’s “charismatic” prime minister has encouraged his countrymen to start celebrating their cultural history.

“Istanbul is no longer just the spot where Europe meets Asia,” said Suzy Hansen in Condé Nast Traveler. Over the past decade, this ancient city has thrived while many Western capitals have struggled, and the streets have come alive with “the thrum of creative ferment.” Some of this is due to new leadership. Turkey’s “charismatic” prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has unleashed long-suppressed capitalist energies, but he is also an Islamic conservative who’s encouraged all of his constituents to stop ignoring their cultural history and start celebrating it. Suddenly, “everyone wants to be here,” from rural Turks seeking jobs to artists seeking simply to breathe in Istanbul’s special atmosphere. The city these days is so diverse and vibrant, it’s “as if someone had dribbled bits of Berlin and New York and Barcelona onto a seaside Islamic wonderland.”

Nowhere is the change more apparent than in Karakoy, a neighborhood in the Beyoglu district. Five years ago, I was afraid of Karakoy’s “weird little streets.” Friends claimed that the area teemed with prostitutes and drug dealers, and Karakoy felt like “the rotting underbelly of a faded Constantinople, home to everything creepy and half-dead.” Not anymore. One evening last spring, I attended an art opening that spilled out the gallery doors, with DJs set up in the street and surrounded by foreigners and Turks drinking wine. To get there, I’d navigated “an architectural jumble” that included a 16th-century mosque, Greek churches, traditional teahouses, a few hookah hangouts, and bars where blond socialites rubbed elbows with hipsters.

I now live in Beyoglu and have watched the area transform “at lightning speed.” If I leave for a week, “I return to discover that my deli has become a secondhand-glasses shop, that the old-school one-oven bakery is now a high-end burger joint.” Whenever I enter one of the area’s beautiful art nouveau buildings, I now know to expect that it will be newly renovated, with “high-quality tile beneath my feet and recently uncovered 100-year-old paintings on the wall.” Everywhere one feels “the excitement of an ancient place that seems somehow fresh and new.”

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At Beyoglu’s Witt Istanbul Hotel (, doubles start at $208.

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