The towns that dot the shore from Ortaköy to Bebek and Rumelihisarı were once elegant fishing villages – today they are enclaves of chic. But underneath the glitz and glamour, charm remains, together with fantastic views.
The town of Bebek on the European Bosphorus shore is perhaps the most fashionable in Istanbul, the views enhanced by a swooping suspension bridge whichever way you look. Beneath the first at Ortaköy are the super-clubs of Istanbul, presided over by Reina. At the other end lie waterside cafes in the shadow of Rumeli Hisarı, the old Ottoman fortress built to conquer Constantinople. The area inbetween is a playground that seems to be arrived at mostly by convertible or yacht. Unashamedly showy, but not without style. This being Istanbul, tradition is never completely exorcised, and the wooden houses on the shore at Arnavutköy are home to both excellent fish restaurants and grand old families, even if the days when they could leap from bedroom to Bosphorus have been paved over.
The Bosphorus shore downstream is studded with late Ottoman palaces and mosques. From Ortaköy square and its iconic mosque, via the Çirağan (now unquestionably the best luxury hotel in the city) and Yıldız Palaces, all the way to the enormous Dolmabahçe, home of the world’s largest crystal chandelier. Less flashy, set amongst a picturesque graveyard, is the shrine and mosque of Yahya Efendi, one of a trio of important 16th Century Sufis who were close advisors to the Ottoman Sultans. It is incredibly serene, and has the uncertain distinction of having the best view of any mosque in the city.
The coast road is notoriously prone to gridlock. Avoid at peak times whenever possible. Wiley taxi drivers will have their secret routes over the hills, but a sea taxi is much more pleasant, and in one of the few reversals in the demise of the Bosphorus vapur, more boats now stop at the iskele in Ortaköy.
Ulus 29 is pure glamour, with food and customers as attractive as the view.