Istanbul's minaret-studded skyline is world-famous - and the city has some great rooftop bars that make the perfect place to soak up the view over a cold beer or two. Here are 10 of the best
Istanbul is a city built on seven hills and straddling two continents. The Bosphorus splits it into its European and Asian sides, opening onto the Sea of Marmara to the south. Add dozens of ancient monuments and impressive imperial mosques, and you’ve the perfect recipe for some fantastic views. Over the past few years, the city’s bar scene has really capitalised on this, so here’s the lowdown on some of the best places to gaze over the city’s minaret-dotted skyline over a cold Efes beer or a cocktail.
The historic Galata Tower, originally built by 14th-century Genoese traders, offers a 360-degree panorama of Istanbul from the giddy heights of its 52-metre viewing balcony. Legend has it that in the 1630s, an intrepid Ottoman aviator attached home-made wings to his back and glided all the way from the tower over the Bosphorus to Asia. These days, it’s only the seagulls that whirl around you as you gaze one way to historic Sultanahmet and the Sea of Marmara, the other towards Taksim and the Bosphorus. There’s a restaurant as well, so you can enjoy the view over a coffee or snack (the ‘authentic’ evening belly dancing show is best given a wide berth, however). Entrance: 10 TRY.
Buyuk Hendek Caddesi, Beyoglu; +90 212 293 81 80
One of the best views in the whole city can be admired from the terrace restaurant and bar at the Anemon Galata, an excellent small hotel, located just next to the Galata Tower. Non-guests are welcome to order a drink or book a table for a meal, and are rewarded with a jawdropping view across the Golden Horn, taking in virtually all the city’s major sights. Despite its extreme proximity to the Galata Tower, the lower perspective makes the historic skyline seem much closer.
Buyuk Hendek Caddesi 15, Beyoglu; +90 212 293 2343
This smart bar and restaurant is hard to find – it’s in a dilapidated apartment block tucked down a side street in Beyoglu. Take the rickety elevator to the top floor to be greeted with superb views and a trendy young crowd. Get here early and grab a terrace barstool for the best sunset views.
Kumbaraci Yokusu 57/6, Beyoglu; +90 212 293 4989
As the name suggests, this swanky rooftop bar has panoramic views of the city’s skyline, from the spire of St Antoine Church to Topkapi Palace and Sultanahmet. Its central location on Istiklal Street makes it popular with Istanbul’s smart set, who congregate for sunset cocktails, artfully presented modern Turkish cuisine and DJs playing the latest dance tunes. Definitely not a jeans and trainers sort of place.
Istiklal Caddesi, Misir Apt K8 311; +90 212 251 1042
i-Lounge is one of Istanbul’s hottest new rooftop bars, set on the eighth floor of the four-star Villa Zurich Hotel in trendy Cihangir, an area well-known for its artistic and literary connections. As well as the winning view, there are regular DJs and live music, and on Wednesdays the cream of Turkey’s jazz musicians play. There’s a reasonably-priced menu as well.
Villa Zurich, Akarsu Yokusu Caddesi 36, Cihangir; +90 212 244 94 66
French Street (Fransiz Sokak to locals) is, essentially, a wide flight of stairs that leads from behind the palatial Galata High School to the fascinating antique district of Cukucurma. Following a major makeover, the street’s tall, gaily painted buildings now host a number of excellent, if pricey, cafes and restaurants, many of which boast fine views across to the Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia.
Fransiz Sokak, Beyoglu
The Safran Restaurant at the high-rise InterContinental hotel boasts unparalleled views of the Bosphorus and across to Asia, with the first of Istanbul’s two vast suspension bridges stretching across to your left. There’s live fasil too – Turkish classical music from the days of the Ottoman Empire – and while you’re there you can sample fine Ottoman-style cuisine, which incorporates influences from across the Balkans and Middle East. In summer, the outdoor terrace offers al fresco dining.
Askerocagi Caddesi 1, Taksim; +90 212 3684444
Eresin Crown Hotel
Sultanahmet is Istanbul’s historic core, where world-famous sights like the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are located. Virtually every hotel worth its salt has a view here. The terrace restaurant at the Eresin Crown is a fine choice, located just behind the Blue Mosque and overlooking the Sea of Marmara towards the Princes’ Islands. Aside from the views, the hotel is something of a museum, as it is built on the remains of an ancient cistern, which is incorporated into the fabric of the building. Roman columns and mosaics are also dotted around the building.
Kuçukayasofya Caddesi 40, Sultanahmet; +90 212 638 44 28
Stranded between Europe and Asia, at the point where the Bosphorus meets the Sea of Marmara, the Maiden’s Tower (Kiz Kulesi) is an enduring symbol of the city. Sitting on a tiny island, the tower was first built by the ancient Greeks and has been used as a fortress and lighthouse since then. Nowadays, you can reach the tower by regular boat trips and climb to the rooftop bar and restaurant for yet another unique perspective of the city.
+90 216 342 4747