Why It's Hip: Istanbul. Rather than being the city that never sleeps, it’s the city that refuses to go to bed even when it’s shattered. According to The New York Times, Turkey is one of the places you have to visit in 2011 and there’s no better place to start than in its largest city. Istanbul is a mish-mash of east meets west where ancient souks and centuries-old hammams clash with designer stores and five-star resorts and spas. Rather than settling down and playing with all the other EU regions, the city refuses to let go of its long history, cultures and traditions preferring to let them all bump alongside one another, like the ships that sail its Bosphorous river. What’s more, it’s just a blissful four-hour hop, skip and a jump from the UAE.
Spend the Day: Formerly known as Byzantium and then as Constantinople, Istanbul straddles the 35km Bosphorous Strait between Europe and Asia. But enough of the history lesson, nowadays Istanbul is a thriving metropolis. Start the day with a traditional Turkish breakfast at Kale Café (kalecafe.com), located in the Rumeli Hisari neighbourhood. Order the serpme kahvalti (breakfast spread), which is a table-breaking bounty of olives, cheeses, sausage and, of course, kaymak (dessert cream). After all that food, we recommend a brisk 20-minute walk to the Bosphorous, where you can enjoy a 90-minute ferry ride with the operator TurYol (turyol.com – book in advance). Spend the afternoon touring the historic quarter, including Topkapi Palace (where the Sultan and his harem lived), the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia (a very, very old cathedral). No trip to Istanbul is complete without visiting the Grand Bazaar – the largest covered market in the world and only a 10-minute walk from the historic quarter. It sells everything from silk rugs to designer handbags (just don’t look too hard at the label), so barter hard!
And the Night: Shhhh… we’re going to let you in on a secret. At the top of some very unassuming apartments known as the Misir building, in the Beyoglu area, lies 360 Istanbul (360istanbul.com), a rooftop bar and restaurant. Marvel at a skyline featuring both minarets and church spires, while chowing down on some gorgeous gourmet food. Then, just as you finish your dessert, the place turns into a thumping nightclub where you can work off your four-course meal on the dance floor.
Bed Down: Want to stay somewhere unforgettable? You don’t get more memorable than an ex-prison turned canary coloured castle. Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet (fourseasons.com) is a boutique hotel with an enclosed secret garden, which used to be the prisoners exercise yard. But what makes this place truly unique is its location; it’s a two minute walk from the historic quarter – you can almost touch the Blue Mosque from your bedroom window. Priced from Dhs1,800.
Getting There: Fly to Istanbul from Sharjah with Air Arabia (airarabia.com) from Dhs980 return.