Some of the things that come to my mind when someone mentions Turkey’s Istanbul are the magnificent Blue Mosque, the ubiquitous deep blue crystal evil eye and Turkish delights enjoyed over Turkish Tea served in a glass and small saucer amongst many other things. Istanbul is a vibrant city to visit. With Turkish Airlines offering attractive fares, there is more reason to visit or even stopover for a day or two just to explore Istanbul.
Some of the landmarks you should not miss when you are in Turkey include the Galata Tower, Tokapi Palace, Ortaköy Mosque, Hagia Sofia and Taksim Square.
The question many people ask me when they know I am visiting Turkey is whether it is safe. It couldn’t be any safer than visiting any other cities such as London, Paris, Barcelona, Manchester, Brussels, Bangkok or even Finland. All these cities have also been previously attacked by terrorists. My word of advice to anyone travelling is to remain vigilant and alert to your surroundings. Armed security forces are positioned at many of the tourist attractions while metal detectors and security checks are conducted before you can enter hotels or shopping malls throughout Istanbul.
The city is also perfect for shopping. That was when I discovered when I visited Istanbul end June this year for the annual Istanbul Shopping Festival. The Grand Bazaar, Turkey’s oldest bazaar is located here in Istanbul. This is one huge ‘shopping mall’ offering a much more traditional shopping experience. The city is not short of modern shopping malls with powerful air conditioners. You will realise that air conditioning is important when you are travelling in the hot summer months. It was 34 degrees Celsius with no cloud cover, so you get the direct sunlight.
Shopping at The Grand Bazaar
Visitors to Istanbul have to visit The Grand Bazaar. The 556-year old bazaar is the world’s oldest and largest covered market with over 20 entrances. Peruse the many stores under the high arching ceilings and be prepared to bargain for a good deal. Shop indoors on over 55 covered streets with over 4,000 stores can take at least half a day.
Interesting finds at the Grand Bazaar include handmade silk, Turkish copper, ceramics, foodstuff, textile, Hammam items, lamps or carpets. Take your time to explore and do not be pressured into making any purchases. The store owners can be very convincing so be forewarned you may be buying more than you actually need.
Ottomamano sells handmade scarves and shawls in all kinds of materials from cotton to silk or pashmina to shatoosh. It has been in the bazaar since 1983 and has gotten quite a number of famous celebrities visiting the store. So drop by to take a look.
Gold and jewellery are plenty here. Be spoilt for choice as there are many Jewellery stores in here. All of which promise to make you look better. Not really my thing, but maybe they would appeal to you.
The Officiating of The Istanbul Shopping Festival 2017 at The Grand Bazaar
The seventh edition of the annual Istanbul ShoppingFest was held from 1 to 16 July this year. The objective of the shopping festival is to make Istanbul a centre of attraction as a shopping destination. The launch was held at the 556-year-old Grand Bazaar, the world’s first shopping centre. VIPs including Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin, Mayor of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Kadir Topbas and Istanbul Chamber of Commerce Chairman Ibrahim Caglar participated in the ceremony.
Over 50 actors and dancers performed historical performances in periodic outfits. Some of the performers were on three-metre long wooden legs. Over 40 press members from 13 countries including France, Italy, Russia, China and Singapore were present to witness the launch.
The march through the Grand Bazaar caught the attention of many onlookers. Especially with the parade of models in traditional costumes. Not something that you get to see every day.
This year’s shopping festival also featured “Design ISF” areas set up in nine shopping centres such as Akasya, Capitol, Emaar Square Mall, Forum Istanbul, Istinye Park, Kanyon, Palladium, Venzia and Zorlu Centre. These Design ISF areas featured products from famous manufacturers of jewellery, accessories, furniture, ceramics, graphic, fabric, books, stationery, glass, lighting as well as fashion designers. Music bands and art exhibitions were also featured at some of the Design ISF areas.
Taksim is a major tourist destination. Istiklal Caddesi or Independence Avenue is the signature long pedestrian shopping street in Taksim. There are cafes here to stop and enjoy a cup of coffee and watch people stroll by on this busy street. Or stop for some Turkish delights or ice cream, especially in the hot summer weather. It gets crowded but we love the vibe.
Emaar Square Mall
Emaar Square Mall is located on the Anatolian side of Istanbul. The family-destination mall opened this year and offers more than just shopping or wine and dine. The entertainment options will keep you and the family busy. There are over 20,000 sea creatures as well as amphibians from the world over at the Emaar Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. Don’t forget to check out the world’s largest crocodiles measuring five metres and its mate just before you exit.
Cinemaximum offers a movie experience that comes with vibration, light effects and smells at the Cinemaximum 4DX. That’s if you understand Turkish. Cinemaximum can accommodate up to 2,400 people. Otherwise head down to a high-tech fun theme park FunLab
When it comes to shopping, there’s Galeries Lafayette which is located at the Terrace ground floor when you first enter the Emaar Square Mall complex. About 10% of the retail mix is made up of luxury brands and is expected to increase by the end of the year. Gucci, Cartier and Hermès have opened shop here. High street brands such as Zara, LC Waikiki, Massimo Dutti, Victoria’s Secret, Mango and Atasay are also available in the mall.
Craving for fast food? There’s Burger King, Carl’s Jr, Popeyes or KFC. Otherwise, visit one of the many other outlets offering a variety of cuisines. There’s also Starbucks if you’ve already had too much Turkish Coffee during the trip and wanted something you’re more used to.
Zorlu Centre is impressive. It is part of a huge mixed development. In fact, connected to the mall is also the Raffles Istanbul. The shopping mall is built on over 104,000sqm space. Brands such as Apple, Brooks Brothers, Cos, Lanvin, Pomellato, Stella McCartney and Superdry have opened their first store in Turkey at this shopping centre. The mall features many high-end fashion brands such as Bvlgari, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce&Gabbana, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Miu Miu, Prada, Saint Laurent, Tiffany & Co or Valentino. The largest H&M store in Turkey is also located here with a space of 3,000 sqm. There are also 14 movie theatres by Cinemaximum with a capacity of 1,600.
Zorlu Performance Arts Centre is touted as Europe’s largest and the world’s third largest performing arts venue. The main theatre is designed on a 50,000sqm area with a capacity of 2,190 people. The Drama stage has a capacity of 678 people, while the Studio has a capacity of 280. There is a Sky Lounge for exhibitions and corporate events, and a VIP Lounge for special invitations and foyer areas expanded to three levels and 2,500 sqm in total. The acts here include Broadway and West End musicals, dance, classical, opera, jazz and pop.
Vakko, a Turkish fashion company was founded in 1934 with its headquarters in Istanbul, Turkey. It has many branches throughout Istanbul. The Vakko outlet here at Zorlu Centre takes up two levels including a Vakko Chocolate and ice cream sales area within the store. This Turkish fashion house started out as a hat producer. Today the fashion house owns its own line of ready-to-wear apparels, shoes, bags, scarves as well as accessories and fragrances.
The first mall I stepped into when I visited Istanbul was Kanyon Mall. We were given a quick tour of the mall which comprised of four levels, including two basement levels. The mall has F&B and shops indoors as well as outdoors.
We spent most of our time at Harvey Nichols before heading to dinner. Harvey Nichols took up three levels and feature brands such as Lanvin, John Varvatos, Salvatore Ferragamo, Balmain, Ellie Saab, Alexander McQueen and more. There is also a Marks & Spencer at Basement 1.
Akasya Shopping Centre is part of yet another mixed development of residences, offices, parks and KidZania themed park. The KidZania here offers kids 4 to 14 a taste of the adult-world with child-sized buildings, paved streets, vehicles and a functioning economy. This is similar to the KidZania theme parks around the world including the one at Sentosa in Singapore.
The mall’s architecture design allows natural sunlight to brighten up the mall with 30m high freeform sunlights.
Just like any of the other malls, there are many familiar brands amongst the 257 stores such as Crate & Barrel, Brooks Brothers, Victoria’s Secret, Adidas, The Body Shop, Diesel, Furla, Hamleys, Kiehl’s, Kipling, Marks & Spencer, Mini So and more. Istanbul’s other Shake Shack outlet is located here too. Ever since I had Shake Shack in New York last year, I’ve been crazy over their burgers and shakes.
There are 15 cinema halls by Cinemaximum if you are in the mood for a movie.
I really like the architecture of the malls in Istanbul. Often times the malls are built to allow natural sunlight in to brighten up the mall. Istinye Park is one such mall. In fact, one look up at the giant dome and glass ceiling, you look up into the sky and clouds without the summer heat or wintry chills.
There are 291 stores taking up 87,000sqm of retail area within the mall which opened in September 2007. The mall had three levels of shopping space and four levels of underground parking space that can accommodate 3,600 vehicles. Just like most of the other big malls, there are also 12 Cinemaximum movie theatres at the mall.
The luxury brands are located in the outdoor stores.
Flying to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines
Enjoy the Turkish hospitality from the time you take off from your home country. Turkish Airlines operates daily flights using its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft between Singapore Changi Airport and Istanbul Ataturk Airport. The 11+ hour flight between the two cities are usually full because of the airline’s code sharing arrangements with other airlines including Singapore Airlines. TK54 departs Istanbul at 2.10am and arrives in Singapore at 5.55pm. TK55 departs Singapore at 11.20pm and arrives in Istanbul at 5.25am.
What surprised me was the amenity kit given to Economy Class passengers. This is the first time I have gotten a pair of slippers in Economy Class. I usually bring my own disposable bedroom slippers provided by hotels for long haul flights. The kit is pretty well equipped with eye shades, a pair of non-slip socks, ear plugs, lip balm and a set of toothbrush and toothpaste.
For flights headed to Istanbul, the airline gives out amenity kits featuring Institut Karite products while passengers on flights out of Istanbul will get a Chopard branded kit.
Turkish Airlines’ economy and business class amenity kits, as well as kits designed for children or passengers making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca for the Hajj and Umrah celebrations, are supplied by FORMIA, an international guest and hospitality specialist.
Seats in Economy class on the B777-300ER aircraft has a seat pitch of 31″. That’s a bit tight for me especially if the passenger ahead of you reclines the seat. That’s an inch less than the Economy class seat in Singapore Airlines. I have flown on other Star Alliance flights, and ANA’s B787-9 Dreamliner flights offer a generous 34″ seat pitch in Economy.
Turkish has a fleet of 313 passenger aircraft and 13 Cargo planes with an average age of 7.2 years. It has 33 B777-300ER, 4 A340-311/313, 53 A330-200/300, 68 A321-231/232, 24 A320-232/214, 7 A319-100, 15 B737-900ER, 106 B737-800 & 1 B737-700.