What are the best restaurants for al fresco (outdoor) dining in Istanbul?

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If outdoor dining is what you are looking for, then you have definitely come to the right city... Istanbul has a wealth of options for enjoying the city al fresco, whether it be at the height of summer or during the depth of winter (blankets happily provided)! From the humblest tea house to the hippest luxury restaurant, this metropolis’ range of choices reflect the love that Turks have for being outside. The list below includes some local outdoor dining favorites: fine hotel dining, popular chain restaurants,outdoor restaurants directly on the water, more casual seafood options, and finally, an “off the beaten path” option. Keep in mind that you will need to confirm directly with the restaurant that their outdoor dining space is open during the colder months. And please don’t confine yourself to this following list of recommendations... one of the greatest joys of exploring Istanbul is discovering your own little al fresco corner to enjoy!

FINE HOTEL DINING WITH A VIEW ($$$$)

You cannot go wrong with the outdoor dining options at any Istanbul’s many luxury hotels if you are in the mood for a gourmet meal under the stars while you are waited on hand-and-foot. 

Gaja Roof in Swissotel Bosphorous offers fine international cuisine in a modernist setting with sweeping views of the Bosphorous. Reservations recommended.

If you find yourself hankering for Turkish-Swedish fusion, try celebrity chef Mehmet Gürs’ Mikla on top of the Marmara Pera Hotel. Reservations recommended.

CHAIN RESTAURANTS ($$$)

Istanbul’s chain cafes also offer great outdoor experiences for the visitor to Istanbul. While the menus at these chains are designed to find something to please everyone, they are generally not the places to go if you are looking for a gourmet experience.  That said,  you can enjoy a perfectly decent meal in a beautiful setting at moderate prices.

Check out the back terrace at the Midpoint on Istiklal Caddesi  

Kuloğlu Mh.  
34433 Beyoğlu/Istanbul Province, Turkey
+90 212 245 7040. 

It’s a great place to pop in for a break if the crowds of Istiklal are getting to you. 

The House Cafe in Ortaköy Salhane Sokak No: 1 Ortaköy İstanbul +90 212 227 2699 has gorgeous views of the Bosphorous and the light shows on the bridge, so it can be especially great to enjoy at night, even if just for dessert.

Or try the Kitchenette  in Bebek , There you can dine in the shade of beautiful trees, with the hum of the Ferraris of Bebek’s beautiful people in the background, just across from Bebek Park which has great people-watching on weekends.

Bebek Mh., Cevdetpaşa Cad. İpek Sok. No: 1 Bebek, İstanbul +90 212 287 1161.  

OUTSIDE AND ON THE WATER ($$$-$$$$)

There are many great places to eat right on the water in Istanbul, and the best seem to come with a hefty price tag.  Consider splurging for at least one fabulous meal during your visit to Istanbul.

Zuma ( $$$$ )

London’s legendary contemporary Japanese restaurant Zuma has a branch in Istanbul, in a top-notch location in Örtaköy, right on the water. Enjoy their famous black cod and other Japanese izakaya-style dining, done to perfection, as you watch the cargo ships float by.  After your meal, you can stroll through the streets of Örtaköy, full of street vendors, tourists and Istanbullus alike, towards the beautiful Örtaköy mosque. Reservations recommended.

Salhane Sok No:7 Örtaköy, İstanbul, Turkey
T +90 212 236 22 96

Mia Mensa ( $$$$ )

A bit further up the coast in Kuruçeşme, you can enjoy one of the best Italian restaurants of Istanbul, Mia Mensa.  Peek behind a Macro Supermarket to find the place where the glitterati feast on melanzane parmigiano and other authentic Italian dishes. Reservations recommended.

Kuruçeşme Mh. Muallim Naci Cd No:64 Beşiktaş, İstanbul, Turkey
+90 212 263 4214

Suada Club Restaurants ( $$$ - $$$$ )

If you would prefer to be surrounded by water while feasting on the great cuisine Istanbul has to offer, you can also dine “in the middle of two continents” at Suada, an island located 500 feet off the European coast of Istanbul in the middle of the Bosphorous.  Suada is home to a luxury beach club for Istanbul’s Galatasaray Soccer team and to several great Istanbul restaurants:  Suada Kebab (Turkish kebabs and the like), G Balik (seafood), Mezzaluna (Italian), Itsumi (Japanese), Dükkan Steakhouse (steaks and burgers), 360Istanbul (International).   Just hop onto one of the shuttle boats from Kuruçeşme park (boats leave every 10-20 minutes in the summer time) and you will be there in 5 minutes.  Don’t forget to check out the beach club, known for its four-poster beds in the middle of their olympic-sized swimming pool.  Reservations recommended.

Kuruçeşme Park Beşiktaş, İstanbul, Turkey +90 212 263 7300

...AAAHHHH EMIRGAN ($$-$$$)

Emirgan Park, famous to all Turks are home of the Istanbul Tulip festival, is where hoards of Istanbullus swarm in the spring to enjoy the thousands of tulips in bloom.  If you find yourself in the Emirgan area, don’t miss a visit to one or both of these great outdoor experiences:

Sütiş ( $$ )

One of the first places I was taken to in Istanbul was  Sütiş in Emirgan. And now I “pay it forward”.  Even though there are branches popping up all over the city, a meal at the original Sütiş is an obligatory stop for all of my Istanbul guests.  Whether it be breakfast, tea and dessert (for one of their famous Turkish puddings), pide for lunch or döner kebab for dinner, treat yourself to a meal under Sütiş’ trees. Be prepared, this beautiful spot is no well-kept secret... it can be crowded all day with locals and tourists alike, but your wait should never be longer than 5-10 minutes.

Emirgan Mah. Sakıp Sabancı Cad. No:1/3 Emirgan Sarıyer / İstanbul +90 212 323 5030 

MuzedeChanga ( $$$ )

Right next door is the little gem of a museum, the Sakip Sabanci Museum (SSM) which hosts interesting exhibits throughout the year (recently, a load of Monets made it through).  Peek through the SSM galleries then stop by MuzedeChanga,  where you can sip on fun cocktails like the Istanbul (made with raki, vodka and tangerines from Bodrum) or dine on traditional Turkish dishes updated with New Zealand chef Peter Gordon’s impeccable flair using local, seasonal ingredients.  Reservations recommended. 

 Emirgan Mah. Sakıp Sabancı Cad. No:42 Emirgan Sarıyer / İstanbul +90 212 323 0901

SEAFOOD ( $$ )

No trip to Turkey is complete without exploring a çarsi (market) neighborhood, and one of the most diverse in Istanbul can be found in Beşiktaş çarşi, where you can also find the Beşiktaş Balık Pazarı (fish market) (open 8am – 9pm daily).  Take a stroll through the streets of this market where you can see little mom-and-pop shops selling everything under the sun, but save the eye-popping fish market for last. 

Ahtapot Lokantası ( $$ )

This newly-designed steel and iron shell is surrounded by great fish restaurants, such as the local favorite, Ahtapot Lokantası.

Sinan Paşa Mah. Köyiçi Cad. Kilise Meydanı Balık Pazarı No: 2/B D: 50 Beşiktaş (Sinanpaşa), İstanbul, Turkey
For information and reservations: +90 212 261 9148

While there is no shortage of fish restaurants in Istanbul, a unique outdoor dining experience is enjoying a balık ekmek $ (fish sandwich) perched on a nearby park bench.  The street vendors proudly grill the local whitefish while-you-wait and pop your selection into a roll with a flourish.  The more enterprising vendors have learned to garnish their sandwiches with arugula and/or red onions to appeal to Western gourmets.  You can generally find balık ekmek near most ferry terminals, at under 10tl, but the best can be found on either side of the Galata Bridge (either near the Karaköy fish market or near the Eminönü ferry terminal). 

If dining in the open air on street food is a bit too “authentic” for you, just walk a few more minutes to the walkway under the Galata Bridge to one of its many sit-down fish restaurants.  My favorite is Altin Balik ( $$ )  where you will find traditional Istanbul fish dishes such as fried hamsi (anchovy).

OFF THE BEATEN PATH ( $$$ )

If you’re ready to discover one of Istanbul’s up-and-coming neighborhoods, consider spending an afternoon wandering the streets of Tom Tom followed by dinner at Peymane . Located in the heart of Istanbul’s developing Tom Tom neighborhood, surrounded by new art galleries and hand-crafted furniture stores, and just down the street from Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence.

Peymane is a traditional Turkish ocakbaşi serving kebabs and other traditional Turkish grilled dishes.  You can even choose to sit at the open ocak (oven) and watch as the chef prepares your kebabs!  If some of the people in your party have reached their kebab-limit, have no fear.  Peymane shares its kitchen with its sister restaurant, the Italian La Cucina and they are happy to serve you from that menu as well.  While you may not have a view of the Bosphorous from this cozy dining establishment, the setting and cuisine is well-worth a visit to this edgy neighborhood that many Istanbullus still do not know about.


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Natalie Milani Yumlu •Istanbul, Turkey

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