My City, My Istanbul: An Interview with Leyla Alaton

Seza Bali
29 May, 2016

Kaan L. Çağlar, CEO of Atdaa, recently met with Leyla Alaton, one of the most powerful business women in Turkey. This is the first piece on the series “My City, My Istanbul” where we listen to famous celebrities and influential people, and learn about their Istanbul.

leyla alaton kaan lutfi caglar alarko headquaters

Let’s start with a little introduction. Leyla Alaton is an influential woman. She is a board member of Alarko, a family-run business for the last 60 years and one of the largest corporations of Turkey in construction and contracting industry. She is also a board member of Alvimedica medical devices company. Ms Alaton is an outspoken personality empowering young working women, is active on social media, loves to travel, and works out regularly. She knows Istanbul like the back of her hand. Leyla Alaton is connected to everyone in this city, she is very active in the Turkish arts scene, goes to gallery and museum openings regularly, participates as a speaker to conferences and has quite the busy schedule. We are grateful to have spent time with Ms Alaton and hear about her Istanbul.

Kaan had a lovely coffee chat with Ms Alaton, in her office in the Ortaköy district, with a stunning Bosphorus view. They chatted for a few hours and immediately hit it off, you would know by the hundreds of photos they took together. Atdaa wanted to know the Istanbul of Leyla Alaton. Where did she like to eat? What did she like to buy? And where did she relax?

Here’s Leyla Alaton’s Istanbul:

Best coffee in town:

Turkish coffee with no sugar at Kahve Dünyası, Fındıklı. This chain coffeehouse has multiple locations in the city, but the one in Fındıklı is Ms Alaton's favorite, and she also recommends the borakitas, Jewish Sephardic pastries filled with cheese and spices.

Best people watching spot:

Şimdi Café in Asmalı Mescit right below Alan Istanbul. Sit by the window and watch the crowds go by.


Place to buy the best dinner dress:

Arzu Kaprol &  Atıl Kutoğlu: Two very successful Turkish fashion designers who have received international recognition for their work.


Sunday breakfast with a friend:

Namlı Gurme, Karaköy: Enjoy a satisfying breakfast at this gourmet deli. Choose from their rich display of different kinds of cheese, cold cuts, small appetizers, egg dishes and jams.


Best place to find solitude:

Belgrad Forest: This is one of the few lush landscapes of Istanbul. Come here on the weekdays and find a relaxing spot by the dam. Crowds will flock on the weekends, so explore the smaller paths to find peace and quiet.  

Favorite rooftop bar:

I would suggest Mixo Terrace (on top of Martı Hotel) and Zelda Zong. They both offer good drinks and good music.

Best place to shop in Grand Bazaar:

Koç Leather & Fur. İlyas Koç. Don’t go anywhere else to buy leather products, İlyas is the best guy in town. Also, keep in mind that you can find the best kebab at Şehmuz in Grand Bazaar. 

Koc Deri & Fur 

Perfect dinner for foreign visitors:

Hamdi in Sultanahmet. Have a traditional Turkish meal with a top-notch view of the old town.


Perfect dinner:

Müzedechanga at Sabancı Museum has a fantastic fusion cuisine with an amazing view. NeoLokal, where chef Maksut Aşkar creates world classics and delicious little bites. 


Authentic dinner experience:

Yıldızlar Restaurant. In the middle of Galata Bridge. It’s quite the experience to see the fish hanging in the air on fishing lines, being pulled up by the fishermen on top of the Galata Bridge.


Favorite cocktail:

Sea Breeze - vodka, cranberry juice, and a touch of grapefruit. 


Favorite chef in town:

Let’s give thumbs up to women chefs in Istanbul. Didem Şenol at Lokanta Maya and Şemsa Denizsel at Kantin.


Best non-Turkish food in Istanbul:

Yada Sushi. Excellent sushi, exquisite atmosphere in the İstinye district.

Most unique thing to do in Istanbul:

A full-day art tour. Start with brunch at Müzedechanga at the Sabancı Museum and visit the exhibitions. Then see the art collection and current exhibitions at Borusan Perili Köşk (only on weekends). Take a bus to Istanbul Modern, then walk to Karaköy to visit the contemporary art galleries. Have lunch at Colonie, walk up Boğazkesen Street to Istiklal Caddesi to visit more galleries at Mısır Apartment, then Pera Museum, and finish at SALT Galata. This Leyla Alaton curated tour is provided by istanbulite, tour agency. Check their website.


Favorite place to sit and read:

My own garden rooftop terrace in Büyükdere.


Fun things to do with kids:

Go to the Koç Museum and see the submarine and the old trains. Any kid would go crazy with excitement here. Cross the Golden Horn with a fisherman’s boat. Have a hamburger at Shake Shack on İstiklal Avenue.


How will Istanbul be like in 10 years?

By pure necessity İstanbul will have to tackle its transportation problem.  Many more pedestrian areas will be created, public transportion improved, and metro system expanded significantly. There will be more foreigners adding to the city's vibrancy.


One of the coolest reads about Istanbul and Turkish culture:

Grand Bazaar Istanbul. The photos are taken by Laziz Hamani, and it is authored by Serdar Gürgün. 

Grand Bazaar Istanbul Laziz Hamani, Serdar Gurgun


One single thing you’d like to change about Istanbul:

The sea traffic must be utilized, we need to have water transportation like in Venice. A sea version of the metro transportation by the shores would be ideal. There should be hop-on hop-off Vaporetto style boats all along the Bosphorus.

It has been great to interview Ms Alaton and she inspired us big time. If you’d like to get a bit more inside Ms Alaton’s head, follow her on Instagram and Twitter

Food Sightseeing Museums Restaurants Interview Leyla Alaton Curation
Seza Bali

Born and raised in Istanbul, Seza lived in the U.S. for more than a third of her life. She's traveled through Turkey, U.S., and Europe, as well as Israel and Cuba. Seza is once again living in Istanbul and exploring her city as a local tourist. She is a travel buff and a photographer. Check her portfolio at

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