If Istanbul were New York, Nişantaşı would be the Upper East Side. A posh residential area, Nişantaşı is home to the premier international brands – Gucci, Prada, Tod’s, etc. – as well as Turkish shops – Beymen, Armaggan, Urart.
In addition to aspirational shopping, though, Nişantaşı has some of the best city streets for strolling, with well-maintained sidewalks on the main drags, Teşvikiye, Abdi Ipekçi and Mim Kemal. On any of those three, too, the see-and-be-seen cafés are a fantastic vantage point for people watching.
Start any morning in Nişantaşı at the House Café. Now a chain, these cafés got their start in Nişantaşı, as an atmospheric one-room café on a pedestrian-only street in the heart of the neighborhood. That branch, on Atiye Sokak, has expanded to include a spacious new dining area and a lush back garden – all realized by local design firm autobahn.
A second House Café is on Teşvikiye, located in one of the former outbuildings of the local mosque. Essentially the same, with a little more bustle.
A stroll through Nişantaşı should include a sampling from everything the neighborhood has to offer – a few shops, a few galleries, and a hint of the local ambience. For shopping, leave the international brands for another city, and experience some of the home-grown talent. Vakko, and its offshoots Vakkorama (younger) and Vakko Home (home décor, um, obviously), has seasonal colors but classic styling. Great selection of silk and wool scarves, though quite a bit more expensive than you’ll find at the Bazaar. Armaggan is an emporium to artistic nouveau Turkish design. Primarily a home goods shop, Armaggan features special-occasion silver, linens, and crystal, as well as jewelry and some clothing.
Paşabahçe sells traditional glass and porcelain as well as everyday dishes in the basement. And Urart has sold jewelry to the Turkish elite since 1972. Finally, as Turkey’s highest-end department store, Beymen offers a broad selection of brands, though largely international.
Among the nicer galleries in Nişantaşı are Portakal, which recently hosted a Damien Hirst exhibition, Mine, and Chalabi.
After all this wandering, the cafés begin to beckon. For a quick fuel up, bread & butter makes a perfect pit stop with simple, fresh sandwiches and salads. The tiny shop and its outdoor patio can get busy at lunchtime.
For a more robust restaurant experience, my favorites are Delicatessen and Park Şamdan. Delicatessen is a primarily continental menu, with decadent American-style desserts (and a brownie to kill for). The restaurant bustles at lunch and dinner, but at off hours, it’s an ideal place for a coffee and cake while perusing a magazine.
Park Şamdan is a classic Turkish restaurant – traditional mezes and mains, attentive service (until you want the bill).
After all the rarefied experiences in Nişantaşı, I am usually hankering for the daily side of Istanbul. Check out the passages that run between the main drags through the neighborhood for a glimpse of daily life and a few knickknack shops. Very central is Hak Pasaji, with a dried-fruit and nuts vendor on one end and a few less expensive jewelers in the middle.
Should you need a stretch after all that, one of the city’s best yoga studios is just upstairs – Yoga Şala. With classes in Turkish and English, it’s a great respite from a bustling day.
Last, while there are plenty of high-end spas, salons and hamams to visit as a tourist, sometimes you might just want a basic mani-pedi. If so, stop by California Nail Bar on Valı Konağı. It isn’t luxury, but it’s a satisfying American-style indulgence.