Living in: Istanbul
As a city that spans two continents and has more than 14 million residents, Istanbul offers so much variety that, residents say, you can always find a spot fit for your mood. “You can walk from the most vibrant party scene to a completely different laid-back, serene atmosphere,” said Huma Gruaz, founder and CEO of Alpaytac Marketing Communications and Public Relations Agency, who was born and raised in Istanbul and now represents the Turkish Embassy in the US.
Take the neighbourhood of Kurucesme, located 10km north of the city centre. It is the place to go for a hopping party scene along the Bosphorus, the strait that separates the city and continents – yet, Gruaz said, walk 100m north from Reina, one of the city’s most popular nightclubs, and you can be at Mavi Balik, a tranquil restaurant serving up fresh seafood and views of the Asian continent.
- A view across the Golden Horn, the estuary that joins the Bosphorus with the Sea of Marmara on Istanbul's European side, from the 14th-century Galata Tower. (Dan Kitwood/Getty)
Locals also are known for their warm hospitality, making Istanbul a welcoming destination for newcomers and natives alike. It is a tradition for shop owners, for example, to start conversations with customers over a glass of tea. And that tea often leads to friendship. “From that point on, every time you walk past that part of the market, you'll be remembered and invited to come in and share another glass of chai with the same shop owner,” said Karin Hazelkorn, an American management consultant who lived in Istanbul for more than a year and considers the city her favourite in the world. “Even times when I've been away from Istanbul for three or four years, I will be instantly remembered when I stop by again.”
Where do you want to live?
The first decision for anyone considering a move to Istanbul is whether to live on the European or Asian side. While the European side has a more frenetic, business-like pace, focused around the banks, stores and corporations based there, the Asian side (also called the Anatolian side) feels more relaxed, with wide boulevards and much of the activity focused around the waterfront. The Anatolian side also feels more residential, with more traditional neighbourhood living and fewer hotels and tourist attractions.
- Models walk the runway during Istanbul Fashion Week at Antrepo 3, an arts space made up of renovated warehouses in the European district of Tophane. (Andreas Rentz/Getty)
Locals say that Nisantasi, on the northern, European side, can provide the best of both worlds. “It feels a bit like [New York City’s] SoHo, with a W hotel and high-end fashion boutiques, but you can still find the old ‘Stamboul’ men wheeling cars selling ayran [a frothy yogurt drink] and cobblers repairing a worn heel,” Hazelkorn said. (Stamboul is a historic, Arabic name for the city.)
On the Asian side, Kalamis is a favourite for its beautiful marina sunsets, not to mention its close proximity to downtown Kadiköy, the cosmopolitan, waterside district in the southwest, and Fenerbahce Stadium, where diehard football fans gather for games.
- Locals look out over Istanbul's Asian side from the Bosphorus ferry. (Amanda Ruggeri)
Neighbourhoods get calmer and more exclusive the further down the Bosphorus and closer towards the Black Sea you go. Expats say they enjoy Bebek, Emirgan and Tarabya for their magnificent views of the strait. Americans often live in Gokturk, 30km north of the city near the Belgrad Forest. “Mid- and upperclass families choose to live in this area because it’s relatively safe and has an excellent school system,” said Huma. The area also feels quite American, with popular chains like Starbucks and Le Pain Quotidien.
What do you want to live in?
Istanbul has housing options in every shape and size. Because family plays such an important role in Turkish culture, it’s relatively easy to find two- or three-storey single family homes. “Whole families may choose to live together, even when their children are grown and married,” said Samir Bayraktar, the CEO of NAR Gourmet based in Istanbul. “In these types of houses, there are sections within the house which can be used by different generations.”