Istanbul is a city of rooftops, attracting refugees from the sticky Mediterranean summers up above the eaves for a breath of fresh sea air. Are the views the bonus, or are the breezes? You decide.
For the cost of a cocktail or a meal, you'll be seduced by views of the city, each revealing an angle of Istanbul you may not have otherwise noticed. The rooftop bars and restaurants of Beyoglu take advantage of panoramas that include the Old City, the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn, and everything in between. Check out the bar at Mikla (or spring for a meal), Panorama, the Marmara Hotel's top-flight restaurant, or 360 Istanbul, whose very name begs the question: Need I say more? On the Asian side, from Kanlica, the view is down the Bosphorus to the Fatih Bridge; farther south from Çengelköy the waterfront cafes and restaurants bask in the nighttime glow of the Bosphorus Bridge. In the Old City, practically any hotel or restaurant with a rooftop offers multiple best seats in the house.
Now, the freebies (or almost free). One of the finest panoramas in the Old City is from the north side of the courtyard of the Süleymaniye Mosque and Complex. The prolific architect, in service to Süleyman the Magnificent and considered the Ottoman era's preeminent architect, strategically sited his crown jewel on the city's highest point to take advantage of the commanding vistas. From the rear of the courtyard, the view is a straight shot over the Galata Bridge and up the Bosphorus.
For those naughty enough to go to Istanbul without any plans to visit Topkapi Palace, amazing views of the Marmara Sea can be had along the path leading from the outer, public courtyard down to the parking lot. Dozens of boats each day park themselves on this side of the peninsula awaiting clearance into the traffic-choked Bosphorus Straits.
If you've already paid the admission fee for Topkapi Palace, the numerous corners with views of the Marmara Sea and the Bosphorus are yours to enjoy. The really staggering ones are in the rear (fourth courtyard), which all at once faces the Marmara Sea, the Bosphorus, and Asia. A great photo op would be under the small Iftariye Pavilion, where during Ramadan the sultan would break his fast with the iftar meal. Because the pavilion faces north, the views include the Golden Horn. If you've bought your ticket to the Harem, you'll see that the sultan's favorites also got some pretty good real estate, residing in apartments from which, on a clear day, they could see as far as the Princes' Islands.
You may want to sit down and enjoy the vistas over a cup of tea, coffee, or Turkish wine. From the Malta Köskü in Yildiz Park, the cool breezes waft over the treetops down to the Bosphorus. If you're into the romance of tragedy, the lore surrounding Pierre Loti up along the Golden Horn is the place to absorb the meaning of love lost while contemplating the rebirth of the waterway formerly blighted by industry (and isn't it all so photogenic?).
From the wharf up in Ortaköy, you can see the floodlit Ortaköy Mosque dangling off its pier, and the twinkling lights of Asia on the opposite shore.
In the evenings, the domes and minarets of the Old City light up, acting as a magnet for scores of sea gulls. If you haven't already fallen in love with Istanbul, this is the view that will do it. Grab a seat at one of the east-facing pubs along the Galata Bridge, or just stand immobilized by the majesty over on the wharf of Karaköy.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.