T+L Readers Voted Istanbul the Best City to Visit in Europe — Here’s What It’s Like to Stay in One of Its Top Hotels

The Mandarin Oriental, Bosphorus, is a waterfront urban resort.

<p>Manolo Yllera/Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus, Istanbul</p>

Manolo Yllera/Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus, Istanbul

After three days of unseasonable chill in Copenhagen, I was giddy about my next stop: Istanbul, crowned this year as Europe's best city by Travel + Leisure readers.

It had been an entire decade since my last visit, when I arrived wide-eyed after watching the 1960s heist flick "Topkapi," hell-bent on hitting iconic sites like Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapı Palace itself. But this storied metropolis doesn't rest on its laurels. During my 10-year absence, the city unveiled a gigantic new airport, the vast Galataport multi-use cruise terminal with its Renzo Piano-designed Istanbul Modern — and perhaps most excitingly for this travel writer, Mandarin Oriental’s first Istanbul hotel.

Tucked along the fabled Bosphorus strait, Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus represents the brand's sophomore act in Turkey, promising a singular experience befitting Istanbul's incomparable setting (it is, after all, the only city spanning two continents). A slam-dunk escape from the tourist chaos of Sultanahmet and the neon-drenched pandemonium of Taksim Square (the Anatolian answer to Times Square), it occupies pride of place in Kuruçeşme, between the city center and the verdant, upscale Bebek neighborhood a college buddy once clued me into.

In fact, Mandarin Oriental is branding this as one of their handful of "urban resorts," thanks to the resort-like surroundings, discreet enclave setting, and all-encompassing amenities that make it tempting never to leave. In my case, the concierge had arranged a white-glove service to whisk me from the jetbridge to a buggy at the new, behemoth Istanbul Airport, bypassing the masses stuck in the bloated customs line. (An ultra-luxe transfer move I can't recommend enough after a long-haul flight.) An hour's drive later, I arrived to find the hotel's understated yet strikingly symmetrical façade betrayed nothing of the splendor inside: "The architecture is an intentional homage to the Ottoman-era Yali mansions along the Bosphorus," Çisil Üçüncüoğlu, the assistant director of marketing and communications, told me.

My first impression? A subtle extravagance rooted in Mandarin's interior design. The undulating ribbons of Australian redgum wood conjured visions of the Bosphorus outside, rendered in sleek, superyacht-inspired craftsmanship. Even the aromas were on point, a subtly sweet melange of honeysuckle, sandalwood, and perhaps a touch of vanilla. From the impeccably styled guests languidly lounging poolside to the impossibly chic set sipping tea at the Bosphorus Lounge, an effortless air of cool permeated every corner. Over two decadent days of shorefront dining, a hammam ritual, and even rubbing shoulders with a celeb or two, the Mandarin rendered me a Turkish delight in human form: proof positive of Mandarin-caliber hospitality brilliance.

Below, my take on the Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus and how it brings the brand’s signature finesse to this famed crossroads.

Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus

  • Design touches like intricate çintamani patterns are impressively understated if you have an eye for detail — save for the custom 13-foot lobby chandelier.

  • Rooms wow with their large footprint and floor-to-ceiling windows with balconies are a definite perk — even better if you score views of the Bosphorus.

  • This property nails the resort vibe, with everything oriented towards making the most of the waterfront setting, from the compact but showstopping pool to the multiple waterfront restaurants.

  • The city’s first destination spa is a 38,000-square-foot standout, artfully blending traditional Turkish treatments (hammam, naturally) with Eastern wellness principles anchored by a lush subterranean courtyard.

  • The location is ideal for those seeking an escape from Istanbul's frenzied tourist hubs, though the major sights are still accessible within a 30-minute drive (traffic permitting, of course). Even better, you're just a stone's throw from the city's chic residential neighborhoods.

The Rooms

Scoring one of the coveted 80 percent of rooms with Bosphorus views, my balcony overlooked the outdoor nightclub Oligark. I braced for skull-pounding bass to derail my beauty sleep, but the windows were reasonably soundproof. Though you can't escape the nods to Istanbul's textured heritage — they're woven through every inch, even extending to the hallways where I did an actual double-take upon spotting a certain Dunkin'-loving Bostonian celeb and his entourage ambling past.

The 100 guest rooms run the gamut from Superior Rooms up to the absurdly palatial 5,100-square-foot Royal Bosphorus Suite, complete with living and dining rooms, a gym, a study, and a winter garden. But even the "standard" digs like my own are generously scaled sanctuaries flooded with natural light and thoughtful local artistic flourishes like tulip-shaped tile accents, tree of life patterns, and embroidered Ottoman motifs adorning the wood surfaces. Curved architectural lines evoke an airy, yacht-like vibe without veering into nautical kitsch. The marble bathrooms continue the tulip motif and come stocked with luxe Diptyque amenities.

Each room also gets its own unique handwoven carpet, nodding to the renowned weaving traditions of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey. The historical reverence extends to the minor details, Üçüncüoğlu revealed, like the intricate Ottoman-inspired mosaics gracing the leather TV remote cases and the patterned wood-framed minibars with their almost comically ample proportions.

Food and Drink

The eye candy isn't the only treat at Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus. With two flagship restaurants and a tea lounge, the culinary program also serves up a bevy of treats.

My favorite was Olea, which serves Italian fare based on family recipes, like the langoustine and roasted pepper Scampi pizza or the red prawn risotto. There's also Novikov, dishing up clever Asian-Italian fusion plates (it's also where breakfast is served, with a buffet offering traditional Turkish specialties alongside continental staples). Each restaurant looks out over the Bosphorus, so you can take in that east-facing skyline as you dine. The 180-degree vistas paired with the stellar cuisine are already luring a local clientele — on my last night, I spotted tables filled with Istanbul's socialite set, some arriving by private yacht. And though it wasn't open during my stay, the arrival of Tao Group Hospitality’s Hakkasan is another major culinary coup.

<p>Manolo Yllera/Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus, Istanbul</p>

Manolo Yllera/Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus, Istanbul

Activities and Experiences

<p>Manolo Yllera/Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus, Istanbul</p>

Manolo Yllera/Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus, Istanbul

The sprawling Mandarin Oriental estate has three interconnected wings, with two outdoor pools and multiple restaurants lining the waterfront terrace. The prime location allows you to explore car-free — you can easily see much of Istanbul on foot from the hotel grounds, hop on a boat from their private pier, or even borrow a complimentary bike. Speaking of those piers, it's a major perk that allows you to explore the city by water at your leisure. The concierge can arrange Bosphorus cruises, or you can charter your own boat and dock back at the hotel when you've finished sightseeing on the waves. They can also set up guided walks beyond the touristic veil, like eye-opening tours through former Greek Orthodox and Jewish neighborhoods rich with fascinating history, or an “evil eye” glassblowing workshop to unleash the protective powers of this symbolic talisman.

The Spa

<p>Manolo Yllera/Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus, Istanbul</p>

Manolo Yllera/Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus, Istanbul

While the spa is technically underground, it revolves around a lush courtyard garden that makes you feel like you've discovered some sort of underground jungle oasis — because you have. The massive 38,000-square-foot space has 14 treatment rooms, including two beauty rooms and a swanky VIP suite offering massages, facials, and treatments using upscale products like Barbara Sturm.

Winding your way through the curving ginkgo leaf-inspired hallways aglow with soft lighting, you'll find an indoor heated pool, a gym, and dedicated spaces for yoga, spinning, and reformer pilates. With Turkey being the birthplace of the hammam, an authentic experience was mandatory. Rather than brave the antique bathhouses of Sultanahmet, I opted for the Mandarin's modern interpretation, surrendering onto an ornately heated marble slab for the full monty of soaking, lathering, and rigorous scrubbing. Just be sure to work up a sweat beforehand in the sauna and steam rooms to get yourself adequately primed.

<p>Manolo Yllera/Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus, Istanbul</p>

Manolo Yllera/Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus, Istanbul

Family-friendly Offerings

Don't let the adults-only vibe after dark fool you: The Mandarin is decidedly family-friendly, too. There are adaptable rooms and suites to accommodate families, plus a dedicated kid's club and children's pool. They'll even arrange a nanny or babysitting service if needed.

Accessibility and Sustainability

The Mandarin is doing its part to keep Turkey green. They've planted more trees on the grounds than any other hotel in the city and provide charging stations for electric vehicles and loaner bikes for guests. Focusing on regional sourcing much of their food helps reduce that pesky carbon footprint.

They're also well on their way to becoming completely plastic-free, with cloth bags for slippers and refillable bathroom amenity bottles. It's all part of the broader Mandarin Oriental sustainability initiative focused on responsible practices towards the planet and local communities.

Accessibility-wise, the lobby, restaurants, and outdoor pools are conveniently located on the ground floor, which makes them easy to access. There are elevators to the rooms and spa and wellness facilities, and accessible rooms comply with Turkish standards, including audio and visual alert systems.


Sandwiched by two parks, the hotel sits on the European side in the Beşiktaş district, an area that’s more about soaking in local life — joggers pounding the paths, fishermen angling from the shores, folks blissing out waterside at laid-back cafes. Yet the stalwart sights of Sultanahmet are just a short drive away.

The best of both worlds extends to the surrounding neighborhoods as well. A five-minute drive (or 30-minute walk) north lands you in Bebek, an upscale residential district with boutiques, cafes, and chic dining. Venture south and you'll discover Ortaköy, a former fishing village that's maintained its old-world charm. These days, I’m told it's renowned for street vendors peddling kumpir, a baked potato stuffed to the brim with cheese, pickles, and an array of decadent toppings.

How to Get the Most Value Out of Your Stay

I visited in the peak summer season, but this hotel is arguably an even better play in the quieter off-season when tourist crowds have thinned and prices come down slightly. As an American Express Platinum member taking advantage of their Fine Hotels & Resorts program, you can also score valuable perks like early check-in and late check-out, a $100 resort credit, and room upgrades pending availability.

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