Reigniting Turkey's Art Scene With Contemporary Istanbul

Istanbul hosts one of the world's biggest modern-art fairs
Istanbul hosts one of the world's biggest modern-art fairs | © Contemporary Istanbul
Photo of Cassam Looch
Social Editor3 November 2020

One of the world’s biggest modern-art fairs will go ahead this year with the aim of showcasing the best in homegrown and international talent. Contemporary Istanbul will once again shine a light on the burgeoning art scene in Turkey, one of many reasons tourists flock to the city.

Istanbul remains one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world. Sitting at the crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe, it exhibits influences from all three continents. The diverse architecture reflects the city’s incredible past, which has undergone many changes over the centuries. Foodies flock here for the excellent cuisine, and wellness fanatics swear by the authentic hammam experience as a natural tonic to the stresses of modern life.

Contemporary Istanbul

In recent years, Turkish art has also come to the forefront. Leading the way is Contemporary Istanbul, which has firmly claimed a place on the calendar for art lovers everywhere. The event showcases the best work from local artists and provides a home for international artists too.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to help reignite the arts with our 15th anniversary of Contemporary Istanbul, and reinvigorate the artistic community,” says Ali Güreli, founder and chairman of the annual art fair.

Modern art is showcased in Contemporary Istanbul 2019 | © Contemporary Istanbul

The year 2020 has been tough for everyone, and many events have been cancelled in the wake of Covid-19, but Contemporary Istanbul is definitely going ahead. Travel restrictions may prevent many of us from visiting the art fair in person, but plans are in place to set up a virtual platform alongside the physical art fair.

Plans are in place to launch a virtual platform for those who can’t visit Contemporary Istanbul in person | © Contemporary Istanbul

That’s a worst-case scenario, with officials hoping to welcome visitors to the city in December for the latest edition of the annual fair. Contemporary Istanbul will be the only major art event to go ahead this year, with organisers taking additional measures such as phased entry, temperature checks, directional flow controls and improved ventilation systems to keep attendees safe. The event usually takes place in September, but has been moved this year to give organisers the chance to get people to attend.

Winter holidays in Istanbul

Istanbul in December is a special place, welcoming a lot of Europeans who come here to enjoy the warm winter climate. It is mild enough to spend considerable time outdoors, unlike the intense heat of the summer months when it can become oppressive at times.

Istanbul’s famed Grand Bazaar is the oldest in the world | © azat jandurdyyev / Alamy Stock Photo

All the city’s attractions are open throughout the year, including the famous Grand Bazaar. The oldest market in the world is almost entirely indoors and continues to be a major tourist draw.

Istanbul in summer also tends to be far more crowded than it is during winter. With people still wary of venues that don’t allow for social distancing, a trip here when it’s not as busy becomes even more appealing.

For art lovers, there are a number of galleries dotted around the city. Just like other attractions such as the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace, the chance to see these without battling large crowds is an attractive prospect.

Topkapi Palace, one of the major attractions in Istanbul, is likely to be less crowded in winter | Left: © photosilta / Alamy Stock Photo | Right: © Tim Graham / Alamy Stock Photo

Another reason to visit Istanbul is its wide selection of hotels. These are a combination of modern and historic, and we’ve picked out our favourites to give you the perfect experience in Turkey this winter.

The best places to stay in Istanbul

Witt Istanbul

Hotel
Map View
Witt Istanbul
Courtesy of Witt Istanbul / Expedia | Courtesy of Witt Istanbul / Expedia

Just like the city itself, the award-winning boutique Witt Istanbul, hotel, in the heart of Istanbul, showcases the best design elements from Europe and Asia. There’s even a dash of American glamour, as the owner of the hotel studied in the US before pursuing his dream back home. The hotel is in the trendy Cihangir district, ideal if you want to see a less touristy side of Istanbul.

Everything you need to know

House Bomonti

Hotel
Map View
House Bomonti
Courtesy of House Bomonti / Expedia | Courtesy of House Bomonti / Expedia

The House Hotel Bomonti is centred around modern design. The exterior stands out in the vibrant Bomonti neighbourhood, with interiors curated by leading British designers Conran and Partners. There are 51 rooms spread across three floors and an excellent selection of nearby shops within easy reach Nişantaşı and Beyoğlu.

Everything you need to know

Gezi Hotel Bosphorus

Hotel
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Gezi
Courtesy of Gezi / Expedia | Courtesy of Gezi / Expedia

Overlooking the Bosphorus, the Gezi harks back to 1950s glamour. The post-World War II era saw a boom in popularity for Istanbul and the acclaimed Turkish architect Sinan Kafadar has capitalised on that reputation to create this modern take on previous glory. Great efforts have been made to modernise the building with green technology, without losing any of the original charm.

Everything you need to know

Tomtom Suites

Boutique Hotel, Hotel
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The building that Tomtom Suites is housed in used to be a convent
Courtesy of Tomtom Suites / Expedia | Courtesy of Tomtom Suites / Expedia

Back when Beyoğlu was known as Pera, the district lived up to its reputation as the European part of Istanbul. Today, it’s widely regarded as the liveliest part of town, and if that’s what you’re craving then head straight to the Tomtom Suites for a convenient stay. The 20 suites here give the hotel a boutique feel, but the views from the rooftop terrace remind you of the big city you are actually in.

Everything you need to know

10 Karaköy

Hotel
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10 Karaköy
Courtesy of 10 Karaköy / Expedia | Courtesy of 10 Karaköy / Expedia

Much as we love Istanbul, there’s no denying it is a hectic experience at the best of times. A stay at Hotel 10 Karaköy will help to mitigate some of that intense energy, with private balconies and soundproofed rooms. And if you’re looking for a unique work-from-home option, this is a strong contender, as each room comes with a laptop, dishwasher and ice machine.

Everything you need to know

The Stay Nisantasi

Hotel
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The Stay Nisantasi
© The Stay Nisantasi / Expedia

Nisantasi is known as an entertainment and shopping hub, and the chic Stay hotel offers rooms in this part of town that smack of the glamour you’ll find outside of your window. This is an ideal base if you’re in Istanbul for a short shopping holiday, as the likes of Prada, Louis Vuitton, Hermès and Cartier all have flagship stores close by.

Everything you need to know
These recommendations were updated on November 3, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.