Like it or not, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Whether you are planning a special treat on the day or just seeking a solo outing instead, check out these top five destinations in Istanbul to get into a romantic mood or at least to see the city from a new perspective.
First built back in 507 A.D. and now standing at 63 meters (207 feet) tall, the Galata Tower offers a spectacular vista and a truly different perspective of the city from an intimate viewing tower that makes for an impressive experience to say the least. I know it did for my parents, whose first date was at the restaurant once housed in the tower itself.
These days the Galata neighborhood in Beyoğlu, named after the tower, has become gentrified with cafes, hostels, gift shops and art studios down from a windy strip off Istiklal Avenue once famed for its luthier and musical instrument shops. A great area to stroll, catch the sunset from the tower and dine in any of the surrounding bistros serving up international cuisine. The entrance to the Galata Tower Museum is TL 100 ($7) and there is an audio guide that remains open from 8:30 a.m. until midnight.
The Maiden’s Tower is a tower located on an islet 200 meters (656 feet) off the coast of Üsküdar. First built in 1110 by the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Comnenus, the structure was renovated to the state we know it in the late 1720s and served as an observation tower during the Ottoman Empire. These days, it is one of the most romantic spots in the city to enjoy breakfast or lunch. With a commandeering view of Seraglio Point and visibility of the entire city, the Maiden’s Tower has a number of dark legends of lovers taken too early, lending it an eerie charm.
One such legend is that it was built by an emperor to protect his daughter whom an oracle had prophesized would die on her 18th birthday and another one is about the ancient Greek myth of Hero and Leander. The Maiden’s Tower is a special spot that has always been correlated to love even if lost. The tower was also featured in the James Bond film "The World is not Enough."
The tower is easy enough to get to from Üsküdar, where a 10 to 15 minute stroll will take you to the boat shuttle that operates every 15 minutes. In the summer months there is even a free boat service to Maiden’s Tower from Kabataş.
The mausoleum of the Muslim saint and Sufi Telli Baba has become a pilgrimage site for those seeking love, even though it does not have any religious basis. Situated on the Bosporus coast in Sariyer’s Rumeli Kavağı. It is unknown why Telli Baba’s grave has been a spot designated as divine intervention, but he is said to be one of the four patron saints of the Bosporus greeted by all seafarers crossing the strait. The tradition is to make a wish for love if you are seeking it and then if you find it, you are supposed to return to the site with strings of sparkling tinsel to lay across his grave. The word “Telli” is a reference to tinsel and in Anatolia there has always been a tradition for brides to wear tinsel in their hair. It’s called “Gelin Telli.”
Afterward, you can head to Telli Cafe Saklibahçe for breakfast or a snack and even make your way to the bird watching observation deck at the Milli Parklar Kuş Gözlem Kulesi in Rumeli Feneri, where the Bosporus meets the Black Sea.
Turkey, and especially Istanbul, has some very beautiful and historical Christian churches that remain open for passersby to visit and light a candle to make a wish for whatever their heart desires. The impressive Church of St. Anthony of Padua, or in Turkish Sent Antuan, is conveniently situated off a courtyard overlooking the Istiklal Avenue.
First built in 1725 by the Italian community, with the current building dating back to 1906, this is Istanbul’s largest Roman Catholic Church. The Church of St. Mary Draperis, is an ancient Roman Catholic parish that was established in 1584 after Franciscan Friars were gifted a house with a tiny chapel in Galata by a Levantine woman by the name Clara Maria Draperis. Both churches are located in prime dining destinations, making for the perfect date night out.
The underground cisterns are a series of ancient underground waterways that lie beneath Sultanahmet Square and date back to the fourth century. They were used to supply water to the Constantinople palaces from the Aqueduct of Valens. While the most well-known Basilica Cistern, referred to in Turkish as Yerebatan Sarnıcı, actually has a wishing pool where visitors can toss coins and make a wish next to a column with engravings that resemble tears. At the moment the site is closed for renovations. Not to fret, however as the neighboring Theodosius Cistern (Şerefiye Sarnıcı) is just as spectacular. There is also just something so mystical about the musky smell and the chilly breeze from the tunnels funneling water under what we know is a bustling city above.
Opened in 2018 after eight years of renovations, the Şerefiye Cistern is also the first museum in Turkey and the oldest building in the world to have a 360-degree projection mapping system and show. The new entrance is from Piyer Loti Caddesi and you can wrap up the day with a visit to the neighboring Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum or better yet, head to the Harem at Topkapı Palace or my personal favorite, the Istanbul Archeology Museum and delve deep into the wonders of this part of the world.