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A Guide to Istanbul: Where East meets West

Guide to Istanbul

Istanbul is one of the world’s greatest cities. It is one of the few examples of a city which straddles two continents, Europe and Asia. With a population of some 15 million, it is a melting pot of cultures where East meets West. It offers both an extraordinary experience for tourists and holidaymakers. For property investors it is also a hugely attractive option for a vibrant metropolis experiencing huge growth. Expatriates who decide to invest in or make Istanbul their home get to live in a bustling city with an incredible history. For business professionals or companies wanting easy access to both Europe and the Middle East and Asia, it is immensely convenient. In this brief guide to Istanbul we’ll look at the history and the present day of this city where cultures collide and flourish.

Hagia Sofia

One of the most spectacular religious buildings in the city, and recognised globally as an important monument of ancient civilisation. It might be a stretch to suggest it could be the ‘Eighth Wonder’ of the world, but many consider to to be right up there with the best of the best. For anyone who is awe-struck by cathedrals and major religious buildings, Hagia Sophia exhibits both Christian and Muslim features.

Hagia Sophia literally means ‘Divine Wisdom’ in Greek. The earliest recorded use of the building, which dates from 537 AD, is as an Orthodox Christian Church. Later it was transformed into an Ottoman imperial mosque before its’ present day use as a significant religious and cultural museum.

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Topkapi Palace

Dating from 1472, the Topkapi Palace was the residence of the Sultans and the nucleus for all Ottoman power for 400 years. Any guide to Istanbul will tell you that, along with Hagia Sophia, this one of Istanbul’s most visited historical tourist attractions.

If you want to get a sense for the money and power which used to flow through Istanbul as the city established itself as the gateway between East and West, this is the place to visit. Spending some time wandering the palace’s grand pavilions and vast, opulent harem will offer a glimpse into what life in Istanbul used to be like ‘at court’. Eventually the sultans tired of city life and along with their courtiers and harem moved out to the coast. Along the shores of the Bosphorus, grand, over-the-top palaces were constructed to show-off wealth and prestige to those arriving from across the seas.

Boating on the Bosphorus

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One of the ways in which tourists and holidaymakers take in the sprawling nature of Istanbul is with a yacht cruise along the Bosphorus.

This is an opportunity to channel your inner millionaire (billionaire even!) as you gently sail down the Bosphorus.  It is the sea which naturally separates the two sides of Istanbul, and the two continents, Europe and Asia. The Bosphorus connects with the Black Sea in the North and the Sea of Marmara (where do you think Marmaris gets its name from?) to the South.

From your yacht it is possible to take in all of the major sites of the city, including the famous Ottoman palaces and manor houses as well as Hagia Sophia and other attractions. Maiden’s Tower (featured in a Bond film) is an ancient lighthouse which stands watch over the southern end of the strait of Bosphorus. From the viewing platform at the top there are again incredible vistas of this majestic and architecturally-fascinating city.

Present-Day Istanbul

Since the 1990s, Istanbul has seen phenomenal development. It’s one of life’s truisms that if you see a town or city with a lot of cranes, it is expanding. That has certainly been the case with Istanbul over the last few years.

Complementing the rich history of the city are the modern housing developments, commercial offices and a wealth of facilities. There are both affordable and luxury residential options on the outskirts of the city, and pockets of once-run-down suburbs of Istanbul have been revitalised. There are more green spaces, family-friendly neighbourhoods and practical solutions for busy professionals. The wealth is not all concentrated in the hyper-centre, as it once was. Istanbul aspires to be a culturally and financially accessible city for the mainstream, as well as the super-rich.

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Foreigners – both holidaymakers and property investors alike – are attracted to the perceived quality of life, the laid-back culture and history (guides to Istanbul are available for first-hand tours of the city), delicious food and shopping. So much shopping.

Many global brands have a presence in Istanbul now, to leverage the spending of the city’s many wealthy inhabitants. There are both modern shopping malls as well as more classically-Turkish shopping districts with boutique shops. Looking for a truly authentic Turkish shopping experience? The covered markets – including the world-famous Grand Bazaar – are where you want to be. Lose time wandering the hundreds of stalls and haggle for cheese, art, textiles or antiques.

Buying property in Istanbul

For anyone looking to buy property in Istanbul, it can be exciting, daunting and a massive lifestyle decision. For investors, families or first-time buyers, deciding where to buy in Turkey’s largest city can be overwhelming. There are 39 different city districts to choose from!

Istanbul offers a huge diversity of property options, one of the reasons which makes it so appealing. Firstly, It has all the benefits of a major city going through growth. Secondly, it has the added strategic advantage of being able to access three different markets and regions at once.

Most importantly, the growth offers many investment opportunities on both the Asian and European sides. For instance, rental yields are strong. Similarly there is potential for capital appreciation if you do your due diligence and invest wisely. Developers are out to attract everyone, from those looking for bargain studio homes to luxury mansions.

Where is the Best Place to Buy Property in Istanbul?

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There is no one-size-fits-all approach. It will depend on your objectives, budget and lifestyle needs – if any. There are many desirable neighbourhoods including Beyoglu, Galata, Fatih and Sultanahmet on the European side of the city. On the Asian side, Kadikoy and Uskudar are popular with investors.

Naturally in central districts prices per square meter are higher. A lack of new building and supply controls any depreciation, so central Istanbul properties are always a solid-long-term bet.

On the other hand, the lowest property prices are in the outlying neighbourhoods which are still developing. They might be receiving investment and gradually developing, but in terms of capital appreciation it is a much longer game. Districts like Kucukcekmece and Bakirkov are good examples where there are bargains to be had, but be prepared not to see much capital growth for years. Districts like Sisli and Nisantasi are much more upmarket, and are close to the central business district of Maslak. Lots of local professionals and expatriate business people will choose to invest or live in these areas.

The Housing Market in Istanbul

In terms of both residential and commercial transactions, Istanbul is Turkey’s consistently top-performing property market. This is unlikely to change anytime soon.

A combination of the ‘citizenship by investment’ scheme and lucrative currency exchange markets meant that 2018 was a record-breaking year. Investors flocked to take advantage of citizenship and working rights if they invested a minimum amount and kept the property for three years.

The Istanbul market is in full redevelopment and regeneration mode, and this is likely to continue for some years. At the same rate that inner-city buildings are being refurbished, new homes are being built in outlying neighbourhoods. Council districts are investing in infrastructure, green spaces, health, education and shopping areas.

The ambition of the city can seen in several projects. Substantial capital infrastructure investment like the Istanbul New Airport. Future mega-projects like the Istanbul Canal bypassing the Bosphorus and linking the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. Plus hundreds of smaller projects right across the city. It is exciting time to be thinking about buying in Istanbul whilst the growth curve is in the ascendency.

So whilst this all sounds great, on the other hand, don’t be a fool and rush in.

You require careful navigation when buying in a city with this much ‘going on’ and where the cultural and political climate will have an impact on future ROI.

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We can help! If you don’t know where you want to buy, just get in touch, we’ll have a chat about your requirements and lifestyle preferences, and come back to you with some suggestions!

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