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Business travel tips for Istanbul

A finance professional and Turkish native gives his best advice for visiting this important business hub that bridges continents and cultures.
Business travel tips for Istanbul

Continents collide in Istanbul, and its placement at the centre of civilisation has made it an integral meeting place for business throughout history. The city’s importance has only grown in recent years, with Turkey being highlighted as a rapid-growth market, along with Mexico, Indonesia, and Nigeria — termed the MINT economies — by Fidelity Investments, a Boston-based asset management firm. And according to McKinsey & Co., Istanbul will be among the top 25 economic hotspots by 2025.

Hakan Akay, ACMA, CGMA, travels to Istanbul for both business and pleasure. When it’s on business, it’s for Vodafone, which has an operating company in Turkey for which he supports procurement activities.

Akay is the global head of supply chain, corporate services at Vodafone, and he is responsible for procurement of a range of indirect spend categories, including business consulting, legal services, human resources, travel, fleet, mail, and financial services. Originally from Turkey, Akay currently lives and works in Luxembourg, but travels frequently for business and leisure.

Hakan Akay, ACMA, CGMA

Here are a few of his recommendations for business travellers visiting Istanbul:

In which parts of the city would you recommend business travellers stay?

If you want to avoid traffic jams in the morning, my best advice is to stay close to where you’ll need to be first thing in the morning. Most of the businesses are located on the European side, so staying on the axis between Besiktas and Maslak would be a smart choice, and there are many hotel chains available here. If you want to stay close to the Atatürk Airport you can consider Yeşilköy, which is a nice coastal area, or one of the recently built hotels around Basin Ekspres motorway in Güneşli. On the Anatolian side, Kozyatağı and Kadıköy are great places to stay.

What are some experiences you recommend if someone has a bit of extra time during their stay?

Just go and visit the historical peninsula where Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia Museum, Blue Mosque, and the Basilica Cistern stand. All these can be squeezed into a few hours if you’re running short of time.

What are some dishes or drinks travellers should seek out and try?

If you like eggplant, I would recommend imam bayildi and hünkar beğendi, both of which are quite traditional dishes. For drinks, any experimental traveller should taste ayran (yogurt mixed with salt and water), boza (a sweet drink made of fermented grain), and şalgam (made of purple carrots, bulgur wheat, salt, and yeast).

What are some areas of the city you recommend for dining?

Almost all of Istanbul is full of good places to eat. My favourite places are around Florya, Etiler, Sariyer, and Erenköy.

Do you have any tips for things travellers should avoid?

Taxis are relatively cheap in Istanbul, but it’s better to order them via the hotel concierge desks, from the office desk of the company you’re visiting, or from the taxi kiosks to avoid scams.

Any areas that are not worth a visit?

I would keep close to the seaside areas on both sides of the city.

What are some underrated places and experiences in the city you think travellers would enjoy that most people might not think to do?

Visit the Chora Museum with an illustrated book of mosaics, and immerse yourself in a time travel into the early days of Christianity.

What’s the best way to get around the city?

The Metro does not have a wide network, but it can be the fastest way of transport during rush hours. If you stick to the seaside, sea taxis and ferries should be preferred.

What do you do when you are in a business pinch? How do you find emergency business resources like conference rooms and business services?

Ask anyone local — Turkish people are known for their hospitality, so they will be extremely happy to help.

What’s your ideal day in Istanbul?

Start the day in Rumeli Hisarı with breakfast at the seaside. Then a visit to Sakıp Sabancı Museum nearby, where they always have interesting temporary exhibits. After that, head off to Sultanahmet to visit the hot spots of Istanbul. You can grab a quick bite at Sultanahmet Koftecisi for lunch. Then walk down to Eminönü via the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar. Take the ferry to Kadıköy. Don’t forget to buy some simit (circular bread) and tea, and throw some of the simit to the seagulls on the way. Take a walk around Kadıköy up to Moda. If you fancy a dinner with live music, try the Ouzo restaurant in the Wyndham hotel close by. Otherwise, you have almost unlimited choices in Balik Pazari (fish market) in Kadıköy to relax and enjoy a delicious meal.

Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.