Rocking the rooftops

High life ... the view from Leb-i Derya, Istanbul.
High life ... the view from Leb-i Derya, Istanbul.

Day or night, Istanbul's top-floor bars are where it's all happening, writes Ute Junker.

For 16 centuries, Istanbul's inhabitants have learnt how to make the most of their city. For much of the year, you'll find them whiling away sunny afternoons or balmy evenings in one of the open-air bars and restaurants that sprout from the top of almost every building. Best of all, these bars rock around the clock, so here's our pick of Istanbul's best rooftops and the best time to visit them.

Noon: Nar at Armaggan

Most of Istanbul's popular rooftop restaurants pull in the punters with amazing views over the city, over the water, or both. Nar restaurant, perched on top of the Armaggan building in the chic Nisantasi shopping district, is different.

Despite the lack of a dazzling view, well-to-do Istanbulites flock to the tree-fringed terrace at lunchtime for a very good reason: it has food you won't find anywhere else in Turkey.

Armaggan is dedicated to all things authentically Turkish and the Nar restaurant, run by chef Vedat Basaran, is dedicated to preserving Turkey's lesser-known culinary traditions. "Peasant food in a luxury setting" is how Basaran describes the venture.

This is not a place for carnivores. In true peasant fashion, the emphasis is on vegetables and herbs, including unfamiliar choices such as purslanes and spinach roots, sea beans and mustard leaves. The flavours tend to be simple, as in the ragout of fresh almonds done in yoghurt and olive oil, but dishes such as green plums and bulgur stuffed in vine leaves are a treat.

Abdi Ipekci Caddesi Bostan Sokak 8, Nisantasi, +90 212 522 2800,

3pm: Banyan

Whether you're looking for a late lunch or just need time out after a hectic day of sightseeing, Banyan offers a welcome retreat. It may be in the heart of Ortakoy, one of Istanbul's most vibrant villages, but this Asian-inspired eatery is far removed from the noisy melee outside.

In this rooftop haven, you can relax with chilled beats from the sound system, organic textures (wood, stone, hessian) and the ultimate Bosphorus view.

If you want to get a sense of how big the Bosphorus is - and we're talking about a waterway where veritable fleets of cargo ships cruise serenely past each other - take a seat among the bonsai on Banyan's terrace and you'll feel as though you're floating above the river.

If you're in need of sustenance, there's plenty to choose from. Banyan is one of Istanbul's most creative Asian restaurants, so among the usual suspects - tom yam, satay, edamame - you'll find more adventurous dishes, such as a wakame seaweed salad with roast sesame, and a sake-marinated filet mignon.

Muallim Naci Caddesi, 3 Salhane Sokak, Ortakoy, +90 212 259 9060,

5pm: Leb-i Derya

Leb-i Derya is so popular with the after-work drinks crowd that they had to open a second branch a short walk away, on top of the Richmond hotel. Locals agree the original is the best; if you can find it, that is.

Like many places in Istanbul, you need a good set of directions to find this rooftop bar, which is in a tiny alley off the main Istiklal boulevard.

Walk down the steep hill about 150 metres, keeping your eyes peeled for the discreet logo on the outside of what appears to be a residential building. Pop into the tiny elevator and head all the way up.

Your reward will be a panoramic view, one that reminds you how stupendous the city is. From up here, you can see all of Istanbul spread out beneath you. Over there is the Bosphorus; here is the Golden Horn.

Beyond that lie the city's main monuments - the Topkapi Palace, the Aya Sofia mosque, the Blue Mosque - illuminated in the twilight. And over there, on the far side of the river, lies Asia. One view, two continents.

Leb-i Derya's outdoor terrace is only small, so book early if you want an outside seat. The friendly staff dish up bar snacks such as bruschetta and nachos, but also more substantial offerings such as almond-crusted shrimp gratin.

Kumbaraci Yokusu 57/6, Beyoglu, +90 212 293 4989,

8pm: Vogue

Vogue is Istanbul's G-spot: that's G as in glamour. When your taxi pulls up at the door of the twin towers of BJK Plaza, you would never guess that at the top of one awaits the coolest night out in town. Vogue is not so much a bar or a restaurant as an entire complex sprawling over a huge area.

Despite its size, everything about it is hip, from the chic sushi bar to the cool beats from the DJ to the mood lighting. It also has not one, not two, but three terraces: one for the bar, two for the restaurant.

They all share what is probably the best night-time view in town: a glorious view of the Bosphorus bridge and its ever-changing light show, as well as the city's many twinkling lights.

If you score a dinner reservation, there's a long list of tempting treats to choose from, all the way from sushi to miso-braised black cod. The bar list is equally impressive, with a 200-strong wine list and seductive cocktails that range from Appletinis with mint to a Red Daisy (Absolut Vanilla, honey camomile tea and strawberries).

Spor Caddesi, BJK Plaza A Blok Kat:13 Akaretler, +90 212 227 4404,

10pm: 360

You have to wonder what the neighbours think. 360, one of Istanbul's popular clubs, is on top of an apartment block on Istiklal, Istanbul's main pedestrian boulevard. That doesn't present too many problems early in the evening, when a more sedate bar-restaurant vibe prevails, and visitors such as Queen Sofia of Spain drop in.

After midnight, everything changes. Serious clubbers take over, drawn by a mix of live acts and internationally acclaimed DJs such as Martin Solveig. With the beats pumping, the dance floor heaving and gyrating girls hanging from the ceiling, it's one of Istanbul's coolest clubs. You just hope there's serious soundproofing in place.

Istiklal Caddesi Mısır Apt. Kat 8 No: 311 Beyoglu, +90 212 251 1042 ,

This story Rocking the rooftops first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.