Vacation Destination Showdown: BA vs. Istanbul

Last year, I was hellbent on heading to Buenos Aires (Polo! Steak! Argentineans! Polo boots!), but never followed through.  Last week, I was hellbent on going to Istanbul (East meets West! Growing shopping culture! Insanely amazing hotel on the Bosporus!).  Now an internal battle is a brewin'.  Porter and I have been informally polling our well-traveled friends and BA is pulling slightly ahead. However, one BA native told us, "Oh, so you have a week? Definitely do Istanbul." He pauses long enough for our eyes to pop out of our heads in shock (given his unbridled national pride) before adding, "You'd need at least a month to do Argentina properly." Have you been?? Please weigh in!!!

(Above Casa Rosada with nice balconies, perfect for riling up the masses).

Our potential Argentine shelter: Faena Hotel + Universe (Library Bar).

El Mercado at the Faena Hotel.

Turkish Delight: A'Jia Hotel (on the banks of the Bosporus).


29 comments

  1. I feel compelled to offer my two cents. First, it is important to point out that I have never been to Buenos Aires so I am very biased. Having said that, Istanbul is one of the most beautiful cities I have even been.

    The mosques will take your breath away. The people are wonderful. The shopping (especially the old Grand Bazzar) amazing. The city is very organic with twists and turns, unlike anything in the West. It is the kind of city that stays with you. That you daydream about even after visiting.

    I vote Istanbul. And I continue to love your blog.

  2. P says:

    I can say, without hesitation, that Istanbul is among my top three favorite cities. It's magic. Go there. Eat fish from a boat. Steam yourself in a 15th century hammam. See beautiful treasures you want to bring home everywhere you go...

  3. Laura says:

    I've been to both, and I'd say they're just extraordinarily different vacations. Buenos Aires is really all about hanging out in the city, not so much seeing the sights or checking out monuments. I spent a week there and loved it, but that's because I like cities generally and I like shopping (seriously, bring an empty suitcase, you will fill it while you are down there...think of all that polo gear you could stock up on). And the milongas (tango spots) were a blast as well.

    But Istanbul is totally exotic in a way that Argentina is not, and I found there was a lot more non-hanging-out-in-a-city stuff to do, like see mosques, harems, Turkish baths, etc. The Turkish baths are ridiculous by the way, so amazingly relaxing. And although the steak in Argentina was unparalleled, I think there's a lot more going on in Turkey with respect to food.

    In terms of time, I spent a week in each of these cities, and I wouldn't want to do less (or try to cram in side trips during your week). I am dying to see the rest of each country, particularly Argentina, but there's a lot of ground to cover so I always planned to do that on a separate trip.

    So I would hit both places at some point during your life, but I think Istanbul is just a really exciting, unique place so I would start with it.

    Your blog is phenomenal by the way. Totally unlike anything else out there.

  4. Eva says:

    Went to BA in Spring.... Shopping is pretty good. Food is terrible.... steak and ice cream ad nauseum. Other than that, not much to do. Although Recoleta Cemetery offers great photo ops.

    I'd go to Istanbul if I were you....

  5. This is invaluable!!! Can't thank you enough. We're 4-0 Istanbul!

  6. jezebel says:

    I loved both, but I loved Istanbul more. It's worth it just for a visit to the Cagaloglu Hamami.

  7. Lily says:

    ISTANBUL!!! The city is such an exotic crossroads of ancient & modern, European & Oriental, with astonishing architecture and cafes and gardens and markets full of silver teapots and jeweled bangles and that magical river full of sailboats & cargo ships & ferries...A day trip to one of the Princess Islands is lovely... There's so much old world glamour (Orient Express) and incredible mysticism(Blue Mosque & Hagia Sofia) that I would, sans doute, have Istanbul stamped on my passport page.
    PS Love your musings! Clicking onto your blog is like opening an advent calendar every day with a chocolate inside- decadent!!!

  8. Well, I was going to say that I have a dear friend who is vacationing in Argentina right now, and she is in heaven, but reading the comments...I'd be packing for Istanbul, honestly. Can't wait to see the pictures. Such loot you two will bring home...this is going to be great fun.

  9. buenos aires! i know, i'm in the minority.

  10. ROK says:

    I generally favor the middle east, but went with Buenos Aires for a week in 2005 and am counting the days until I return. That said, I enjoy touring old churches and I LOVE steak and ice cream, particularly ice cream (the wine is good, too). The shopping is to die for, especially the antiques. So affordable (compared to Paris, etc.). And if you go, there is a small museum in an old Spanish governors house with Baroque furnishings that is worth a trip to Bellgrano. Pro BA points: no jet lag, no political instability (I'm heading to Cairo next week and am feeling the non-refundable ticket anxiety). So unless you need a rug, I'd hit BA.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Both are important cities to see for the "traveler." It really boils down to what you feel like seeing FIRST. You will need to see both eventually. With a week you will have good time to explore either city, but not get out into the country to much depth.

    So, are you feeling South American culture with great nightlife? Or, are you feeling "exotic" euro-asian exploration with rug shopping and cool/luxury nightlife?

    One tip about BA, I recommend staying at the Park Hyatt. VERY stylish/modern and right in the middle of thing. The Faena is cool Phillipe Starck, but you can always go drink there a night or two and get the effect.

  12. I've never been to either. Although, if I were given the opportunity to choose between them and go...I'd pick Istanbul...no question.

  13. BA! BA! BA! BA! BA! I have been several times; you will not regret a moment.

  14. Heather says:

    I agree with other posters, they are very different trips. I spent 10 days in BA and cannot wait to go back, but for a longer trip where I can explore the rest of the country. In a sense, BA is not much different from being in New York. I spent most time in museums, shops, and eating at fantastic restaurants for a third of the cost. I have a friend who owns a bar there and I rented a lovely studio in a charming building (with balcony patio)if you are interested in some additional info. But, Istanbul is also on my list for my next trip....

  15. JP says:

    Looks like your going to Istanbul!

  16. Caitlin says:

    Girls Girls. talk to the Turk on Friday. He will help you decide!!! xoxoxo
    (We are going in July too just FYI)

  17. valerie says:

    I can honestly say, I can offer you no suggestions, since I've been to neither cities. All I can say is write one city on a piece of paper and have Porter write on another. See what you decide from there. Maybe you will write the same?

  18. Pitboss12 says:

    I'm a little late to the party on this one. I'd usually say Istanbul in a flash. However, based on today's news re: anti american and anti israeli protests in Istanbul, I would take another look at BA. The state dept. hasn't issued a travel advisory yet. Hopefully things cool down in time for your trip.

  19. My opinion is a bit biased - as I've never been to BA. But, most who have been to Turkey would love to go back. Many who have never been would wonder, why go? Istanbul is one of my favorites ever. Magical. beautiful people. fabulous food - interesting history. You must go to a Turkish bath and have the complete experience. relaxing and funny at the same time. Find a rooftop restaurant in Sultanahmet and drink wine while viewing the Hagia Sofia. Buy a carpet at the market that you can always look at and remember the fun you had bargaining for it. I had a little obsession with painted pottery while there - and I'm always asked where it came from. Its a city my family and I could return to again and again. Be sure to grab a box of Turkish Delight and some apple tea.

  20. Istanbul sounds magical. However, I have 3 friends who all separately went to BA/Argentina last month and all came back breathless and in love with the place.

  21. Jill says:

    i haven't been to BA, although i would LOVE to go...
    but, i have been to Istanbul, on my honeymoon, and it was amazing. like no place i have ever been before. we stayed at a tiny romantic hotel near the Topkapi palace in the heart of the old city. Istanbul is an amazing east meets west experience that is not to be missed!

  22. I vote for Istanbul. I went there for a three day trip a couple of years ago and it blew me away. The Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sofia and the Underground Cisterns (dating from Roman times) are amazing, but then there is the SOUK...with its endless alleys leading to teeny shops no bigger than a twin bed housed with thousands of exotic wares. It's amazing...bring two empty suitcases to cart everything home.

    We stayed at the Pera Palace Hotel -- the pre-eminent hotel from the grand days of the Orient Express. Winston Churchill, Marlene Dietrich, they all have suites named after them. Only problem is, I don't think they've dusted since those days, either, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend it at the top of my list. It's more like a living museum that happens to allow guests to sleep in the gently crumbling rooms. But it's definitely worth stopping by for a visit, if only to check out the lobby and and have cup of deliciously sweet and sludgey Turkish coffee.

  23. BA! I just published an article about shopping for home/design items in BA. Check it out here: http://tinyurl.com/6swe8g

  24. Let me know if you decide to go to Istanbul & need help wt your travel arrangements I know the top travel agency in the country..

  25. Anonymous says:

    This is like asking someone to chose between fingers on one hand. Buenos Aires offers countless oportunities to delight in eye candy and shopping galore, all contained in a city that is indeed as the over-used moniker implies, the "Paris of South America," only more laid back and more fun. Another bonus in Argentina are the myriad destinations available at less than an hours' plane/car from the capital away: estancias in the pampas (the dashing gauchos alone make the drive worth it!), the beach, the desert, the mountains, the jungle...you name it, Argentina's got it.
    Having said all that, Istanbul is a magnificent and soulful city filled with history and exotic wonders -- oh the Grand Bazaar! I find both places imbued with a similar melancholy and enchantment. Please take the time to see both -- soon.

  26. Anonymous says:

    BA is joke. Paris of South America? Maybe if you've only spent time in the 19th.

    And if you do go, don't stay at Faena. It's in the marina away from anywhere you'll want to be. But as others mention, it's worth the look over a cocktail or three.

  27. lkchgo says:

    Please let me know if you ever visited Istanbul. I too have been torn between going to Buenos Aires or Istanbul and would love to hear your feedback.
    Thanks.

  28. Looks interesting, ill be sure to check it out. Cheap property in Istanbul