istanbul city guide

by Stephanie

Today’s city guide comes from Melinda Mahaffey, a blogger and copy editor at a daily English-language newspaper. Melinda moved to Istanbul six months ago, and her Istanbul-native and graphic-designer boyfriend, Cagatay Icden, helped with these city guide selections. Melinda takes us on a tour through the many historic neighborhoods of this now somewhat metropolitan city. Thank you, Melinda and Cagatay, for this beautiful guide! — Stephanie

Read the full guide after the jump . . .

Istanbul defies description. Straddling Asia and Europe and with 15 million inhabitants, it’s a city that can be both tranquil and congested, historic and modern, secular and religious, gorgeous and painfully ugly all at the same time — it just depends where exactly you are. The city has existed in some form for 3,000 years, and despite multiple name changes — as the song goes, “Istanbul was Constantinople, now it’s Istanbul . . .” — and multiple cultures sweeping through, the city has for the most part incorporated its past to build today’s multifaceted metropolis. This is a place where you can find castles, mosques and mosaics, Ottoman mansions, Eastern spices, ornate palaces, skyscrapers, McDonald’s and Starbucks.

For this guide, I used the names of neighborhoods generally, to indicate location and walkability (though it only takes about 10 minutes to walk from the heart of Sultanahmet to Eminönü). The most difficult part was choosing which areas to cover. For everything I chose, I left something equally great out. I ended up sticking with three major areas of interest to tourists — Sultanahmet, Eminönü and Taksim Square — but also included some quick hits at the bottom.

Check out this Google Map with all of the below listings!

Neorion Hotel: This moderately expensive hotel in Sultanahmet only opened last summer and has already secured the top spot (out of more than 700 entries) on Trip Advisor. Guests rave about the hotel’s gorgeous view of the Golden Horn from the rooftop terrace, breakfast buffet and warm hospitality.

Four Seasons: Istanbul boasts a number of exquisite (and extremely expensive) hotels, but if I could stay anywhere in town, with price as no object, I would choose the Four Seasons Sultanahmet for its prime location near Topkapi Palace, lush central courtyard and its historical past as a notorious prison (think Midnight Express). The Four Seasons also has a second, palatial location on the Bosphorus where Martha Stewart stayed when she came to film her show.

Basileus Hotel: The newer Basileus offers simple rooms with wood furnishings, a good breakfast buffet (with omelets!) and great value for its location in the historic Sultanahmet district.

Hotel Seraglio: Located in a townhouse in Sultanahmet, this small family-owned hotel also boasts a hearty breakfast buffet plus tea and cakes in the afternoon. However, the rates almost double from low season to high season.

5oda: Known as “five rooms” in English, this untraditional hotel features accommodations in small modern apartments (with kitchenettes) and also includes breakfast. It’s located just off Istiklal Street, near the Sishane metro stop, and within walking distance of Tunel and Galata Tower.


Sultanahmet is the place in Istanbul that you came to see, home to most of the major historic sites such as Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya. Not surprisingly, a huge industry has sprung up in this area to cater to the busloads of tourists that pass through every day. The sites of old Constantinople and Byzantium are breathtaking, but the eating and shopping in this area are generally overpriced and underwhelming. (If you have suggestions on either front, please post them in the comments!)

You might consider buying the 72-hour Museum Pass, available at most of the following sites. It includes free entry to Chora Church, Ayasofya, Topkapi Palace and the Harem, the Archaeology Museum, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts and the Istanbul Mosaic Museum (plus, it offers a few discounts at other attractions that you likely wouldn’t get to in such a short time period). While it does cost 72 lira (about $40), the entry fees to Chora Church, Ayasofya and Topkapi Palace alone add up to 75 lira. Most attractions in Istanbul are closed on Mondays; Topkapi Palace is closed on Tuesdays.

See & Do
Aya Sofya: Also known as the Hagia Sophia, this massive church-turned-mosque-turned museum has withstood various disasters — both natural and man-made — since the year 537. Most of the famous golden mosaics are located on the ceiling or along the upper gallery. Not surprisingly, the museum gets really crowded, so come as close to the opening time (9 am) as you can.

Topkapi Palace: With construction starting in 1460 soon after the Ottomans captured Constantinople, Topkapi Palace served as the opulent home of the sultans and their many wives for 400 years. Built as a series of four courtyards, the massive museum-palace has a myriad of rooms to visit, including the kitchens, the treasury with the famed Topkapi dagger, an exquisite library and a room devoted to the sultans’ extra-large caftans. You have to pay a separate fee to enter the Harem, but the gorgeously decorated rooms are well worth seeing. The First Court of Topkapi Palace is open to the public, and its wide, grassy spaces make a nice place to rest and relax in sunny weather.

Blue Mosque: Officially named the Sultan Ahmet mosque after the man who ordered its construction, the Blue Mosque gets its nickname from the blue Iznik tiles that decorate its walls. It’s still a functioning mosque (there’s a separate entrance for visitors) and as you’ll see, has an altogether different vibe than the Aya Sofya, its neighbor.

Great Palace Mosaic Museum: The Ottomans aren’t the only ones who made Seraglio Hill their home; the Byzantine emperors also built an enormous palace here (at today’s Blue Mosque), along with a ceremonial mosaic-decorated road that led down to the water. The museum displays what remains of the road — about 150 human and animal figures, including griffins, a boy and his dog and a monkey hunting birds — in situ. (For the best mosaics in town, though, head to Chora Church, walkable from the Edirnekapi Metrobus stop.)

Basilica Cistern: The Byzantines built this underground cistern; in more modern times, it was used as a romantic setting for one of Bachelorette Ali’s dinner dates. There’s nothing to see exactly (except for two stone Medusa heads at the end), and yet the atmosphere — dripping ceilings, dark interior — somehow makes it a can’t-be-missed site.

Hamam visit: Some visitors think the city’s two most famous hamams are too touristy and expensive, but if you want a good scrubbing — in a historic and gorgeously appointed interior — head to either Cagaloglu or Cemberlitas hamams. Friends say that the ladies section at Cagaloglu is nicer.

Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art: Housed in a palace on the Hippodrome, this museum is primarily famous for its collection of carpets, though it also displays other functional art like miniature writings, Korans and glassworks.

Eat & Drink
Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi Selim Usta: There’s a very small menu at this beloved kofte (meatball) eatery — it’s kofte or shish kebab (with a few vegetarian side dishes), and the locals love it. Be sure to enter the right restaurant as a nearby competitor (down a door or two) has a very similar name.

Giritli: This fish restaurant tucked away on a back street offers a fixed-price traditional Turkish meal: a dizzying array of starters followed by a main course and complemented by unlimited raki, the anise-flavored liquor popular here. It’s expensive but delicious, with the garden setting (open in warm weather) a bonus. Another well-regarded fish restaurant nearby is Ahirkapi Balikcisi (Keresteci Hakki Sokak 46), featuring a simpler menu at more affordable prices.

Jennifer’s Hamam: Take the hamam experience home with you by stocking up on organic, Turkey-produced cotton towels, bathrooms, hand mitts, soaps and oils at either location, both in the Arasta Bazaar. This bazaar is generally a nice place to shop; formerly stables during Ottoman times and part of the Byzantine palace site, the open-air Arasta Bazaar now houses upscale carpet and textile shops, and the atmosphere here can be more relaxing than the shops of Sultanahmet and the Grand Bazaar.

Caferaga Medresesi: Take a peek inside this craft center, with areas devoted to different Turkish handicrafts like calligraphy, ceramics and tiles. Occasionally, day classes are on offer. While you’re there, you can also have a simple lunch in the courtyard.


As you move north and down the hill from Sultanahmet toward the Golden Horn, the atmosphere distinctly changes. Gone are most of the tourist sites and touts, replaced by locals — lots and lots of them — moving in a thousand directions. From here, you can catch a bus, train or ferry to almost anywhere in the city.

See, Do & Shop
Yeni Camii: You can’t miss spotting the Yeni Camii, with its imposing position right next to the Spice Market. Although the name translates to “New Mosque,” the doors were opened to the public in 1663. Because of its location, there’s usually a lot of locals coming and going, making it one of my favorite places to people-watch, both inside and outside.

Spice Bazaar: Officially called the Egyptian Bazaar, this smaller, covered bazaar mostly sells foodstuffs, with the spices laid out in a gorgeous array of colors in front of the individual shops. You can also buy dried fruits, teas, nuts, Turkish delight and even the so-called Turkish Viagra.

Shopping: If you leave Yeni Camii through the south exit (the one opposite the water side), directly across the pedestrian street, you’ll come across a warren of tiny markets that surround the Spice Bazaar. There’s a pets’ market, selling everything from pedigreed dogs to chickens to leeches, and a flower market selling plants and bulbs, to name two. Beyond that, behind the Spice Bazaar, the area opens up into streets, flanked by small shops on both sides. Here you can buy all kinds of things, including wedding dresses, yarn, fabric, light fixtures and underwear. There’s little for a tourist to buy, but the walk is like a journey through another city, one far removed from Sultanahmet and with a little whiff of the Middle East.

Ferry Trips: From Eminönü, you have multiple choices. For about 10 lira, you can take a tourist boat up to the mouth of the Black Sea, passing sites like Dolmabahce Palace, Rumeli Castle and Ortakoy mosque. You can also take a cheaper public ferry to Kadikoy on the Asian side, which will give you good views of Aya Sofya, Topkapi Palace and Maiden’s Tower on the way.

Sirkeci Terminal: While you’re in Eminönü, take a peek at the ornate interior (as much as possible — the station is about to be renovated). This still-functioning train station was the historic terminus of the Orient Express and a set in the second James Bond film, From Russia with Love.

Eat & Drink
Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi Mahdumlari: There’s always a line in front of the window at this famous coffee seller. You can buy both beans and ground coffee here for Turkish, filter or espresso coffees.

Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir: This delicious confectioner has multiple shops, including one near the Spice Bazaar. They’re known for their lokum (or Turkish delight) — which comes in a range of flavors, including my favorite, pistachio — but the almond paste sweets are equally yummy.

Zinhan Kebap House: Situated on the fifth and top floor of the Storks building, this restaurant offers its meals with gorgeous views of the Golden Horn. There’s a large selection of mezes followed by a main meat dish; as the name implies, it’s all about the kebap.

Hamdi Restaurant: Hamdi offers a lot of what Zinhan Kebap House does: traditional mezes, an array of kebap dishes and a dazzling view of Eminönü. However, the founder came from the town of Urfa and also brought with him eastern Turkey’s best dessert, baklava. Be sure to make a reservation if you want a table outside or by a window.


After taking in the historic mosques and mosaics in Sultanahmet and the crush of Eminönü, this area feels unabashedly modern. From Taksim Square — a chaotic urban square with a monument to modern Turkey’s revolutionary founders at one end — take a stroll down the pedestrian Istiklal Street, the big shopping street on the European side with a historic tram running down the center. Here you can find famous brands like Swatch, Diesel, Mavi, Sephora and Vakko in addition to eateries, small shops and a cinema. Be ready for crowds – this area is almost always packed, especially on the weekends. At the end, the area becomes Tunel to the right and ahead the hill slopes down to Galata Tower. Tunel is a popular area for dinner and abuzz on weekends though the municipality has recently prohibited outdoor seating.

See & Do
Babylon: This popular live-music venue in Tunel features a range of styles, including jazz, electronic and tribute nights, and hosts special events like the Oldies but Goodies party.

Pera Museum: In addition to its permanent collection of Ottoman Orientalist art and ceramics, the Pera Museum also hosts traveling exhibitions — earlier this year saw Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera from the Gelman Collection — plus a number of events, including film showings, concerts and talks.

Pera Palace Hotel: This historic and recently renovated hotel has hosted famous guests such as Agatha Christie, Ernest Hemingway, Alfred Hitchcock and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish Republic. Spend an afternoon in the Kubbeli Salon, enjoying the historic ambiance, exquisite ceiling and delicious pastries during their famous (yet pricey) tea time.

Nardis Jazz Club: If you do find that you’ve kept going and headed down to Galata Tower, head into this small club for the city’s best jazz.

Eat & Drink
Sofyali 9: There are a lot of mehanes around, but this one in Tunel stands out because of its superior Turkish meze (paired with raki, of course!).

House Cafe: This trendy and atmospheric café — which has several locations around Istanbul, including one on Istiklal Street and one in Tunel — offers an extensive world-food menu. The breakfast menu is especially good, featuring both traditional Turkish and American brunch selections.

Leb-i Derya: This upscale world-cuisine restaurant has several outposts across Istanbul, but the location atop the Richmond Hotel off Istiklal Street offers a striking view of the Old City.

Lokal: This small, laid-back restaurant in Tunel plays movies on the wall outside and soft, jazzy music and serves up some of the best Indian and Thai food in the city. Be sure to step into the right place: There’s another Lokal outpost at the end of Istiklal Street, but it’s a bar.

Inci Pastanesi: This small pastry shop on Istiklal Street is known for its chocolate-doused profiteroles, for 5 lira a plate, that the man behind the counter scoops out as you stand there. (İstiklal Cad. 56/H)

Robinson Crusoe 389: This wood-furnished bookshop near one end of Istiklal Street has a wide selection of art books, travel guides, books on Turkish and regional history and novels in English. The staff is also very knowledgeable.

Mephisto: In addition to books, music and DVDs, this multilevel store on Istiklal Street also has a good selection of art supplies.

Virgin Megastore: I’ve included this familiar chain because in addition to the usual music and video games, this outpost in the new Demiroren Mall on Istiklal Street also has a large and diverse selection of English-language books, plus a small selection of art supplies.

Pasabahce Magazalari: You’ll see this upscale chain featuring mainly Turkish glassware in most of Istanbul’s posher malls. The location on Istiklal Street is larger than usual and features some incredible (and expensive) Ottoman-inspired pieces. They also sell votive candle holders that incorporate the city skyline, which make nice gifts or souvenirs.

By Retro: As the name implies, this eclectically furnished shop is home to a large selection of vintage clothes, shoes and accessories from around the world.


ASIAN SIDE/BAGDAT STREET: If you have time, head to the Asian side of the city, specifically to Bagdat Street. In theory, it’s the equivalent of the European side’s Istiklal Street, but with cafes and restaurants spilling out onto the sidewalk, it’s a much better place for people-watching, which is what a large number of Istanbul residents spend warm Saturday and Sunday afternoons doing.

ORTAKOY: This neighborhood boasts a gorgeous Baroque mosque (currently undergoing an extensive renovation), and against the backdrop of the Bosphorus Bridge, it makes for a spectacular dinner setting at one of the waterfront restaurants. You might recognize it from its appearance on the October 2010 cover of National Geographic Traveler. This area is pretty trendy especially on weekends, as see-and-be-seen youths come here for lunch/brunch or an afternoon stroll.

BEBEK and neighboring RUMELI HISARI: Chic Bebek can be packed on weekends, with locals crowding onto the waterfront terraces at the neighborhood’s Starbucks and Gloria Jean’s Coffees. There’s nothing to see in this neighborhood; instead, enjoy brunch at the laid-back Bebek Kahve next to the mosque or go for evening drinks on the terrace of the swank Bebek Hotel. Moving north along the water, the next neighborhood you come to is Rumeli Hisari, home to the 1452-built castle that helped the Ottomans capture Constantinople. This area has a number of small waterfront cafes popular for weekend brunch. Afterwards, take a stroll along this very photogenic portion of the Bosphorus, with views of the castle and Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge.

Suggested For You


  • This omits a visit to Istanbul Modern! It is an amazing, small, well amazingly curated museum. A perfect retreat from the heat and buzz of the city. We loved the video art rooms in the bottom floor. This was one of the best things we did in Istanbul.

  • Don’t miss the Tuesday Bazaar in Kadikoy, or taking a ferry to the car-free Prince’s islands with their gorgeous old wooden houses. I lived there a couple years ago and resolve to go back someday!

  • I can confirm that Jennifer’s Hamam is the BEST place to buy textiles in Istanbul. I became friends with Jennifer after wandering into her store last year, and sleep under the softest, prettiest, black-and-white graphic organic cotton blanket every night. She’s the best, and the quality is unbeatable!

  • If you’re into exploring, walk from the Misir Carsi (Spice Bazaar) up the Golden Horn to Balat, a fantastic if slightly gritty neighborhood with bright, colorful houses, interesting street life, and a multicultural history. Ask for the Greek school (Yunanli okulu), it’s a stunning building and a good place to start.

  • YES! I love that this is posted! I went last spring for 5 days and despite getting over food poisoning I didn’t want to leave! For hotels may I recommend Hanedan Hotel. It was so central in old Istabul, walking distance to all the big mosques and the palace, and had absolutely fantastic rooms and service.
    Oh I love Istanbu

  • i am living in Turkey. Istanbul is the most different town in the country. You can see ottoman spirit there. If you go:
    eat fish in eminönü
    eat profiterole at inci patisserie (Taksim)
    eat grilled sheep’s intestines (Taksim)
    visit all historical peninsula.

    sorry for my bad english :)

  • I LOVE Istanbul! I spent 4 days there in October and it was simply not enough time for this fascinating city. My finds at some of the high street brands on Istiklal Street (like Koton, a Turkish high street brand, and Calzedonia, an Italian brand with great quality tights) have been my go-to items all fall/winter. Also nabbed some lovely, inexpensive hand-knit slippers and funky accessories at the Ortakoy Sunday market. I would love to return to Istanbul and this guide will be a such a big help!

  • Istanbul IS a metropolitan city–“historic neighborhoods of this now somewhat metropolitan city.” As an American currently living in Istanbul, I highly disagree with your statement. Nonetheless, it is one of the best and most interesting places to live and see.

  • I stayed in Kadikoy during my visit and it definitely offers some of the best views of historic sites with cheap ferry to the tourist-y areas. My best suggestion is to buy fresh breads and tea from the street vendors while you make your way through the city.

  • As a life-long native Istanbullu I have to say that this review is well-intended but does not really do Istanbul full justice…especially the photos. I love your blog and your city guides and I think you can take well-meaning criticism and I definitely do not want to hurt the feelings of the author but: Every city you post here should be reviewed by someone that has been in the city for at least 5-10 years in my view so that the guide will reflect the real ‘local’ colors… Otherwise it will not go beyond being a tourist guide written by a tourist – especially for a city that has a history as vast as Istanbul and is as huge as Istanbul… my two cents…thanks

    • ebru

      i understand your point, but the guide was actually written with the help of her boyfriend, who is a native and local. we don’t allow guides that don’t have some connection or review by a local of 4+ years.


  • And after the wonders of Istanbul there is still an enormous, stunning, mountainous, friendly, delicious, country to see. Our four days in Istanbul were followed by 12 glorious days driving the coast. It is a trip I relive in my dreams. I can’t wait to go back again to see all the places we missed the first time.

  • Hi Grace…Thanks for your reply. I read about the contribution of the native boyfriend before posting my comment, but I really don’t see much of that local color in here… This is a tourist guide – mainstream and not really personal, something that does not really match your blog’s – hence your – personality…This of course is my view as a local,and I really really really do not want to disparage Melinda’s work, there surely is an effort in all of it, but I felt a need to say this… After all, many may disagree with me and I totally respect that as well:) Best…

  • I have to agree with Ebru. I love Istanbul and have visited a number of times. I was very excited to read this post but felt a bit disappointed. If you’ve never been to Istanbul, this is definitely a nice start. However, if you’re looking for some hidden gems or some more off-the-beaten-path recommendations, you’ll have to look elsewhere. I agree with previous posts that recommended the Istanbul Modern and taking in the sights on the Galata Bridge. That said, it’s easy to criticize and I give major props to Melinda for even trying to tackle this great city. Maybe a part II is in order?

  • As the author of this guide, I wanted to also reply to the latest comments (which I appreciate and am not offended by). This is absolutely a starter guide, which has always been my impression of what the DS guides, at least in the international destinations, were going for. We never hang out in Sultanahmet…but could you really omit it for a smaller, more local neighborhood? If you’re only here for a couple of days, you’re probably not going to get to the smaller places. That was my reasoning for choosing the places I did. The city is just so big and there is too much to see and do for either a short visit or a small guide. :)

  • I lived in Istanbul for 11 years and now 3 and a half years in Gaziantep. My favorite places are the small hidden passages off the Grand Bazaar area and along Istiklal Caddessi. Also a nice ferry ride up and down the Bosporus is a must. If you have time it’s worth the hour and a half (about 120 dollar) flight to Gaziantep to see Turkey’s new 32 million dollar Zeugma Mosaic Museum, the largest of it’s kind, featuring Roman mosaics and other artifacts excavated from the village of Belkis before half of it was flooded for a reservoir. Holographics are used to replace any missing pieces and the experience is unforgettable. While you’re here eat kebap and baklava in the number 1 restaurant in Turkey – Imam Cagdas. Gaziantep is the Cuisine Capital of Turkey!

  • What a detailed guide! I’m visiting this spring, and I can’t wait to bring this with me. Thanks for the tips!!

  • As an expat living in New York, seeing my favorite city in DS made me want to contribute as well.

    Basilica Cistern is a must see place in the city.

    Four Seasons Hotel in Sultan Ahmet (not the Bosphorus) a former prison has the most magnificent sunset view.

    Cukurcuma should be included in this list. (See Sartorialist review, he started sharing his photos in Istanbul in his blog)

    Chora Church is the one of the finest church from Byzantine period with preserved mosaics and frescoes are to die for.

    A cruise along the Bosphorus. (see Marta Stewart’s video on YouTube)

    Thanks Melinda and DS.

  • I also agree with Ebru — the boyfriend’s input is not reflected here. I lived in Istanbul for only two years, but feel this is a predictable guide with few insights beyond what you’d find highlighted in any guide and the photos indeed do not do the city justice. One of my favorite places to visit is the less-often visited Kariye (Chora) Museum, just alongside the city walls in Edirnekapi. Right next to it is a really innovative Ottoman Turkish restaurant called Asitane. Another favorite thing to do is take the ferry up Haliç, the Golden Horn, to Pierre Loti for incredible views while sipping tea and munching on sunflower seeds. Also a walk along Music Street, at the end of Istiklal is always good (then you can take Tünel back up).

    Thanks for covering my favorite city in the world — perhaps a follow up post is warranted!! :)

  • This guide seems pretty similar to other ones on Design Sponge so I am surprised by some of the comments here. Aren’t they all basic guides to sightseeing/shopping/eating? That one on South Carolina was even written by a PR person! Seems like the criticism/feedback should be addressed to Design Sponge and how the guides are done than to this particular guide. This was Istanbul’s first appearance on the site right? I don’t think you can cover such a big city all at once…I thought this was a good start.

  • And don’t forget simit, the fresh-baked sesame rolls! Ah, when I was in Istanbul, I ate them every day with just a bit of butter. So good! They’re quite common so if you like sesame, definitely ask around for this!

  • This was so enjoyable for me. I was an Air Force Brat and we actually lived in Ankara, Turkey from 1968-1970, I still have vivid memories of everything. Not to mention tons of pictures. We traveled to Istanbul about 4 times while living there. It has obviously changed greatly in 41 years, but not in some ways. I was able to follow along with much of your guide. I would so much love to return to Turkey after all of these years and revisit all of the many places we traveled to see how they have changed. My husband has heard me speak so much about my time living there I really want to take him and show him everything. Thanks for letting me revisit one of the many places I loved.

  • Do not miss the dervishes ceremony in Divan Literature Museum (every 2 sunday), Kariye Museum (small Byzantine church but has 10 times better mosaics than Hagia Sophia), try nargile in Çorlulu Ali Paşa Medresesi (near Gran Bazaar) and have fun in the only city founded in two continents of the world.
    A Cat From London but who is originally From Istanbul.

  • Yay, happy with this! I was there on a school trip 10 years ago, and since then always wanted to return. Such an amazing place, big and full of contradictions.Reading the comments, I don’t really mind the guide being more general, although I myself would like to know the insider stuff. That’s why people adding their personal favorites in the comments is gold to me. Istanbul is huge, I’ll bet you never know everything about it. Nevertheless, you have to start somewhere :-)

  • I spent the past two years living in Istanbul. This is a decent introductory to certain parts of the city, but in reality does not even begin to scratch the surface of the depth of what the city has to offer.

  • I love Istanbul and cant wait to visit again as Im sure it has changed a lot since i lived there a number of years ago. I always loved the Galata Tower as a child, as well as the streets around it. I lived in Kadikoy and really liked going for walks to the local markets. I remember feeling so safe there, There were 9 million people in Istanbul when i was a kid . I loved the day to day things like the smell, the bustle and the atmosphere. A trip on the ferry boat to the other side is a must and the Princes Islands are beautiful. Ahh to get back.

  • I just returned from Istanbul (my first trip) yesterday. I stayed in a tiny and lovely hotel in Sultanahment just 2 blocks from the Four Seasons. The morning views during breakfast of the sun rising over the Galata Tower and the fishing boats was a great way to start the day. I was close enough to the Blue Mosque to hear the calls to prayer, which began at 5:40 a.m. My most meaningful experience on the trip was on my first morning when I woke up to the call and walked the few short blocks to the Blue Mosque. I had planned to just take pictures in the courtyard as the sun rose, but gained 2 friends while I was there – a sweet stray cat who adopted my purse as his bed and the security guard for the Mosque, who invited me in to observe prayers. I was the only visitor there and found myself choking back tears to be in such a beautiful and sacred space. I really enjoyed the 2 hour Bosphorus cruise and my time at the Spice Market. While my Turkish leaves much to be desired, virtually everyone spoke some English and the people were incredibly kind and open. Rather than race to see as many museums as possible, I chose to walk the streets of Istanbul and find daily adventures. I will add that this is a difficult city for even experienced walkers, as the streets are narrow and steep with few sidewalks and all are cobblestone, so what may be comfortable walking shoes where you live may not be the best choice for Istanbul.

  • Really great guide. One of the best blog guides I’ve seen so far.
    Just posted some photos from my recent trip to Istanbul here http://annasafron.blogspot.ru/2015/04/istanbul-west-in-his-mind-and-east-in.html
    And a couple suggestions:
    Take a stroll in Moda district in the Asian Part
    There is a very cool Pamuk’s museum called The museum of Innocence base on his book
    Drink coffee with alcohol and party in Arcaoda (Asian part)

    Enjoy Istanbul! It’s one of my favorite cities in the world

  • I enjoyed this guide, thank you. I think it has a good mix of well-known and off-the-beaten track places and it’s always good to have some of both.
    As well as Ortakoy, I would also mention the Karakoy neighborhood as being the newest up and coming trendy cafe area.
    For a boat trip, another idea is to arrange your own boat (http://www.bosphorusyacht.com) if you’re a group or family with your own schedule. It’s a nice way to make it special.
    I love to have a walk or cycle through Moda and stop off at a cafe or lunch – unfortunately the public bike system/credit card machine is not always working, but if you are lucky and you manage to get one, it’s heaven!

Leave a Reply

Design*Sponge reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, that comment on people's physical appearance, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.