For one of my friends I assembled a quick list of spots that I like in Istanbul. It is of course not comprehensive but stay tuned for more posts with a little deeper background information.
Some sites will not be an option if it’s cold or rainy. So better go in the warm months.
The city has two big airports. One in the west and one in the east. Both are convenient. Of course from Atatürk Airport on the European side you will get into the city in a very much shorter amount of time than from Sabiha Gökcen what usually lasts an hour but can take forever if there’s traffic. Now the best way to do so is with the shuttle bus Havataș called after the operating company. The busses wait right in front of the airport exits and are timed well. Board the busses head to Taksim square from where you will get easily to anywhere else. Don’t waste on taxi or private transfer unless you arrive on the hours at night where there’s no bus ( around 1 to 4 am).
Obtain yourself an Istanbul Kart right on your first day. Look out for the sign. The card itself costs a few TL, can be recharged at every station and you need only one card even if you’re more people. It’s not only valid for subway or busses but also any other public transport like the ferries.
Where to stay
This is where we stayed last time. Right next to the building you’ll find a really amazing bakery with wonderful smelling bread, a butcher and a Turkish super where you can get good produce. The feel of the quarter is that of an old movie. If you choose another place but in the same area just be careful not to book anything too close to Taksim square and read reviews beforehand. A review by me of the specific flat we rented is also found under the link above. I loved the big, airy rooms and its historic flair. The all white interior spoke very much to me. On the site its stated that it’s a place for 4 but you can easily fit up to six in.
Top choices for sightseeing: Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Palace, Hippodrome (don’t miss out strolling around the back alleys. Here from the Mehmed Pasha mosque through beautiful crumbling wood houses you can reach the leather vendors quarter), Cemberlitas and the Grand Bazaar. Honorary mention: drink a tea under the arches of the old aqueduct like a local.
Food: Balik Ekmek at the waterside of Eminönu (the term means fish ‘n bread though the days of locally sourced fish at this spot are long gone).
Sightseeing: Galata Tower
Shopping: Hammam towels and scarfs at Yakto Ipek
Shopping: all major high street brands
Food and refreshment: Shake Shack (fast food); The House Café; Kumpir; tea at Hazzo Pulo Pasaji.
Art: Misir Apartment
Drinks and Cocktails: 360° on the rooftop of Misir Apartment; Orient Bar Pera Palas, Lucca Style.
Sightseeing: Various embassy gates, Galatasaray, Church of St. Anthony
Cihangir + Cukurcuma
Art: Museum of Innocence
Shopping: lots of antique shops, second hand and Indie brands for clothing and interior
Coffee: Brew Lab, Müz, Meinl
Breakfast: Van Kahvaltasi (order Menemen with Sucuk, ask the waiter to let it cook through if you get easily ill on vacations though)
Lunch: Cukurcuma 99
Dinner & Drinks: Mellow; Cezahir
Wine: Solera Winery
Breakfast, lunch, dinner & coffee: Everything on Kılıç Ali Paşa Mescidi Sokak street (Baltazar for yummy and reasonable priced steaks); watch out for the Souq Karaköy food markets and bazars.
Dinner: Karaköy Lokantasi
Art + Sightseeing: Istanbul Modern; look out for the ottoman watchtower in the museum’s entry area
Nisantasi + Bebek
Shopping: Midnight Express Istanbul Concept Store in Bebek
Sightseeing: Rumeli Hisari
Coffee: Petra Topagaci (Nisantasi); Sold Abbasaga in Besiktas
Lunch: Soup and noodle dishes at Kaptasoupasta
Cocktails + Food: Moro Nisantasi
Party: Club Reyna (very posh though)
Sightseeing: Ortaköy mosque.
Popular place to hang around in the evening. Eat Kumpir and waffles there. Shop a little silver jewelry which is made in the workshops there.
Take a ferry to get there, for example from Eminönu.
Sightseeing: Haydarpasha Terminal
Coffee: Walter’s Coffee Roastery (very experimental and a must if you’re a fan of Breaking Bad)
Hangout: Moda Park
Food: Ziya Sofrasi
Also to be reached with the ferries. Take a nice old one where they serve tea and have wooden benches from Kabatas. Plan at least half a day to a day if you choose the most visit worthy island Büyükada and prepare for the stench of horse excrements.
Avoid the carriages and take the path to right. You will have a hike almost for your own with less smell but many cats accompanying. In the forest at the middle there is an awesomely spooky ruin of an Greek orphanage and at the end of the path the church of Aya Yorgi awaits you on top of a hill.
Food: Eat fresh fish and seafood at one of the seashore restaurants. They’re a little cheaper further away from the ferry landing.