48 Hours In Istanbul | The Weekender
If you’re looking for an epic, all-encompassing, unsurpassable guide to Istanbul…
…this definitely isn’t it.
However, if you’ve got a limited forty-eight hours in the country and want to know the absolute best things to do with your time, you might want to take a look at the below. From the most crucial sights to recommendations for places to stay, eat and drink; this is your ultimate micro-guide to Istanbul.
Credit: Jorge Lascar/Flickr
Whilst you’ve got both the energy and camera space, we’d recommend heading straight to the sights. Istanbul boasts The Blue Mosque (a majestic Ottoman-style building famous for its hand-painted blue tiled walls and six minarets), Hagia Sophia (the world’s largest cathedral for over a thousand years), and Basilica Cistern (a huge subterranean structure made up of 336 salvaged columns known locally as the ’sunken palace’). They’re all must-sees and conveniently located within walking distance of each other in the old district. They get busy though so you’ll probably want to go early, but not before a full Turkish breakfast (eggs, olives, mixed cheeses, salad, and bread) at local hotspot Van Kahvalti Evi.
Soho House Istanbul
We’d recommend staying in Beyoglu or Karaköy. They’re both pretty cool neighbourhoods with a lot going on. Plus, they both offer great hotel options like Soho House Istanbul and Vault Karaköy, (both of which also make Van Kahvalti Evi walkable), before a quick skip over the bridge to sight-snap.
Next, head to the Grand Bazaar. It’s one of the biggest and oldest covered bazaars in the world, packing in over 4,000 shops selling everything from mosaic lamps, silk cushions, and Turkish tea sets to fake designer bags and sunglasses cheap enough to risk sitting on. There’s also the Spice Bazaar which is just around the corner. Here you’ll find huge pyramids of bright, beautiful, delicious-smelling spices, as well as stalls stacked full of dried fruit and traditional Turkish treats like Baklava and of course Turkish Delight to snack on.
Don’t get too carried away though; Istanbul is heaving with great places to eat and you only have two days – so stopping for lunch is essential. We’d recommend heading back over the bridge to Ali Ocakbaşı. It’s a little local place, a touch hidden, but both the food and views of the port are amazing. You can feast on a selection of freshly baked flatbreads, grilled meats, vegetable dips, and salad – all reasonably priced – whilst pawing back through your plunder.
AFTERNOON & EVENING
After a hectic morning why not ease off for the afternoon? You’re back in Karaköy, which means you’re ideally placed to take a meandering stroll through some backstreets where you’re guaranteed to stumble across a number of quirky boutiques. If you’re keen for some direction, Atölye 11, Mae Zae, Lab: Istanbul, and Kagıthane houseofpaper are all worth a look-in before heading back to your hotel for the obligatory holiday-evening-outfit-change, aperitif in hand of-course.
5 Cocktails and More
There are plenty of places to choose from for a second cocktail. Alex’s Bar and 5 Cocktails And More come top of the list; then jump in a cab, because you’re going to Banyan to dinner. Located in Ortaköy – a little neighbourhood on the banks of the Bosphorus – you’ll find it on the top floor of a very tall building. It’s a pretty impressive place, lined entirely by floor-to-ceiling glass walls, which they open fully when the weather is warm. A little breeze and you feel like you’re on the stern of a ship, looking out at panoramic views of the city. The menu pulls from all over Asia, meaning you can chow down on plates like Prawn Tempura with honey-chilli aioli, and mini beef satay with peanut sauce, all washed down by a lengthy cocktail and wine list. Then head outside for an ice-cream cone, and a walk around the local market stalls and mosque lit up in gold.
No trip to Istanbul would be complete without visiting a traditional hamam (Turkish Bath) for a full-body scrub down, and Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı in Karaköy do an excellent job. Having chosen your treatment you’ll be invited to change and then relax with a glass of sherbet (sweet fruit juice) before being met by your nadir (guide) and lead into the treatment rooms. We’ll leave the ins and out of the hamam as a surprise, but in short, intense, beautiful, blush-inducing, relaxing, and revitalising are all words that come to mind. At one point during your treatment you’ll be invited by your nadir to lie down on the göbek taşı (a hexagonal bed of heated marble) and relax under a huge star-covered dome; where stars have been cut out from the stone through which the sun now beams through.
Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı
Once you’re done and dressed again, head next door for brunch at Naif. It’s a quaint little place serving light, fresh, sharing dishes like mixed tomato salad, Turkish cheese with honey, tabbouleh with pomegranate sauce, and grilled meatballs with haricot beans. Perfect fuel for…
AFTERNOON & EVENING
Istanbul is currently one of the cultural hotspots in Europe; something the considerable art scene can attest. As well as the Istanbul Modern, Arter and Pera Museum are also great galleries worth visiting, covering a range of disciplines from multi-media contemporary art to modernist paintings; photojournalism; and antique engravings. And whatever you’d describe this as.
Now fully au fait with the Turkish art world, take a stroll down the bustling İstiklâl Caddesi – a long pedestrian boulevard lined with beautiful buildings hailing from pretty much every major architectural period. You can easily pass a few hours here exploring the vast Turkish sweet shops and tea rooms; independent bookshops; and grand theatres. You’ll also spot the clowning ice cream vendors, dressed up in traditional garb and pulling all sorts of hilarious ice-cream based japery on unsuspecting punters.
It’s unlikely you’ll get too full of the stuff since they’ll keep taking it off you, but on the off-chance you do manage to actually eat some, make sure you save enough space for one last blow-out dinner. Consider Yeni Lokanta; a stylish eatery where traditional dishes are given a modern twist – earning it a spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants as a result – or Duble Meze, which presumably gets its name from the amount of portions you’ll be ordering. In this restaurant with a view, dishes range from fresh seabass sashimi to whipped fava beans and grilled aubergine with basil pesto…
…all of which will go down almost as nicely as the sun does.
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