The Perfect Day in Istanbul

Spend the day indulging your senses with experiences as diverse as this vast and wondrous city. Wake up early to wonder at the Christian and Islamic architecture then cross the Galata Bridge for modern art, a baklava break, and an indulgent soak at a hammam. Later, relax on a popular rooftop restaurant and hear the call to prayer echo throughout the city. Just one perfect day in Istanbul will leave you craving more.

Alemdar, Yerebatan Cd. 1/3, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
A city as ancient as Istanbul has many layers of history, and you’ll have to go below the surface to see the Basilica Cistern, the largest of the underground cisterns. Built in the sixth century for the Byzantine emperor Justinian, the atmospheric reservoir is supported by 336 columns, many of which have been repurposed from other ruins over the centuries. The Medusa-head column bases are a favorite to photograph, along with the carp that swim silently in the dimly lit waters. The cistern is located between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, and the best time to visit is simply whenever the line looks short, especially on a hot summer day—it’s always cooler underground.
Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi, Atmeydanı Cd. No:7, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Adorned with more than 20,000 blue handcrafted İznik tiles, stained-glass windows, and the golden brushstrokes of a 17th-century calligrapher, the Blue Mosque is the legacy of Sultan Ahmet I (1590–1617). The young sultan audaciously wished to outdo the builders of Hagia Sophia, commissioning six minarets to match the number at Mecca’s Sacred Mosque (which now has seven minarets as a result). Today, this magnificent mosque is a place of worship for thousands who visit from around the world.
Cankurtaran Mh., Akbıyık Cd. No:26, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
In the early 1990s, a Greek family refurbished a charming Ottoman home and opened Albura on the cobbled streets of Akbıyık Caddesi. The quality had locals and travelers flocking, making Albura one of the most popular restaurants in Sultanahmet. In 2009, Kathisma, a streetside terrace restaurant next-door, was added. The original family went on to sell the place to current owners Abuzer and Alp, who oversee the menu of succulent regional cuisine and tried-and-tested Ottoman favorites. The chef’s specials include jumbo shrimp in the wok and cevizli kuzu (lamb with walnuts). You can choose to dine inside the cozy Ottoman abode or on the elegant streetside terrace, open-air in summer and enclosed in winter. When the belly is full and the plates are cleared, wander to the back of the terrace and find the entrance to one of Istanbul’s best-kept secrets—the well-preserved Byzantine ruins of Magnaura Palace. Take your time to explore this 4th-century basilica-like structure that inspired the design of Moscow’s Kremlin Palace and Venice’s Basilica San Marco. Back in its heyday, the palace was decorated in gold and silver, providing a grand setting for Byzantine emperors to welcome dignitaries to Constantinople.
If these walls could talk they’d recite plans for military campaigns and tales of love, lust and betrayal that make this former residence and imperial seat of the Ottoman Empire so intriguing. Walk the dazzling tile-and-mosaic-lined corridors, see the jewels the sultans wore, the baths where they washed, the rooms where they entertained, the quarters that housed their concubines, and the kitchens that created feasts for 5,000 residents.
Beyazıt, Kalpakçılar Cd. No:22, 34126 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Soon after conquering Constantinople and defeating the Byzantines in 1453, Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II commissioned the beginnings of the Grand Bazaar to reinvigorate trade with the city. More than 550 years later, the bazaar is one of the oldest covered markets in the world, with a labyrinth of 61 streets connecting over 4,000 shops selling all manner of treasures and souvenirs, from jewelry to silk carpets. Make a beeline for Sivasli Istanbul Yazmacisi, whose quality textiles are popular with interior decorators. Looking for currency exchange shops? You’ll find the best rates in Istanbul here.
Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
There’s no cost attached to one of Istanbul’s most distinctive photo ops, and the only lines are from fishing poles. Cross the historic Golden Horn via the Galata Bridge, where fishermen from every walk of life jostle for space, and tourist restaurants line the lower level (stop in for a drink if you’d like, but the food tends to be overpriced and mediocre). Galata Bridge isn’t beloved for its architecture (fun fact: It is supposedly the bridge for which the card game is named), but rather its views: Topkapı Palace and several domes and minarets in the Old City on one side, and the Galata Tower on the other.
Asmalımescit Mahallesi, Meşrutiyet Caddesi No:99, 34430 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
A cultural hub for Turkish and international art, Istanbul Modern opened in 2004 as a permanent home for the contemporary Istanbul Biennial. The 8,000-square-foot warehouse sits along the Bosphorus next to the Golden Horn, a historically important port for thousands of years. The water views rival the exhibitions for your attention and appreciation, and the museum has an excellent restaurant and terrace to take advantage of the location. Back inside, the permanent collection shows contemporary and modern artists from Turkey, with rotating exhibitions of photography, design, and new media. The downstairs cinema has several screenings a week of films that complement exhibitions or feature distinctive work, often accompanied by panel discussions. The gift shop is one of the best places to buy unusual and beautiful souvenirs such as upcycled jewelry and kids’ coloring books of museum art.
Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa Mahallesi, Hamam Sk. No:1, 34425 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
Enjoying a hammam experience while traveling in Istanbul was at the top of my list, but it was hard to choose where to soak! After all, the ritual of Turkish bathing wasn’t one I was willing to just “leap” into; after stripping down to their bare essentials, bathers are soaked, washed and dried by same-sex attendants, typically in the sanctity of a mosque. But still, I didn’t want to pick just “anywhere” to get naked and clean. Luckily, I stumbled upon the refined, spotless, inspiring and simply gorgeous space at the Kilic Ali Pasa complex near the Istanbul Modern Museum. I couldn’t ask for a more swanky, special or amazing way to spend a relaxing afternoon, delving into Turkish tradition. When you’re pruny and happy, they have a beautiful boutique next door to purchase lovely souvenirs to take home. For hours, policies, and booking see the link below and ENJOY!
Tomtom Mah. İstiklal Cad. No: 181 K: 5-6, Tomtom Mahallesi, Merkez Han, 34433 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
Every day millions of people walk down Istanbul’s famous Istiklal Street unaware of the nearby terrace restaurants offering magnificent cuisine and divine views of the Bosphorus Strait—among them, Divan Brasserie Beyoğlu. Opened in 2014, the restaurant excels in plating timeless recipes with modern touches. Take a seat here for lunch or dinner and peruse a menu of regional dishes such as the Albanian-style liver and pan-seared lamb served in eggplant puree along with gourmet pizzas, beef burgers, and seafood dishes. Istanbullus (Istanbul residents) will say you haven’t dined in Istanbul until you’ve dined at a rooftop terrace overlooking the city. Do them proud at Divan Brasserie Beyoğlu. To find it, look for Koć University on Istiklal Caddesi and follow the discrete signage and let the glass elevator take you the rest of the way.
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