With so much to see and eat in Istanbul, I was lucky to spend a full week there, but still only touched the surface! The dollar is strong, so why not stay at the Soho House? You don’t have to be a member. Right across the street, the old US embassy is now a swinging club with a great hammam. Don't pass a hammam by - they’re in every corner of the city, and they're the perfect way to end the day, lost in steam and marble chambers.
I like to jump between old and new. After a lot of dusty mosques, it’s fun to visit the modern art museum, which has a great collection, and a lovely spot for lunch on a terrace right on the Bosporus. The Pera Art Museum is another small gem of a place focused on Orientalism in 19th century art and some great temporary exhibitions.
Save at least one day for Sultanahmet and the bazaar quarter. Walk across Galatea bridge past hundreds of men fishing. Some of my favorite museums on that side are the Museum of Calligraphy, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, The Mosaic Museum and, of course, Topkapi palace. Some of my favorite mosques are Mehmet mosque, built by Sinan, and Rustem Pasha mosque because of the Iznik ceramic tiles. In the 15th century, the town of Iznik began producing bowls, jars and tiles in brilliant blue and white. Cobalt blue is my favorite - keep an eye out for them in the mosques.
After you see the greatest hits, it’s time to get on a boat and head to other parts to get a real feel for modern day Istanbul. One day I went to Uskudar to see the fish market and try one of the pleasant fish restaurants. As you get off the boat, there’s a great view of the Antik mosque and the Cinili Cami mosque. After lunch, a few streets over are antique shops, a bit more down and out than Beyoglu, but I found some fun ceramics.
Another day, I took a boat to the Fener and Balat neighborhoods, cute cobblestone streets lined with antique shops, ceramics studios and lots of hipsterish cafes to while away the afternoon. Also lots of local restaurants serving excellent food for pennies.
Of course you’ll want to return to Beyoglu and wander its more overpriced antiques for the full Aladdin cave effect. I also found a glass gallery, Glasst, selling local made glass art. Keep your eyes peeled as there are some great artists’ studios down steps and around corners.
A friend also recommended Fatih. Another ferry took me there and I hiked up to a large Syrian market where my pal bought ostrich ointments, olive soaps and pomegranate syrup. Right around the corner is an amazing mosque at the top of the hill—-not to be missed.
Istanbul never seems to end and that is the joy of this layered city: you can keep discovering, eating and Mosque-hopping to your hearts content.
Asmali Cavti, A restaurant in Beyoglu
Grand Hotel du Londres - Old school charm, a perfect martini, and a grey parrot that says "Merhaba" (Good day).
Keto and Kote, restaurant
Zubeyir, A restaurant in Beyoglu
Payidar, A restaurant in Galata
Tombak Antika, An antique shop in Beyoglu
Glasst, Glass studio