Welcome to Istanbul. Nb, before I start, you’re going to want to spend more than 24 hours here.
In order to get the most out of the city; both old, new, European and Asian, I’d suggest at least two to three days. We did five and were sad to leave. Here’s how to spend one spectacular one.
10 am – Coffee
Start the day in Beyoglu with coffee. If it’s the best Turkish coffee you want, go to Mandabatmaz. If you need an espresso, then go to KronotRop. (Read about the best coffees in Istanbul here)
11 am- Grand Bazaar
Walk down the hills of Beyoglu to Tophane tram station. Buy a token and catch the tram over the Bosphorus and get off at Sultanhamet. Walk to the Grand Bazaar and wander around, looking at the leather and the ceramics. Take note of the humorous mannequins. Do not buy a carpet. Unless you really, really need or want one.
12.30 pm – Dumpling lunch
Before you gorge yourself on kebabs, soggy hamburgers (yes, they’re a thing here) and more baklava than you should, try some of the Uighur food, from Turkmenistan and central Asia. What you’ve really come for are the dumplings, with yogurt sauce and chilli. Manti as they’re known are like fat northern Chinese dumplings.
Mihman Orta Aysa Sofrasi is a grand place to come for lunch, within walking distance from the Grand Bazaar. Sit in the clean tiled and gold accented interior (that’s also air conditioned in summer). Sip some gentle green tea (they don’t serve alcohol here) and pick at the complimentary plate of roasted almonds and muscatel grapes.
Look out over the Sehzade Mehmet Mosque. Eat a platter, or two or three of boiled beef manti. Don’t be shy with either the cooling yogurt, or the zippy chilli relish. Pat yourself on the back for having a delicious and very cheap lunch (10 manti dumplings for 9 TL)
Mihman Orta Aysa Sofrasi
Kemal Paşa mah. Gençtürk cd. no:65 Fatih, Istanbul
2 pm – Sight seeing
Catch the tram back down to Sultanhamet and see one or more of the must see historical sights; the Aya Sofia, Blue Mosque or Topkapi Palace.
6pm – sunset drink at a roof terrace
Two options for roof terrace; one is in Sultanhamet with a view over the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque, the other is over in Beyoglu, with a view over to the Asian side. One is outside, the other is sheltered (which means even if it’s raining, you can still have a drink with a view).
Option 1) Seven Hills Seafood Restaurant Terrace
Watching the sunset from this roof terrace in Sultanhamet is spectacular option, because it should also coincide with the call to prayer. Hearing the calls to prayer canon back against each other while you watch the sky streak pink over domed roofs of palaces, mosques and hamams is spine tingling stuff. It’s probably the reason you came to Istanbul.
The terrace at the Seven Hills Hotel is higher than most and looks down over the Four Seasons Hotel. There are two levels. You want to go upstairs to the roof. There are blankets if it’s cold. The waitstaff are in white tuxedo jackets, which is a novelty. I wouldn’t order dinner (it’s not bad, it’s just you can do better). Instead order a few mezze and nurse an Efes beer or glass of wine.
Seven Hills Seafood Restaurant Roof Terrace
Tevkifhane Sokak No:8 – 34122
Option 2 – Leb -i- Deyra, Beyoglu
There are three outposts of the Leb -i -Deyra restaurants, just to make things confusing. The Kumbaracı yokuşu outpost, just 100 m down the hill from Istiklal Caddesi shopping boulevard is my suggestion. Take the stairs and the lift up to the seventh floor. There you’ll find a modern room with huge looming windows, a Buddha Bar style soundtrack, cocktails and Paris style prices ( in fact, they’re even listed in Euro, not Lira). It’s a sophisticated place for a great drink.
It’s also open for brunch on the weekends and from 4pm – 2 -3 am during the week. Coffee at brunch is good, though curiously comes with a mint liqueur chaser- which is a little like drinking mouthwash after a coffee.
The rose petal jam is delightful. The Bosphorus feast is a terrifying amount of cheese, with one fried egg and some cured meats and salad (you’ve been warned). The omelettes are sound, but also heavy on the cheese.
Kumbaracı Yokuşu, Kumbaracı İş Hanı, No: 57/6 Tünel, Beyoğlu İstanbul
+90 (0) 212 293 4989
8 pm – Dinner at Zubeyir Ocakbasi
If you’re wanting great grilled meats, spectacular salads and mezze, a drink (whether beer, raki or wine) and a buzzing atmosphere, Zubeyir Ocakbasi is where you want to go for dinner. It’s a historic terrace on a side street near the main shopping boulevard of Istikal Caddesi, not too far from Taksim Square. The food is grilled over coals, right in the centre of the downstairs dining room. It’s busy at night, so you’ll need to book. This is what you don’t want to miss.
The roasted and aubergine ‘special salad’; a spectacular combination of tomatoes, onion, parsley and pomegranate molasseses.
The liver, seasoned with sumac and grilled in skewers, the lamb ribs and the spicy kebab. Watch out, those blistered chillis that come on the side are blazingly hot.
For dessert, the bread kenafeh with clotted kaymak cream and sugar syrup is heavenly sweet and just the thing to ground you if you’ve had one too many glasses of raki.
Nb, it’s also open for lunch and is much quieter.
Bekar Sokak 28, Beyoglu
Ph: +90 212 293 3951
If you’re in Istanbul, you might want to go to a hammam. Cemberlitas Hammami is the oldest and most beautiful. Read here to find out if a hamam in Istanbul is for you ( it might not be everyone’s cup of tea).