The mighty Istanbul. Famous for straddling two continents, this city’s east-meets-west vibes have been attracting travellers for decades. The city can easily overwhelm the uninitiated, so we asked our local team of Istanbul tour guides to tell us what they would do with just 24 hours in Istanbul.
Enjoy breakfast on a hotel terrace (#localsknow tip: The And Hotel has incredible views!) then make your way to the Blue Mosque, preferably arriving between first and second prayer. Stroll past Topkapi and through the oasis of Gulhane Park to Eminonu, where you can catch the Turyol tourist ferry for spectacular views from the water.
From Eminonu, follow the tram tracks across the bridge. For a true local lunch go left at the end of the bridge into the fish market and choose the fish that you want cooked for you. If that’s not your thing, head through the old Jewish neighbourhood, past the grand French schools, until you hit the Modern Museum. Here you’ll find contemporary art and a secret café with sweeping views, delicious pasta dishes, and mouthwatering cheesecake. Next, check out Dolmabahce Palace for the ultimate in opulence — a true Sultan’s palace.
Stop for a nargile (water pipe) at a beanbag café in Tophane, or continue past the end of the Tramvay to the local’s favourite of Ortaköy. People watching and looking through the crafty markets are highlights here. Jump in a dolmus, a shared taxi, to Taksim to witness Istanbul’s modern face. Head to the Arasta Bazaar and check out the store called Jennifer’s Haman, which sells good-quality woven towels and other gorgeous fabrics.
By night, ride a ferry to the cosmopolitan neighbourhood of Kadikoy. Grab dinner at Çiya, where you can find authentic Turkish cuisine made from recipes that are hundreds of years old. Afterwards, head back to Taksim and step into Arif Bar for live rocking gypsy music with a modern twist. Enjoy an Efes beer or a glass or two of raki, the local spirit that’s always served with a plate of meze.
Alternately, you could hop on our Istanbul Night Tasting Trail tour, which shows you the local side of life as the sun goes down. Sip raki, sample street food, and grab a coffee at a backstreet cafe.
Byzantium, Constantinople, Stamboul, Istanbul… It may seem like this city has had a bit of an identity crisis, but when you’ve lived for 2,500 years, you’re bound to go through a few reincarnations. Yet, no matter what name this bi-continental city has taken, its ability to dazzle has remained the same. And while you’ll have no trouble finding plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, we recommend checking out the local scene with an Istanbul city tour.