We travelled to Istanbul in June 2012 and spent 5 days in the city. We got sick of eating kebabs after 5 days, no matter how mouth-watering good they are.
Here are some tips on visiting the city –
1) Traffic is very very bad. Try taking the tram if you can. It goes to all the tourist attraction in Sultanahmet. Fast and cheap.
2) The queues can get very long so start early. Our hotel concierge made ticket reservations for the Domabache Palace, so u can skip the queue(easily an hour). Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia had long queues as well so start early to avoid that. We had a good seafood 5min walk from the Blue Mosque, Balikci Sabahattin.
3) You might miss this attraction but I really liked it. Yerebatan Sarnici (diagonally to the right of Hagia Sophia) is an underground basillica- something different after you have been seeing mosque all day. It’s a small attraction, don’t go if short of time.
4) If u r planning to buy some spice back from the spice bazaar, bring some zip lock bags… It’ll stink up ur luggage otherwise
5) Istiklal Caddesi is a pedestrian street kind of like Oxford Street… No special shops. Opposite the Lycee(school), Cicek Pasaji (flower passage) is a street full of traditional turkish meze restaurants. On another side street along Istiklal Caddesi, we tried Haci Abdullah which was quite good. There is also a good rooftop bar Mikla at Marmara Pera Hotel where u can go for sunset drinks with amazing views of the city.
6) Kitchenette and The House cafe are two joints similar to PSCafe style, trendy nice place with ok food.
7) Reina is a popular nightclub/restaurant. It is like an open space with 6 restaurants together with the club in the middle. If you intend to go, remember to get the concierge to book ahead for you. We went on a tuesday and they sized us up and almost didn’t let us in!
8) Turkish Delight – Hafiz Mustafa Sekerlemeleri a traditional shop that sells many different kinds and lets you try as much as you want. The packaging is very nice and was good for presents. We avoided the cheaper pre-packed ones sold at the bazaars.
1) Rumeli Café
Ticarethane Sokak 8, Sultanahmet (first real right sidestreet of the main street with the tram when coming from Sultanahmet Square)
Turkish food, great place to people watch
2) Balikci Sabahattin
Seyit Hasan Koyu Sokak 1, Cankurtaran, Sultanahmet
Seafood restaurant – reasonably priced grilled fish and mezza.
3) Hafiz Mustafa Sekerlemeleri
Hamidiye Caddesi 84-86, Eminonu
Beyoglu (all 3 are walking distance from Istiklal Caddesi)
Marmara Pera Hotel, Mesrutiyet Caddesi 15, Tepebasi
Roof top bar. Best views of the city, go just before sunset for a few drinks.
5) Haci Abdullah
Sakizagaci Caddesi 9a
Traditional Turkish. You get to see the food before ordering, wide selection of traditional favourites
6) Istanbul Culinary Institute
Mesrutiyet Caddesi 59, Tepebasi
Modern European. This is a good break, when you are sick of Turkish food.
Where we stayed:
Ciragan Palace Kempinski
The hotel comprises of a former Ottoman palace(suites only) and a new modern block(standard rooms). The pool and restaurant has beautiful view of the Bosporus. It is far from all the tourist attractions, so we ended up taking taxis and getting caught in the traffic which was very heavy at times. I suggest taking the taxi to the tram station and then taking the tram to Sultanahmet.