48 Hours: Istanbul

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

As the summer heat subsides, Turkey's premier city buzzes with a host of autumn events.

Click here for 48 Hours in Istanbul map

Travel essentials

Why go now?

Seven hills, four bodies of water and two continents meet in this sprawling maritime city, which mixes historic mosques and markets with rooftop bars for a city break with depth and dimension. As autumn falls, Turkey's premier metropolis shakes off the heat of high summer with a season of festivals: starting with film (Filmekimi; 8-15 October; filmekimi.iksv.org), moving on to music (Akbank Jazz; 13-23 October; akbanksanat.com), and culminating in the celebration of Republic Day on 29 October, when a light display and fireworks will illuminate the Bosphorus Bridge (1).

Touch down

On arrival, British travellers must pay £10 (in cash) for a visa. Istanbul's main airport, Ataturk, is 20km west of the centre on the European side. It is served by Turkish Airlines (020-7471 6666; turkishairlines.com) from Birmingham, Heathrow and Manchester; and British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) from Heathrow. A train/tram combo gets you quickly and cheaply into town. Follow signs for the Hafif Metro; buy a 2 lira (YTL2/0.70p) token and take the train to Zeytinburnu station. Transfer to the tram bound for Kabatas (different token, same price) which heads first to Sultanahmet, before crossing to the newer parts of town.

The city's second airport, Sabiha Gokcen, is 50km west of the centre, across the Bosphorus on the Asian shore. Pegasus (0845 0848 980; flypgs.com) flies here from Stansted, as does easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com) from Luton and Gatwick. An airport bus (00 90 212 518 03 54; istanbulairportshuttle.com) travels to central hotels for €10, or less for groups of four or more.

Get your bearings

Istanbul is loosely divided into three. In the southern part of the European side, Sultanahmet marks the hub of the old town. Encircled by fortified walls, this area cradles a triumvirate of architectural jewels: the russet-hued beauty of Hagia Sophia (2); the Blue

Mosque (3) with its six minarets; and the expansive hilltop pile of Topkapi Palace (4).

Moving clockwise towards the north, the Golden Horn estuary bisects the older part of the European side, from the more modern section of bars, bistros and shopping precincts stretching from Galata Bridge (5) into the Beyoglu area, and up towards the main Taksim Square (6).

Finally, to the east: the Bosphorus Strait cuts its path between Europe and the Asian bank, linking at its northernmost limit the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara to the south.

Check in

For close proximity to the sights of Sultanahmet, the Hotel Amira (7) at Mustafa Pasa 79 (00 90 212 516 16 40; hotelamira.com) has suitably opulent rooms dressed in red and gold hues, with a roof terrace overlooking the Sea of Marmara. Doubles from €99, with breakfast.

In Beyoglu, the Pera Palace Hotel (8) (00 90 212 377 40 00; perapalace.com), is a grande dame with a revived spring in her step. First opened in 1892 in the twilight years of the Ottoman Empire to serve European passengers of the Orient Express train, the hotel has recently been restored to its former glory after a £20m renovation. Doubles from €200, room only.

High style is also evident at the new Istanbul Edition (9) (00 90 212 317 77 00; editionhotels.com), which opened in the business district of Levent, in April. It boasts a restaurant by Cipriani, a nightclub and doubles from €305, with breakfast.

Day one

Window shopping

The Spice Market (10) is an excellent place to plunge into the frenzy of colour and commerce that comprises Istanbul. Your senses will be assailed by an atmospheric array of piled powders, colourful cubes of lokum (Turkish delight) and even "Sultan's Aphrodisiac" for the more adventurous; 9am-7pm daily.

Take a hike

Start at the Eminonu ferry port (11), the main maritime intersection for boats across the Bosphorus. The hub is dominated by the Yeni Camii (12), an Ottoman imperial mosque built in 1597 with two elegant minarets. Cross Galata Bridge (5), with rows of fishermen casting their lines. Head north along Yuksek Kaldirim, with the handsome medieval spire of the Galata Tower (13) as your target (00 90 212 293 8180; galatatower.net; 9am-8pm daily; YTL11/£4). First erected in 528 by Emperor Justinian, before being rebuilt by the Genoese in 1348, this stone beacon stands 61 metres above ground, with exceptional views from its narrow platform at the top.

Continue north to Istiklal Caddesi. This pedestrianised artery is the epitome of modern Istanbul: international chains, smart restaurants and a maze of side-streets, known as the Beyoglu passages, offering a traditional contrast. One of the most notable is found through the iron gate labelled "Balik Pazari" (fish market) (14) where you can finish the walk amid iced displays of whole turbot, while watching hawkers fry calamari on street-side stalls.

Lunch on the run

The final right-hand street at the end of Istiklal is the location for Haci Baba (15), hidden behind a modest door at number 39 (00 90 212 244 1886; hacibabarest.com; noon-midnight daily). Here, an Iskender kebab – lamb on a bed of flatbread, with tomato and yogurt sauce – costs YTL22 (£8). There's also a peaceful terrace with views of the Greek Orthodox church, Aya Triada.

Take a ride

... to Asia. Hop aboard the Bosphorus Cruise (sehirhatlari.com.tr; YTL25/£9) which departs daily from Eminonu (11) at 1.35pm and takes you nearly the full length of the waterway: past shore-side mansions and enviable summer homes, underneath two soaring bridges, before the banks pull away to meet the mouth of the Black Sea. If you don't have time for the full half-day tour, dozens of ferries cross to Asia for YTL2 (£0.70).

An aperitif

The jewel in the Eresin Crown (16), on Kucuk Ayasofya 40 (00 90 212 638 44 28; eresin.com.tr), is its impressive rooftop bar overlooking the Sea of Marmara. This boutique hotel welcomes non-guests daily between 10am-midnight and serves traditional raki cocktails for YTL15 (£5).

Dining with the locals

By nightfall, Akbiyik Avenue buzzes with meyhanes (traditional Turkish restaurants) and becomes one of Sultanahmet's busiest thoroughfares. Albura Kathisma (17) at number 26 (00 90 212 517 90 31; alburakathisma.com) dishes up tender kebabs with tomatoes and flatbread for YTL23 (£8). What sets this venue apart though, is what lies beneath. Ask the waiters, and they will lead you through a maze of dimly lit vaults and dank underground tunnels which formed part of the Magnaura (senate building) during the Byzantine era.

Day two

Sunday morning: go to church

The Blue Mosque (3) – so called for the coloured tiles adorning its interior – was built in 1609 for the teenage Sultan Ahmet I. It provoked resistance due to its six minarets, deemed to rival those of Mecca – the only other place to have as many at the time. Inside, the Iznik mosaics ornamenting its domed cupola are beguiling. The mosque is closed five times during the day for prayer. In the morning, the longest window is between 7am and 12.30pm; free. Female visitors must cover their heads and shoulders; men should wear trousers.

A walk in the park

Gulhane park (18) is a tranquil green park on the edge of Sultanahmet, with shaded lawns and views of the Bosphorus. On the left is Hagia Eirene church (19). Next, the Archaeology Museum (20), with a collection of terracotta artefacts, Ottoman coins and ancient tombs (00 90 212 527 27 00; istanbularkeoloji.gov.tr; 9am-5pm, except Monday; YTL10/£3.50).

At the northern edge is Topkapi Palace (4) (00 90 212 512 0480; topkapipalace.com), built at the top of the ancient acropolis in 1459 as a retreat for the Sultans. It holds three open courtyards, surrounded by exhibition rooms, containing bejewelled robes, encrusted chests and elaborate gifts bestowed on the Ottoman rulers by visiting dignitaries (YTL20/£7). Inside, buy a ticket for the Harem section (YTL15/£5), which allows you to roam through the cool tiled rooms where successive Sultans housed their wives and mistresses. Open 9am-5pm daily except Tuesday.

Out to brunch

Turkish meze is on offer at the Balikci Sabahattin (21) on Cankurtaran Caddesi (00 90 212 458 18 24; balikcisabahattin.com), near the Blue Mosque (3). Here, trays of octopus salad and marinated seabass are served within a crumbling courtyard for around YTL10 per dish (£3.50). Open daily from noon.

Cultural afternoon

Head underground to the Basilica Cistern (22) or "Sunken Palace" (00 90 212 522 12 59; yerebatan.com), near Sultanahmet Square. This impressive system of subterranean aqueducts was built in 532 to service the water requirements of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and his people. It boasts 336 marble columns, enhanced today by modern lighting (open daily 9am-6.30pm; YTL10/£3.50).

Emerge and make your way to Hagia Sophia (2): one of the oldest extant symbols of the Byzantine period, dating back to the sixth century. Built as a church and transformed into a mosque a millennium later, it has served as a bastion for two of the world's leading religions, and now displays a mix of Christian murals and Islamic calligraphy across its soaring dome and upper galleries. Open daily 9am-7pm; YTL20 (£7).

The icing on the cake

Take the tram north to Kabatas, which stops near to Dolmabahce Palace (23) (00 90 212 327 26 26; dolmabahcepalace.com). This 19th-century mansion was the residence of choice for Sultans of the late-Ottoman period after they stopped living in Topkapi. Visitors must take guided tours around its two main sections, the Harem and palace (YTL20/£7; 9am-4.30pm; closed Mon/Thur).

After General Ataturk, the founding father of the Turkish Republic, exiled the last Sultans, he used this as his base in Istanbul. He died here in Room 71 on 10 November 1938 at 9.05am: all the clocks are stopped in remembrance.

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
news
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Sport
SPORT
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick