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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
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

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee