24 Hours In: Istanbul

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The Independent Travel

Scratch the surface of modern Constantinople and you'll find layer upon layer of history. Plus there's great food, bazaars, and hi-tech hotels to relish

Caviar, muffins and gunboats

Enjoy Russian caviar and a glass of fizz for breakfast on the terrace of the Ciragan Palace Kempinski, at 84 Ciragan Caddesi, Besiktas (00 90 212 258 3377; kempinski.com). The Ciragan is luxury on an Ottoman scale, one of a number of 19th-century marble palaces looking across the Bosphorus into Asia, with the largest breakfast buffet in either continent. There is something surreal about eating sushi and muffins while huge oil tankers and rust-stained Russian gunboats manoeuvre up and down the strait. Double rooms from $255 (£145) per night, breakfast $32 (£18) per person.

Swinging times in a coffee house

Hey, you just got up from breakfast, but it's time to sit down again. The Turkish passion for coffee died a death during the First World War when prices went through the roof, but Istanbul still has some great coffee houses and the tradition of finding the best place for a cup is kept alive mostly by tourists these days. Take a book to either the Pierre Loti Café, at Gümüssuyu Balmumcu Sik 1, Eyüp, for some genuine 19th-century atmosphere, or to The Pudding Shoppe, at 6 Divanyolu, Sultanahmet, where Billy Hayes made the deal that landed him a 30-year jail sentence in Midnight Express. Sammy Suleyman, the grey-haired swinger in charge in the 1970s, is usually on hand to regale you with stories of Istanbul's hippy heyday.

Take a trip to a palace harem

At some point, you must visit the Topkapi Palace, Babihumayun Cadessi (00 90 212 512 0480), so why not lunch there? After a leisurely stroll around its gracious courtyards and the crowded harem, queue up for the state-run Konyali restaurant, Topkapy Sarayy Muzesi, Sultanahmet (00 90 212 513 9696) in Mehmet the Conqueror's garden courtyard. Good food and great views: down below, queue up to sail along the Bosphorus, while on the opposite shore you can't miss the Selimiye barracks where Florence Nightingale nursed the wounded during the Crimean War. Expect to pay £20 per head for three courses.

Shop and ward off the evil eye

The Grand Bazaar, at Carsikapi Cadessi, contains more than 4,000 shops within its labyrinth of brick tunnels that have been here since the 15th century. It's like discovering a whole other Istanbul with its own post office, banks, police station and mosque. In From Russia With Love, the secret headquarters of James Bond's ally, Kerim Bey, were housed behind a shop in the Bazaar. In reality it's an ideal place to browse for Evil Eye pendants, pashminas, silk scarves, leather goods, carpets, gold and silver.

A taste of Eastern promise

Istanbul is also the ideal place to buy Turkish Delight, known as lokum. Head for Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir (00 90 212 522 0666) in Eminönü, where it was invented in the 19th century as a delicacy for the sultan. You'll be amazed how many flavours there are these days. If you want some mint tea to drink with your purchases, walk over to Sirkeci Station, virtually unchanged since it was built as a terminus for the Orient Express. There's a spacious antiquated café on the platform, decorated with photos from the days when wealthy Europeans steamed into Istanbul.

A quiet moment at the mosque

Haigha Sophia on Ayasofya Meydan, Sultanahmet (00 90 212 522 1750) and the Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet Meydani (00 90 212 518 1319), are two of the most stunning religious buildings in the world and they just happen to be within strolling distance of each other. Non-Muslim visitors are welcome in the Blue Mosque as long as they observe the rule about removing shoes. Haigha Sophia is now a religious museum.

Book early for a towering time

Cross the Golden Horn by taxi to drink Gordon's and tonic (avoid the local gin) in the bar of the Pera Palas, at 98-100 Mesrutiyet Cadessi, Tepebasi (00 90 212 251 4560). Then, providing you've booked ahead, take the boat out to Kiz Kulezi (00 90 216 342 4747; kizkulesi.com.tr) for the meal of a lifetime. This romantic tower in the middle of the Bosphorus featured in another Bond film, The World Is Not Enough. It was built in the 18th century as a lighthouse and opened in 2000 as a restaurant. Boats leave the European side at 7pm and return at 11.30pm and 1215am. Expect to pay £35 per person for three courses with wine.

Vamp it up at cocktail hour

5 kat, at 7 Sogancz Sok, Cihangir (00 90 212 293 3774; 5kat.com), is the famous fifth-floor bar frequented by vamps, tramps, barflys and "resting" actors. Presided over by the flame-haired Yasemin Alkaya, the "Fifth" has leopard-skin sofas, blood-red drapes and a very long bar. Cocktails are as over the top as the décor and there is a great view of late-night Istanbul.