Istanbul is a multi-faceted city with new and old culture stuffed into every pocket of every back alley. There seem to be just as many cafés packed with hipsters as there are mosques and tourist hawkers. It's worth mapping out a game plan. If you want to buy carpets, it's worth reading up about Soumak and Hereke. If you want to eat well, it's worth making reservations. It's worth reading Orhan Pamuk's novel, The Museum Of Innocence. If you have five-ish days in Istanbul, here's how to do it.
Stay at SOHO HOUSE ISTANBUL. Opened in the summer by combining the former US Consulate building, an antiquated palace, and a newly built modern structure, it's a microcosm of the city itself.
When you arrive in the afternoon on your first day, go straight to a hammam to refresh.
Go HERE: Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami
It's a modern hammam and will be the cleanest and nicest one that you visit. The ritual should take about 90 minutes, including chill time. Women's hours end at 4p and men's hours start up then so depending on when you arrive, either send you or your spouse to the hammam at the hotel. You need a reservation for this place so ask the hotel to book for you before you arrive to the country.
For dinner that evening, go to MIKLA. It's a quick walk from Soho House. Enjoy the view, which is nearly 360. And enjoy the food, which is upscale nouveau by a Turkish celeb chef. If you thought this was only about kabobs, then you may as well overpay for a machine made carpet and stick to the Old City.
Make it an early night; take ambien and go to sleep. Force the adjustment - there's a lot to do tomorrow.
On your first full day, see all of the major sites in the Old City. Start early.
- Blue Mosque
- Hagia Sophia
- Basilica Cistern
Read the wikipedia articles first and skip the guides.
Then go to another hammam for a little breather around 4p. Go HERE: Cagaloglu Hamami
It's opened to men and women simultaneously though separately. It's the most impressive of the hammams, architecturally.
In the morning, walk to the Museum of Innocence in Cukucurma and check it out. It's the museum version of Orhan Pamuk's book by the same name.
Wander that neighborhood and down through Cihangir. Shop and plan to have tea/coffee in any one of the many hip cafés. Journey is cool; there are many more that are hidden and cool, too. Get clothes made at Civan (men only).
End up at the Istanbul Modern. Enjoy the amazing collection.
Wash up at the hotel (use the hammam at the Cowshed) and head to dinner at Zubeyir Ocakbasi. It's down and dirty as far as ambiance goes but the food is top notch. Don't miss the lamb ribs and lamb steak. Don't miss the mountain salad.
Head to Babek in the morning via taxi to walk on the promenade and have coffee.
Take a boat down the Bosphourous to Eminou; from there, take a ferry to Kadikoy which is the part of Istanbul on the Asian continent.
Do more wandering, having coffee, and shopping. It's the Bushwick of Istanbul.
Head back via ferry in the late afternoon.
Check out the Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian market for spices and tchotchkes, and expensive antiques.
Eat dinner at Munferit back in Beyoglu. It's mellow/tapas nouveau Turkish but gets crowded as a bar scene as well.
Cab to Nisantasi to walk around a posh neighborhood with international shopping -- think the Fifth Ave of the East, replete with Louboutin, Chanel, et al.
Have lunch at Delicatessen.
Get back to the hotel in time for a late check out.