Travel review: A long weekend in Istanbul

PUBLISHED: 12:23 25 May 2019 | UPDATED: 12:23 25 May 2019

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul.Picture: Sabrina Johnson

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul.Picture: Sabrina Johnson


A melting pot of history, religion and cultures, tell anyone you’re visiting Istanbul and you’ll most likely be met with collective ‘ooos’ and ‘ahhs’ of those who have always wanted to go and haven’t made it yet or previous visitors who long to return.

Discover Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. Picture: Sabrina JohnsonDiscover Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. Picture: Sabrina Johnson

If visiting Istanbul for the first time, a great place to start is the city's architectural sights, wonder at the impressive Blue Mosque and take the time to learn the many different roles the Haghia Sophia has played over the centuries while marvelling at the building's sheer size.

Then head below ground to see the city's so-called sunken palace The Basicilica Cistern, a subterranean structure built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian which once held 100,000 tons of water.

After a morning of sight-seeing head to the Egyptian Bazar where, located just inside the entrance to the covered market you'll find a stairway leading to Pandeli, one of Istanbul's most iconic restaurants.

An old haunt of famous faces, Hollywood starlets and royalty, the city institution offers fantastic traditional Turkish food, in authentic surroundings.

Anitques shops in Istanbul. Picture: Sabrina JohnsonAnitques shops in Istanbul. Picture: Sabrina Johnson

Be sure to try the menu's offering of hot and cold starters and the traditional and somewhat surprising desserts, chicken breast milk pudding anyone?

Serving food until 6pm -to coincide with the hours of the spice market- Pandeli is best for lunch and to avoid disappointment book a day or two in advance.

If the Egyptian Bazar has fuelled your appetite for shopping, after you've filled up traditional delicacies at Pandeli head to Istanbul's first and foremost shopping destination, The Grand Bazar.

A maze of more than 4,000 shops and seen by many as the economic hub of the city you can pick up anything from tourist knick-knacks to silk pashminas, hand woven rugs, jewellery and more.

The spice market, Istanbul. Picture: Sabrina JohnsonThe spice market, Istanbul. Picture: Sabrina Johnson

Whether looking for something specific or simply exploring the walk-ways you could spend a lot of time and money wandering the covered walkaways, so it's best to leave a yourself a few hours to explore.

If you do find something you like, be prepared to haggle (10% - 20% is normal) and you may get a better deal if paying in cash.

After an afternoon of shopping, for dinner head to Firuze IKSV, (Nejat Eczacıbaşı Binası, Sadi Konuralp Cd.) to take in fantastic views of the city accompanied by equally tasty food.

After being introduced to Istanbul's history on your first day in the city on your second head to Topkapi Palace, to get an even better understanding of the city's history.

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Not far from the Blue Mosque or the Haghia Sophia there's lots to see, from the palace library to the kitchens and the famous harem, on a warm day you can also spend time enjoying the palace's extensive gardens.

After soaking in some more of the Istanbul's history head to the Karaköy district where you can explore the area's many bars and cafes and sample some backlava before heading to Kiliç Ali Pasa Hamam, for a wonderful Hammam experience which will leave your skin exquisitely soft and your mind relaxed. (A traditional Hammam ritual costs 270L per person and booking is essential).

After feeling truly relaxed then head down the road to Ma'Nã, for another excellent traditional Turkish meal.

On your last day in Istanbul, take time to explore Çukurcuma district, an area full of antique shops, which have sprung up in the district within the past 10 years.

The district is also home to the Museum of Innocence (Çukurcuma Caddesi, Dalgıç Çıkmazı), which was developed hand in hand with the novel of the same name by Turkish author Orhan Pamuk.

Brilliantly and somewhat obsessively curated the museum is a shrine to the memory of 
the love affair detailed in the book.

As much a partner to the novel as a homage to the Istanbul of yester-year you don't necessarily need to have read the book to enjoy the museum, but if you haven't it will definitely encourage you to.

After visiting the museum you may be inspired to spend some time wandering the nearby streets or do some people watching in one of the many café's dotted around the area.

Finish off your last night in Istanbul with dinner at Neolokal (SALT Galata Bankalar Avenue) where head chef Maksut Aşkar and his team have taken traditional Turkish favourites and given them a modern twist inspired by the countryside and the landscape of Turkey.

To enjoy the best of the Neolokal team's talents choose the tasting menu.

Sabrina was a guest of Pegasus Airlines who fly direct from Stansted to Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen Airport several times a day from as little at £50 one way, if you plan ahead.

 The Stay Hotel group has several locations around the city. For breath-taking views over the Bosphorus, choose The Stay Bosphorus, in the Ortaköy neighbourhood, for high-end designer shopping on your doopstep choose The Stay Nisantasi but our favourite option is The Stay Galata - located in the Çukurcuma district the former 19th Century mansion has been lovingly renovated, with a restaurant on the top floor which provides great panoramic views with which to enjoy your breakfast.

 Credit cards can be used anywhere in Istanbul but for public transport you'll need to make sure you've got some Turkish Lira to hand.

 When visiting the city's mosques, conservative clothing is required, neither men nor women should wear clothing with ends above the knee and women are required to have their shoulders covered and wear a headscarf.

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