How to spend a perfect weekend in Istanbul
Istanbul, a city that has lured travelers for centuries with its enchanting allure, is a destination that warrants more than a mere weekend to fully savor its myriad attractions. However, this curated guide will offer you a taste of Istanbul's highlights, leaving you eager to return for further exploration. Join us as we embark on a perfect weekend journey through the vibrant streets of Istanbul, where ancient history mingles with modern delights.
Day One: Discovering Sultanahmet's Treasures
Your journey begins in Sultanahmet's Aya Sofya Meydanı (Aya Sofya Square), a picturesque square flanked by two of Istanbul's iconic landmarks—the Aya Sofya, a former Byzantine church now transformed into a museum with its awe-inspiring dome, and the Blue Mosque adorned with captivating tiles. The surroundings offer a wealth of historic sights and museums, such as the Istanbul Archaeology Museums, showcasing intricately carved sarcophagi, and the Museum of Turkish & Islamic Arts, boasting an impressive collection of antique carpets. For a touch of mystery, explore the atmospheric underground Basilica Cistern, or take a leisurely stroll through the ancient Hippodrome, once the venue for thrilling chariot races.
For a taste of authentic Turkish cuisine, head to a local lokanta like Sefa Restaurant, where you can indulge in home-style, ready-made dishes alongside Istanbul's workers. Alternatively, grab a pide, a delightful Turkish flatbread topped with a variety of mouthwatering options, at Karadeniz Aile Pide ve Kebap Salonu. Following your meal, venture off the beaten tourist path for a self-guided walking tour through the charming Küçük Ayasofya neighborhood. Savor the opportunity to shop for souvenirs like ceramics, hamam towels, and jewelry at the historic Arasta Bazaar, or dive into the mesmerizing maze of the Grand Bazaar, where getting lost is part of the adventure. To immerse yourself further in history, take a taxi ride to Edirnekapı, where the Kariye Museum (Chora Church) awaits with its breathtaking frescoes and mosaics, surrounded by ancient city walls dating back to the 4th century.
As the day draws to a close, treat yourself to a unique dining experience at Asitane, a restaurant renowned for recreating Ottoman palace kitchen delicacies. Alternatively, return to Sultanahmet for a delightful fish dinner at Balıkçı Sabahattin or indulge in delectable kebaps at Hamdi Restaurant, which overlooks the mesmerizing Golden Horn near the Eminönü ferry docks.
For the adventurous souls seeking an unforgettable night out, cross the Galata Bridge to Karaköy and hop on a ferry bound for Kadıköy. This lively, youthful neighborhood on the Asian side of Istanbul boasts a thriving nightlife centered around Kadife Sokak, famously known as "Bars Street," where the fun continues into the early hours. For a more serene evening, ascend to the A'YA Rooftop Lounge at the opulent Four Seasons Hotel during the summer, or indulge in a soothing treatment at one of the Old City's Ottoman-era hamams like Çemberlitaş and Gedikpaşa, which stay open until midnight, offering a warm and relaxing escape.
Day Two: A Glimpse into Ottoman Grandeur and Beyoğlu's Artistic Charms
Start your second day with a visit to the majestic Topkapı Palace, the seat of Ottoman power for four centuries. Delve into the opulent lives of the sultans and their entourages as you explore the palace's lavishly decorated rooms in the Harem, marvel at the precious artifacts in the Treasury, stroll through the pavilion-filled grounds, and revel in sweeping views from the Fourth Court, the sultan's inner sanctum.
Grab a simit from a street vendor—a sesame-seed-covered bread ring beloved by locals—as you make your way to the Beyoğlu district, either on foot or via the historic Tünel funicular. Treat your taste buds to the flavors of the Black Sea region at Hayvore, a traditional lokanta, or savor a light meal at Kafe Ara, adorned with the works of the famous Armenian-Turkish photographer Ara Güler. Wander through the labyrinthine streets of Beyoğlu, discovering hidden alleyways and charming cafes, galleries, historic buildings, and boutiques in neighborhoods like Galata, Tophane, Karaköy, and Çukurcuma. Consider visiting the Pera Museum or the whimsical Museum of Innocence, created by the Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk.
As dusk descends, Beyoğlu comes alive with its plethora of dining and drinking options. Savor a pre-dinner drink with a breathtaking view at one of the rooftop bars—the panorama from Mikla is especially unforgettable for those seeking a touch of elegance. Alternatively, relish the laid-back atmosphere at the terrace bar of the nostalgic Grand Hotel de Londres. For a delectable dinner experience, indulge in meyhane-style food at Eleos, with its Greek-inflected menu featuring divine octopus dishes. Or opt for modern Turkish cuisine in an upscale setting at Neolokal, led by an acclaimed young chef.
The night is still young in this 24/7 city, and the vibrant energy of Istanbul's nightlife beckons. Explore the hipster bars and clubs in Karaköy, savor the lively atmosphere of the beer pubs nestled along the side streets off İstiklal Caddesi, or relish the cafe-bar scene in Cihangir. And if your dancing feet crave a sugar rush, don't worry—you won't be alone in satisfying your late-night baklava cravings at Karaköy Güllüoğlu.
As your perfect weekend in Istanbul comes to an end, you'll find yourself longing for more time to immerse yourself in the magic and charm of this extraordinary city. Istanbul's rich heritage, culinary delights, and vibrant energy ensure that there will always be more to explore and experience, leaving you with a yearning to return and rediscover the wonders that await within its enchanting streets. Until then, farewell, Istanbul—a city that leaves an indelible mark on every traveler's heart.