48 Hours: Five Ways to Spend Two Days in Istanbul
At the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Istanbul is one of the world’s most mesmerizing cities. Founded by the Greeks around 700 B.C., ruled by the Romans, then later conquered by the Ottoman Empire, its perfect location on the Bosphorus strait transcends Western civilization.
The old quarter of Sultanahmet is a treasure trove of ancient masterpieces. Visitors never tire of its whimsical collection of domes and minarets.
The city is at once mystical and modern. Like London, Paris, Rome, and Athens, this metropolis of 15 million is one of the great walking cities of Europe. Its vibrant streets teem with urban life. Intoxicating aromas permeate the walls of kebab houses. The haunting cries of muezzins ring from countless minarets throughout the citadel.
Even simple bantering with local merchants, who peddle their wares at the Grand Bazaar and elsewhere, may lead to new friendships.
Everywhere you turn in Istanbul, the city pulses with life. Crowds gather around Taksim Square and Istiklal Street 24 hours a day.
Turkish cuisine is inherited from Ottoman cuisine, which is a fusion and refinement of Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and Balkan cuisines. This melting pot brought their culinary treasures together centuries ago.
For a substantial start to your day, try the breakfast or weekend brunch spread at the Swissotel, one of the finest in town. You’ll find the addicting Turkish egg dish of menemen — Turkish scrambled eggs with tomatoes, onions, and peppers — in one of the most extensive buffets in the city.
As you tour Istanbul’s historic neighborhoods, you’ll find street food everywhere. Local delicacies include simit, freshly baked dough dipped in molasses; balik-ekmek, a fish sandwich found throughout Karaköy and Eminönü; and lachmacun, a sort of Turkish pizza whose thin dough is topped with a mixture of ground meat, onions, and red peppers.
Feriye Palace Restaurant in Ortaköy might be the best location for dinner in the city. You’ll dine on grilled meats and seafood while seated beside the Bosphorus, with jaw-dropping views of its fabled bridge and the spectacular but less-visited Ortaköy Mosque.
For dessert, baklava and sweet shops date back to the 18th century. It’s impossible not to be tempted by tasty treats while meandering the streets of Kadiköy, Beyoglu or the old city of Fatih. If your sweet tooth allows, the chocolate baklava known as gulluoglu will cure any sugar craving. Delight your taste buds at Hafiz Mustafa in Sirkeci. The long line is worth the wait.
For View Seekers
From high inside the lofty, 220-foot Galata Tower, a panoramic perspective extends across the city. Visit in the evening as the sun sets beyond the Galata Bridge.
For some of the most awe-inspiring views of both the European and Asian sides, take a ferry ride or private yacht tour of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn.
Many rooftop bars or restaurants have outstanding views of the city. The Raffles Istanbul hotel offers incredible views of the Bosphorus, and the Swissotel offers an inspiring, 360-degree vista of the ancient citadel.
For Culture Vultures
Culture seekers have plenty to accomplish in a short time frame.
Intrepid Travel and Tours by locals offer many historical and food-focused tours around the city. Cooking Alaturka provides a window into….
By Nicholas Kontis
Photo: Çiragan Palace