I LOVE Istanbul.
Like India or Bolivia, its one of those crazy intense beautiful places where everything just collides but somehow it all works
Assuming you haven't got the budget for the Four Seasons (a particularly special outpost housed in the old prison with incredible ochre walls and a wonderful courtyard) I would recommend the Ibrahim Pasha hotel. Great location, lovely, authentic, boutiquey-but-not-pretentious and with an amazing roof-terrace with views of the mosque.
Go for lunch when you’re shopping in the Egyptian Bazaar. Its up in the domes at the top and its worth it just for the amazing tiling and old-school atmos
Have tea at the Four Seasons. As I mentioned before, its not the standard plush chain hotel, but the building is actually the old prison, and the courtyard and yellow walls are really gorgeous and a total oasis from the chaos (wonderful as that is!)
I’ve being trying to remember the name of this amazing seafood mezze place we went to where they just bring plates and plates of the most amazing food in this very residential street. Having done some looking around, I think this is it. Anyway, it was prob my favourite meal there. We ate outside. Thinking about it makes me dreamy. Go.
Café with a cool interior, lots of dark archways. Didn’t have the best meal here, but generally good reviews, and there aren’t many places that aren’t hideous tourist traps with crap food on the old side of Istanbul
The modern side of Istanbul
Went to some of the more “sceney” places in the evening (Ulus29, Changa, Vogue etc…) which felt as much like Moscow as Istanbul – ubiquitous sushi, sometimes great seafood, but full of young super-rich Turkish Eurasia-trash.
Walk right up to the top of the Bazaar, then if you can wander the back-streets back down. You almost can’t get properly lost so long as you always head downwards towards the water. You get to see how people have probably lived there for hundreds of years. The poverty is pretty striking, but it felt more like “real Istanbul” than some of the other new-flash or touristy bits
People carrying amazing pastries, breads and sweet things on trays through the streets leading up to the Bazaar. Delicious and the perfect photo-oportunity
Haghia Sophia and Blue Mosque
It’s HUGE. Do see the Harem and Treasury if nothing else. Absolutely brilliant.
The underwater cisterns
Simply AMAZING. I totally loved it. Very James Bond (featured in one of the films). I think they even have concerts down here some evenings. Check if there’s anything on whilst you’re there (do bear in mind its cold and damp!).
If the weather is nice, take a commuter ferry along the Bosphorous, and get out for a walk by some of the parks and houses. A totally different afternoon after the chaos of the Bazaar, quiet, families walking, beautiful trees. One of the really great things to do.
This is a really old hotel full of the ghosts of the 1920's (Agatha Christie stayed here). We went to have a drink on the outside terrace, it was VERY mothbally and tired, and though that leant it some atmosphere, but truth is on balance it all felt a bit sad and fleabitten. Have a feeling they are doing some major renovation on it to recapture its glory