Before you head off and explore the plethora of mosques, museums, galleries and shops, be sure to fuel up at one of Istanbul’s top brunch spots. Start out at Journey Lounge in the bohemian Cihangir neighbourhood. This great little eatery offers an amazing breakfast menu and attracts a modern, international crowd. Top breakfast options include the grilled sucuk (spicy sausage) platter and the Journey Breakfast, with eggs, cottage cheese, olives, home-made jam and walnut pastries.
With its winding narrow streets, quaint cafes and views down to the Bosphorus, Cihangir is regarded as Istanbul’s bohemian neighbourhood and it’s worth spending some time here to explore the area. Discover a range of antique shops and traditional Turkish cafés, while the Savoy Pastanesi is a great place to stop for a quick souvenir of baklava. The café opened in 1950 and is something of a local institution. If you can’t wait to eat your delicious pastries, the Celebi Sokak steps, next to the Cihangir Mosque, are the perfect place to enjoy them.
After exploring the culinary delights of Cihangir, there’s no better way to burn off the calories and take in the sights than with a walk to the Galata district. Use the Galata Kulesi tower to orientate yourself as you make your way through the area’s charming cobbled streets and discover its neoclassical buildings. If you want an early lunch, try Turkish restaurant Yeni Lokanta. The Galata Kulesi tower is a must visit and if you don’t mind queuing for around 30 minutes you will be rewarded with panoramic views from the top.
Cross the Cisr-i Cedid bridge to enjoy incredible views and take in the impressive skyline. Lined with fishermen and with superb views of the Yeni Cami (New Mosque), it is a great walk. Alternatively, take a bus to the Hagia Sophia mosque and admire the stunning Yerebatan Sarnıcı (Basilica Cistern). One of the most historically important monuments in Istanbul, it is well worth a visit. The neighbouring Sultan Ahmet Camii, commonly known as the Blue Mosque, is also a great place to visit if you have time.
The Sultanahmet region is the oldest part of the city and home to some of its most impressive historic sites. A trip to the Grand Bazaar is a must and visitors should invest their time wisely here. With more than 5,000 shops it lives up to its name, offering 64 lanes of hidden boutiques and workshops, and everything from jewellery to silverware spices and rugs – the ultimate place to shop for souvenirs.
Istanbul’s skyline is punctuated with beautiful architecture but there are also a host of fascinating sites to discover beneath the city. The Yerebatan Sarnıcı (Basilica Cistern) is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns lying underneath Istanbul. Built to hold 100,000 tons of water, it is now virtually emptied and offers a maze of ornate columns and carvings.
Be sure to leave time for a visit to a Turkish bath and we recommend the Çemberlitaş Hamamı, just a 10-minute walk from the Yerebatan Sarnıcı (Basilica Cistern). Dating back to 1584, the building has been beautifully restored and the baths are among the most striking in the city. Open until midnight, this is a great place to enjoy a relaxing treatment before heading out for the evening.
For the final part of your day head to Saigon İstanbul for pre-dinner drinks with a view. Located in the Beyoğlu district, it is a great place to take in the city’s famous skyline, with top views of the Haliç – Golden Horn – waterway. Offering Asian and Mediterranean cuisine, it is also a great place to come for drinks, with a top cocktail and wine list.
Head to Mikla for your final meal of the day. Appearing on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, this is the perfect place to end your day in Istanbul. Located on the top floors of the fashionable Marmara Pera hotel, it is a sleek, stylish and, above all, delicious place to spend an evening. Top dishes include lamb shank manti dumplings, İskenderun prawns and beef rib steak. Offering incredible views of Hagia Sophia and the Topkapı Palace, it is a perfect spot to reflect on your day.
If you’re not ready to head home just yet, spend your final hours in the Beyoğlu neighbourhood. Known for its top bars and clubs, this is the place to go to enjoy Istanbul’s nightlife. For mellow music with a cool crowd head to Leb-i-Derya.