How to see Istanbul in two days
Start with the Grand Pera Palace and finish on the Bosphorus waterfront and experience the best of the Turkish capital in between, writes Karen Halabi.
STANBUL has a split personality – half Eastern, half Western, half Muslim and half party town, it’s a heady mix of traditional and modern, cutting edge and conservative.
It straddles Asia and Europe and is the most exciting city on the planet right now and poised to take over Paris’s position as the second-most-visited city in Europe. The more than 11 million tourists who poured into Istanbul last year, making it the fastest growing tourist city in the world, can’t be wrong.
Arrive at Ataturk Airport. Take a taxi to historic Beyoglu.
Check in to the opulent Grand Pera Palace, the original 1890s hotel, which recently had a complete makeover. The Pera Palace was known as the hotel of choice for Orient Express passengers and once counted Agatha Christie, Ernest Hemingway and Alfred Hitchcock as guests.
Sip complimentary mint tea on your balcony overlooking the Golden Horn and nibble on a plate of macarons and Turkish delight.
Take a tour of the room where Agatha used to stay and the Ataturk Museum. The hotel is famous for its high tea served in the salon from 3-6pm but you won’t be hanging around for that. Instead …
Head out the revolving door and walk slowly up through Beyoglu’s narrow streets until you reach Istanbul’s most popular historic pedestrian shopping street, Istiklal Caddesi, or Independence Ave. Here on this pretty, wide, Parisian-style 3km-long pedestrian avenue you’ll find bars, cafes, restaurants, shops, galleries and markets – from the hip, trendy and expensive, to everyday and affordable. Order a refreshing pomegranate juice, squeezed in front of you, and maybe a borek from one of numerous side street cafes. Follow the throngs towards Taksim Square – the Leicester Square of Istanbul.
Walk down Istiklal in the other direction towards Galata Tower in the heart of the cobbled Galata district. A stone spire built in 1348, it is an Istanbul landmark and has amazing views over the Golden Horn. Buyuk Hendek Caddesi (9am-8pm; 19 Turkish lira or $A9).
Take a tram over Galata Bridge to Eminonu from where you take a short cruise on the Bosphorus (about 1½-2 hours). A boat cruise is a lovely way to see the European and Asian coasts for as little as 10 or 12 TL.
Dine at Necati Yilmaz’s divine new restaurant Deraliye in Sultanhamet to try Ottoman cuisine, the food served to the sultans; Divanyalou Caddesi 10, Sultanhamet; +90-212 520 7778, deraliyerestaurant.com. Yilmaz was responsible for digging up the recipes from the Topkapi Palace archives that set the menu for the nearby Matbah restaurant that also serves Ottoman palace cuisine. Linger over lunch, savouring each morsel of palace delicacies such as lamb served on a bed of eggplant and grilled Circassian cheese. These historical dishes are gleaned from palace records and antique cookbooks.
Take a taxi back to your