Long Weekend in Istanbul

The Blue Mosquue: in Istanbul, it is known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque.

© Shutterstock

The Blue Mosque is considered a major work of Ottoman architecture and owes its European name to the many blue and white tiles. In Istanbul, it is known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque.

The Blue Mosquue: in Istanbul, it is known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque.

© Shutterstock

Friday

Sightseeing is first on the agenda: the Blue Mosque and then on to a coffee and candied fruit, followed by an evening at the traditional Hamdi restaurant.

From the airport, the taxi takes us to the centre of Istanbul in about half an hour. When we arrive it is as if we were catapulted into a different world. Rome, Barcelona, Copenhagen and Lisbon all have a similar vibe, but here we are somewhere between orient and occident, and the orient clearly dominates.

The cultural highlights are to be found in a small area, the Sultanahmet district: Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace and the Cistern Basilica, which features in the James Bond film From Russia With Love, are only a stone's throw away from each other.

After so much culture, it is wonderful to relax in Hafiz Mustafa's café - with a glass of tea or a Turkish coffee, which, however, is not to everyone’s taste because it is unfiltered and strong. In addition, there are plenty of sweet treats, from candied fruits to the sweet sesame paste helva to baklava – sweet puff or filo pastries, filled with chopped nuts and soaked in syrup.

Refreshed, we continue on with our sightseeing. In the evening, at the traditional restaurant Hamdi, not far from the Galata Bridge, the menu is full of various kebabs, the traditional meat skewers, available here in countless variations. From the top floor of the restaurant there is a beautiful view over the Golden Horn, the seven kilometre-long Bosphorus Bay. Finally, a short stroll across the Galata Bridge, where numerous anglers try their luck even at night time, is a good way to end the day.

Sightseeing hotspot Blue Mosque: One of the most impressive buildings in Istanbul.

Sightseeing hotspot Blue Mosque: One of the most impressive buildings in Istanbul.

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Saturday

After a visit to the lively bazaar and the Süleymaniye mosque we dine in one of the top restaurants in the city.

After breakfast, which here includes feta cheese, olives and lots of parsley, we head to the Grand Bazaar. This covered market is a maze of streets that covers an area of about 200,000 square metres, buzzing with activity. The tea rooms provide a little refreshment in between; tea carriers also supply traders and customers on the move.

Through an alley lined with shops you reach the spice bazaar, also called the Egyptian Bazaar. Here the air is thick with the beguiling scents of oriental spices, they make a perfect souvenir. The traditional restaurant Pandeli, located on the upper floor at the exit to the Galata Bridge, is perfect for a lunch break. The blue tiles of its interior are lovely - even if they are a bit dusty. Ottoman cuisine is served which means lots of lamb, mutton and vegetables.

Afterwards, the Süleymaniye Mosque is next on the itinerary. It is a structure built high above the Golden Horn at the behest of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent between 1550 and 1557, and one of the most important examples of Ottoman architecture. You can also see the tomb of the Sultan and admire the impressive stained glass windows on the east wall. 

In the evening we visit Mikla on the roof of the Marmara Pera Hotel. It is considered the best restaurant in Istanbul. The view from the glass dining room over the city is breathtaking, Turkish-Finnish chef Mehmet Gürs serves new Anatolian cuisine, a reinterpretation of Turkish-dishes with international stature. The wine menu features mainly Turkish wines for that perfect local immersion.

Fish market in Istanbul: a must-see for food lovers.

Fish market in Istanbul: a must-see for food lovers.

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Sunday

We sail on the Bosphorus, enjoy Turkish cuisine and plunge into the lively district of Beyoglu.

We start early on Sunday as we have a boart trip booked. The boats depart from the area around the Galata Bridge, offering various timetables and tours. We sail along the coast and take in sights like the small but impressive mosque of Ortaköy at the first Bosporus bridge. 

Just in time for lunch we dock again in Istanbul and we are spoilt for choice with so many different restaurants on offer. We spend the afternoon in the district of Beyoglu, the European quarter of the city. Not to be missed is a visit to the Balikpazari fish market, which is open daily until 9 pm. If you don't want to buy fish, just go and people-watch’– it is fascinating.