An Ideal Week in Istanbul: Recommendations and Itinerary

If you have a trip planned to Istanbul or you might visit this grand city at some point, this perfect week in Istanbul post is for you…

During my 21 years of travel, I’ve visited Istanbul about 20 times. It’s a convenient place to stop for a few days in between other destinations and over the years, I’ve built up a long list of my favorite spots around the city that I love to return to over and over again. Right now I’m finishing up my latest visit to Istanbul and it was just as rewarding as every visit before it!

Here’s a breakdown…

Every day of my perfect week in Istanbul I’ve been roaming all around, visiting all kinds of neighborhoods, eating at all kinds of local eateries, admiring the constant stream of gasp-worthy views and of course, stopping by some of my favorite sights along the way.

My hotel is in Sirkeci, an area conveniently located between major sights, markets, restaurants and every part of the city you might want to visit during your perfect week in Istanbul. The useful T1 tram line goes straight through the neighborhood as well, connecting many important points of interest.

The hotel I stayed at on this trip is the Empire Palace but I also highly recommend the Sari Konak HotelAgora Guesthouse and Cheers Hostel, depending on your travel style.

So, exploring from here, I’ve taken ferries, trams and funiculars, and I’ve also walked an average of 12 miles (20 kms) per day. Istanbul is by far one of the best walking cities on the planet!

I’ve enjoyed tasty pide, lentil soup and traditional casserole at Ortaklar (a great, inexpensive local restaurant in Sultanahmet), yummy cheese borek from endless local borek shops and a superb meyhane dinner at my absolute favorite meyhane restaurant, Yakup 2 (highly recommended for a wonderful dinner!).

There’s been beer sipping in the quaint, leafy Moda neighborhood on the Asian side, along with a long wander, Turkish coffee and dinner in the lanes of the relaxed Kadikoy market. And there’s been shisha smoking at my favorite shisha cafe (Corlulu Ali Pasa Medresesi), hidden inside of a 300 year old religious school from the Ottoman times that’s not too far from the Grand Bazaar.

One full day was spent in the colorful Balat and Lonca neighborhoods. In between exploring the history of ancient city walls, a fortress, an old whirling dervish school and the Chora church, I enjoyed going up and down the atmospheric streets and hanging out among the vibrant cafe scene that has popped up here over the past few years. There are now more cafes in Balat than I have seen in any other neighborhood in the world.

By now, my perfect week in Istanbul has involved over 50 cups of tea, quite a few pieces of incredible baklava from the world famous Gulluoglu baklava shop and perfectly made Turkish coffee along the way. And in the evenings, I’ve found myself in Sultanahmet, more than once, soaking up the super pleasant atmosphere of the park located between the Blue Mosque and the beautifully lit up Hagia Sophia.

I also can’t forget about the fascinating, non-touristy Dolapdere flea market (open on Sundays from midnight to 12pm), my standard walk through the completely tourist-free Kurtulus neighborhood, strolling through the hip lanes of Besiktas (worth going here for a Sunday brunch), admiring the street art along the cobblestone alleys of Karakoy and standing in awe inside of the massive Suleymaniye Mosque, with its views out over the city.

And yes, I’ve also spent time in the maze that is the Grand Bazaar and taken quick walks through the Spice Market, too. But the sprawling local market on the streets between them is also well worth visiting, with endless shops and stalls, and way cheaper prices. In this local market, there’s also the beautiful, but tiny, Rustem Pasha mosque, and my favorite kunefe shop that is an absolute must!

You’ll naturally want to make sure that your perfect week in Istanbul includes a visit inside of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the surreal Basilica Cistern. If you’re into palaces, the impressive Dolmabace Palace and hilltop Topkapi Palace are there waiting for you to visit as well. Gulhane Park is a super pleasant escape from the crowds, the Galata Tower offers some excellent views and the laid-back neighborhoods of Ortakoy and Bebek (beware of the yummy waffles sold here!) make for peaceful outings in the outskirts of the city.

When crossing between the European and Asian sides, take the regular public ferry. It costs 7 lira (about 85 US cents) and departures are very frequent throughout the day and evenings. If you have an extra day, hop onto the 10:35am ferry from Eminonu to Anadolu Kavagi, a small town on the Black Sea coast. The ride takes 1.5 hours, you’re then given 1.5 hours for lunch and the ferry takes you back to the city center in the afternoon.

Of course, towards the end of your stay, make sure you visit a traditional hamam. I highly recommend the historic Cagaloglu Hamam, which dates back to 1741. This hamam has a gorgeous interior and excellent service. If you’re on the Karakoy side of the city, check out the highly-rated Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamam, which is another good one. In general, you’ll pay about 50 EUR for a standard hamam experience that includes time in the hot room, a full exfoliating scrub and a foam massage, along with some time to relax in a peaceful setting.

There is honestly enough to see and do in Istanbul that even a 1 month trip here wouldn’t be sufficient. But the great news is that whatever you end up doing while visiting this city is bound to be rewarding beyond imagination. I hope the above helps make that happen!

Perfect Week in Istanbul ITINERARY

*based on the above recommendations:

– Hagia Sophia
– Blue Mosque
– Basilica Cistern
– Evening walk across the Galata Bridge

– Grand Bazaar
– Suleymaniye Mosque
– Local Eminonu market
– Spice Market
– After dinner shisha at Corlulu Ali Pasa Medresesi

– Gulhane Park and Topkapi Palace
– Afternoon ferry to Kadikoy (Asian side)
– Local market
– Walk to and around the Moda neighborhood
– Dinner in Kadikoy (try Ciya Sofrasi)
– Ferry back to the European side

– Besiktas brunch
– Dolmabace Palace
– Taksim Square and Istiklal Street
– Galata Tower and neighborhood

– Balat and Lonca
– Baklava at Gulluoglu
– Wander and dinner in Karakoy

– Day trip to Ortakoy and Bebek
– Rumeli Hisari Fortress
– Evening walk along Istiklal Street

– Ferry to the Black Sea coast for lunch
– Late afternoon hamam

If you have any questions at all about this perfect week in Istanbul, just let me know!