Rustem Pasha Mosque
The Aya Sofia is more ancient by a millennium, the Suleymaniye is far more magnificent—but for pure architectural perfection, the Rustem Pasha is the greatest mosque in Istanbul. Following a short walk down a bustling market street from the Egyptian bazaar, a simple archway leads upward into an architectural heaven of 16th-century Iznik tiles and perfect archways.
Hasircilar Caddesi, Fatih
Sunset Over the Old City
Istanbul is a city of great views. But sunset over the majestic imperial mosques of the Old City as seen from the rooftop terrace of the historic NuPera building is unrivaled. The building’s bar looks directly over the historic Golden Horn inlet and in the evenings is packed with Istanbul’s bourgeois bohemians who have gentrified the old European quarter of Beyoglu over the past 10 years.
Mesrutiyet Caddesi 67, Beyoglu; nupera.com.tr
The Museum of Innocence
The Museum of Innocence is worth a visit because of the abiding oddness of the conception as much as for the exhibits themselves. As Turkey’s Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk wrote The Museum of Innocence—a novel of love and obsession set in 1970s Istanbul—he also collected artifacts from the world of his youth. The result is a charming confection of paraphernalia of bourgeois Turkish life, from a collection of cigarette butts to children’s toys and Victorian family photos.
Cukurcuma Caddesi, Dalgic Cikmazi 2, Beyoglu; masumiyetmuzesi.org
Cocktails by the Bosphorus
The Bosphorus has been one of the busiest waterways in the world ever since Jason and the Argonauts passed through on their way to find the Golden Fleece. Today you can watch the vast supertankers, tramp steamers, ferries, and flashy speedboats crisscrossing the strait in a ceaseless waterborne ballet. The terrace of the newly opened Four Seasons Bosphorus is the most civilized vantage point to relax and observe.
Ciragan Caddesi 28, Besiktas; fourseasons.com/bosphorus
Grand Hotel de Londres
Leon Trotsky stayed at this grand old hotel, also called the Hotel Buyuk Londra, and Papa Hemingway drank in the bar as a young war correspondent. The historic bar at the nearby Pera Palace Hotel has sadly been ruined by an unsympathetic renovation, which leaves this hotel’s memorabilia-and-caged-parrot-filled bar as the last place to get a taste of 1920s Constantinople described in the thrillers of Agatha Christie and Eric Ambler.
Mesrutiyet Caddesi 53, Beyoglu; londrahotel.net
The Basilica Cistern
Originally built by the Byzantines for storing water, the Basilica cistern is a vast underground hall whose roof is propped up by hundreds of marble and granite columns. Standing within it creates the effect of being in a weird forest—especially since there are still a couple of feet of water in the bottom that reflect the pillars and their strange sculptures. There’s no more-atmospheric place in the Old City.
Yerebatan Caddesi 13, Sultanahmet; yerebatan.com
The Princes’ Islands
The Princes’ Islands are an archipelago in the Sea of Marmara where the Byzantines exiled their surplus royals and the Levantine bourgeoisie of the late 19th century built large wooden summer villas. Buyukada, the largest island, gets horribly packed in summer. But escape the crowds by hiking up to the working Greek monastery of Aya Yorgi and enjoy the best view—and the best lunch—on the islands.
The Arasta Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar may be the world’s original shopping mall—but the 550-year-old maze of covered streets is packed with tourists, carpet touts, and shoddy wares. For shopping try the classier and less crowded Arasta Bazaar, in the shadow of the Blue Mosque. Highlights include real Iznik ceramics, bags and shoes made of kilims, and gold-painted glassware.
Arasta Carsisi 107, Fatih; arastabazaar.com
The Chora Church
This 14th-century church has some of the finest Byzantine mosaics and frescoes in the world. They were preserved in part because the Muslim Turks plastered over the idolatrous images when the place was converted to a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Now restored to their original golden splendor, the images are a glorious, teeming encyclopedia of medieval life.
Kariye Camii Sokak, Edirnekapi; choramuseum.com
Anatolian Soul Food at Ciya
Istanbul is one of the gourmet capitals of the world. Ciya is a great, no-frills Anatolian soul-food restaurant where you can take a gastronomic tour of not only Turkey but the Ottoman Empire too, with its Balkan, Middle Eastern, and Caucasian influences, all in one place. Another plus is the romantic ferry crossing to the Asian side of the city, where Ciya is located.
Guneslibahce sokak 48, Kadikoy; ciya.com.tr