Istanbul in 3 days

A friend once told me that Istanbul is such a vast, vibrant and multilayered city that it would take years to truly know it, and he was right. Once at the heart of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, it’s one of the world’s most historically rich destinations. With Asia and Europe straddling either side of its glittering Bosphorus Strait, it’s also replete with paradoxes: East and West, old and new. It’s virtually impossible to truly experience Istanbul in just 3 days, but you can get a taste of the city’s magic, if you’re well prepared.

Where to Stay

Lampa Design Hotel is a popular choice amongst travelers in Istanbul, whether exploring or just passing through. Lampa Design Hotel welcomes you to explore Istanbul from the most ideal location, since the hotel is located in the vibrant neighborhood of Şişli, the city center of Istanbul. This hotel introduces a unique “boutique design hotel” experience with the warmth of the antique gas lamp and industrial minimalist architecture. The building incorporates some of the antique gas lamps from Orhan Utan’s collection within a mixture of industrial modern design, natural wood parquet, marble staircases, cast- in mosaic and generous use of metal hardware. In addition, the art pieces and enchanting facade detail conceived by Architect Selami Çiçek add the finishing touches to this exquisitely devised the Lampa Design Hotel. All 20 different sized rooms are designed with customized furniture, special amenities and the unique art pieces inspired by celebrated artist Fikret Mualla Saygı (1904-1967). Guestrooms are designed to provide an optimal level of comfort with welcoming decor and some offering convenient amenities. Glass walled bathroom and French balcony detail in every room creates a spacious feeling in the rooms. The Lampa Lab is the place where guests can enjoy their delicious breakfast and afternoon coffee, with terrarium designs. The Lampa Lab can be used both for special events and as a collective working space.

What to See

Day One

The Harem at Topkapi Palace

Though you might be tempted to speed-visit Istanbul’s historic sites in order to get to all of them, I’d strongly recommend picking just three and taking your time to really soak in and appreciate each one. If it’s your first time in Istanbul, I’d recommend the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya and Topkapi Palace. The iconic, 400-year-old Blue Mosque boasts six minarets (most mosques usually have only four) and soaring ceilings lined with thousands of blue İznik tiles. Equally, if not more breathtaking is the Aya Sofya, built in 537 as the greatest Church in Christendom then converted to a mosque in the 14th Century. The opulent Topkapi Palace was the residence of Ottoman Sultans for over 400 years, and today houses holy Muslim relics. (I’d allot at least four hours at Topkapi, and make sure to visit the Harem: a labyrinth of around 300 luxuriously tiled private rooms).

Day Two

Spice Market

Dedicating an entire day to eating and shopping in favor of more sightseeing might seem wasteful, but with food being such an integral part of Turkish culture (and a means of learning about its colorful history), I’d highly recommend it. A dedicated half-day food tour like Istanbul Eats ensures that you experience truly authentic local food (no easy feat in tourist-congested areas like Sultanahmet), while allowing you to explore neighborhoods you wouldn’t otherwise go. (After soaking in the mind-numbing opulence and grandeur of Istanbul’s mosques and palaces, visiting the humbler, working-class areas right outside Sultanahmet was an eye-opening experience for me). Once the tour’s over, I’d recommend backtracking your steps to The Spice Market in Eminönü, where you can snack on delicious dried fruit leathers at Malatya Pazari and goatskin-ripened cheeses at Cankurtaran Gida. In the evening, haggle your way through the frenetic The Grand Bazaar: the infamous Byzantine maze of 4.000 shops.

Day Three

Bosphorus Strait

On your last day in Istanbul, I’d recommend a relaxing and scenic 90-minute ferry ride up the Bosphorus Strait. (Stay away from private cruise companies ripping off tourists with short, overpriced trips and barely-seaworthy vessels. Instead visit IDO/Şehir Hatları Bosphorus for information on Istanbul’s official cruises and their timetables). After your cruise, enjoy a Turkish bath (hamam) at the stunning 1584-built Çemberlitaş Hamamı or the lavish Cağaloğlu Hamamı, arguably the most beautiful Turkish bath in Istanbul.

Just for fun: If you can squeeze it in, I’d recommend a night of dinner and belly dancing at Sultana’s 1001 Nights. It’s admittedly touristy, but with its bottomless glasses of red wine, plates upon plates of Turkish meze and assorted cheeses, and belly dancing all night, it made for my most enjoyable night in Istanbul. A lot of fun if you don’t take it too seriously.

Where to Eat

Mikla Restaurant

If you choose not to take the Istanbul Eats tour, at least treat yourself to a meal at the outstanding Mikla, situated atop the 18-story Marmara Pera Hotel. The restaurant boasts Ottoman-fusion cuisine by Chef Mehmet Gurs that’s reflective of an increasingly cosompolitan Istanbul. Aside from the sweeping views of spotlit mosques across Istanbul’s silvery landscape, you can enjoy flavorful dishes like the trakya kıvırcık (lamb shank with cinammon and tahini hummus).

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