Arrived on Friday afternoon and were greeted by our pre-booked taxi driver (www.turkeytaxireservations.com – would use them again). We got stuck in rush hour traffic, but we didn't mind, got to take in our first impressions of the city (loved it!).
We finally made it to our hotel (Ciragan Kempinski), which was excellent, with an impeccable service. One tip however, do try and stay in one of the sea view rooms, we had booked a (less expensive ;-) ) room via my corporate account, and were facing a busy street. The noise was not an issue for us though.
Once we had freshened up we took a taxi to Istiklal Caddesi, by this time it was about 8pm and it was very busy. When we left at 3am it was as busy - seriously, this city never sleeps! We headed to Cicek Pasaj and wondered around a little before we settled in a meyhane just round the corner (lots to chose from, just pick one that appeals the most). Even though it was the middle of November, it was packed and we took seats outside to join in the atmosphere. Ate lots of extremely tasty food (they bring a tray of mezeler which you can choose from), had some raki and had a wonderful time generally.
We headed to another cafe around the corner (a tiny side street covered in coloured lanterns, beautiful), for some desserts. It was busy, with people singing happily and having a lovely time. (no horrendously drunk people like we'd see in London)
General note: it was not difficult at all to get a taxi back to the hotel, the streets are bustling and the majority of people up and about seem to be 'normal' - it certainly didn't feel deserted or particularly dangerous, even at 3am. Although normal safety measures apply, as always, anywhere in the world.
The next day, we headed to the House Cafe (not far from Cicek Pasaj), for breakfast, choices were international and Turkish, we went for toasted sandwiches with cheese and Turkish bacon (pastirma). Yum!
Wondered around Istiklal Caddesi for some shopping before hitting the major tourist destinations, Galata Tower, Suleymaniye Mosque (breathtaking, although we were very disappointed by the disrespect shown by some tourists, e.g. not covering up etc), Aya Sofya, Yerebatan Cistern and the Grand Bazaar. I noticed for the Grand Bazaar, that the shops near the entrance are much more expensive than those towards the 'middle', presumably because most tourists will go into the first few ops they see, not realizing there are many more offering the same articles further inside.
We had kofte at Sultanahmet Koftecisi (beware, there is only one real one by the mosque, there are others with the same name in other parts of the city).
We had dinner at our hotel that night, which was lovely.
The next day we went on a Bosphorus tour (we walked right from our hotel in Besiktas to Ortakoy where we got on the ferry). Breathtaking views.
In the afternoon we went to Nisantasi for some window shopping (very upmarket, Cartier, YSL, Gucci stores etc all door to door) followed by a shopping trip to Cevahir Mall, the largest mall in Europe. At Cevahir, we had lunch - Turkish fast food on the top floor (iskender kebab etc). Tastiest fast food ever.
We took a ferry to the Asian side and headed for Bagdad caddesi (shops and restaurants) before heading to 360 for dinner. We headed back to Besiktas for some desserts, there are numerous patisseries all around Istanbul, often open until very late.
On Monday, we went for a shot walk before heading to the airport...
We (couple in our early 30s) will definitely be back one day soon. We had a brilliant time.