Tuesday 16 July 2019

24 Hours in Istanbul: A perfect day, from palaces to profiteroles

Nicola Brady jets into Turkey's new Istanbul Airport for a flying city break...

Topkapi palace
Turkish spa

Nicola Brady

Istanbul offers a blend of Asian and European cultures, and a shot-of long-haul exoticism, just 4.5 hours away from Dublin.

9am: The Blue Mosque

Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) in Istanbul, Turkey

Though Istanbul is a sprawling city, the big hitters are all contained in a relatively small area. Start your day at the Sultanahmet Camii, to use its Turkish name - synonymous with the skyline of Istanbul, the mosque got its moniker for the blue tiles that line the striking interior. Bear in mind that you'll need to take off your shoes, and women must cover their hair with a scarf.

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How: bluemosque.co; free.

11am: Hagia Sophia

Interior of Hagia Sophia

Take your time wandering around the corner to Hagia Sophia, stopping for a fresh pomegranate juice (€2) from one of the stalls along the way. The walk into this domed cathedral-turned-mosque is awe-inspiring - the light spills in from high windows, casting a dusty stream across the weathered ceiling. Walk up the seemingly endless stone staircase for the best views, and don't miss the Ottoman sultan tombs.

How: ayasofyamuzesi.gov.tr; entry costs €9pp.

1pm: Meatball mania

Sometimes, the best kinds of restaurants are the ones that do just one thing, but do it right. At Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi, that thing is meatballs. And boy, are they good - succulent, slightly charred and best with a smear of the spicy red pepper sauce in a torn chunk of warm flatbread. Try a slab of the sticky halva if you're in the mood for something sweet.

How: sultanahmetkoftesi.com.

4pm: Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar

Take a deep breath and weave your way through the vortex that is the Grand Bazaar. One of the oldest (and largest) covered markets in the world, this is where you'll find all the souvenirs you could ask for, from Turkish delight to giant woven rugs. But in the middle of it all is a dreamily peaceful little book market, Sahaflar Çarşısı, where cats sunbathe in amongst piles of books.

How: Beyazit tram stop is outside the bazaar.

8pm: River cruise

The Bosphorus runs through the city, dividing the Asian and European sides. Head out on the water and you'll take in all of the city's skyline in one fell swoop. Some of the cruises can be a little tacky, but set off with Istanbul Cruises and you'll sail in style on a swish yacht with a slap-up meal to boot.

How: cruiseistanbul.com; from €45.

10pm: Rooftop bar

Head up for a nightcap with a view at Mürver, where you can pitch up with a cocktail on their breezy terrace, overlooking the Topkapı Palace. They have a good selection of Turkish wines too ( glasses start from around €5).

How: murverrestaurant.com.

Where to sleep

Fancy sleeping amongst history? The Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet is located in a former prison, with neoclassical features and a great location, just steps away from Hagia Sophia.

How: From €200; fourseasons.com/istanbul.

Three to try

The experience

Turkish spa

You'll feel as fresh as a daisy after a Turkish bath at Cağaloğlu Hamam (cagalogluhamami.com.tr; from €50). Start by unwinding in the sauna, before being led to a marble platform where you're scrubbed and massaged under a wave of bubbles - all in an incredible domed room that dates back over 300 years.

The walk


Take a wander out to the district of Beyoğlu, where you can amble between teahouses, boutiques and sweet shops. Don't miss a trip to İnci Pastanesi - this patisserie was established by a man who claimed to invent the profiterole, and here they come swathed in thick lashings of silky chocolate sauce...

The activity

Topkapi palace

A trip to the Topkapı Palace (topkapisarayi.gov.tr; €9) could easily steal hours of your time. Between the various courts, palace kitchens and the Imperial Treasury bursting with ancient weaponry, you'll find yourself transfixed. Don't miss the lookout point from the back, either - you get a great view of the city.

Don't miss

In its heyday, the Hippodrome was the setting for chariot races in what was Constantinople. Nowadays, you'll find fragments of the third century in the form of obelisks and the remnants of a giant serpent statue.

Get there

Fly to Istanbul's brand new airport with Turkish Airlines, from €325 economy or €1,035 in business (turkishairlines.com). You need to apply for an e-visa (€18) prior to travel - see evisa.gov.tr. Nicola travelled as a guest of Turkish Airlines.

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