Stay in Cihangir, a young, cool neighborhood in the Beyoğlu district. It’s filled with narrow, winding streets all lined with coffee/tea shops, art galleries, boutiques and restaurants. Eat breakfast at Van Kahvalti Evi as often as you can. It is by far the best way to start the day. When in Istanbul, wandering around Sultanhamet is inevitable (and incredible) – Hagia Sophia, the blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and the Süleymaniye Mosque.
Hagia Sophia, January 2013
But there is much more to the city…
Bathe like the Turks. There are more luxurious Turkish baths than Galata Saray Hamami, but there were no tourists at the Galata Saray Hamami.
Take the ferry across the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Istanbul, because, really, when do you get to be in Europe and Asia all in the same day? Get on the boat a little before sunset and have an awesome meal at some outdoor seating-lined street in a popular area called Moda, in Kadıköy.
Get drinks at the rooftop of Georges Hotel.
Take a cab north to Bebek – a posh area with marinas and outdoor cafes. Eat a massive Turkish breakfast at Rumeli Kale Cafe right on the water. The restaurant is right around the corner from Rumelihisarı, a 560 year old stone fortress, which is open to the public.
Turkish Breakfast at Rumeli Kale Cafe, January 2013
Go to the top of the Galata Tower. There is a long line most of the time, but go around 8am with a big fat coffee and have the terrace all to yourself.
Morning views from Galata Tower, January 2013
Eat lunch at the Istanbul Modern. The museum itself is wonderful but the cafe has outdoor seating along the Bosphorus with views across the Golden Horn to the mosques of Sultanhamet. Possibly just stay here forever .
View from the Istanbul Modern Cafe, January 2013