How to have the Perfect Short Stay in Istanbul

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul looking resplendent under the warm glow of winter sunshine
Hagia Sophia in Istanbul looking resplendent under the warm glow of winter sunshine | Lewis J Goetz / Unsplash

Istanbul, the cultural capital of Türkiye, straddles the border of Asia and Europe. With incredible architecture, historic markets and design-led boutique hotels, we’ve planned a fun-filled few days for you to get under the skin of the former Ottoman empire and one of the most exciting cities in the world.

Although Istanbul is the most populous European city, it’s easy to explore the compact centre, helped by a combination of reliable public transport – tram, metro or ferry – and walkable routes between most major sites.

Travel from the bazaars of Istanbul to the beautiful beaches of Antalya.

The Stay Nisantasi Boulevard

In keeping with the surrounding area, the Nisantasi feels like a contemporary addition to the art district

Nisantasi is Istanbul’s art and fashion district, now home to the ultra-stylish The Stay Boulevard Nisantasi. Stellar Turkish architect Mahmut Anlar has created a hip hideaway home to light-filled rooms and suites with a blend of view-giving terraces, vegan-leather headboards, walk-in closets, grand marble bathrooms and handy kitchenettes. There’s a spacious feel to the rooms with a unique feature on the way up from the ground level – an AI video-mapping art installation illuminates the stairwell to great effect. Once you’ve checked in, take time to admire the gallery of art by homegrown artists such as Devrim Erbil.

Things to do in Istanbul

Taksim Square

While you’re in this area, indulge in some shopping for authentic Turkish treats. A sister property to the Stay , The Stay Nisantasi resides nearby above a Prada store.

Another highlight of a trip to Istanbul is a traditional Turkish hammam or Turkish bath. Istanbul has some of the most beautiful in the world. Guests staying at The Stay Boulevard Nisantasi can indulge in the deeply luxurious spa spanning an entire floor with a pool and marble-and-brass-lined private hammam. A short walk from the hotel, Taksim Square in buzzy Beyoğlu, is the modern heart of Istanbul. A ten-minute walk from Taksim Metro station, I found Dürümzade – a kebab shop Anthony Bourdain famously featured in one of his travel shows. There’s even a seat dedicated to the late chef, writer and travel-show presenter, and having tasted the lamb kebab, tomato, onion, and parsley wraps, I agree with his verdict that these are some of the best in the city.

I couldn’t come to Istanbul and not cross the Golden Horn, as the Bosphorus is known, to haggle at The Grand Bazaar which snakes around a vast area inside the walled part of Fatih. One of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, over 4,000 stalls and stores sell everything from authentic Turkish rugs to glittering gold jewellery and questionable Gucci handbags. It’s a challenge to explore the entire labyrinthine site, so head here early in the day and narrow your focus to a few choice items. Then find a café for a refreshing Turkish tea served in a traditional tulip glass.

While you’re in the area, explore two of the most important landmarks in the city – the incredible mosques that dominate the skyline. The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet), famed for the beautiful blue tiles and minarets that make this the most iconic site in Istanbul, faces Hagia Sophia, the largest cathedral in the world converted to a mosque during the Ottoman Empire. I went during Ramadan and it’s worth noting that outside of prayer times, everyone is welcome to visit.

Bebek Hotel by The Stay is great for lazy lunches and rooftop drinks

The longer you spend in Istanbul, the more you want to get to know the different neighbourhoods. I took the advice of a local and went for a bite to eat at a historic and elegant waterfront hotel in Istanbul’s waterfront Bebek district, Bebek Hotel by The Stay. In 2019, the property was taken over by The Stay Hotels who injected a new lease of life into the 1950s grande dame. It’s the perfect spot for a relaxed lunch filled with local and seasonal dishes as watching the boats criss-cross the Bosphorus; the exquisitely designed bedrooms have the feel of cosy-but-luxe railway carriages.

The Stay Bosphorus

In the heart of Istanbul’s vibrant Ortakoy neighbourhood, next to the Bosphorus Bridge which connects Europe and Asia, The Stay Bosphorus is a 19th-century mansion reimagined as a stylish 26-room city retreat. The views of the Bosphorus Bridge and neighbouring Ortakoy Mosque from my balcony made it hard to leave this final stop on my Istanbul trip in lively area home to restaurants where you can taste some of the best seafood in Istanbul. Taking a stroll along the riverside where historic houses blend with busy street food joints, was my reward for stepping out.

A view from The Stay Bosphorus. This spot is popular with tourists and locals.

My multi-hotel city break meant I saw so much more of Istanbul’s distinct districts and historic sights than if I’d stayed in just one. I left with the strong urge to return and see more of this magnificent metropolis.

Getting there

You can fly to Istanbul with Pegasus Airlines, Türkiye’s leading low-cost airline with more than 125 destinations in 49 countries from London Stansted and Manchester. With a new-generation fleet that’s one of the youngest in Europe, Pegasus is working to reduce carbon emissions in line with its net zero 2050 target. Add Pegasus Flex to your booking for pre-departure changes without charges and download the Pegasus app to manage your trip, book flights, check-in, and add boarding passes.

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