Istanbul is one of the largest cities in the world with population of about 15 million people. It is located on the banks of the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara. The main part of the city is in Europe and a small part is in Asia.
Because of unique geographical location and small number of bridges between the parts of the city, ferries are the main form of transport.
It's best to stay in Sultanahmet, we chose this hotel, which is conveniently located near the tram line, it's impossible to get lost. We booked a transfer for 25 euros (it will be a little cheaper by taxi). We took a shuttle bus back to the airport for 5 euro per person. A double room costs 53 euros (BB).
Some hotels in the downtown (not ours) have restaurants on a roof with views of the city and the Bosphorus.
Although the first day is just a walking day, do not forget to buy Akbil (Istanbul Card) and charge it with money to be able to pay for public transport. Ask where you can buy the Akbil at the hotel reception.
Istanbul taxis have meters. If a taxi driver didn't turn the meter on, ask them to do it. If you go with a meter and an honest taxi driver, the ride is pretty cheap, but sometimes they cheat.
On the first day you have to walk to the downtown and see the two main mosques: Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet). We visited the last one. Don't forget to take off your shoes at the entrance.
Next go to the Sultan's Topkapi Palace - the main palace of the Ottoman Empire until the middle of XIX century (25 sultans used to live and rule here). The palace is large, nearby is Gülhane park with parrots, so you can stay there for 2-3 hours.
On the second day in the morning we crossed the Galata bridge. The fishermen on the bridge are a kind of city landmark. They always stand here, no matter the weather. There are so much fish that very often they catch 3-4 fishes per one time. The bridge itself has two floors with restaurants on the ground floor.
In Üsküdar cross the road and find a bus #15 (any letter). Go to the Küçüksu stop. Here is a small pavilion palace Kuchuksu. You can walk around the palace for free, there is not many space, but the building is beautiful. We did not go inside.
Near the fortress we took the bus #15 and went back in the Üsküdar direction to the Beylerbeyi Sarayi stop, where the Beylerbeyi Palace is located. It's forbidden to take pictures inside, but the palace is beautiful. Since the English tour guide was not available, we went with a Spanish one and even understood some words =) The tour is short, about 20-25 minutes. The park has an interesting glass cafe where we drank a cup of Turkish coffee.
Having returned to the bus stop, we went further in Üsküdar direction by bus #15 to the Kuzguncuk stop to see an interesting little district with colorful wooden houses. Description of the walking tour can be found here.
Then we took the bus #15 again, reached Üsküdar and went to Kabataş by boat. Here we visited Dolmabahçe Palace. Usually there's a lot of people here. On November 10 is Ataturk Memorial Day in Turkey, so the entrance to the palace was free. Moreover, this is the only day of the year when you can take pictures inside the palace.
Having returned to Kabataş, we went to Taksim Square by the underground cable car (funicular) to the beginning of Istiqlal Street with lots of boutiques, restaurants and embassies. The street is pedestrian and the only transport is a retro tram.
We approached the Galata Tower at about 4:15 pm, when the sun began to set. There was no queue so we went up and watched beautiful sunset. When we went down at 5 pm, there was about 100 people near the ticket desk.
Then we took a taxi and went to the Buyuk Camlica observation deck, which offers a great view of the city. You can get there by bus #11 (A, D or E) to the stop TURİSTİK ÇAMLICA, but the taxi drives directly to the observation deck and is not much more expensive - 13 liras. We asked the taxi driver to wait and went to see the city. That day was an intercontinental marathon and the Bosphorus bridge was crowded.
Then we went by taxi to Kadiköy, where we took a ferry to the Princes' Islands at 9:50 am to visit the main island Büyük Ada. The ferry runs from Kabataş, so you can go from there. Trip from Kabatas lasts approximately 1 hour 50 minutes. There are several islands and the boat stops at each of them. We left the ferry at the largest one - Büyük Ada. These islands are like a resort to the people of Istanbul, many citizens have villas here and come to rest. The island has no traffic. You can take a horse-drawn carriage or rent a bicycle. Cycling routes are here.
The island has many nice wooden houses, is pretty deserted and has gorgeous nature. We had only 2 hours, so we rented a bike, but better come here for 5-6 hours to climb the mountain with the monastery and go around the island. In summer people come here to rest on the beach.
Having returned to Kabataş, we took the underground funicular to Taksim Square, where we tranferred to the subway and reached the 4.Levent station. There is a "Sapphire" skyscraper with an observation deck on the roof. Walk through the shopping center and go up one floor on the escalator, you will see the ticket office. You can also buy a ticket to the 4D movie "Flight over Istanbul." Near the elevator find a door to the open observation deck on the roof, do not waste time looking at the city through the glass.
Then we went to a seafood restaurant "Seven Hills" located on the roof in the downtown (Tevkifhane Sokak No: 8/A 34400 Sultanahmet). The prices are a bit too high: for two salads, one main course and two drinks we paid $70. But the restaurant is located on the top floor and on the roof. In November the roof was empty, so after dinner you can go there and enjoy the view of the city.
- Spend more time on the Princes' Islands - Rumeli fortress - Bosphorus cruise, Yoros fortress (Ceneviz kalesi) and Kanlıca yoghurt place - Quay from Fenerbahce (Fenerbahçe) to Bostanci (Bostancı) - Mihrabad park (Mihrabad korusu) - Ciragan Palace, five-star Kempinski hotel - Yedikule fortress