Istanbul, the city I was born in, the city I once called home, the city where my heart beats a bit faster each time I visit, the city where East meets West is without a question is one of the most enchanting cities you can visit at least once in a lifetime.

There was a time I was called “A Turkish delight. When I mention my origins in Istanbul, they often exclaim, “Oh, Constantinople!” But I yearn to say, “No, Istanbul’ and ‘No it’s not a river that runs through the Bosphorus but a fragment of the Marmara sea’ 

Transport me back to Istanbul where my childhood memories are live as if I was there only yesterday, street cats reign like loyalty, having simit from a street vendor is one of life’s best pleasures, where one needs to disregard the chaotic traffic that tests even the most patient souls. In the old town, spices, tiles, artisanal bags, and lights adorn every corner, weaving a tapestry of enchantment.

I am often asked where to wander, what sights to behold, ideal accommodations, and delectable dining spots. Where to start in a city that’s inhabited by 16M people with its rich history and heritage going back to ancient times? 

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Must See Attractions

I highly recommend organising a tour guide with Wix Squared, visiting the old part of Istanbul as they can have your tickets prepared in advance and provide expedited entry, allowing you to bypass the lengthy queues at the most sought-after attractions:

Raj Mahal
Blue Mosque: Step into a world of breath-taking beauty and architectural mastery as you admire the mesmerizing blue tiles and towering minarets of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, fondly known as the Blue Mosque.
Basilica Cistern: Descend into the subterranean depths of ancient Byzantium and marvel at the hauntingly beautiful columns and shimmering waters of the Basilica Cistern, an underground reservoir that once supplied water to the citys palaces.
Hagia Sophia: Prepare to be awestruck by the magnificence of Hagia Sophia, a symbol of Istanbuls rich history and religious diversity, where Byzantine grandeur meets Ottoman history in a stunning architectural masterpiece. Once a church is now transformed into a mosque.
Topkapı Palace: Enter the opulent world of sultans as you explore the lavish halls, lush gardens, and treasure-filled chambers of Topkapı Palace, the former residence of Ottoman rulers at the heart of their empire for centuries.
The Grand Bazaar: Lose yourself in bustling streets and vibrant colours as you wander through the centuries-old alleys of the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, where you can haggle for treasures ranging from spices and textiles to jewellery and antiques. Make sure to visit Koc Deri for exquisite fur and leather pieces, where craftsmanship meets luxury. And after a day of exploration, unwind at Fes Café, nestled amidst authentic shops offering hand-woven towels and Turkish textiles. Dont miss the chance to shop silver goods from Suren or jewels from Kafkas, Boybeyi, and Sait Koc. For ceramic kaftans, Nahhas is your destination, while Sisko Osmans shop offers a glimpse into the world of genuine carpets. And for unique finds to decorate your home, Dervisand Sofa should be your stops.
The Spice Bazaar: Indulge your senses in a kaleidoscope of exotic aromas and flavours as you meander through the stalls of the Spice Bazaar, a fragrant paradise where you can sample and purchase an array of spices, teas, and traditional Turkish delights.
Extra Special: Let Wix Squared organise ‘Bond Bazaar Stroll’ with access to a little-known door that takes you onto its roof where you can follow in James Bond’s steps in Skyfall.

Culinary Delights

Booking in advance is key to an enjoyable experience in many popular cities like Istanbul. So don’t wait until last minute – plan and make your reservations early to guarantee your place.

Basilica Cistern
Immerse yourself in history at this former prison turned hotel near Topkapi/Grand Bazaar, Four Seasons, offers a tantalizing blend of world and Turkish cuisine with some killer views.
Explore trendy dining options in Nisantasi neighbourhood, treat your taste buds to the best lahmacun and indulge in the must-try kaymakli telkadayifi at Tatbak (one of my still favourite places to visit), Banyan for Asian delights, and Chocolate in Macka. Don’t miss out on the café in the newly opened Vakkoresidence.
Delight in lunch or afternoon tea with breath-taking views at Ciragan Palace, with the option of indulging in a superb Sunday brunch outdoors.
Enjoy great views and a trendy atmosphere at House Café in Ortakoy, perfect for a leisurely breakfast or lunch.
Elevate your dining experience at Mangerie in Bebek, situated atop an apartment building and offering superb food in a casual yet trendy setting.
Savour the freshest seafood at Iskele, a renowned fish restaurant in Rumeli Hisari.
Venture to Arnavutkoy and treat yourself to the flavours of the sea at Eftalya, another beloved fish restaurant.
Delight in the finest baklava at Gulluoglu, a renowned pastry shop.
Indulge in this traditional Turkish dish at Askana Manti, known for its delicious dumplings filled with savoury goodness.
Try simit, a popular Turkish snack, from street vendors for an authentic taste of Istanbul, whether in Nisantasi or at Tarihi Galata simitcisi.
For the quintessential Turkish breakfast experience either order eggs with sucuk (spicy Turkish sausage), olives, cheeses, and jams, or menemen (scrambled eggs with tomatoes and peppers) at Saraypastanesi.
Make a reservation at, two Michelin stars restaurant, Turk Fatih Tutak for that exquisite local fine dining or at one Michelin starred restaurant, Mikla located at the top of the Marmara Pera, with roof terrace bar with stunning panoramic views of Istanbul’s skyline.
Dine in at Before Sunset, one of the most iconic restraurants, and one of my all-times favourite to visit, with stunning sunset views overlooking the famous Bosphorus bridge.
With its chic ambiance, delicious Mediterranean cuisine, and extensive cocktail menu, 360 Istanbul provides the perfect setting in the vibrant Beyoglu district.
Visit Lokanta 1971 to take you to a magical ride of Cagaloglu Hamam’s 300-year-old history and traditional gastronomical experience.

Hidden Gems

Hidden Gems
Indulge in a rejuvenating experience at one of Istanbul’s famous Turkish hamams, such as Galatasaray Hamam, Kilic Ali Pasa Hamam, or Zeyrek Cinili Hamam.
Immerse yourself in art and culture at Sabanci Museum, Istanbul Modern or Dolmabahce Palace. Dine at MSA Restaurant while visiting Sabanci Museum for a culinary experience to remember.
Head to the Princess Islands, a group of nine picturesque islands in the Sea of Marmara. Take a ferry from Istanbul to Büyükada, the largest and the most touristic of the islands, known for its charming Victorian-era architecture, horse-drawn carriages, and serene atmosphere. Spend the afternoon exploring Büyükada’s quaint streets, visiting historic churches, browsing local shops, or relaxing on the island’s scenic beaches. Though my favorite island is Burgaz Ada, a hidden gem cherished by locals. Growing up in Istanbul, I spent all my summers here, making it a place filled with lots of childhood memories. Its smaller size, picturesque scenery, and tranquil atmosphere make it a truly special retreat.
During your visit to Istanbul, be sure to organize a boat tour along the Bosphorus, where you can admire the majestic yali houses and soak in the historic views that line the shores. This journey offers a glimpse into the city’s rich heritage and the architectural marvels that dot its waterfront.
Don’t miss the chance to visit Galata Tower, an iconic landmark that offers panoramic views of the city and the Bosphorus. Afterward, wander through the colourful neighbourhoods nearby, exploring their vibrant streets, charming cafes, and local boutiques. This area is perfect for immersing yourself in Istanbul’s lively culture and discovering hidden gems around every corner and watching streets cats leisurely stroll around. Make sure to stroll along the newly developed Galataport by the waterfront in Karakoy.
Visit Nisantasi neighbourhood for both local and international high-end shopping experience. Shop at Vakko or Beymen for local luxury and Pasabahce for their famous evil eye & Ottoman range of products, and Yargici for a more affordable yet fashionable alternative.  
Enjoy refreshing drinks and stunning views at the newly opened Peninsula Hotel’s rooftop, Bebek Hotel’s Bar or Luca in Bebek, an iconic spot in Istanbul.

There is so much to uncover the beauty and charm of Istanbul, where ancient history blends seamlessly with modern culture, and every corner holds a new adventure waiting to be discovered. Whether you are exploring its ancient streets, indulging in its culinary delights, or immersing yourself in its rich cultural heritage, each visit to Istanbul promises to be unique and unforgettable. It’s a city that will captivate your heart and soul where you will want to return time and time again to unravel its mysteries and embrace its magic.  

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Rita has also shared with us, her secrets on more remote parts of Turkey: