Following my whirlwind trip, I thought it would be worth sharing a few recommendations for sites and restaurants. As mentioned in my previous post, I explored mostly in the Sultanahmet, so my recommendations only fall in this area. I stayed in this area because of my lack of time, but most people tend to stay in Beyoglu which is the newer part and has more hotel options.
Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, Basilica Cistern: These three places are quite close to one another and I did them in one morning, in that order. I arrived at the Blue Mosque right after morning prayer when it opened at 8:30 (double check the hours when you go because it closes throughout the day for the 5 prayers). Remember to carry a scarf with you at all times to cover your head, you never know when you'll want to duck into a mosque. In Hagia Sofia across the courtyard, check out the wishing column and be sure to go up to the second story balcony. The Cistern is worth seeing, don’t fail to walk back to the far back to see the Medusa heads. These three places become packed in the afternoon, so I highly recommend the morning.
Topkapi Palace: As with the other main tourist areas, be sure to arrive right when it opens at 9 AM. Buy a ticket for both the palace and the harem or consider getting the museum pass for your stay depending on what you are going to do. Visit the harem first, its on the left after you enter and I've heard it can get crowded. When I went I ended up being alone, the guards were super friendly and willing to share a lot of their knowledge about the harem.
Spice Market: Small, but beautiful indoor market filled with sweets and spices. This is where I faced the most aggressive vendors trying to sell me goods.
Rustem Pasha Mosque: This mosque is right next to the spice market, although a little hard to find as it is tucked back into the outdoor market (which is a real maze). When I was visiting the mosque was closed for renovations, but it is supposed to have stunning tile work so I’m including it on the list in the hopes that someone else is able to go.
Grand Bazaar: Depending on if you are actually shopping or not, this market can take as little or as much time as you want. Everyone will try to sell you something as you walk by. Stop at a cafe and try the salep!
Nuruousmaniye Mosque: This mosque is quite close to the Grand Bazaar., and though the interior is beautiful, not that the visiting area is more restricted. If you are here for the afternoon call to prayer, you can go up to the terrace level and see/hear the call to prayer across the city.
Hamam (Turkish bath): An absolutely unique experience that I can't recommend more highly! There are several famous Hamam's throughout the city, ask your hotel front desk which one they recommend. Every hamam has a separate bathing area for men and women, or have different time slots for each gender so double check. I did the full package experience, a scrub done by an attendant and an oil massage. Bring a bathing suit bottom as that will be most comfortable, but prepare to go nude on top (if you’re a woman) as this is standard in the Turkish culture. You will never feel cleaner in your entire life.
Food/drink to try:
Pide -- a Turkish calzone of sorts
Salep (sahlep) -- a hot milk drink made with orchid root, such a great way to warm up
Turkish Coffee -- Take note that you have to tell them when you order how much sugar you want because you cannot add sugar after
Kofte -- Turkish meatballs
Lahmacun -- thin, crispy pita with lamb
Borek -- Turkish pastry stuffed with cheese
Doner -- all the kebab stand will be amazing
Aslan Restaurant: Nearby the Grand Bazaar, this restaurant serves a typical Turkish lunch. They have a set offering for the day and you select what you want from the options available. It's on the second floor looking towards the Grand Bazaar.
Hafiz Mustafa: A dessert shop located near the blue mosque, it has a massive selection of Turkish desserts.
Kybele Hotel: A restaurant near the Hagia Sophia, but off the main path a bit which is nice. Has a neat interior and large Turkish menu.