1 Week Guide to Affordable Luxury in Istanbul
Judy & Glenn Tudor
Arts & Culture
Food & Wine
Istanbul is truly a city that has everything: a diverse history, rich culture, foodie paradise and passionate people that will leave you longing to return to Istanbul again and again to discover more of what it has to offer. This guide will show you how you can experience all of the above in affordable luxury and show you why Istanbul should be near the top of your bucket list.
The Fora Difference
Book with Judy & Glenn to access exclusive perks and experiences on your trip.
Free upgrades, spa credits and more—we got you
Customized travel planning for your style
Expert advice from people who’ve actually been there
Where to stay
Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul At The Bosphorus
Storied accommodation with a Turkish soul featuring a traditional hammam, tea ceremonies and local cuisine in union with the excellence of the Four Season name.
When you book Four Seasons through Fora, you will enjoy exclusive Four Seasons Preferred Partner benefits. Your advisor will be pleased to give you more details.
Hotel Raffles Istanbul
As luxe as its Zorlu Center address, this all-suite stay delivers flawless service and sweeping city views.
$100 hotel / resort credit.
Upgrade and extended check-in/out whenever possible.
Grand Hyatt Istanbul
Sprawling, luxury hotel with elegantly designed rooms, pools, a spa and an unmatched location in the heart of Istanbul.
$100 food / beverage credit.
Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.
Unlock perks by contacting Judy & Glenn to book your trip.
Day 1: Sultanahmet Sightseeing
For your first full day in Istanbul, we recommend getting an early start by grabbing a simit from one of the many street vendors on your walk over to the Sultanahmet area also known as Old Istanbul. Start your day visiting the Hagia Sophia that was originally built around 530 AD. This building was constructed with marble from various parts of Turkey and other countries from around the region creating an architectural masterpiece. This building has been a religious center for Christians and Muslims at various times throughout its nearly 1500 hundred year history. Prior to 2020 it was a UNESCO World Heritage site and visitors could see Christian murals and Muslim design throughout the site. In 2020 the government returned it to being a mosque, but visitors are still welcomed.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is across the courtyard from the Hagia Sophia and is referred to as the Blue Mosque because of the beautiful blue tiles inside the mosque. It is another example of beautiful architecture and was built by the Ottoman empire in the 1600 hundreds.
Just southwest of the Hagia Sophia just beneath the large public square is the underground Basilica Cistern. This cistern provided a water filtration system to many of the palaces around the city center of Istanbul and really gives you the sense that you have gone back in time to see such a sophisticated water distribution system held up by countless pillars.
Grab lunch at Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi. This is a very old and well known spot for their famous Turkish meatballs and bean salad. After lunch, explore the Topkapi Palace that was built by the Ottoman Empire in the 1450’s and served as the palace for Sultans for over 400 years.
Have dinner at Giritli for delicious Aegean mezzes. Beware that the Turkish people love to share their food with you and they will continue to feed you until you are bursting at the seams. Mezzes are several small plates that allow you to try several different dishes. Most are served with copious amounts of bread so pace yourself and do not immediately fill up on all the delicious bread.
Accessibility Note: They will also allow wheelchairs into the mosques but may plastic wrap your wheels as able bodied visitors are required to take off their shoes before entering the mosque. The plastic wrap is easy to remove after you exit. The Basilica Cistern is also accessible. When you go to the public entrance an attendant will take you to the accessible entrance.
Day 2: Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar
Today you will need stamina to propel you for a shoppers paradise so treat yourself to a traditional Turkish breakfast. Your table will quickly be filled with about a dozen or more dishes of food. Our favorite breakfast dish is the Menemen, which is eggs and stewed tomatoes. If you had the simit yesterday, try it again but this time eat it with clotted cream and honey or a mix of tahini and molasses. Wash all of this down with a cup or two of Turkish tea. If you are not staying at the Peninsula, I would recommend stopping there for breakfast (eat outside by the water) and then walking across the Galata Bridge to the Grand Bazaar.
Accessibility Note: Istanbul is known as the city of seven hills and although Istanbul is a very walkable city, it can be a very steep ascent and/or descent to get to and from the Grand Bazaar. Wheelchair users and others with mobility issues may need transportation to get to and from the Grand Bazaar.
The Grand Bazaar is the oldest and one of the largest covered markets in the world. There are thousands of vendors and an expansive variety of shopping you can do here. Bargaining at the Grand Bazaar is expected and although the shopkeepers are persistent, they are also very hospitable offering shoppers tea during the bargaining process.
The Spice Bazaar or Egyptian Market is also close by. Locals and visitors purchase staples of Turkish cuisine and it is also a feast for the eyes. If you start to feel hungry after looking at all of the food, there are vendors scattered throughout the square in front of the Spice Bazaar that can sell you some freshly roasted chestnuts, roasted corn or simits.
Not far from the Spice Bazaar is the Suleymaniye Mosque. This Mosque is one of the largest mosques in Istanbul and was inspired by the Hagia Sophia and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. In Istanbul you will see many mosques across the landscape and be in awe of the architecture of these buildings that have been here for hundreds of years. If you did not grab a snack at the Bazaar, next to the Suleymaniye Mosque is Kurufasulyeci Erzincanli Ali Baba. This spot is famous for Turkish style beans and rice. They have outdoor seating with amazing views of the mosque.
Day 3: Bosphorus Cruise with a Food Tour
Istanbul is strategically located at the gateway to the Black Sea spanning across both the Europe and Asia continent. The Bosphorus strait has been a significant waterway throughout history and is a focal point of the city. As you walk across the Galata Bridge you will see fishermen with their lines cast catching fish throughout the day.
Istanbul is also known as the city of cats. Perhaps it is the banks of the Bosphorus that brings so many stray cats to this city. A cruise along the Bosphorus by private yacht or ferry is definitely a must-do during your stay. We recommend starting with a food tour at the spice market in the afternoon and then taking a ferry across the Bosphorus to the Kadikoy neighborhood. Kadikoy is a quaint area of Istanbul that has some delightful and historical shops and restaurants. Stop by Sekerci Cafer Erol for a warm cup of Sahlep and browse their extensive display of treats. Sahlep is the ultimate comfort drink and will definitely warm you up on a chilly day. Ciya Sofrasi is a mezze restaurant in Kadikoy that is another good option for lunch or dinner. They have a display counter of the various mezze options that you can choose from and then they bring them to your table.
Day 4: Turkish Style Relaxation
If you have been following this itinerary, you will be ready for a day of relaxation. Visit a Hammam Spa or many of the luxury hotels in Istanbul will offer Hammam treatments. Hammam is a Turkish bath without the bathing tub. It typically involves being in a steam filled room that is usually designed with marble. Attendants will pour warm water over you, and bathe and exfoliate you with soap using mitts. After another rinse, you can add a partial or full massage to your treatment for some extra pampering. Most Hammams are segregated for men and women but many of the hotel spas will have couples Hammam rooms where couples can enjoy this experience together.
Day 5: Dolmabahce Palace and Istiklal Street
Begin your day by going to Dolmabahce Palace. This palace served as the seat of government for the Ottoman Empire and its Sultans. It is a beautiful palace that provides some insight into what it was like to live as a Sultan.
After touring the palace, head to Istiklal street. This pedestrian-only street has a huge variety of shops and restaurants to enjoy. We like to grab a doner, which is kebab meat (can be chicken or lamb), pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, onion and french fries, wrapped in a lavash flatbread. This is typical street food in Istanbul and available all over the city. There are also various coffee shops and turkish delight shops along the street where you can grab a snack. There is also the Istiklal Caddesi Tram trolley car that can take riders up and down the street. This tram is more for the experience of riding in a 19th century trolley than as an efficient transportation option.
For dinner at the end of Istiklal street furthest away from Taksim square, one block to the north you will find the Marmara Pera Hotel. This hotel has a rooftop bar with amazing 360-views of the city. If you are hungry, this hotel also has Mikla, a fine dining experience of new Antolian Turkish cuisine. They have tasting menus or a la carte options. The views from this restaurant are worth the visit alone and they have outdoor seating when the weather is nice.
Overview of Additional Days: Karakoy Neighborhood
During your stay in Istanbul, you have probably seen the Galata Tower from a distance. Start this day visiting the Galata Tower. This tower was built as a watch tower for the city and now houses a museum and exhibition space. You will need to purchase tickets to go up the tower but the panoramic views of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn are magnificent. The observation deck is open so you can get some great pictures of the city.
Accessibility Tip: The Galata Tower has an elevator that will take you up to the observation deck.
After you have visited the Galata Tower, walk down to the Karakoy neighborhood. This is a trendy area in Istanbul that has a youthful art vibe. There are multiple coffee shops, restaurants and shopping to explore. Stop into Gulluoglu, arguably known as the best Turkish baklava and borek store in Istanbul. Try a few samples and then buy some baklava to take home. If you love it, they also ship their baklava all over the world.
Make the time to stroll along the Bosphorus, enjoy the sights and sounds of Istanbul on your final day. Seeing the locals enjoy the Azapkapi Sahil Park along the water and take in the views from the Golden Horn Bridge make for an enjoyable afternoon. For dinner, go to Karakoy Lokantasi for mezzes. This is a family run restaurant with a beautiful cafe atmosphere and delicious plates to share.
You will leave Istanbul on your final night feeling like you are leaving a city that has become a home away from home after being spoiled by the hospitality of the Turkish people, the immense variety of delicious food and becoming enchanted by the rich history that will beckon you to return for another unforgettable experience.
Need to Know
For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Ellie Zade’s guide, History, Architecture and Fine Dining in Istanbul.
Get in touch with Judy & Glenn
Did you like this guide? Reach out to customize and book your own experience. Or, just to chat about travel in general.
You can normally expect a response from Judy & Glenn within a business day or so. You'll also be subscribed to our travel newsletter (you can unsubscribe at any time).
This guide is part of our ongoing series on Travel to Türkiye.