Most flights arrive at Ataturk Airport which is on the European side of Istanbul and with good links to the city by metro, bus and taxi. Easy Jet fly to Sabiha Gokcen which is a brand new very under used airport on the Asian side and between 45 mins to an hour from Istanbul depending on the traffic.There is currently a bus service which meets the flights leaving about an hour after you land and goes straight to Taksim Square one of the main transport hubs.You can also get the local E3 Bus to 4 Levent Metro, the metro then goes to Taksim and on to Sishane, Beyoglu, this is simple on the way in and the buses run to time but on the way back finding where the bus starts from is more difficult, ask at the Metro to make sure you use the correct exit.There are various Airport Transfer Services, check on line for Sabiha Gokcen Airport and there are a couple of useful sites.
The other thing you need to know if you have not been to Turkey before is that you need to buy a Turkish Visa, which used to be bought when you land before you go through Passport Control but now should be purchased on line before you go.
One of the most valuable pieces of information is about travelling around Istanbul, there are funiculars, trams, old and new, buses, metro and best of all ferries and you can travel on all of them easily if you buy an Instanbul Kart. You pay a deposit then you can then top up with what ever amount you want and you use it on the machines that are at all transport stops, this gives you discounted travel and makes life very simple. Be warned that getting the card initially can be difficult as they seem to run out of them.
Istanbul is really divided into three parts, the two European sections, Sultanahmet which contains the main sites, Beyoglu the other European section which has shopping and the best selection of eating and drinking places and therefore I think the best area to stay. The third section is the Asian shore which should definitely be visited.
As usual check the web sites www.booking.com and www.venere.com on our last visit we stayed at Lokum Ev Beyoglu, www.lokumev.com, which is an absolute gem. It is in the heart of Cihangir ones of the nicest areas and a short walk from both Taksim and Iskital Caddesi, the main street. Beautifully appointed rooms, a lovely owner and staff, great breakfast and an excellent location, it ticks all the boxes.
Istanbul is an eating paradise, the food is amazing, so fresh and tasty and can be incredibly cheap, even when you go upmarket to some of the top modern Turkish restaurants it is still very reasonably priced by European standards for the quality.
Lokanta Maya, Kemankes Caddesi 35A, www.lokantamaya.com is in the Tophane area and is a very smart modern restaurant, the cooking was excellent and this was a great first taste of modern Turkish cooking. Reservations essential at weekends, reasonably priced for the quality.
Meze at Lemon Tree, Mesruyiet Caddesi 83B, www.mezze.com.tr in the Pera district of Beyoglu is another fine example of modern Turkish cooking, although the restaurant itself is in a simple but more traditional style. Great meze choices, very different from the run of the mill offered in many places, booking essential at weekends.
Yeni Lokanta, Kumburaci Yokusu 66, www.lokantayeni.com is just off Iskital Caddesi, it was top notch, a beautifully designed restaurant, brilliant food and top class service. This was new Turkish cooking at its best and at reasonable prices. Booking required for any night.
Asmali Cavit, Asmalmescit Caddesi 16, just off Iskital Caddesi, is reputed to be the best meyhane in Istanbul and lived up to the reputation, Old fashioned, great service, good food and very reasonable prices. Booking needed any night as it is so popular.
Kasabim, Simsirci Sokak, Cihangir, is a local restaurant owned by people who also own two butchers shops therefore meat in the form of steaks or burgers is the speciality. Lots of other choices, very friendly service, however not licensed.
Dehliz, Vezirhan Caddesi, near the grand bazaar, a good place for lunch after shopping. Choose from a selection of prepared traditional dishes, it was good and so cheap, not licensed.
Ficcin, Kallavi Soka, off Iskital Caddesi, have three or four places in the same street, and produce dishes from the Caucusus region and was recently mentioned in an article as one of the top ten lokantas in the city. Very reasonably priced and a decent choice of dishes.
Mozaik, Incil Cavus Sokaka, Sultanahmet, off Divanyolu Caddesi, the tram route, is near the Blue Mosque and is in a lovely street just off the main area, it does traditional Turkish dishes as well as excellent salads and very good service. Slightly pricey but you are in the main visitor part of the city..
At the Beyoglu end of the Galata bridge on the left as you cross are loads of fish stalls and little places with just a grill and a few tables where you can eat very basically and very cheaply. On the Sultanahmet side you can get fish in a roll for next to nothing, you go up to the boat and order then grab your seat, they come round with soft drinks and pickles and also wet wipes, very handy.
Krependeki Imroz, Nevizade Sokak 16,Beyoglu, is one of many in a narrow street lined with places but this is reckoned to be one of the better “Meyhanes” traditional Turkish eating places. Good meze starters then grilled fish or meat. There are another couple in the same street also recommended in guide books.
Boncuk, Asmalimescit Sokak, Beyoglu, is another recommended Meyhane, the staff are not too pushy and it is reasonably priced.
Gedikli, Sofyali Sokak, Beyoglu, is another Meyhane that always seems popular with locals and the fish is good, try the special of Sea Bass kebab, the prices are reasonable.
Nakka, Timarci Sokak 4, is in a small street not far from the Galata Tower, the meze lunch was good and reasonably priced and the friendly service from the owner and staff made you want to return to sample other dishes.
Ece Aksoy, Otelier Sokak No. 9 is a very modern looking place with some really different dishes, the owner is charming and it makes a great change from the more pushy Meyhanes in the surrounding streets. Go down Asmalimescit Sokak and it is in the last street on the right.
Lerb-I Derya, Richmond, Richmond Hotel, Iskital Caddesi 445, Beyoglu, the hotel lobby does not prepare you for the restaurant on the sixth floor with the most amazing view. Get a window table and enjoy the food which unlike some of the other roof top restaurants does have a Turkish slant, reasonably priced for the setting and quality.
The Pera Marmara Hotel has a roof top restaurant, highly recommended but very expensive, it also has a terrace bar area which probably has the most spectacular views because of the height, go and soak up the view and the cocktails !
Ciya, Guneslibahce Sk, 43, Kadikoy, the Asian Side, has a reputation for doing the some of best Turkish food in Istanbul. There are actually 3 Ciya restaurants beside each other all specialising in different aspects of Turkish cooking. They are unlicensed and now have English menus as the number of visitors from when we first visited with local friends has increased hugely. Reports of standards slipping are I think unfair as the food is still good, prices cheap but service is not wonderful but you should still visit.
Kadi Nimet Balikcilik, Serasker Caddesi 10, Kadikoy, has the reputation of the best fish restaurant in Kadikoy and judging by the people looking for tables and what was being produced it deserves it. We did not get a chance to try as there were no tables available but will definitely try next time.
If you are doing the sites in Sultanahmet it is more difficult to find somewhere for a drink such as a beer, there are lots of cafes selling cold soft drinks. If you want a beer then check your guide book there are places but one to avoid is the Sultan Pub. It is in a prime site near the Blue Mosque and looks very welcoming, unfortunately they have no prices for their draft beers on the menu so charge the same as a vastly expensive imported beer. Go somewhere else, this was our only disappointment in Istanbul.
Kybele Café & Hotel, Yerebatan Caddesi 35, is a lovely place doing food but also serving drinks surrounded by the lovely lamps which are a feature of the place. Friendly service and reasonable prices.
Yesil Ev, Kabasak Caddesi 5, is a lovely hotel with a garden which does drinks and food, it is not cheap but it is a lovely relaxing spot to visit.
Simdi, Asmali Mescit 5, Beyoglu, is a great place for a beer or a cocktail they also serve food and it seems popular with locals.
Babel Café, Turnacibasi Ceddesi 56, Cihangir, is in the heart of this lovely area and is a very friendly bar café doing food. The staff are friendly and is in a great location to enjoy the atmosphere of this area, good reports of the food.
Social, Siraselviler Caddesi 72, Cihangir, this wine bar and restaurant has a garden and also has occasional live music. Pleasant place for a relaxing drink.
Alchemist, Akarsu Caddesi 30B, Cihangir, we only stopped for a glass of wine but were pleasantly surprised by the choice and quality and have heard good reports of the food.
Tezgah Café Bar, Yenicarsi Caddesi 20, Beyoglu, just down the hill from the Galata Lycee, is a bar, café and bookshop, pop in for a beer and buy a second hand book from the hundreds on the shelves. Friendly staff and customers, the only downside is the choice of music, mainly rock. Don’t be out off because this quirky bar is a gem.
North Shield, is a group of “English” style bars, normally I would avoid these but actually they offer a decent range of drinks at reasonable prices and a comfortable setting. One in Yerebatan Caddesi, Sultanahmed, and one in Mesruyiet Caddesi, Beyoglu, are two of the handy ones for visitors.
Litera Bar, Yenicarsi Caddesi 32, Beyoglu, is a roof top bar and restaurant in the Goethe Institute. More relaxed than some of the other terrace bars and smaller but if you can snare one of the tables at the edge the views are spectacular. Sunday lunchtime reservations are required, best time is between 5 and 7pm.
Gazeteci Erol Dernek Sokagi, runs parallel to Iskital Caddesi, on the Cihangir side one street back and close to the Galata Lycee. This street has loads of bars which somehow seem to have escaped the ban on outdoor seating, it can get lively but there is always one or two which are quieter for a refreshment.
360, Iskital Caddesi 311, Beyoglu, is at the top of an apartment block, there is a roof top terrace and the bar is one of the best places for a cocktail and a view and the restaurant is very popular with a fusion type menu.
Cezayir, Hayriye Caddesi 12, Beyoglu, just behind the Galata Lycee, keep going down several flights of stairs and find yourself in a magic garden of a bar and restaurant with indoor spaces for the cooler weather and if you exit at the lower level you come out into a street lined with restaurants and bars known as French Street.
Take the ferry over to the visit Kadikoy on the Asian Side to visit some of the best and most laid back bar life in the city. Kadife Sokak, known locally as the bar street is about a fifteen minute walk from the ferry and has an amazing selection of places. Walk up Sarrat Ali Sokak from Guneslibahce Sk the main restaurant and market street and you will pass many good places on the way. Kadife Sokak also has plenty of places to eat. Check the times of the last ferry back.
Istanbul is an amazingly lively city and for one with a predominantly Muslim population has a great bar scene. The current government however is trying the curb this and the barring of outside tables particularly in parts of Beyoglu has led to the closure of many bars. Surprisingly some streets and areas seem to have escaped this or just choose to ignore the ban.
Raki is the traditional drink to have with meze and seafood and this is still incredibly popular in tradition meyhanes. More and more however wine is becoming popular and Turkey has both international and indigenous grape varieties and produces some very decent red and white wines. Two red varieties to look out for are kaleak karasi and bogazkere. Having in the past found the wines drinkable but not exciting, this time having done some research on grape types and producers we had some really good wines. In restaurants wine is expensive so worth doing some homework or seeking advice.
Lastly a trip to Istanbul would not be complete without an Efes beer, particularly welcome after a morning of sightseeing even if in some areas the relaxed outside tables have vanished, there is always a welcome bar or café.
Most of the sites are the ones that everyone knows, for the Topkapi Palace a tip is that since you have to queue and pay separately to see the unmissable Harem, do this as soon as you enter then see the rest of the palace at your leisure.
The Haghia Sofia Mosque and the Blue Mosque are also required sites to see along with the Grand Bazaar which is less frenetic that expected, be prepared to haggle and stop for tea or soft drinks at the Fez Café in the middle.
Yerbatam Sarnici, just round the corner from the Sultanahmet is a wonderful place to visit and one of the most surprising.
The Istanbul Modern is well worth a visit, an excellent permanent collection of Turkish art and special exhibitions, the tram stops about five minutes walk away.
Take time to visit Ortakoy a lovely part of Istanbul just under the bridge linking the Asian side and the European side and from there are hour long cruises along the Boshporous up to the next major bridge crossing. These go from a pier to the left of the Ortakoy Mosque if you facing the water, buses go there from Taksim.
Probably the first time I have recommended a Shopping Centre but if you want to see a spectacularly designed shopping centre which looks like an outdoor canyon then visit Kanyon it is on the metro at Levent. The stop is Levent as oppose to Levent 4 the end of the line and the shopping centre is linked to the station.
Lastly take the ferry to Kadikoy on the Asian side, this area has some of the best eating and drinking in the city as well as streets full of the freshest market produce you can imagine. Great atmosphere both during the day and in the evening, see recommended places to eat and drink above.