08:00 Start your day with one of the most famous sights of Istanbul, The Blue Mosque. Nicknamed because of its 20,000 handmade blue Iznik tiles, its proper title is the Sultan Ahmed mosque. With six towering minarets, this historic building took seven years to build, and was finally completed in 1616. Morning visits are best to avoid limited access during the five daily prayer times.
10:00 From here, it’s a short 10-minute walk to Topkapi Palace, the primary residence of Ottoman sultans for 400 years. At its peak, the palace was home to some 4000 people. The gorgeous architecture and interiors, not to mention the colourful stories played out in the grounds over history, could keep you here for days.
14:00 However, there’s so much more to see, and no doubt you’re hungry. For lunch, find a table on the patio outside Metropolis Restaurant, a haven for traditional Turkish and Ottoman delights in the heart of historical neighbourhood Sultanahmet. Try a mezze platter for a varied taste experience, or go for the grilled kebabs, finishing off with sweet baklava for dessert.
15:00 One of the best places to experience a real Turkish bath is Cag˘alog˘lu Hamami. Situated in the historic quarter, it was built in 1741 and was the last hamam to be built during the Ottoman Empire. Taking a bath the Turk way isn’t exactly relaxing – it involves lots of sweating and being slapped into a lather by giant, naked ‘masseuses’ – but it is one hell of a story to take home. It can be quite expensive so make sure you discuss what you want with the receptionist before you begin, and be sure to sample some traditional apple tea and a nargileh (or water pipe) to wind down afterwards.
17:00 The 4000 shops and stalls in the 15th-century Grand Bazaar make a great place to lose yourself among local sights and smells. With 58 winding streets and masses of men trying to sell you a carpet, it’s brilliant bedlam, but haggle hard to avoid getting ripped off.
19:00 Begin your evening by heading across town to the award-winning 360Istanbul bar. Perched in the penthouse of a 19th-century apartment building, it offers a breathtaking 360˚ view across Istanbul’s cityscape, plus ritzy cocktails and international cuisine ranging from grilled octopus shish to slow roast cherry duck (mains from about £15).
21:00 Stay lubricated at Sultana’s, which offers cheesy music and beautiful belly dancers to keep you entertained long into the night. For something a little more chic, Reina’s gorgeous setting on the banks of the Bosphorous is popular with the young and trendy party-goers of Istanbul.
03:00 Sleep at Sumo Cat Hostel. This boutique location is surrounded by cafes, art galleries and shopping, and is a two-minute walk from Istıklal Street, lined with plenty of pumping nightspots should to continue the party. Dorms from £13pn.
10:00 Wake yourself up with the best coffee in Turkey. Ethem Tezçakar Kahveci (Halicilar Sokak, Grand Bazaar) is run by a fourth-generation Grand Bazaar coffee shop owner, Bekir Tezçakar. Near ‘Rug Street’ within the Grand Bazaar, the tiny interior can squeeze in no more than four people, but is well worth it.
11:30 Another of Istanbul’s most famous sights is the Hagia Sophia. A former Orthodox cathedral, later a mosque, and now a museum, seeing it in its full architectural glory is a must for any visitor to the city.
14:00 Lunch at Meze by Lemon Tree, named as one of Istanbul’s top 10 restaurants. With mouth-watering meat dishes and a terrifyingly large selection of raki (the national evil, aniseed-tasting spirit), it should revive you. Mains from £10.
15:30 Silahtarag˘a Power Plant is probably Istanbul’s most interesting cultural space. The city’s sole provider of electricity between 1914 and 1952, it was decommissioned in 1983 and reinvented as a centre for the arts in 2007. See the website for full listings of current exhibits.
17:00 If the warm climate is taking its toll, go for a walk around the Magic Ice Museum of Istanbul. At -5˚C, 1400sqm across and containing 70 tonnes of imported ice, it’s bound to cool you down. Entrance costs about £9.
20:00 End the weekend at Arkaoda, a hip bar in the heart of the city’s alternative scene, Kadife Sokak. Bands, DJ sets and contemporary art make a great offbeat close to your time in unusual Istanbul.
Return direct flights to Istanbul’s Ataturk airport from London Heathrow start from £165 with AnadoluJet