I’m jealous! Seven days with nothing to do but explore Istanbul is a dream.
For your first days, check out the 4-day itinerary.
Once you have worked your way through all that...
Step away from the hustle and bustle and take a daytrip out to the Princes Islands, car-free islands in the Sea of Marmara.
Regular ferry service runs from the Asian and European sides to several of the islands, dotted with Ottoman-era villas. Büyükada, the big island, is the main attraction for day visitors.
Once there, enjoy breakfast at one of the waterfront cafes, then rent a bike or a phaeton (horse-drawn carriage) to explore.
St. George’s Monastery, perched at the top of the island, provides a great (and sweat-inducing!) destination.
Light a candle there, or worship at a different temple...
Back on the mainland, treat yourself to Turkish-style carbo-loading after an active day. Mantı are dumplings - smaller than tortellini - stuffed with meat (or occasionally cheese and spinach), served fried or steamed with yogurt sauce.
Try them at Casita, a small cafe on a pedestrian-only street in Nişantaşı, or one of the other top locations in the city.
While you digest, consider taking in a Whirling Dervish show.
Explore the spiritual side of Istanbul near the Golden Horn. Start by walking along the Golden Horn in the Eyüp area, toward the teleferique. This gondola-like lift will bring you up to the little community of Eyüp.
The highlight there is sitting at the Pierre Loti Cafe and sipping tea while looking out over the Golden Horn.
Caffeinated, walk down through the Eyüp graveyard, with its ornate tombs and sculptures.
At the bottom, the Eyüp mosque was the first built in Istanbul and among the holiest sites in the Muslim world today.
Now make your way into the Fatih neighborhood, where an earlier religious site beckons. The Chora Church, like Hagia Sofia, was built by early Christians but later turned into a mosque. Happily for tourists, the exquisite Christian mosaics were covered, rather than destroyed, during that conversion. Now revealed again, they are a stunning example of the art.
Next door to the Chora Church, asitane restaurant gives you a (literal) taste of Ottoman life, as the chef uses painstakingly researched recipes for original Ottoman dishes. Of course, he can’t recreate the harem for you, or let you lounge on floor cushions during your meal, but otherwise you’re pretty well transported.
After a day of the sublime, what does one do for the evening? Perhaps a return to earthly pleasures. Istanbul’s nightlife is legendary, and utterly unconnected to its spiritual past. Head to the clubs on the Golden Mile, and have dinner with a view, then transition to the dance floor until the sun comes up.
Day 7: Head up the Bosphorus to sample living like a modern Istanbul’u. Begin with breakfast in Rumeli Hisarı, just under the second bridge over the Bosphorus. Afterward, take a ramble through the fortress that gives the neighborhood its name, built by Fetih Sultan Mehmet in 1453 in order to sack Constantinople.
If you’re visiting on a weekend, peek inside the Borusan - an office building chock full of contemporary art. Though a functioning headquarters during the week, it opens its doors to the public on Saturdays and Sundays.
From there, walk, bus or taxi up the Bosphorus to Emirgan’s Sabancı Museum - a house museum with an enormous collection of Ottoman script and occasional special exhibitions from all over the world.
The restaurant there, müzedechanga, specializing in riffs on traditional Turkish food, is among the better eateries in the city.
A short walk up the Bosphorus takes you to Emirgan Park, a must-see during April’s tulip festival, when the blooms grow all over the central grotto as well as in well-groomed shapes, like the Turkish flag.
Hop in a taxi up to IstinyePark, Istanbul’s newest and swankiest mall. Increasingly a part of daily life in Istanbul, malls here house everything from grocery stores to car dealerships, and IstinyePark will give you a sense for this cultural phenomenon. While there, check out some of the top Turkish brands, and maybe even catch a film.
Then, it’s a short walk to the metro to skip back to the center of town. For a final indulgence, consider spending your last evening at Ulus 29 or Sunset Grill & Bar. Both perched on a hilltop in swanky Ulus, the restaurants are the playground of Istanbul’s elite. The international menus provide options for anyone who doesn’t fancy another kebap, and the views are unbeatable. Get there before the sun goes down for the full effect.