Istanbul is an amazing city and one of my favourites. It straddles Europe and Asia, and is both European and Asian. The Blue mosque and Aghia Sophia in the Sultan Ahmet district of the city are fine examples of how East meets West. The two ancient places of worship are now museums, but they look, as they face each other, to be comfortable in the other’s company. Clearly they have been having an amicable dialogue over the centuries, despite the Crusades and other wars fought in the name of religion.
If you go to Istanbul you may fly in to the SAW airport on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, but the Topkapi Palace, Sultan Ahmet and the Grand Bazaar, (all must-visit places) are on the other side of the straits. My advice is to go online and book a seat on a shuttle service which takes you to your hotel from the airport. It cost 10 Euros in 2012. You can do this from the Kemal Ataturk airport too, and if you are a male traveler, you may find this method of getting out of an airport safer than going in a taxi, given the scare stories you hear of poor single men being fleeced by taxi drivers because they insist on taking them to strip joints and the like.
The Grand Bazaar and the Book Bazaar are really worth the visit. If you are on a cruise ship you will undoubtedly be taken to the Grand Bazaar where you may be allowed to explore on your own. Remember that you are expected to haggle; if you don’t you will spoil the sellers’ fun! If you are the first customer in a shop, you can often name your (reasonable, but cheap) price for the items you want. The early bird does catch the worm! It is a superstition which is also shared by some Greeks – if you give money willingly, then the seller will have very good luck (i.e. business) all day.
There are many hotels on Aghia Sophia street and these are in the heart of the old Sultan Ahmet district. You usually pay per room rather than per person, which makes accommodation in Turkey cheaper than in countries such as Greece.
When you get tired of doing the tourist rounds, there are many restaurants and café-bars to relax in, and you could do worse than look in on the Shah (Sah) restaurant/bar which is located just across the street from the Blue Mosque, close to the Mosaic restaurant (also a good place to eat). You can sample a nargile there (a water pipe) and listen to live music on certain evenings.
Istanbul should be on everyone’s Bucket List, and after your visit a good book to read is Orhan Pamuk’s “Istanbul” which contains the Nobel-Prize-winning author’s memoirs of growing up in the city.