Part TRAVEL JOURNAL and part LIFESTYLE BLOG, this site captures DESIGN, CULTURE, CUISINE and STYLE as seen through the eyes of ALI SWISHER.

24 hours in Istanbul

24 hours in Istanbul

Straddling two continents, Istanbul is a city rich in history, culture and architectural delights. Here’s a laid-back guide to a 24-hour stay in the magical Turkish metropolis.


After an overnight flight from the Seychelles, we landed at around 5 am for our layover in Istanbul. We checked into Soho House, got settled in our stunning suite and took a leisurely 2 hour nap before starting our day.

Located in the Beyoglu district, Soho House Istanbul is housed in a stunning 19th century palazzo that was originally the American Embassy. From ornate walls and soaring ceilings to marble stairwells with baroque iron railings, the house boasts the luxurious elements typical of Italianate architecture.

rich velvet drapes, a luxurious tufted chaise and and the most beautiful STONE mantel i’ve ever seen.

rich velvet drapes, a luxurious tufted chaise and and the most beautiful STONE mantel i’ve ever seen.


By 9 am we were having breakfast at the clubhouse. We walked to a nearby taxi station, jumped in a car and made our way across the river towards the Sultanahmet district — the heart of the old city and home to Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and Basilica Cistern.

As we were walking towards Hagia Sophia, we made conversation with a friendly local who was on his way to visit his brother’s rug shop. The designer in me couldn’t resist taking a detour. 30 mins and one new Turkish rug later, we were back on track.

At around 11 am we visited Hagia Sophia, which is an absolute must-see when in Istanbul. I could go on and on about it’s long history, breathtaking and paradoxical Byzantine and Islamic design elements and the humbling scale of this incredible place — but for now, I’ll just encourage you to visit.

Views from Hagia Sophia include The Blue Mosque’s iconic minarets in the distance.

Views from Hagia Sophia include The Blue Mosque’s iconic minarets in the distance.

Gypsea Sailor Istanbul.jpg

At noon or so, we checked in for our visit to the Blue Mosque. We removed our shoes as instructed and I wrapped a blue scarf (they provided) around my head before heading in during the bustling midday prayer. It was an incredible experience and a feast for the eyes. Similar to the neighboring Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque features classic Islamic architecture with Byzantine Christian design elements.

Gypsea Sailor Blue Mosque.jpg

We left the Blue Mosque at around 12:15 and made our way through Sultanahmet Square where we stopped and snacked on roasted chestnuts from a street vendor before walking up the historic Divan Yolu towards the Grand Bazaar.

At 12:30 or so we entered the bustling Grand Bazaar which is bursting with vivid spices, vibrant textiles, colorful lanterns and aggressive merchants trying to lure you into their stalls. A wall of Turkish delight drew us to our first stop and the vendor immediately started cutting pieces of various flavors of the sweet delicacy for us to try. Instantly addicted, we bought a few boxes and moved on to the spices. We walked away with a bag full of saffron, curry, and a variety of fish and meat spices for our friends, family and pantry.

By 1 o’clock, we were ready for lunch as we stumbled upon a hole-in-the-wall restaurant on the outskirts of the Grand Bazaar and enjoyed doner kebabs and tea. As we continued our exploration of the bazaar, a colorful wall of bright pillows and bold textiles caught my eye.

Mekhann sells amazing, high-quality pillows and textiles shop in the Grand Bazaar. They also have a store in Beyoglu.

Mekhann sells amazing, high-quality pillows and textiles shop in the Grand Bazaar. They also have a store in Beyoglu.

Following an afternoon of bargaining and being fed knafeh (sooo good) and tea at around 3 pm we decided to unwind with champagne and cocktails at A’Ya which is on the rooftop at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet (hiiiighly recommend).

Tired (and a little tipsy) after our eventful day, we decided to head back to Beyoglu at 4 pm to continue exploring the area. The Beyoglu district is one of Istanbul’s more cosmopolitan areas and is home to a creative and western-influenced crowd. We checked out art galleries, antique stores, cafés and kept the rainy evening open to whatever we stumbled upon.

We checked back in at Soho House at 8ish to clean up for the evening. On our way to our room, we stopped by the front desk to inquire about restaurant recommendations for dinner in the area (pro tip).

At 9 pm we had dinner at Sahrap which is a 5 min walk from Soho House and offers traditional Turkish cuisine. We ordered everything the waiter recommended and paired our feast with an incredible bottle of Turkish wine.

After dinner, we made our way back to Soho House for a nightcap before heading back to our room to pack/sleep in preparation for our long haul back to California the next morning.


eat, drink & explore

Additional recommendations from some of my worldly, design-obsessed friends

  • Topkapi - see the Harem and the jewels.

  • Dolmabache - built in the 19th c as the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire and one of the most glamorous palaces in the world.

  • A’Ya Rooftop at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet - gorgeous views and great for a cocktail in between or after visiting Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cisterne and the Blue Mosque.

  • Ciragan - good for tea/cocktails on the Bosphorous.

  • The Bar with No Name - speakeasy featuring craft cocktails in Beyoglu.

  • Çiya Sofrasi - Featured on Chef’s Table. Enough said.

  • Nusr-Et - You’ve probably seen this chef’s famous salt sprinkle. Google Salt Bae if you haven’t. If you’re into red meat - this is the spot.

  • Sunset - high-end hilltop dining with stunning views.

  • Salt Galata - amazing art gallery housed in a former Ottoman bank.

  • Kilic Ali Pasa Hamam - when in Istanbul, got to a hammam

  • The Bosphorous - A cruise down the Bosphorous strait is something I wish we had made time for.

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