Istanbul travel guide and things to do: Nine must-do highlights

THE ONE LANDMARK

Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya in Turkish) is a sixth-century church converted to a mosque in 1453 and now a museum. Even today, it's an awesome building not just for its sheer monumental bulk but for its dim, solemn interior, glimmering with superb Byzantine mosaics in gold, dark green and blue, and displaying the world's largest examples of Arabic calligraphy. See ayasofyamuzesi.gov.tr

THE ONE PALACE

The vast Topkapi complex was extended over centuries by Ottoman sultans as their palace and power base. Its tiled, elaborately decorated pavilions contain treasure-troves of rare books, silverware, armour and jewellery. A superb porcelain collection is housed in the world's largest kitchens, where 1000 servants once worked. Its terraces have great views over the Bosphorus. See topkapisarayi.gov.tr

THE ONE MUSEUM

Housed in a former 16th-century vizier's palace, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts displays a sumptuous collection of calligraphy, tiles, antique carpets, illuminated Korans, inlaid daggers, incense burners and mother-of-pearl boxes. Don't miss the official signatures of Suleiman the Magnificent, displaying intricate calligraphy embellished with floral and geometric designs. See tiem.gov.tr

THE ONE DISTRICT

Ortakoy – Turkish for "middle village" – sits on the Bosphorus on the European side of Istanbul and was once a favourite Ottoman getaway. Now firmly in the middle of the metropolis, its many restaurants, street markets, small shops and nightclubs ensure its perennial popularity. The small but wonderfully ornate Ortakoy Mosque sits on the waterfront. See howtoistanbul.com

THE ONE BAZAAR

The Egyptian Bazaar, part of the 1660s New Mosque complex, was for centuries an Asia-Europe trade conduit for cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg and other spices. These days it's touristy, but still magnificently scented. Sacks of spices, olives, dried fruit and floral tea leaves assault the senses. You can also buy Turkish pastries oozing honey or rose water. See misircarsisi.org.tr

THE ONE COFFEEHOUSE

Just west of the Egyptian Bazaar is fabled Istanbul coffeehouse Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi, established nearly 150 years ago and now a leading supplier of Turkish coffee beans. Follow the aroma of roasting beans and settle into the Art Deco interior among locals for a thick Turkish coffee in a tiny glass, perhaps flavoured with chicory or cardamom. See mehmetefendi.com

THE ONE HOTEL

Convert an Ottoman palace on the Bosphorus into a posh hotel, grace it with a marble-encased hammam and gorgeous swimming pool and give it a mezze bar with harbour views, and you have a winner. Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus is a tranquil retreat from Istanbul's tumult, and has luxuriously appointed guestrooms from which to watch ferries and cargo ships sail past. See fourseasons.com

THE ONE RESTAURANT

The cuisine at Mikla at the Marmara Pera hotel from chef Mehmet Gurs – one of the early pioneers of contemporary Turkish cuisine – focuses on old Anatolian dishes such as lamb shanks with smoked eggplant, or monkfish with olives and capers. From the rooftop bar, there are uninterrupted views over the Bosphorus and its mosque-studded skyline. See miklarestaurant.com

THE ONE HAMMAM

Cagaloglu Hamami is perhaps the most elaborate of the score of historic hammams in Istanbul. The 1741 building features a marble interior and a central steam room under an Ottoman dome. Have yourself rubbed down by an attendant using a coarse mitten, wallow in the baths, and finish with Turkish tea before emerging with an all-over tingle. See cagalogluhamami.com.tr

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ONE MORE THING

The Bosphorus has been a great waterway for thousands of years, and taking to the public commuter ferries that crisscross between the Asian and European shores is the easiest – and cheapest – way to get onto the water to admire the minaret-punctuated Istanbul skyline. Smaller, less crowded boats also ply tourist routes. See ido.com.tr

Brian Johnston travelled as a guest of Silversea Cruises and Four Seasons Hotels.

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