Having spent close to eighteen months in Istanbul the main difference worth noting is maybe an obvious one. Istanbul at weekends is crowded. Crowded like Trafalgar Square or Times Square on New Year’s Eve at midnight.
If you like crowds you are in for a treat and can find endless ways to amuse yourself. Shopping malls open late and stay late;usually until ten o’clock. Many of the bigger malls on the European side house Cinemas showing movies in English with Turkish subtitles. A heads up; they have an interval here during the movie. The first time I went I thought something had gone wrong and only half the movie was being shown. It gives you plenty time to get a snack, a cup of coffee and use the bathroom. If you have an attention span like mine it also allows you to forget most of what has happened.
Istanbul does not wake early. If friends invite you for breakfast “early in the morning” this means around two o’clock so you need not worry about setting your alarm. Of course the flip side is that everything opens later than you may be used to. You can find somewhere to eat or to get coffee until well after midnight. Bars, clubs and restaurants open until the early hours. The only time I’ve seen a club close was at 4am on a Monday morning.
If you want to escape the crowds there are numerous gorgeous parks across the city or you can even just take a boat trip along the Bosphorus which is an amazing way to see this city is all it’s splendour. A basic ninety minute tour will cost you around fifteen lira and will give you a chance to look around but no explore. From Sirkeci or Besiktas you can find half day or full day tours that often include lunch and give the option to get off at various points and look around.
Despite being warned to avoid the Princes Islands at weekends I’ve never found them overly crowded but the ferries can feel a bit like an early morning city commute so leave early -before eleven o’clock if you can.
Personally I’m not a huge fan of crowds or shopping but should you wish to check out the main attractions such as The Blue Mosque and The Grand Bizarre without being jostled like goats go as late in the day as you can. There are always plenty of places to take refuge for cay or coffee.
If you have had enough of the heat check out the Basilica Sistern the original underground water supply system for Istanbul. Underground and beautiful. You can even dress up as a Sultan and be photographed with your harem should you choose.
Step aside New York. I believe Istanbul is the new “city that never sleeps” so just enjoy everything this wondrous city has to offer.