We will be reaching Istanbul on 18th December at 2 pm and leaving on 22nd December at 8 pm. This mean we have 18th, whole days of 19th, 20th, 21st and most of 22nd in Isanbul. Would it be possible to do any side trips/ or day trips during this time? If so which ones could be recommended? Also, any suggestions as to which neighborhood to stay while in Istanbul?
Sultanahmet in Old Town will put you closest to the main sites. It's a nice area too with lots of places to eat. It's probably the most popular place to stay.
I don't know much about side trips from Istanbul as we flew and drove when we left the city. Perhaps there are day cruises down the Aegean. We did the Bosphorus Cruise one day - this could be considered a bit of a side trip.
We had 3 full days in Istanbul (the Bosphorus cruise was part of this) but I wish we had 4. We didn't kill ourselves to see it all either though in those days because we wanted to really enjoy what we saw.
If you don't have the RS Istanbul book, get it. It's all we used along with a great street map.
Enjoy - it's a beautiful and interesting place!
Definitely stay in Sultanahmet area. There are a lot of B&B style hotels there, rick mentions a few.
As for side trips, I'm not sure that you will have enough time to devote to the city and do a side trip. Sights that you will not want to miss:
Old Town outside Sultanahmet:
Near city walls:
St. Saviour in Chora
There are of course, many other sights, but these were some which I especially enjoyed. Sultanahmet will easily fill a full day. The other suggestions another one. A day cruise on the Bosphorus would be a wonderful way to round out your visit. Some of them visit surrounding islands, such as the Princes Islands, which you may find interesting.
WE spent five days is Istanbul this past March. Great city, you'll love it.
I woudl recommend staying in or near Sultanahmet. Ask your hotel to get you an Akbil so you can use the trams (run above ground, easiest way to use and pretty much self explanatory). You put cash on the Akbil and use it each time you go through the turnstill until it runs out and then you load it up with some more. Two people can use one or at least they could when I went. The tripadvisor forum has a lot more info on this.
The first day, we did the Blue MOsque, the Cistern, and Aya Sophia (got there late afternoon).
Second day, Topkapi and Harem, Archaelogical Museum. We did a lot of just wandering around and enjoying the city - and EATING. Best.street.food.ever.
Third day, we took a day trip to Ephesus which was amazing. Flights from Istanbul are ridiculously cheap (I think we paid $60 for both of us round trip on Turkish Air) so definitely look into this option. Cappadocia is another one you can possibly do as a day trip. You can find private tourguides for not too much $$ to guide you for the day and drop you back off at the airport.
Fourth day, we hit the Grand Bazaar, Spice Markets and the backstreets between the two which are also full of merchants selling their wares. Then we headed to the newer part of town, walked down Istikal St and explored the Galata Tower area.
Fifth day, we took the cruise up the Bosphorus, which is a really nice day trip and a good way to see different parts of the city. If you have less time, you can hop off at any number of the stops and wander back toward Istanbul on our own.
Definitely do a little restaurant research before you go. We only had one disappointing meal the entire time. Otherwise, we followed the advice of others and had a great experience. It ended up being much cheaper than what we had budgeted for food wise. I think we spent half as much as we planned for food/drinks.
Have a great time!
With the time you have I'd recommend staying in Istanbul. As others have suggested, there really is so much to see and do! We liked Hotel Sultan Hill near many of the major sites. I also agree RS Istanbul book is a great resource!
Have a great time!