How to Spend 4 Days in Istanbul - A Perfect 4 Day Istanbul Itinerary
Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to stand on two continents? Do you wonder if you would feel the pressure of the two different cultures pressing upon you from both sides if you did? Or maybe simply nothing would happen as it’s just a geographical border created by us humans. The best answer to this is to check it out for yourself, and Istanbul is one place you can do so.
This How to Spend 4 Days in Istanbul - A Perfect 4 Day Istanbul Itinerary covers the city's main historical and cultural landmarks, hidden gems, and natural beauty. While following my itinerary, you will be able to spend a remarkable 4 days in Istanbul.
Istanbul is where the border of two powerful continents - Europe and Asia - runs through the middle of this ancient city. And that is not even the main attraction. For thousands of years, Istanbul has served as a capital for some of the greatest civilisations in the world and has seen the fall of them as well.
So history, religion and art geeks, brace yourself! Formerly known as Byzantium, or later Constantinople, Istanbul still contains a lot of traces from its past. And you are about to discover them all in this 4-day journey through Istanbul, Turkey.
Istanbul can be visited all year round. The best time to visit the city is between March and May, and September to November. Winters in Istanbul can also be quite cold, so do prepare some warmer clothes.
There are also several great places to eat at in Instanbul, so do have a look at some reviews for places before you head to a restaurant for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
- 4 day itinerary
- Average of 7 stops per day
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Istanbul 4 Day Itinerary
Wander around Sultanahmet - The Old Town
- Have Turkish breakfast at Hafız Mustafa
- Explore Sultanahmet Square
- Visit Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
- Get amazed by The Blue Mosque
- Quick lunch at Mihri Restaurant
- Enjoy views of breath-taking Hagia Sophia
- Basilica Cistern
- Get fascinated by Topkapi Palace Museum
- Have a fancy dinner at Sarnic Restaurant
- From the Romans to the Ottoman Empire and Back
- Follow the Strait of Two Continents
- The best views of Istanbul
Using the map of Istanbul, you can explore all the days and stops.
Wander around Sultanahmet - The Old Town
Begin your first day of four days in Istanbul itinerary with the adventure of historic Sultanahmet District, which is Istanbul’s Old Town and the place where the Greeks first colonised the city.
The old town is a peninsula that is surrounded by water on three sides. The area is home to some of the oldest and top attractions of Byzantium and Constantinople, such as the famous Hagia Sophia and the Ottoman Topkapi Palace.
On this day you will be able to try authentic Turkish cuisine, enjoy Turkish coffee, learn about Istanbul's history, and see the most remarkable monuments. You are going to walk a lot so wear comfortable shoes. Don't forget to dress appropriately, as you will be visiting sacred religious sites.
Have Turkish breakfast at Hafız Mustafa
Established in 1864, Hafiz Mustafa is a famous Turkish patisserie that serves traditional breakfast, cakes, and drinks, including well-known Turkish coffee.
Hafiz Mustafa is conveniently located near Sultanahmet tram stop and other city's landmarks, making it a perfect location to start your day. It is the most famous for its pistachio baklava, Turkish delight, coffee, and pomegranate tea made from fresh pomegranates.
Note, Hafiz Mustafa is more expensive than other traditional Turkish cafes that can be found anywhere around the city. However, believe me, it is worth paying a visit!
Explore Sultanahmet Square
Named as the "Historic Heart of the Old Sultanahmet", Sultanahmet Square, also known as Hippodrome, is one of the most well-known squares of the city. It is surrounded by famous monuments such as Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Obelisk of Theodosius, and others.
Located in the same place as the 4th-century Hippodrome built by Constantine the Great, the square is an ideal location to begin Istanbul's adventure. Around the square, you will find several historical monuments, street vendors, and fountains.
To avoid crowds, arrive early in the morning. Also, be aware of strangers offering guided tours. Remember, you don't have to pay to wander around the square.
Visit Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts
The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, also known as Türk-Islam Eserleri Müzesi, is a museum showcasing objects from the Ottoman, Seljuk, and earlier periods. It is home to collections of ceramics, glassware, calligraphy, tiles, and carpets.
Opened in 1983, the museum occupies the building of İbrahim Pasha Palace that was built in the 16th century.
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts is considered one of the most important museums in the world. It is also well-known for its massive collection of decorative carpets that is recognised as the world's richest collection of carpet art.
If you are interested in arts and want to learn more about Turkish arts, you can't exclude this museum from your Istanbul itinerary.
Get amazed by The Blue Mosque
Built-in the 17th-century, the Blue Mosque or Sultanahmet Camii is a popular tourist attraction and the most photographed landmark in Istanbul. It is also one of the top things to see in Istanbul.
The mosque was built by Sultan Ahmed I and for a long time was called Sultan Ahmed Mosque. The temple got its recent name from blue tiles placed on its walls. Inside the mosque, you will find more than 200 stained glass windows, several chandeliers, marble columns, and elegant carpets.
The entrance to the Blue Mosque is free of charge; however, it is closed during the prayer times, usually around midday and late evening. Before entering, be sure to read visiting rules placed by the entrance.
Quick lunch at Mihri Restaurant
Located next to Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam Turkish baths, Mihri Restaurant is a traditional Turkish restaurant serving authentic dishes and drinks.
The restaurant has spacious indoor and outdoor seating with fascinating views of Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque in the background. It also organises regular live music events with traditional dancing. If you would like to enjoy your lunch with music, look out for signs outside the restaurant stating time and date.
If you are travelling with friends or family, Mihri Restaurant has share platters and dishes suitable for 3-4 people.
Enjoy views of breath-taking Hagia Sophia
Built as a Christian Greek Cathedral in the 6th century, then transformed into an Ottoman mosque, Hagia Sophia fascinates everyone with its architecture, age, size and mystical atmosphere. Its name means 'Holy Wisdom'.
Hagia Sophia has been regarded as a medieval symbol of Christianity for years until it got transformed into the mosque. It was also named as the largest shrine in the world.
Today, it is a museum where you can learn about Hagia Sophia's history, see its iconic mosaics and breath-taking interior. The museum receives millions of visitors every year. It was also named as the most visited museum in Turkey.
Istanbul has hundreds of ancient cisterns hidden underground; however, only two of them are accessible to the public. The Basilica Cistern is the largest and most unique landmark in the city.
Built-in 532 during the reign of Emperor Justinian, Basilica Cistern is 143 metres long and 65 metres wide. Its roof is supported by 336 marble columns that are equally spaced. This cistern was able to hold 80,000 cubic meters of water.
Today, it is a popular tourist attraction that is included in everyone's places to visit in Istanbul list. You can wander around the spooky underground passage and enjoy beautiful architecture that has been untouched for centuries.
Also, scenes from James Bond From Russia With Love film was filmed in the Basilica Cistern.
Get fascinated by Topkapi Palace Museum
Established in the 15th century, Topkapi Palace is probably the most colourful building in Istanbul. For centuries it was used as the main residence for Ottoman sultans. Today, it is a museum that showcases the luxurious life of sultans.
The palace occupies a 45 000 square meter area. It consists of administrative buildings, pavilions, numerous gardens, more than 300 rooms, two mosques and a treasury where sultan's beloved artwork used to be stored.
Topkapi Palace Museum is regarded as one of the richest museums in the world which contains more than 80,000 objects on display. The museum collection is updated regularly and scattered through the palace complex.
You will need at least 2 hours to see everything, so try to arrive as early as possible.
Have a fancy dinner at Sarnic Restaurant
Located inside the 1500 years old cistern, Sarnic Restaurant offers its customers a unique dining experience. The restaurant's interior is similar to Basilica Cistern, so customers can feel like they are dining in the basilica.
The restaurant serves authentic Turkish dishes, including various platters for sharing and extravagant mains. I highly recommend trying truffle oil-infused beef with goat's cheese or salmon trio platter.
Sarnic Restaurant is not a family-friendly fine diner, so I don't recommend going with young kids. However, if you are travelling alone, with partner or friends, this restaurant is a must to visit.
It is situated near Hagia Irene, just a short walk from the main entrance of Topkapi Palace.
From the Romans to the Ottoman Empire and Back
On your second day of this 4-day trip to Istanbul, you will move away from the Old Town and explore the other side of the city. You are going to see some of the greatest pieces of monumental architecture ever found in Istanbul.
You will also visit several market alleys where you will be able to enjoy colourful traditional arts and buy some souvenirs. This day is going to be full of new experiences, lots of walking and noise, so be prepared.
All destinations are easily reachable on foot, but if you are travelling with kids, I highly suggest using Istanbul's public transport. It's a fully packed day, so start as early as possible to see everything and avoid crowds.
Visit Spice Bazaar
Situated in Eminonu quarter near the Galata Bridge, Spice Bazaar is one of the city's biggest market. It is also known as an Egyptian Market.
Spice Bazaar's stalls specialise in spices, nuts, dried fruit, Turkish delight and baklava. You will also find delicious sandwiches and traditional drinks. It is a perfect place for breakfast and buying snacks for the day.
Most of the items are sold cheaper than anywhere else in the city, so don't rush and have a good look. While wandering around, grab yourself breakfast and some snacks.
You will need about an hour or two to have a proper look at all stalls.
Get lost in the Grand Bazaar
One of the largest covered markets in the world, the Grand Bazaar, also known as Kapali Carsi, is a popular tourist attraction where you can feel like a resident of the Ottoman Empire.
Established in the 15th century, the Grand Bazaar today covers the area of 30,700 square meters with about 60 streets and more than 4000 shops. It is also regarded as one of the first shopping malls in the world.
You will be able to spot traditional rugs, homeware, lanterns, and other colourful items decorated in various patterns.
Note, the bazaar is closed on Sundays and bank holidays.
Try Turkish bath at Historical Vezneciler Bath
Established in 1481 by the Sultan Beyazid II, Historical Vezneciler Bath is a Turkish bathhouse where you can relax and clean yourself after a busy morning in bazaars.
The bathhouse offers Turkish mixed baths, body scrubs, and soap massages. You will be able to enjoy up to 50 Celsius degrees temperature inside the main dome. After all procedures, you will be served a traditional tea to finish up Turkish cleansing ritual.
A bath ritual will help you to feel refreshed and energised to continue exploring the city. However, make sure to book your appointment in advance.
Stop by Valens Aqueduct
Completed in the 4th century, Valens Aqueduct is a fascinating place to see in Istanbul during a 4-day visit. It is a masterpiece of Romans architecture.
The aqueduct is about 1 kilometre long and stretches over the busy road. Now it is a breath-taking monument, but back in the day, it was an important structure that supplied water to Constantinople.
Try to arrive no later than mid-day to avoid peak hour and tourists groups. You will be able to take Instagram-worthy photos of the structure from the road. Just be careful and respect pedestrians and drivers.
Have lunch at Şehzade Cağ Kebap
Every Istanbul travel guide has to include at least one kebab restaurant, and my one is not an exception. Before moving to the next stop, have lunch at Şehzade Cağ Kebap, and taste the best kebabs in the city.
Situated in a small district of Hoca Pasa, the restaurant serves special kebaps originated from Erzurum in Eastern Turkey. You will be able to see different cooking methods and taste fatty lamb meat.
You can also order some extras to go with your meal as the restaurant serves snacks, salads and various toppings. It is also quite affordable and filling.
Visit Rüstem Pasha Mosque
Situated in Hasırcılar Çarşısı (Strawmat Weavers Market) in the Fatih district near Golden Horn, Rüstem Pasha Mosque, also known as Rüstem Paşa Camii, is the fascinating Ottoman mosque.
Completed in 1563 and designed by Mimar Sinan, the mosque is decorated with mosaic tiles (Iznik tiles) that create different patterns. It has more than 80 different patterns, making it one of the most colourful buildings in Istanbul.
If you want to learn more about the mosque's rich history and its design patterns, I highly recommend taking a guided tour. You can also visit the mosque on your own. Just remember to cover your shoulders and no shorts or short skirts.
Look at breath-taking Süleymaniye Mosque
Süleymaniye Mosque is a landmark that you can't miss during your Istanbul visit. It is an amazing building that you can see from nearly every part of the city.
Completed in 1558 and designed by Mimar Sinan, Süleymaniye Mosque is the second largest mosque in the city. It is a complex that has its Turkish bathhouse, kitchen, laundry and sleeping rooms. A mosque is also a resting place of Sulayman the Magnificent and architect Mimar Sinan.
The most famous feature is the interior that is decorated with mosaic tiles and stained glass windows. You will also find some amazing calligraphy decor details.
Don't rush to leave mosque's area as there are plenty of lovely cafes such as Mimar Sinan Teras Cafe, Sehr-i Saadet cafe, and more.
Follow the Strait of Two Continents
The third day of your 4 day trip to Istanbul is going to be all about visiting modern landmarks of the city. You will move even further from the Old Town and surrounding districts, following the Bosphorus Strait - a natural waterway that divides Asia from Europe.
You will visit places like Dolmabahçe Palace, National Palaces Painting Museum, Ortaköy Mosque, and finish your day with a luxurious cruise of Bosphorus River. You will have an opportunity to experience a completely different Istanbul.
This day is going to be more relaxing, so you can have a sleep in and start your day a little bit later. Remember to wear comfortable clothes and shoes since you will spend the day on your feet.
Have refreshing breakfast at Dolmabahce Cafe
The first stop of your day is to a simple river beach cafe located near Dolmabahce Palace. The Dolmabahce Cafe offers simple food and drinks for a very appealing price. It is a good place if you want something light (or sweet) next to your first destination.
The cafe has a selection of authentic food, drinks, and sweets. I highly recommend trying Turkish chai and lamb pancake that is perfect for people who like a filling breakfast.
Also, Dolmabahce Cafe is famous for its magnificent views of the Bosphorus River, especially during the morning and sunset.
Note, the service might take longer, so be prepared to wait.
Visit Dolmabahçe Palace
Located in the Besiktas district of European coast of the Strait of Istanbul, Dolmabahçe Palace is a massive building decorated in gold and crystals. It was used as an administrative residence of sultans.
Built-in the 19th century, Dolmabahçe Palace was the first European-style palace in the Ottoman Empire. It was built to provide luxury, comfort and views of the Bosphorus River. Today, the palace is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Istanbul.
Palace visitors can enjoy luxury interior, roam around courtyards and learn about the lives of the sultan family in the 19th century. Near the palace, you will also find Dolmabahçe Mosque that is worth a visit if you have spare time.
Explore the National Palaces Painting Museum
Situated inside the Crown Prince's chambers in Dolmabahçe Palace, National Palaces Painting Museum is home to the collection of paintings of the national palaces. There are about 200 paintings in the museum.
The museum consists of two floors and is divided into several sections such as Westernisation in the Ottomans, Court Painters, Oriental Painters, and Turkish Painters. The museum collection aims to introduce Turkish art to visitors.
Spend about an hour in the museum if you want to see every gallery.
Enjoy views of Ortaköy Mosque
Ortaköy Mosque, also known as Büyük Mecidiye Mosque, is another sight that you can't skip during your 4 days in Istanbul, Turkey. It is probably the most picturesque mosque in the city.
Situated in Ortaköy district, where art galleries, cafes, and night clubs make it one of the most popular spots to visit for both tourists and residents.
Established in the 18th century, Ortaköy Mosque is a relatively small mosque, built-in neo-Baroque style. It has the main small dome, ceiling covered in pink mosaics, and two tall minarets.
The mosque is opened daily, from morning to early evening. Note, you can't enter during the prayer times.
Have a coffee break at My Black Cafe
My Black Cafe is a lovely chic restaurant located near the Bosphorus Bridge and showcasing spectacular views over the river.
The restaurant has a selection of various meals, including pasta, salads, pizzas, and sandwiches. It is a perfect place if you wish to have a light meal, but nothing too expensive. If you don't want to eat, My Black Cafe has various homemade cakes and traditional hot drinks.
It is a perfect place to relax after lots of walking.
Views from the Bosphorus Bridge
Bosphorus Bridge, also known as 15 July Martyrs Bridge, is one of two Istanbul's bridges that connects Europe to Asia.
Completed in 1973, the bridge is over 1.5 km long and 30 meters wide, making it one of the longest suspension bridges in the world. It is a famous spot for taking photos of Istanbul and the river.
It gets extremely crowded during the sunset, so try to come before it to avoid crowds. If you want to watch the sunset from the bridge, try to come earlier to secure your spot.
Go on a Bosphorus Cruise
Bosphorus River Cruise has to be included in everyone's what to do in 4 days in Istanbul list. The cruise will help you to see the city from a different perspective. You will be able to spot magnificent mosques and even the Galata Tower dominating the cityscape.
There are plenty of cruise companies around the city. However, I highly recommend Turnatour Dinner Cruise Ship, which is close to Dolmabahçe Palace. The cruise includes a luxurious four-course dinner, too!
I suggest booking tickets in advance to guarantee the best price and the most suitable time for you. Don't forget to bring your camera as the night view of Istanbul is breath-taking!
The best views of Istanbul
On the last day of this Istanbul itinerary, you are going to forget about learning the city's history and customs. You will relax your body and mind while exploring places with spectacular views over Istanbul.
You are going to visit underrated Beylerbeyi Palace with bamboo forest, explore Nakkaştepe Millet Bahçesı park with picturesque views, and finish your day with Çamlıca Hill.
The destinations are scattered around the big district with Çamlıca Hill being the furthest. It still can be reached on foot, but if you don't like walking long distances, I suggest taking public transport.
This day is all about spending time outside, so be prepared.
Wander around Beylerbeyi Palace
Located on Asia's shore of Bosphorus River, Beylerbeyi Palace was a summer residence for sultans. Today, it is a grandeur palace complex open for the tourists to explore.
Completed in 1865, the palace has 6 large halls, 24 rooms and beautiful courtyards. It is divided into men's and women's sections which have separate entrances. While wandering around the courtyards, you will notice several kiosks where sultans used to enjoy their tea and coffee.
Further away from the main building, there is a bamboo forest where you can take lovely photos. Note, you aren't allowed to take photos inside the palace building.
Explore Uskudar Nakkastepe Millet Bahcesi
Uskudar Nakkastepe Millet Bahcesi is one of the biggest parks of Istanbul (on Asia's part). It is the most famous for magnificent views of Bosphorus Bridge and European side of the city.
Located near the river park and busy roads, Uskudar Nakkastepe Millet Bahcesi is a perfect place to enjoy the tranquillity and escape from noisy Istanbul's street. The park is more popular among the locals, so you barely will find tourists crowds.
If you are travelling with kids, the park has quite a big playground for kids to relax, and for you to enjoy the picturesque view.
Taste authentic Turkish seafood meals at Ismet Baba Restaurant
This itinerary for Istanbul can't be completed without Ismet Baba Restaurant. The restaurant is situated next to the river in the Kuzguncuk district. It specializes in fresh seafood meals.
Don't expect fancy interior as a family-run restaurant is quaint. The menu is also quite simple; you will find seasonal fish and seafood appetizers.
The restaurant is on the pricey side due to the great views of the river. Be prepared to pay a little bit more than in the restaurant around the Taksim square (famous for boutique restaurants).
Discover Icediye Caddesi
From Ismet Baba Restaurant follow the main street named Icediye Caddesi. The leafy main street of Kuzguncuk district is filled with independent art galleries, local coffee shops, boutique shops, and colourful townhouses.
The most famous building in this street is Chocolatier Aziz Bey which sells various types of seasonal chocolate products. You can personalize your drinks with different flavours and other add-ons.
After tasting the chocolate, visit some art galleries and pick up gifts from local shops which are cheaper than in the Old Town.
Watch the sunset from Çamlıca Hill
The last stop of your 4 days in Istanbul guide is Çamlıca Hill - one of the highest points of Istanbul.
The hill is 267 metres above sea level and showcases the best views of Istanbul, Marmara Sea, and Bosphorus Strait. On a clear day, you can even see snowy peaks of Uludag Mountain.
The best time to visit the hill is during the sunset (or just before it) when the sun falls on the domes and minarets of Istanbul's mosques. If you are travelling in spring, you will be able to pass through dozens of tulips and wildflowers blooming on the hill.
If you are hungry, there are several kiosks selling drinks, ice cream, and other snacks.
This 4 days in Istanbul itinerary has covered Istanbul's main and undiscovered landmarks that you can't miss while visiting the city.
Istanbul is a big city that has plenty of interesting places. It is impossible to fit everything in just four days. If you have some time left or you had decided to stay longer, I recommend including Chora Church and the museum, Istiklal Street, and Galata Tower to your itinerary.
To make the most of your trip to Istanbul, travel with an open mind, engage with locals, and follow the customs. If you follow these simple things, you will be able to see the real beauty of the city.
Enjoy your trip to Istanbul - a city where two continents meet!
This article was first published on May 19, 2019 19:50 UTC.