If you’re looking for an incredible 4 day Istanbul itinerary that covers all of the must-see sites, incredible food spots, quirky neighbourhoods and epic places to stay, then look no further.
In this guide, we’ll explore almost every inch of the best parts of the city. 4 days isn’t long, but following this itinerary from someone who’s been there and done it will ensure that you’re maximising every second that you have and can get the best photos of Istanbul.
Before we jump into the itinerary, let’s cover some of the need-know basics like where Istanbul is situated, how to get there and the best time to visit. Trust me – arriving in Istanbul can be very confusing to navigate and extremely chaotic at certain times of the year, so I’d recommend giving this a read before moving on to the itinerary section to ensure that you’re starting your trip without any hiccups.
Where is Istanbul
Istanbul is situated on the far left side of Turkey. It’s just 132 kilometres from the Bulgarian border and 632 kilometres from the Greek border. It’s the biggest city in Turkey and by far one of the most popular and impressive in the country.
Many people assume that Istanbul is the capital of the country – which it was, until 1923 – however, when the Republic of Turkey was founded, the capital became Ankara.
How to get to Istanbul
Plane | if you’re travelling to the city by plane then you’ll need to be aware that there are two airports: Istanbul Airport (IST) and Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW). The latter is slightly further from the city centre.
From Istanbul Airport (IST):
The quickest and cheapest option to get from Istanbul Airport (IST) to the city centre is via the metro. It takes approximately 40-50 minutes and costs less than £1 (although you’ll also need to purchase an Istanbulkarts which is a travel card for just under £4 and can be used by multiple passengers). However, if you’re travelling with children under the age of 7, then they can travel for free. You’ll need to leave the airport via exit 11 and hop on the M11 to Gayrettepe Station before swapping to M2 to Vezneciler Station and from here, you’ll need to walk approximately 15 minutes to the historic centre.
It’s worth noting that the metro only operates between 6 am and 12 pm, so this is only an option for certain flight times.
Alternatively, you can take a taxi for just under £20 or a shuttle bus for just under £4 and both of these will take around one hour due to heavy traffic in the city. The bus operator is Havaist buses and these typically have a few leaving every hour, 24 hours a day. This will take you to Aksaray – Beyazit Meydan bus stop and from here, it’s a 10-minute walk to the historic square in Istanbul city centre.
From Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW)
It’s possible to take the tram from the airport to Kadıköy – known as the Asian side of Istanbul – via the T4 tram. From here, you’ll need to switch to the T3 tram to reach the ferry port. You’ll then need to take a sea taxi in order to reach the European side of Istanbul. Personally, I think this option is quite confusing and as such, I think the best way to reach the centre is via taxi or bus.
Havaist buses also operate from Sabiha Gokcen Airport and so it’s straightforward to hop on one of these and head to the historic centre. Similarly to Istanbul Airport, these operate around the clock and are an affordable and easy option. You don’t need to pre-book and it’s unlikely that you’ll have to wait very long to leave the airport. However, another bus company – Havabus – also follows a similar route but has a reduced timetable.
Check prices: Flights
Bus | the bus network across Turkey is pretty good and so this is a great option if you’re looking to include Istanbul as part of a wider itinerary. Popular locations to travel to from Istanbul include Izmir, Selçuk, Bodrum and even Cappadocia.
Metro Turizm is one of the biggest bus companies which services most of Turkey, as well as its neighbouring countries. However, to check all the options available, Busbud is one of the best platforms.
Check prices: Busbud
Car | driving around Turkey is very doable and whilst I didn’t personally choose this option, I know many people that have done this without any issues. However, driving in Istanbul is more chaotic than in other areas of Turkey and as such, should only be done if you’re confident.
Check prices: Rentalcars.com
The best month to visit Istanbul
Summer | summer in Istanbul runs from July to September and temperatures often sit between 28 and 35 degrees. For the cooler end of the scale, you should consider visiting as early as possible in the season. However, most schools in Europe have a long summer holiday between July and September, so you can expect to pay higher prices and experience crowds during this time.
Autumn | autumn in Istanbul runs from October to November and the weather is much more comfortable, with temperatures between 15 and 23 degrees. Some days will see some rainfall, however, others will be bright and sunny. Yet, one thing for sure is that the colours of the trees will begin to change to gorgeous oranges, reds and yellows as fall begins to set in. Crowds will have died down significantly and prices will also have dropped.
Winter | winter in Istanbul runs from December to March with temperatures often between 8 and 12 degrees. There is likely to be a fair few days of rain during winter, however, it’s very rare that it snows in Istanbul. Both prices and crowds will be at their lowest, so if you don’t mind carrying a raincoat or umbrella, then this could be a good option if you’re on a tight budget.
Spring | spring in Istanbul runs from April to June and is arguably the best time of year to visit the city. With temperatures between 18 and 27 degrees, it’s very comfortable to explore Istanbul before the wave of tourists on the school summer break flock in. The flowers and trees across the city are beginning to bloom and the city is really coming back to life after a few months of rain and grey skies. Prices are a little more expensive than in winter, but not yet at their peak.
Is 4 days enough in Istanbul?
4 days in Istanbul is the perfect amount of time to see most of what the city has to offer. However, if you have extra time then 5 days in Istanbul (or even longer) would allow you to cover some additional areas and attractions, such as Büyükada, Princes’ Island.
I personally like to take things a little slower and so I spent a week here and still didn’t manage to tick everything off my list.
These four days are going to be full-on but filled with many incredible and unforgettable experiences.
Istanbul 4 day itinerary overview
- Day 1
- Sultan Ahmed Mosque (The Blue Mosque)
- Basilica Cistern
- Hagia Sophia
- Topkapi Palace Museum
- Cağaloğlu Hamam
- Day 3
- Karaköy Güllüoğlu
- Galata Bridge
- Galata Tower
- Istiklal Caddesi
- Day 2
- Grand Bazaar
- Mısır Çarşısı – Spice Bazaar
- Suleymaniye Mosque
- Dolmabahçe Palace
- Day 4
- Bosphorus Cruise
- Çamlıca Mosque
- Çamlıca Park
4 day Istanbul itinerary
Before we jump in, I just wanted to tell you about SafetyWing – they’ve been my go-to travel insurance company since I started travelling full-time because they’re ridiculously affordable (around 80% cheaper than my previous insurance and they offer basically the same thing).
I won’t say too much more, but here’s the link if you want to check them out: SafetyWing
Istanbul itinerary day 1
Sultan Ahmed Mosque (The Blue Mosque)
On day 1 of your 4 day Istanbul itinerary, you’ll head to The Sultan Ahmed Mosque as early as possible – preferably just after 9 am to avoid the crowds.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is also known as the Blue Mosque and is one of Istanbul’s most visited attractions. Constructed under the 14-year reign of Ahmed I – the sultan of the Ottoman Empire until 1617 – the Blue Mosque holds a worthy place on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. It’s undeniably beautiful, with 5 domes that have been hand-painted in 20,000 glazed ceramic tulip patterns and 200 stained glass windows.
Entrance to the site is free, however, you’ll need to ensure that you’re dressed appropriately. This means that women must cover their heads, arms and legs and men must wear long trousers and a long-sleeved top. If you don’t have the appropriate clothing upon arrival, then you will be able to rent it for a small fee.
Before entering the mosque, you’ll be asked to remove your shoes before wandering around designated areas and marvelling at the impressive architecture.
Note: The mosque is closed during prayer time which falls in line with the Islamic prayer timetable.
The Basilica Cistern is one of the most unique yet popular attractions in Istanbul. It’s essentially an old underground water filtration system which was previously used for the Great Palace of Constantinople and Topkapi Palace – another great attraction that I include on this 4 day Istanbul itinerary.
Today it’s been transformed into a unique museum with sculptures placed among the water that can be viewed from the walkway which leads around the system that is dimly lit with coloured lights. It’s an impressive sight and one I would place high on my list of the best things to see in the city.
Every time I walked past this attraction there was an enormous line as it is one of the most popular things to do in Istanbul. As such, I’d strongly recommend getting a queue jump ticket ahead of time, as you’ll be on a tight timetable trying to squeeze as much as possible in over your 4 days here.
Check prices: Basilica Cistern queue jump
No trip to Istanbul would be complete without a trip to the infamous Hagia Sophia – pronounced Ayasofya in Turkish. The site has been switching back and forth between a museum and a mosque, however, since 2020 it has been the latter. As such – and similarly to the Blue Mosque – you’ll need to be dressed appropriately and consider the prayer times throughout the day.
This is perhaps the most famous attraction in Istanbul and so it should come as no surprise that you will need a queue jump ticket if you don’t want to queue for a significant amount of time. If you’re prepared to stand in the queue to enter for free, then you can expect to be waiting for up to 2 hours at times – I did that and I don’t recommend it!
Although Hagia Sofia’s exterior looks like it could use some TLC, the interior is stunning. It differs greatly from many of the other mosques in Istanbul, with black and gold decor and is often described as an architectural and cultural icon of Byzantine and Eastern Orthodox civilization.
Check prices: Hagia Sophia
Topkapi Palace Museum
Topkapi Palace was historically occupied by the Ottoman Sultans between the 14th and 18th centuries. However, towards the end of that period, other locations along the Bosphorus became much more preferable – presumably due to the better views and more advanced architecture.
Yet, the palace played a significant role in shaping the history of the Ottoman Empire and today is one of the top things to do in Istanbul. Visitors of the palace are able to wander around some of the impressive grounds which cover around 700,000 square meters. Outside, you’ll find courtyards, stunning gardens and unique pavilions and inside there are numerous jewels, ceramics and religious relics on display alongside insightful information boards which explain the history.
It’s not necessary to purchase a queue jump ticket for Topkapi Palace Museum, however, if you’re looking for an in-depth guided tour then the below ticket is worth purchasing.
Check prices: Topkapi Palace Museum Guided Tour
Cağaloğlu Hamam is one of the oldest Hamam Baths in Istanbul that dates back to 1941, yet, it frequently appears on many lists of the best Hamam baths in Turkey. Once you arrive at Cağaloğlu Hamam, it’s easy to see why. The grand Ottoman-style architecture coupled with luxurious marble floors, grand domed ceilings, and intricate tilework is immensely impressive.
And, after being on your feet all day, what better way to relax than to head here for the evening?
Well, I say relax, but if you’ve ever experienced a Hamam before then you’ll know that it entails a vigorous scrub that sheds at least 5 layers of skin. It’s certainly not that relaxing, but you’ll definitely leave feeling fresh and feel like you’ve experienced a slice of Turkish culture.
However, there are also some additional services which are more relaxing, such as aromatherapy or less traditional massages if this is more your kind of thing.
Istanbul itinerary day 2
The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest markets in the world and is home to over 4000 stalls which sell all sorts of local handmade goods such as carpets, jewellery and food. Needless to say, it’s a chaotic experience with shopkeepers trying to capture the attention of visitors and tourists haggling to get the best bargain.
To keep some sort of order, the market has been split into four sections, making it easy to explore depending on what kind of thing you’re looking to purchase. Yet, it captures Turkish culture perfectly.
Whilst this may seem like a good location to pick up some souvenirs and sweet treats, you can expect to pay much more than you would elsewhere in the city. I’d recommend heading here to experience the hustle and bustle and admire the intricate architecture that covers the market but saving most of your pennies for spending elsewhere.
One thing to bear in mind is that the Grand Bazaar is open from 9 am to 5 am Monday to Saturday and closed on Sundays and certain holidays.
Mısır Çarşısı – Spice Bazaar
Next up on this 4 day Istanbul itinerary and Just 10 minutes walk from the Grand Bazaar is the Spice Bazaar – also known as Mısır Çarşısı.
Whilst this is a similar experience to the Grand Bazaar in the sense that it’s bustling with people closing deals on the best price for goods, the vast array of colours from the spices and other sweet treats on show is a beautiful sight.
Although it’s smaller than the Grand Bazaar, it’s one of the biggest spice markets in the world that also sells herbs, teas, dried fruits, nuts, sweets, and other traditional Turkish products.
Two shops that should not be missed when visiting the Spice Market are Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi. It’s known for its infamous Turkish coffee and dried fruits, nuts, and Turkish delight. Again, much like the Grand Bazaar, you can expect to pay over the odds on price, but for these two shops, it’s worth every penny.
The Suleymaniye Mosque was built in the 16th century and is utterly stunning – arguably more so than the likes of Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque – not to discredit their important roles in history.
Situated atop a hill, the Suleymaniye Mosque overlooks much of the city’s landscape and the Bosphorus. The interior contains beautifully hand-painted tiles and is immaculately presented, however, it’s the grounds which have the wow factor. Not only is the architecture magnificent with intricate details, but the gardens are impeccable.
The complex is large and is much more than a place of worship as it’s also an Islamic school where many come to study the religion in depth. There are plenty of onsite facilities, including a hospital – although, of course, this is not accessible to visitors.
Personally, this is my favourite mosque on this Istanbul itinerary. I’d also recommend heading to Mimar Sinan Teras Cafe which is just across the road from the mosque. It’s a rooftop cafe and has stunning views over all of Istanbul.
Dolmabahçe Palace is one of the grandest buildings in Istanbul. It sits right on the edge of the Bosphorus and as such, has excellent views over the Golden Horn and city skyline. It was built in the 19th century as a replacement for the demolished Beşiktaş Palace and it is where the Ottoman Sultans moved to after deciding that it was a better location than Topkapi Palace.
Today, Dolmabahçe Palace is an impressive museum that holds a wealth of artwork – over 600 pieces in fact – some of which have been produced by the well-known European artists Claude Monet and Gustave Courbet. The architecture of this building is very impressive and inside you’ll find decor that matches the standards, with some of the world’s largest chandeliers hanging from the ceilings and crystal bannisters.
If you’re heading to Istanbul for 4 days and you’re following this itinerary, you’ll need to bear in mind that the palace is closed for guided tours on Mondays and Thursdays.
Istanbul itinerary day 3
No trip to Turkey would be complete without trying some of the famous Turkish food that’s on offer.
The first stop is Karaköy Güllüoğlu for some of the best baklava in the country. Whilst this bakery is unassuming from the outside, inside it is luxurious and packed full of locals and tourists. In fact, you’ll often find a queue sprawling from the entrance as people flock to fulfil their sweet cravings.
Güllüoğlu has been in operation for over 150 years and has several stores across Istanbul, yet the store in Karaköy is known as the very best. It offers traditional flavours of baklava, as well as some more unique options such as chocolate and pumpkin.
Even if you think you don’t like baklava, I can guarantee at least one of the flavours here will surprise you. They operate a ‘pick and mix’ style service, so fill your boots and be sure to take some home for family and friends.
The Galata Bridge is one of the most iconic landmarks in Istanbul that connects Eminönü and Galata neighbourhoods – the two main areas in Istanbul. It’s a bridge that’s been built five times – the latest version was constructed in 1994.
Whilst many people walk across this bridge a number of times throughout their days in Istanbul, it’s worth planning in some time to enjoy the things that are actually going on along the bridge.
There are two ways to walk across the bridge: along the pavement beside the cars, or via the pathway below alongside the restaurants. Both of these give a different experience and I would recommend trying both.
If you walk along the pavement beside the cars, you’ll be able to enjoy views of the Golden Horn – Istanbul’s natural harbour and estuary – as well as excellent views of the city’s skyline. In addition, you’ll notice a significant number of fishermen use this bridge as their prime spot for securing their catch for the day.
Walking along the alternative path alongside the restaurants is also a great way to cross the bridge. It’s worth stopping here for some freshly caught seafood or a Turkish coffee.
Whilst this stop falls fairly early on in day 2 of your 4 day Istanbul itinerary, it’s also a great spot to watch the sunset. If you have time one evening, I’d highly recommend heading here again for some stunning views.
The Galata Tower plays an important role in Istanbul’s history and has had many uses over the years – most notably as a watchtower during the 13th century. However, since the 1960s the tower has been open to the public who can climb the stairs or take the elevator to see some of the best views over Istanbul.
It costs just 35 Turkish Lira to climb the Galata Tower which is approximately £3, though, of course, these prices do tend to increase over the years.
Even if you don’t fancy heading up to the observation deck, then a trip to see the tower is still worth it. The street on which the Galata Tower sits is arguably one of the most beautiful in Istanbul. The cobbled streets are lined with dozens of charming cafes and restaurants with perfect views of the tower ahead.
Karakoy sits on Istanbul’s European side in what’s known as the historic district.
Karakoy, historically known as Galata, was the main business district of the city during the Ottoman era. It was home to many foreign merchants, banks and consulates, as well as the Galata Tower which was just mentioned.
Today, Karakoy is a super trendy neighbourhood that has seen significant modernisation in recent years. It’s well known for its vibrant street art, stunning colourful cafes and restaurants, and trendy boutiques and shops. It has also become a great spot for art, with several galleries and exhibition spaces in the area.
Popular attractions in Karakoy include the Istanbul Modern Art Museum, Karakoy Ferry Terminal and the famous Balik Ekmek (fish sandwich) stalls on the waterfront.
Istiklal Caddesi is one of the most famous streets in Istanbul which must be included on every Istanbul itinerary. It stretched between the famous Galata Tower mentioned above and Taksim Square – another popular area of Istanbul that seems to be a hub for pickpocketing – hence why it’s not included on this itinerary. In fact, a local strongly advised against visiting as it’s become unsafe to visit at night – even for a local.
In between the numerous shops, restaurants and lively bars, the street has plenty of other activity, from street performers to musicians, there is never a dull moment – particularly during the evening.
Istanbul itinerary day 4
Balat is one of the coolest neighbourhoods that’s situated in the Faith district of Istanbul. During the Ottoman era, it became incredibly multicultural and still has a significant Jewish population who reside there. Yet, interestingly, it looks almost Italian due to the vast amount of multi-coloured buildings that cascade up the hillside.
In order to reach Balat, you can walk or take the tram very easily. If you choose to walk, it will take approximately 30 minutes from the Galata Bridge and you’ll stroll beside the water for most of the way. Alternatively, you can hop on the T5 tram at Cibali and arrive at the station opposite Balat in just 6 minutes.
Once you arrive in Balat, you’ll instantly be met by thriving cobbled streets with brightly coloured buildings which are home to charming coffee shops and boutique stores. Bear in mind that you’ll need to be prepared to tackle the steep hills in the area, particularly if you want to see the stunning Phanar Greek Orthodox College.
Kadıköy is what’s known as the Asian side of Istanbul and offers a more authentic insight into what living in Istanbul is really like. It’s best known for its vibrant food scene, with many popular street markets – most notably Kadıköy Bazaar – offering traditional Turkish food, spices and handmade goods.
Whilst Kadıköy is still very much a traditional part of Istanbul, in recent years, modern facilities and amenities have been added. Today, you’ll find plenty of funky restaurants and bars alongside theatres and shopping malls.
In order to get to Kadıköy, you’ll need to jump on the ferry from Eminönü. These usually depart every 15 minutes and run from approximately 7 am to 9 pm.
Çamlıca Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the world and the largest mosque in Turkey, with a capacity of over 63,000 people. For reference, the Blue Mosque has a capacity of 10,000 and Hagia Sophia 31,100.
Although it’s quite far away from the centre of Istanbul, it can be seen from many parts of the city as it’s situated on top of Çamlıca Hill. Needless to say, the views from here are fantastic as they overlook the Bosphorus and Istanbul skyline.
The mosque is free to enter, however, visitors must wear appropriate clothing. For women this is having their heads, shoulders and legs covered. For men, it is only the latter two. Shoes must also be removed upon entering the mosque.
The final thing in this 4 day Istanbul itinerary is a Bosphorus Cruise. After spending the last 4 days visiting all the interesting sites on land, what better way to see the city from an entirely new perspective than on the water?
There are heaps of companies who offer this experience and if you head to the ferry port without booking, they’ll likely try their luck with a higher price. Of course, you can haggle this down on the day, or you can book through GetYourGuide to ensure you’re getting a good price without any fuss. That’s what I did when I was there.
The boat will be quite large so my fellow motion-sickness pals out there, you needn’t worry. If the weather is good, then I’d recommend heading to the top deck and admiring the stunning views all the way. You’ll usually face an opportunity to feed some seagulls who flap around beside the boat as guests throw bread into the air, so come prepared with some snacks.
Although you can sit inside, the outside provides a better view but it can get cold. I’d recommend wearing a warm jumper for the journey.
Check prices: Bosphorus Cruise
Where to stay in Istanbul for 4 days
Best district to stay in Istanbul
There are so many options when it comes to choosing where to stay for your four nights in Istanbul. However, below are some of the best areas to consider depending on your budget and travel style.
Karaköy is across the Galata Bridge from Eminönü. It’s a quirky neighbourhood that has a lively nightlife, a great art scene and is filled with cool coffee shops and restaurants. You’ll find major attractions such as the Galata Tower here, as well as good transport links to other parts of the city. It’s also cheaper than Eminönü.
I stayed here and highly recommend it as a base for exploring the city.
Cihangir is the neighbourhood north of Karaköy and is a great option for those who are still finding other areas a little too expensive. Although it’s a quieter area, there are still plenty of places to eat and drink dotted around and it still has a nice vibe.
- Luxury | CVK Park Bosphorus Hotel Istanbul
- Budget | Dreamers V&V Hotel Cihangi
- Mid-range | Frida Suites
Eminönü is one of the busiest areas of the city and it’s where a lot of the historic sites that are covered on day 1 of your 4 days in Istanbul are. Being in such a central location, it’s always super busy and quite pricey, however, it benefits from being close to the major attractions and has good transport links to reach the sites which are further away.
Kadıköy is on the Asian side of Istanbul which means you’ll need to be prepared to hop on the water taxi each day if you’re following this 4 day Istanbul itinerary. Whilst this may be an inconvenience for some, it does mean that you’ll benefit from lower prices and experience a more authentic version of the city. The water taxi is super cheap and an experience in itself, so it’s not all bad.
- Budget | Hush Hostel Lounge
- Mid-range | Broyt Hotel
- Luxury | Wyndham Grand Istanbul Kalamış Marina Hotel
Before you reach the end of the guide, don’t forget to grab your SafetyWing travel insurance that I mentioned at the start of the guide.
I use them on every trip because they’re around 80% cheaper than what I was paying previously whilst still offering more than enough coverage!
Explore beyond Istanbul in Turkey
If you enjoyed this 4 day Istanbul itinerary and you’re looking for further things to do in Turkey then you may want to consider Cappadocia as your next location. Many people go from Istanbul to Cappadocia as it offers an entirely different experience. You can follow my Cappadocia itinerary and discover some of the best hotels, or check out things like ATV tours or the incredible Red Valley.
Stay Wild Travels.
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