4 Days in Istanbul (Itinerary + Best Bosphorus Cruise)

A complete itinerary for 4 days in Istanbul (+ map with all must-see sights, the best Bosphorus cruise and how to skip the lines at Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque).

Istanbul is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. Divided by the Bosphorus Strait, it is one of the few cities in the world that spans two continents – Europe and Asia. Istanbul, the city where East meets West, has a rich history dating back to the 7th century BCE. From majestic landmarks like the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace to the bustling streets of the Grand Bazaar, every corner of the city tells a story.

The city served as the capital of three major empires: the Roman Empire (as Byzantium), the Byzantine Empire (as Constantinople), and the Ottoman Empire (as Istanbul). Today, Istanbul is a bustling metropolis with a population of over 15 million people. And despite not being the capital, it is the largest city in Türkiye.

Best 4-day Istanbul Itinerary

Istanbul is an incredible city that has to be visited at least once in a lifetime. With its rich history and vibrant culture, the city attracts 17 million tourists each year. However, planning your itinerary for a first-time visit to Istanbul might be a challenge. It’s a huge city with numerous important landmarks such as Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and Galata Tower.

To help you get the most out of your time, I’ve put together this detailed itinerary for 4 days in Istanbul. It will allow you to see not just the main attractions but also some hidden gems, such as the Rüstem Pasa Mosque and the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum. I’ve also included the best places to try traditional Turkish cuisine, including kebabs, mezes, baklava and more.

4 days istanbul itinerary

4 Days in Istanbul Itinerary (for first-timers)

  • Day 1: Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Grand Bazaar, Baklava at Hafiz Mustafa 1864, Bosphorus Dinner Cruise
  • Day 2: Topkapi Palace, Spice Bazaar, Süleymaniye Mosque, Whirling Dervishes Show
  • Day 3: Dolmabahçe Palace, Galata Tower
  • Day 4: Basilica Cistern, Istanbul Archaeological Museums

    In my view, 4 days in Istanbul is the optimal amount of time to discover all the must-see attractions and get a taste of the city. You’ll also be able to enjoy a cruise on the Bosphorus and even experience a traditional Turkish bath. In case, your time is limited, I’ve included some tips on how to see Istanbul in 1, 2 or 3 days, right after this 4-day itinerary.

    Tips on your 4-day Istanbul itinerary

    Accommodation – choosing the right location to stay in Istanbul is very important, as it’s a huge city and you don’t want to spend hours on transportation. To make sure your hotel is conveniently located, check out my guide on where to stay in Istanbul.

    My favourite place to stay in Istanbul: Hotel Amira
    Why: ideal location, 5min away from the Blue Mosque, but quiet at night
    What I like: delicious breakfast (especially the gözleme), rooftop bar with Sea of Marmara views

    Sightseeing – I strongly recommend visiting Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahce Palace, and Basilica Cistern as early in the morning as possible (and book skip-the-line tickets in advance). These places get very crowded with long queues as the day progresses.

    Visiting a mosque – you need to dress modestly, or you may be denied entry. You should cover your shoulders and wear long dresses or trousers to cover your knees. Women must wear a headscarf to cover their hair, too. Also, you must remove your shoes before entering, as mosques typically have carpets covering the floors. You can either leave your shoes at the entrance or bring a bag to store them and take them with you, as I did. Furthermore, mosques are closed to tourists during prayer times, which changes according to the season (see the five daily prayer times here).

    Always book tours or skip the lines tickets with GetYourGuide (you get a mobile ticket + free cancellation). Tickets from the attractions’ official websites are mostly non-refundable.

    Mapfind here a map of this 4-day itinerary for Istanbul (with all attractions and restaurants’ websites).

    Internet – consider renting a pocket WiFi, so you can easily navigate between places using Google Maps.

    4 Days in Istanbul itinerary – Day 1

    If you’ve been following my blog for some time, you’ll know that I always recommend breakfast spots (mostly bakeries) in my itineraries. Unfortunately, in Istanbul, I struggled to find any good bakeries. So, I ended up having breakfast at my hotel throughout my trip.


    If you can start your day early, I suggest visiting the Blue Mosque before Hagia Sophia, as it opens half an hour earlier. Both attractions are very popular and the lines could be very long. And while you can purchase a skip-the-line ticket for Hagia Sophia, it’s not an option for the Blue Mosque as it’s free to visit.

    Blue Mosque

    08:30 AM – 09:10 AM

    Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish) is one of Istanbul’s most iconic landmarks and a masterpiece of Ottoman architecture. Sultan Ahmet I commissioned the construction of the mosque in 1609. Completed in 1616, the mosque is famous for its distinctive six minarets, a feature that was uncommon at the time of its construction. Legend has it that the architect mistakenly thought the Sultan had requested altın minareler (golden minarets in Turkish) instead of altı minareler (six minarets).

    The mosque gets its nickname from the stunning blue tiles decorating its interior walls. More than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles display floral motifs including lilies, tulips, and roses.

    The entrance to the Blue Mosque is free.

    blue mosque
    The Blue Mosque is a must-see during your 4 days in Istanbul
    blue mosque inside
    The stunning dome of the famous Blue Mosque

    Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the mosque in its full splendour, as it was undergoing renovation during my visit.

    Hagia Sophia

    09:30 AM – 11:00 AM

    Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) is the most impressive mosque in Istanbul. It was originally built as a Christian cathedral during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century AD. Following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1453, Sultan Mehmed II converted the cathedral into a mosque by adding Islamic features such as minarets and mihrabs.

    Hagia Sophia is renowned for its massive dome, measuring about 31 meters (102 feet) in diameter. It is covered with glittering gold mosaic tiles. Pay attention to the eight gold and black calligraphic discs, which bear the name of Allah, the prophet Muhammad, his two grandsons and four caliphs.

    Make sure to visit the upper gallery, featuring the impressive Deesis Mosaic. The mosaic depicts Christ the Almighty seated on a throne, flanked by the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. From the upper gallery, you can also enjoy panoramic views of the Hagia Sophia.

    Booking in advance is recommended (tickets are timed-entry and lines are usually very long)
    Entry ticket: Skip-the-line Hagia Sophia (free cancellation up to 24 hours)
    Best guided tour: Blue Mosque & Hagia Sophia Guided Tour – discover the two iconic mosques with an expert guide

    You can also visit the mausoleums of Ottoman Sultans, located in the courtyard of the mosque.

    istanbul hagia sophia inside
    Inside the iconic Hagia Sophia

    Note, that starting from January 15th, 2024, Hagia Sophia implemented a separate policy for tourists and worshippers. If you’re not Muslim, access to the ground floor, reserved only for prayer, is restricted. As a tourist, you’re permitted to access only the upper gallery, where you can admire the stunning mosaics and enjoy views of the interior of the mosque.

    If you can only visit one mosque in Istanbul, I strongly suggest choosing Hagia Sophia. Not only it is one of the world’s greatest monuments, but in my opinion, its interior is exceptionally beautiful.

    hagia sophia
    Hagia Sophia is a must when visiting Istanbul
    hagia sophia dome
    The beautiful dome of Hagia Sophia

    Grand Bazaar

    11:15 AM – 12:00 PM

    The Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı) is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. It was established shortly after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in the 15th century. The Grand Bazaar is a labyrinthine of covered streets and alleys, housing more than 4,000 shops. It’s impossible not to get lost!

    You can find all kinds of goods and products here, from jewellery, textiles, and ceramics to leather goods, carpets, antiques, and souvenirs. For a quick tour of the Grand Bazaar, I recommend taking a stroll along Kapalıçarşı Caddesi, the widest street in the market. Note that the Grand Bazaar is closed on Sundays.

    I suggest a brief visit to the market just for the experience. However, I wouldn’t recommend it for shopping, as in my opinion, half of the shops don’t offer quality products.

    grand bazaar
    The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest covered markets in the world

    Lunch at Mivan Restaurant

    12:15 PM – 01:45 PM

    For lunch make your way to Mivan Restaurant. It’s a modern restaurant serving traditional Turkish cuisine. I particularly enjoyed the Inegol meatballs (İnegöl köfte), Adana kebab (Adana kebabı) and the pomegranate fresh juice.

    mivan restaurant kebab
    Adana kebab at Mivan Restaurant
    mivan restaurant meatballs
    Inegol meatballs at Mivan Restaurant


    Try baklava at Hafiz Mustafa 1864

    02:00 PM – 03:00 PM

    You’ll find baklava, a delicious traditional Turkish dessert, served in almost every restaurant. Yet, for an exceptional experience, I suggest visiting Hafiz Mustafa 1864 Beyazıt. Founded in 1864, it’s Istanbul’s oldest confectionery store, offering authentic Turkish desserts like baklava and künefe.

    I ordered different types of baklava, all exceptional, but my favourites were the walnut princess baklava and the pistachio classic baklava. For a perfect combination pair these delicious desserts with some Turkish coffee or tea.

    baklava hafiz mustafa
    Head to Hafiz Mustafa 1864 for the best baklava in Istanbul

    Bosphorus Dinner Cruise

    Taking a Bosphorus cruise is a must while in Istanbul. I suggest scheduling it for your first day rather than saving it for the last, as the weather could be bad and ruin your experience.

    I highly recommend this Bosphorus Dinner Cruise & Show (more than 16,000+ excellent reviews). It includes a 3-course meal with a traditional Turkish folk dancing show. You’ll enjoy magical views of Istanbul and get to see iconic landmarks such as Dolmabahçe Palace, the Galata Tower, and the Bosphorus Bridge.

    More ideas for 4 days in Istanbul – Day 1

    Turkish Mosaic Lamp Workshop

    Join this Turkish Mosaic Lamp Workshop and learn about the rich history behind these vibrant lamps. You’ll be able to create your own traditional design using over 45 colourful mosaic stones and glass beads. A perfect souvenir to get home!

    Turkish Coffee-Making Workshop

    Join this Turkish Coffee-Making Workshop and discover the Turkish coffee culture. Learn how to make this traditional drink and taste 3 different types of Turkish coffee. You’ll also discover the art of fortune-telling and get a Turkish coffee set as a present at the end of the workshop!

    Try dondurma at Bena Ice Cream

    For some of the best dondurma (Turkish mastic ice cream) in Istanbul head to Bena Ice Cream. This small local shop offers delicious authentic dondurma and Turkish sweets such as baklava and kadayif.

    I had the vanilla dondurma served atop baklava, which was a true delight. There is no sitting area available, but you can enjoy your dessert in the nice little courtyard of the nearby mosque.

    bena ice cream
    Bena Ice Cream – my favourite place for baklava and dondurma in Istanbul

    Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Mosque

    Although relatively small, compared to the Blue Mosque, Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Mosque is a hidden architectural gem. It was commissioned by Sokollu Mehmet Pasha, who served as the Grand Vizier during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Completed in 1572, the mosque is known for its exquisite İznik tiles, which decorate its interior.

    In my opinion, it is one of the most charming small mosques in Istanbul and it’s definitely worth a quick look inside.

    sokollu mehmet pasha mosque
    Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Mosque is one of the city’s hidden gems

    4 Days in Istanbul itinerary – Day 2


    Topkapi Palace

    09:00 AM – 11:40 AM

    Topkapi Palace (Topkapı Sarayı) served as the primary residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans for nearly 400 years. Mehmet the Conqueror built the palace in the 15th century, shortly after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople (Istanbul). About 30 sultans ruled from Topkapi Palace until the 19th century when Sultan Abdülmecid I moved the court to Dolmabahçe Palace.

    The palace complex covers a vast area of courtyards, gardens, and buildings, linked by ceremonial gates. Its architectural style blends elements of Islamic, Byzantine, and Ottoman architecture. Topkapi Palace houses numerous artefacts, including treasures, weapons, clothing, and manuscripts belonging to the Ottoman sultans and their families. The most famous exhibits are the Topkapi Dagger and Spoonmaker’s Diamond, one of the largest cut diamonds in the world.

    One of the most interesting sections of Topkapi Palace is the Harem, where the sultan’s wives, concubines, and children resided. It consists of a labyrinth of rooms and apartments, including the Sultan’s private quarters, the Apartments of the Valide Sultan, and the Courtyard of the Black Eunuchs. During its peak time, more than 300 concubines lived in the Harem! Note, that you need an extra ticket to visit the Harem, but I personally found it worth the price. In my opinion, the Harem was the most impressive section of the palace.

    Booking in advance is recommended (tickets are timed-entry and lines are usually very long)
    Entry ticket: Skip-the-line Topkapi Palace (free cancellation up to 24 hours)
    Best guided tour: Topkapi Palace Guided Tour – see the most iconic palace in Istanbul and the private Harem with an expert guide

    Overlooking the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus, and the Sea of Marmara, Topkapi Palace also offers breathtaking panoramic views of Istanbul.

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    Topkapi Palace – a must for your 4-day Istanbul itinerary
    topkapi palace harem
    Inside the Harem of Topkapi Palace

    Topkapi Palace is one of the largest palaces I’ve visited during my travels. I suggest allocating at least 2-3 hours if you want to explore everything thoroughly.

    Lunch at Coffeetopia Eminönü

    12:00 PM – 01:30 PM

    For lunch make your way to Coffeetopia Eminönü. It’s a lovely coffee shop, offering delicious cakes and sandwiches as well. I suggest giving their San Sebastian cheesecake and the roast beef sandwich a try (both excellent). I enjoyed the food so much, that I ended up visiting the place twice during my stay in Istanbul.

    coffeetopia eminonu cheesecake
    The delicious San Sebastian cheesecake at Coffeetopia Eminönü


    Spice Bazaar

    01:30 PM – 02:30 PM

    The Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı) dates back to the 17th century. It is also known as the Egyptian Bazaar, because it was built with the profits from the Ottoman Empire’s Egyptian territories. The bazaar features more than 80 shops, selling herbs, nuts, dried fruits, teas and sweets.

    With its colourful stalls and rich scents of cinnamon and cardamom, I found it far more charming than the Grand Bazaar.

    spice bazaar
    The Spice Bazaar dates back to the 17th century

    Süleymaniye Mosque

    02:45 PM – 03:30 PM

    Süleymaniye Mosque (Süleymaniye Camii) is one of the most impressive mosques in Istanbul along with Hagia Sophia and the Blues Mosque. Situated on a hilltop overlooking the Golden Horn, it offers stunning panoramic views of the city.

    Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent commissioned the mosque in 1550. Completed in 1557, the Süleymaniye Mosque is considered one of the greatest achievements of the famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. It features a massive central dome, which rises to a height of 53 meters (174 feet) and has a diameter of 27.5 meters (90 feet).

    suleymaniye mosque
    Süleymaniye Mosque is one of the city’s most impressive mosques

    Adjacent to the mosque is the tomb of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent and his beloved wife, Hürrem Sultan (also known as Roxelana). Make sure to visit them, as I found them truly impressive, beautifully decorated with İznik Tiles.

    suleymaniye mosque tombs
    The beautiful tombs in the Süleymaniye Mosque
    suleymaniye mosque view
    The view from the Süleymaniye Mosque

    Whirling Dervishes Show

    Whirling dervishes are an integral part of Türkiye’s cultural heritage, and attending the famous Sema ceremony is a must when visiting Istanbul. The Whirling Dervishes trace their origins back to the teachings of the Persian mystic Rumi in the 13th century. Their mesmerising dance symbolises the spiritual journey towards enlightenment.

    The Whirling Dervishes Show is not merely a performance but a sacred ritual known as the Sema ceremony. It begins with a series of prayers, invocations, and musical preludes, culminating in the whirling dance itself. Dressed in traditional white robes, tall hats (sikke), and long skirts, the dervishes spin gracefully in circles – a truly captivating sight!

    You can catch the Whirling Dervishes Show at different locations around the city. Yet, I suggest experiencing it at the Hodja Pasha Culture Center. This beautifully restored 550-year-old Ottoman Turkish bath provides the ideal setting to immerse yourself in this famous dance.

    Also, I’d recommend securing your tickets in advance, as the show is very popular. You can book your ticket to the Whirling Dervishes Show here.

    Dinner at Turgut Kebab Restaurant

    Finish your second day in Istanbul with a dinner at Turgut Kebab Restaurant. The traditional Turkish restaurant is situated just a short walk from the Blue Mosque. I particularly enjoyed the Lahmacun and the Urfa kebab (similar to the popular Adana Kebab but not so spicy).

    Make sure you get a seat on the rooftop for a beautiful view of the Blue Mosque.

    turgut kebab restaurant
    Urfa kebab at Turgut Kebab Restaurant
    turgut kebab lahmacun
    Lahmacun at Turgut Kebab Restaurant

    More ideas for 4 days in Istanbul – Day 2

    Take a food tour on two continents

    Join this Taste of Two Continents Food Tour and discover the best of Turkish cuisine. The tour starts with a tasty Turkish breakfast with fresh local ingredients on the European side. Then, you’ll cross the Bosphorus by ferry and head to Kadıköy, on the Asian side. There you’ll visit a local market and enjoy delicious baklava, Turkish ice cream, coffee, kebab, dolma and many more.

    Rüstem Pasa Mosque

    Just a short stroll away from the Spice Bazaar, you’ll find the Rüstem Pasha Mosque (Rüstem Paşa Camii). Completed in 1563, it is a stunning example of Ottoman architecture and craftsmanship.

    The mosque was commissioned by Rüstem Pasha, the Grand Vizier (prime minister) of the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Rüstem Pasha was also the husband of Mihrimah Sultan, one of the daughters of Sultan Suleiman.

    What sets the Rüstem Pasha Mosque apart is its exquisite interior decoration, particularly its extensive use of Iznik tiles. I was truly impressed by the interior and highly suggest visiting if you have 20 minutes to spare.

    rustem pasa mosque
    rustem pasa mosque inside
    Rüstem Pasa Mosque is famous for its beautiful Iznik tiles

    4 Days in Istanbul itinerary – Day 3


    Dolmabahçe Palace

    09:00 AM – 11:30 AM

    Dolmabahçe Palace is an architectural masterpiece, that seamlessly blends traditional Ottoman elements with European Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassical styles. The construction of the palace began in 1843 during the reign of Sultan Abdülmecid I and was completed in 1856. Dolmabahçe Palace served as the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans until the abolition of the Caliphate in 1924.

    Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Türkiye, spent his final days in the palace, where he died on November 10, 1938. His room has been preserved as a museum, offering insight into his life and legacy. When you visit his room, take note of the clocks, all of which show 09:05, the exact time of his death.

    In contrast to Topkapi Palace and its exquisite Iznik tiles, you’ll find Dolmabahçe Palace lavishly decorated with gold and crystal. The palace boasts a total of 285 rooms, 44 halls and six hammams (Turkish baths). With its crystal chandeliers, gilded ceilings, and marble staircases, it can compete with some of the most opulent European palaces, such as Versailles.

    Unfortunately, skip-the-line tickets are not available
    I strongly suggest arriving before the opening hours to avoid long queues. Opt for Selamlık + Harem + Painting Museum Ticket, which gives you access to all sections of the palace.

    istanbul dolmabahce palace
    Dolmabahçe Palace served as the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans
    dolmabahce palace inside
    One of the stunning rooms of Dolmabahçe Palace

    Make sure to visit the Ceremonial Hall, where you’ll find the world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier. Also, due to its location on the shores of the Bosphorus, you can enjoy stunning panoramic views of the Asian side of Istanbul.

    I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Dolmabahçe Palace. In my view, it’s an essential addition to your Istanbul itinerary due to its grandeur and extravagance.

    Lunch at Yiğit Sofram Gözleme ve Kahvaltı

    12:00 PM – 02:00 PM

    For lunch make your way to Yiğit Sofram Gözleme ve Kahvaltı. This restaurant serves the best menemen (scrambled eggs with tomatoes and peppers) and gözleme in Istanbul in my opinion. They also offer a fantastic Turkish breakfast, if you’re interested in trying it out.

    yigit sofram kahvalti menemen
    Menemen at Yiğit Sofram Gözleme ve Kahvaltı
    yigit sofram gozleme kahvalti
    Gözleme at Yiğit Sofram Gözleme ve Kahvaltı

    If you’re craving something sweet after lunch, head to Noly Cihangir. They offer fantastic cakes and pastries, and their coffee is excellent as well. I especially liked the pistachio éclair and the lemon cake.

    noly cihangir cakes
    Noly Cihangir – my favourite place in Istanbul for cakes and pastries


    Galata Tower

    02:30 PM – 03:30 PM

    Galata Tower (Galata Kulesi) is one of the most iconic landmarks in Istanbul. Its history traces back to the medieval period, beginning with its construction in the 14th century. The Genoese, a powerful maritime republic from Italy, built the Galata Tower as a defensive structure when they established a colony in Constantinople.

    Initially named the Tower of Christ, it served multiple purposes over the centuries. One of its primary functions was to act as a watchtower and a defensive fortification, offering a strategic vantage point over the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus Strait, and the surrounding area. During the Ottoman period, it was used as a fire lookout tower and a prison.

    Today, the main attraction of the Galata Tower is its observation deck. It offers breathtaking panoramic views of Istanbul and its historic landmarks, including the Golden Horn, Topkapi Palace, and the Hagia Sophia.

    Unfortunately, skip-the-line tickets are unavailable (lines are lengthy, so be prepared for a wait)
    There are two lines: one for purchasing tickets and another for entering the attraction. You can take the lift to the top, however, you can only use the stairs to go down.

    galata tower
    Galata Tower is one of the city’s most popular attractions
    galata tower view
    View of the Bosphorus from Galata Tower

    Dinner at Pera Antakya

    For dinner make your way to Pera Antakya. Located a short walk away from Galata Tower, this restaurant offers traditional Turkish cuisine. I very much enjoyed their Tepsi kebabı (a minced meat kebab baked on a tray) and the baked village cheese with butter and garlic.

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    Baked village cheese at Pera Antakya
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    Tepsi kebabı at Pera Antakya

    4 Days in Istanbul itinerary – Day 4


    Basilica Cistern

    10:00 AM – 11:30 AM

    Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarniç) is not only one of the most popular attractions in Istanbul but also one of the most unique. With a capacity of around 80,000 cubic meters (2,800,000 cubic feet) of water, it is one of the largest surviving ancient cisterns in Istanbul.

    Basilica Cistern was built during the Byzantine period, about the 6th century during the reign of Emperor Justinian I. It is supported by 336 marble columns, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each.

    The most famous feature of the cistern is the two Medusa heads used as column bases. It’s believed that these heads, one positioned upside down and the other sideways, were repurposed from ruined temples around the Bosphorus.

    Booking in advance is recommended (tickets are timed-entry and lines are usually long)
    Entry ticket: Skip-the-line Basilica Cistern (free cancellation up to 24 hours)

    I recommend arriving at least 15 minutes before your booked time slot, as the lines are typically very long and chaotic. You’ll likely need about 40 minutes to see the attraction, but I’ve allowed some extra time in the itinerary, just in case due to the lines.

    Lunch at Ararat Terrace Restaurant & Rooftop

    11:40 AM – 01:00 PM

    For lunch, make your way to Ararat Terrace Restaurant & Rooftop. This restaurant features some of the most scenic views of the Blue Mosque and Bosphorus Strait.

    Istanbul Archaeological Museums

    01:15 PM – 03:30 PM

    The Istanbul Archaeological Museums is a complex of three museums: the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Orient, and the Tiled Kiosk Museum. The museums house a vast collection of artefacts from various civilisations and cultures, including ancient Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Egypt, the Byzantine and the Roman Empires.

    Some of the highlights include the 4th century Alexander Sarcophagus (depicting scenes from the life of Alexander the Great), the Sarcophagus of the Crying Women and the mosaic panels from the monumental Gate of Ishtar.

    archaeological museum gate ishtar
    Gate of Ishtar

    My favourite section was the Tiled Kiosk Museum, featuring various Islamic artefacts, such as ceramics, textiles, metalwork, and calligraphy. The highlight here is the 14th-century mihrab from Imaret Mosque in Karaman, located in Central Anatolia.

    archaeological museums alexander sarcophagus
    Alexander Sarcophagus
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    14th-century mihrab from Imaret Mosque in Karaman

    Dinner at Garden 1897 Restaurant

    Finish the last day of this Istanbul itinerary with a dinner at Garden 1897 Restaurant. This Turkish restaurant features a charming garden, perfect for an intimate dinner. Garden 1897 specialises in Ottoman and Anatolian cuisines. I particularly enjoyed the grilled meatballs (Izgara Köfte) and the rice pudding (Fırın Sütlaç).

    I visited this restaurant during my last day in Istanbul, and I regretted not trying the rice pudding earlier. It turned out to be one of the best desserts I had during my entire journey.

    garden 1897 restaurant meatballs
    Izgara Köfte at Garden 1897 Restaurant
    garden 1897 restaurant rice pudding
    Rice pudding at Garden 1897 Restaurant

    More ideas for 4 days in Istanbul – Day 4

    Experience a traditional Turkish bath

    The traditional Turkish bath, also known as hammam, has been an integral part of Turkish culture for centuries. It is not just a place for cleansing, it’s a social ritual and a symbol of relaxation and purification.

    The hamam typically features several chambers with different temperatures, with the initial room being the hottest. After sweating in the hot room, you’ll get a scrubbing and massage to cleanse and rejuvenate your skin. It is a unique experience not to be missed while in Istanbul!

    Dating back to 1741, Cağaloğlu Hamam is one of the city’s most famous and oldest Turkish baths. It is known for its stunning architecture, including a grand entrance, a large dome in the centre, and a beautiful marble interior. You can make a reservation for Cağaloğlu Hamam here.

    Due to its long history, Cağaloğlu Hamam comes with a hefty price tag. If you’re looking for a more affordable option, I recommend this Private Turkish Bath, sauna, and massage experience.

    Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum

    Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum is one of Istanbul’s hidden gems. It occupies the former palace of Ibrahim Pasha, the grand vizier of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The building itself is a stunning example of Ottoman architecture from the 16th century.

    The museum features a wide-ranging collection of Islamic art from different regions like Türkiye, the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa. You can see stunning examples of calligraphy, ceramics, metalwork, textiles, and illuminated manuscripts. The highlight is the carpet collection, which contains over 1,700 pieces.

    Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum
    Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum is one of the city’s hidden gems

    The Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum is my favourite museum in Istanbul, and I highly recommend a visit if you have spare time.

    Must buy tickets in advance

    Istanbul is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, so there is no real low season. That’s why I highly recommend buying skip-the-lines for the following attractions:

    Hagia Sophia – with 15,000 visitors per day, this is the city’s most popular attraction, so book your skip-the-line Hagia Sophia here.

    Topkapi Palace – with 3.8 million visitors per year, the lines at the palace are always very long, so book your skip-the-line Topkapi Palace here.

    Basilica Cistern – more than 2.2 million tourists per year, long chaotic lines, so book your skip-the-line Basilica Cistern here.

    1-day Istanbul itinerary

    One day in Istanbul is hardly sufficient to explore the popular attractions outside, considering the city’s vast size, let alone to visit them all. If you have only one day in Istanbul, I’d highly recommend taking this Full-Day Highlights Tour with Guide and Lunch. The tour includes the city’s most popular attractions (plus visits to Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia), transportation and a traditional Turkish lunch.

    If you opt for a self-guided tour of the city, start your day early with a visit to Hagia Sophia (ensure to purchase skip-the-line tickets in advance). After that, admire the exterior of the Blue Mosque before making your way to Hafiz Mustafa 1864 for the best baklava in Istanbul. In the afternoon, climb to the top of Galata Tower for stunning views of the city and the Bosphorus Strait. I’d skip Topkapi Palace as the lines are very long and it usually takes 2-3 hours to see it all (unless accompanied by a guide who can take you through the most interesting parts).

    One day in Istanbul

    • Visit the iconic Hagia Sophia
    • Admire the Blue Mosque
    • Try the baklava at Hafiz Mustafa 1864
    • Climb the Galata Tower for panoramic views of the city
    • Have a traditional Turkish dinner at Pera Antakya

    2-day Istanbul itinerary

    You can see Istanbul’s main sights in 2 days, but you’ll need to skip some famous spots and plan a packed schedule. On the first day explore the Sultanahmet neighborhood, where you’ll find the iconic Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace. If you book skip-the-lines tickets you’ll be able to visit these attractions in one day, starting with the two mosques in the morning.

    On the second day head to Kabataş and Akaretler neighbourhoods, home to the famous Dolmabahçe Palace and Galata Tower. Start with Dolmabahçe Palace, a very popular attraction for which skip-the-line tickets are unavailable. Then continue with the Galata Tower and finish the day with a Bosphorus Dinner Cruise.

    2 days in Istanbul

    • Day 1: Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Baklava at Hafiz Mustafa 1864, Topkapi Palace
    • Day 2: Dolmabahçe Palace, Galata Tower, Bosphorus Dinner Cruise

    3-day Istanbul itinerary

    In my opinion, 3 days in Istanbul is the minimal amount of time to thoroughly enjoy the city and see its main attractions. In case you have only 3 days, you can still follow my Istanbul itinerary, but with just a few adjustments. Skip the Istanbul Archaeological Museums and the Süleymaniye Mosque and visit Basilica Cistern after Topkapi Palace. The itinerary remains unchanged for the first and third days.

    3 days in Istanbul

    • Day 1: Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Grand Bazaar, Baklava at Hafiz Mustafa 1864, Bosphorus Dinner Cruise
    • Day 2: Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, Whirling Dervishes Show
    • Day 3: Dolmabahçe Palace, Galata Tower

    Where to stay in Istanbul

    Istanbul is huge, so if you want to see everything in 4 days, it’s crucial to select your accommodation’s location carefully. I hadn’t realized how vast the city was when I booked my trip, but fortunately, I picked a central area, making it easy to walk around.

    If you’re visiting for the first time or sightseeing I highly recommend staying in Sultanahmet. This is the city’s most central area, home to iconic attractions such as Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Topkapi Palace. Make sure also to stay within walking distance of a T1 tram stop, as this tram line connects the Sultanahmet to attractions like the Galata Tower and Dolmabahçe Palace.

    Dosso Dossi Hotels Old City – Best mid-range

    Guest rating: 9.0 | 3,020+ reviews

    Dosso Dossi is ideally situated in the heart of the historic Sultanahmet district. The location is perfect for sightseeing, just a brief stroll away from the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and a T1 tram stop. You can also enjoy excellent Spa facilities, which include a Turkish bath and a sauna.

    Why book – 5min walk to Hagia Sophia and a tram stop, spacious rooms, Spa with hammam

    AJWA Sultanahmet – Best luxury

    Guest rating: 9.3 | 2,080+ reviews

    AJWA Hotel is the best choice for a luxurious getaway in Türkiye. Rooms are styled in Ottoman decor with mother-of-pearl furniture, silk Tabriz carpets, hand-painted ceilings and unique marble works. The hotel features great dining options, including the rooftop Zeferan restaurant with Bosphorus views and Sukkari Patisserie.

    Why book – 10min walk to the Blue Mosque and a tram stop, rooftop restaurant, excellent hammam and indoor pool

    istanbul hotel amira rooftop sunset
    Sunset view from the rooftop terrace of Hotel Amira (where I stayed)

    Getting around in Istanbul

    You’ll find most of the historic landmarks centred in Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu districts. This 4-day Istanbul itinerary primarily involves walking. However, you’ll need to utilize public transportation to travel between Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu, and vice versa. The best way to do that is by using tram line T1, which links the two districts.

    I recommend buying an Istanbul Card (Istanbulkart), a prepaid and rechargeable contactless smartcard. You can use it on the entire public transport system, including trams, metro, buses and even ferries (see the ferry schedule here).

    Another option is to use the hop-on-hop-off bus. It takes you from Sultanahmet district all the way to Dolmabahce Palace and even to Beylerbeyi Palace on the Asian side.

    How to get to Istanbul

    Istanbul has two international airports – Istanbul Airport (IST) and Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW).

    Istanbul Airport (IST), located on the European side, is the main international airport serving Istanbul and the largest airport in Türkiye. To get to the city centre:

    • the easiest way is to book a private transfer directly to your hotel (more than 1,030+ excellent reviews)
    • public transposition – take M11 to Kağıthane and then change to another line or a bus, depending on whether you’re staying in the Sultanahmet or Beyoğlu district. I don’t recommend this option because it requires changing between 2-3 types of transportation, plus walking and a lot of stairs

    Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW), located on the Asian side, is the second-largest airport serving the city. It primarily handles domestic (for example flights to Cappadocia) and low-cost international flights. To get to the city centre take the shuttle bus Havabus, which will stop you at Taksim on the European side (1h30min journey).

    Best time to visit Istanbul

    The best time to visit Istanbul is during the spring (April to May) and autumn (September to November) months. During these seasons, the weather is mild and pleasant, making it ideal for exploring the city’s attractions. Additionally, the tourist crowds are generally smaller compared to the peak summer months, allowing for a more enjoyable experience.

    Check in advance and avoid the long holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, as many locals travel during these periods.

    Faqs about visiting Istanbul

    Is Istanbul worth visiting?

    Yes, Istanbul is definitely worth visiting! It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, thanks to its rich history, culture, and delicious food. You can explore iconic landmarks like Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, wander through the bustling Grand Bazaar, and enjoy breathtaking views of the city from the Bosphorus.

    How many days in Istanbul?

    To get a good feel for the city’s main attractions, I’d recommend spending at least 3 to 4 days in Istanbul. This allows you enough time to visit iconic landmarks like Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace, take a Bosphorus cruise and enjoy delicious Turkish cuisine.

    What to see in Istanbul in 4 days?

    In 4 days, you can explore all of Istanbul’s iconic attractions, including the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahçe Palace, Galata Tower and Basilica Cistern. You’ll even be able to take a Bosphorus dinner cruise and watch a Whirling Dervishes Show.

    Is 4 days enough in Istanbul?

    4 days in Istanbul are sufficient to explore the city’s major attractions, such as Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahçe Palace, Galata Tower, and the Basilica Cistern. You’ll have enough time to enjoy a Bosphorus dinner cruise and experience a traditional Turkish bath.

    How much do you tip in Istanbul?

    Tipping in Istanbul is not mandatory, but appreciated. It’s customary to leave a tip of around 10% of the total bill at restaurants, especially if the service is good.

    Can you drink tap water in Istanbul?

    While tap water in Istanbul is generally safe for washing and brushing teeth, I’d recommended to avoid drinking it directly from the tap. Not only could it potentially cause stomach upset if consumed, but it also has an unpleasant taste.

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    About the author

    Avatar Milena Yordanova
    I am a full-time traveller and I have visited over 20 countries across 2 continents. Travelling has always been my passion and I love to discover new places, cultures and food. I’m an expert in travel planning and I am here to help you plan your dream vacation.

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