Honestly, we believe that few cities we have visited have as many things to see and do as Istanbul. Spending 4 days in Istanbul is the perfect time to be able to distribute yourself by areas and be able to see all the must-see places.
This city, apart from being an architecturally super rich city, having a delicious gastronomy and being a place with a lot of history and culture, has some super curious peculiarities that are cool to know before visiting, such as the fact that it is a city located on two continents, since one part is considered Europe and the other Asia, that it is known as the City of the 7 hills because it is located just above these 7 hills or that it has one of the largest bazaars in the world, the Grand Bazaar, with thousands of shops of all kinds.
As you can imagine, Turkey is not only Istanbul, it is a very rich country with a lot of interesting things to see. We were able to combine the city with 2 days in Cappadocia at the end of the year, something we will never forget. You can read about our experience in this post about our 6-day itinerary in Turkey.
We always tell you the same thing at the beginning of our itineraries, because that’s the reality. Whenever we visit a new city, we always start with a free tour, and on our 4 days in Istanbul we did just that.
We did this tour through one of the most important tourist areas of the city, the Sultanahmet area, where you will find many attractions and places of interest. The truth is that we usually like the free tours we do, but the one we did this time was a bit lazy and tedious. However, we think you should do it, as having 4 days, it’s very easy to find your way around and, if you’re lucky with the guide, I’m sure he’ll be very useful. We were able to visit Sultanahmet Square, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque (outside, the inside was closed), the outer courtyard of Topkapi Palace, the Hippodrome of Constantinople Square and Constantine’s Column. If you want to book a tour, we took this one from Civitatis.
After this welcome to Istanbul, and after lunch in this same area of Sultanahmet, we went to see the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. It is very close to all the attractions we saw in Sultanahmet, so it is perfect to combine it with the visits we mentioned on the free tour. As we said, the Grand Bazaar is one of the largest in the world, so it’s pretty cool to get lost in its labyrinthine streets and see all they have to offer. The Spice Bazaar is much smaller, but it’s super colourful and we found it even cooler to see, so we recommend wandering around it.
In the same area, you have several top mosques to visit and certainly two of our favourites, Rüstem Pasa Mosque and Suleiman Mosque.
The Rustem Pasa Mosque has its entrance in a hidden alley and is very small, but they call it the little sister of the blue mosque, as the interior is spectacular for its blue mosaics, so since we could not access the big one, we were satisfied.
The Suleiman Mosque is a mosque located on top of a hill and its great attraction is the view of the whole of Istanbul. We loved this place, it is super magical and, for us, one of the most beautiful mosques on the outside that we could see.
We finished the day by crossing the Galata Bridge, which was close to our hotel, and walking back along the Bosphorus bank to see all the illuminated buildings from the other side of the Bosphorus River.
Say 2: Galata, Karaköy, Besiktas and Orkatoy
You can’t imagine how far we walked on this second day of our 4 days in Istanbul. Public transport in Istanbul is very good, but we love to walk around the cities we don’t know to find charming places, so we did almost everything on foot.
We started the day getting up very early, as we wanted to start by visiting the Galata Tower, a place very popular with tourists and with long queues to get there. We crossed the Galata Bridge again, a super cool place where you will see fishermen along the bridge trying to catch something to sell, to end up arriving at the Galata district and climb the tower. The advantage of getting up early and going when the tower opened is that we were practically alone. It is a tower with a museum inside and probably has the best viewpoint in the city, so it is worth going up.
Next, we wandered around Galata and Karakoy, two neighbourhoods with plenty of atmosphere and lots of cool cafes to have a drink. Our destination was the Dolmabahçe Palace, so we were on our way to get there. We recommend walking this section, it’s a cool walk and you get to see some interesting places.
We entered the palace and visited the inside. The highlights are the gardens, which are quite large and cool to see, and the royal events room, a real treat (you won’t be indifferent to the chandelier in this room). If you have time, it’s a visit worth making.
Afterwards, and as it was also “close” on foot, we headed towards one of the most typical postcards of Istanbul, the photogenic Orkatoy Mosque, located as if embedded in the Bosphorus and where you will see numerous stuffed potato stalls, a food that many locals take to eat on the riverbank overlooking this mosque.
Once we had something to eat in the area, it was time to do an activity that we really enjoyed, a cruise on the Bosphorus. And, really, if you are going to the city for several days, we 100% recommend doing this activity as you get to see a different view of Istanbul. The truth is that we took this Civitatis tour and we were very happy with the service, the explanations we were given and what we were able to see.
Day 3 of our 4 days in Istanbul: Topkapi Palace and Asian Zone
The third day in Turkey was less intense than the first two days. The truth is that we walked a little less and we took a break after having walked about 20km a day in the first two days of these 4 days in Istanbul.
We started the day going back to the area we visited on day 1, the Sultanahmet area. There, we headed to one of Istanbul’s must-sees, the Topkapi Palace. This is a place that was key to the rule of the sultans in the Ottoman Empire and therefore, you can see the power and money they possessed and the way they lived and managed their lives for centuries.
We think it’s worth going inside if you like history and are interested in learning about the past of this great empire and seeing a bit more about how they lived. Inside, you can see places like the palace halls, admire the wonderful colourful mosaics, see an impressive collection of weapons, visit the old kitchens and end up in the Harem, the place that impressed us the most, as it was where all the women lived, most of them owned by the sultan of the time.
The visit took us about two hours, so when we left we took the opportunity to have something to eat in the area and then head off to see the Asian part of the city. To get there you have to take a ferry that leaves from the Karakoy area and crosses in 15 minutes.
This part of the city is much less touristy, so you will see the real Istanbul. The problem we had was that it started to pour and we could only walk along the Bosphorus bank for a while until we arrived in front of the famous Kiz Kulesi, a tower in the middle of the river with a mystical air. Afterwards, we would have liked to go deeper into this part of the city and see neighbourhoods like Uskudar and Kadikoy, so if you’re luckier than us, we recommend wandering around them to see the real Istanbul.
Day 4: Balat and Fener neighbourhood, Eyup and Pierre Loti
We arrived at the last day of these 4 days in Istanbul, a day we started by visiting the most bohemian neighbourhoods of the city, Balat and Fener. They are two very picturesque places, with narrow streets and colourful houses that are very photographable. We liked it a lot and we think it’s worth walking around and getting lost in them to find places where you can take cool pictures of the area. You’ll also find lots of cafes and super cool souvenir shops, so it’s a good place to take advantage of it.
Nearby is one of the most important mosques in the city and one of the holiest places in Islam, the Eyüp Sultan Mosque. It turns out that Eyup was a supporter of the Prophet Mohammed, and since his tomb is there, it has become a place of worship for this religion. It’s a fairly simple mosque, but the air is much more sacred and the people are very devout there, so it’s curious and cool to go around the area to see how they live their religion.
Eyüp Sultan is located right at the foot of one of the city’s hills and a highly recommended place to visit, Pierre Loti Hill. This is a hill that you can take a cable car up but if you walk up, you will be able to see the largest cemetery in the city as you go up, the Pierre Loti Cemetery, so we recommend taking the cable car up and walking down. From the top, you’ll have great views of the city and the Bosphorus and there’s a cool cafe for a drink, so we recommend going up.
After these visits, we headed back to our hotel to pick up our things as it was time to say goodbye to Istanbul and head to Cappadocia, another fairytale place.
Where to stay in Istanbul?
As always, we have done some research on top places in the city for all budgets, but the first one we would like to recommend is the hotel where we stayed because we loved it. It was called Regie Ottoman Hotel and it was located very close to the Grand Bazaar. We highly recommend it, high quality, very good service and a hotel restaurant run by a Turkish chef called Ocak that was delicious and cost 30 euros, a bit expensive for Istanbul, but worth it.
After the research, these are the places we would recommend you to stay (if you visit any of them, please give feedback!):
– Low budget (< 50€ per night): We think that Ulusoy Old City is a good option due to its location and reviews, a flat located near the Sultanahmet area and with the privileges of a flat in terms of food savings. We would also say that a very good option is the Palmera Old City, located in the same area but of the hotel type.
– Average budget (50€ < X < 100€): For location (the item that seems to us to be the most important for 4 days in Istanbul) we would say that one of the best options would be the Suadhan Hotel, with a super location and it seems to be a well-kept hotel. Another interesting option we would say is the World Heritage Center Hotel, which as you will see is located very close to the Basilica Cistern.
– High budget (> 100€): As TOP hotels and accommodation but with a good location and that we think are good value for money, we would say that we liked the Bentley Hotel, also located in the Fatih area, the most central you can find. We also like the White House Hotel Istanbul, it looks great from the photos and is in a very top location.
Where to eat in Istanbul?
We know you’ve been waiting for it because you like to eat as much as we do. It would be impossible to spend 4 days in Istanbul and not enjoy the wonderful Turkish cuisine. Here are some recommendations of places we went to that we loved:
– Tarihimi Sultanahmet Kóftecisi: Located in the heart of Sultanahmet Square, this is a top place to try some typical Turkish dishes, such as çorba (lentil soup) or lamb kebab-style.
– Bitlisbi: Kebabs, lahmancun, pide? typical Turkish food in a place that we loved and that was super cheap, about 10 per head.
– Konaly Ferdi Usta Orkatoy: We ate here the day we visited the Orkatoy area and we liked it a lot. It’s a combination of vegetables and typical Turkish kebab meat for a good price. Recommended if you are in the area.
– Falafel Koy: A gem. It’s a vegetarian restaurant run by an older couple who look super shabby but they make combo dishes for a super low price and are super nice. If you’re in Istanbul, we highly recommend you go there because it’s worth it.
– Ocak: The restaurant in our hotel. It’s a bit more expensive but it’s food from a Turkish chef and it’s brutal. The approximate price is 30 per head with beer and dessert, nothing exaggerated, and you try typical Turkish dishes with a touch of haute cuisine. Highly recommended.
We leave you a map of the itinerary day by day to enjoy 4 days in Istanbul, each day of a different colour so that you can see that the distribution is good to be able to do one area per day and not to get into a real trouble in terms of displacements:
I guess you have seen how much we enjoyed this city and also, how much we made the most of it. We think it is a city to really visit in depth and be aware of the history and importance it has had. Besides, few cities we have seen with such beauty and charm, it is a place that grabs you and to which you want to come back.
If you have any questions or doubts about this itinerary let us know in the comments or via social media!