Istanbul 4-Day Travel Guide – What to See & Do, Hotels, Restaurants and Safety Tips

  • 25.07.2023 09:30
  • Bruno Arcos

Have a look at our Istanbul 4-day travel guide and discover the best the city has to offer, including hotels, restaurants, tips to avoid tourist scams and even a detailed list with everything you must see and do in Istanbul in 4 days.

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A magnificent city that bridges the gap between Europe and Asia, filled by the famous Bosphorus Strait, Istanbul is one of the greatest cities our planet has to offer. Whether from a financial, cultural, historical or touristic point of view, this bustling Turkish metropolis (despite not being the capital) holds a prominent place on the global stage – a place enveloped in a truly special aura.

Once serving as the capital of both the Byzantine and the Ottoman empires, the ancient Constantinople breathes history at every turn. It’s in the streets, ancient and rugged; in the bazaars, chaotic and colorful; in the buildings, imposing and majestic. Many say that Istanbul is a perfect starting point for those venturing beyond Europe for the first time, and I couldn’t agree more. It strikes a balance between being familiar enough to make us feel at home and yet exotic enough to introduce us to a whole new cultural world.

That being said, we invite you to have a look at our Istanbul 4-day travel guide and discover the best the city has to offer, including hotels, restaurants, tips to avoid tourist scams and even a detailed list with everything you must see and do in Istanbul in 4 days.

Istanbul 4-Day Travel Guide

How to get to Istanbul – Flights from the UK

Given the global fame of this destination, attracting approximately 16 million tourists annually, and with a local population of around 15 million, this mega-city is served by two international airports: the Istanbul Airport, considered the largest and most important; and the Sabiha Gokcen Airport, the main hub for Pegasus Airlines, the Turkish low-cost giant.

As such, if you’re traveling from the UK, it is possible to fly directly to Istanbul from any of these cities:

  • Istanbul Airport
    • London–Heathrow – British Airways and Turkish Airlines
    • London–Gatwick –Wizz Air and Turkish Airlines
    • London–Luton – Wizz Air
    • Manchester – Easyjet and Turkish Airlines
    • Birmingham – Turkish Airlines
    • Edinburgh – Turkish Airlines
  • Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen
    • London-Heathrow – British Airways
    • London–Stansted – AnadoluJet and Pegasus Airlines
    • Manchester – Pegasus Airlines

Istanbul 4-day travel guide – Best time to visit the city

Much like most other European destinations, the best time to visit Istanbul is during shoulder-season, in the months of Spring and Fall.

During the peak of summer, it’s quite common for Istanbul to feel rather difficult to explore. Combine that with the bustling crowds and the steep climbs the city is so famous for, and the whole experience becomes somewhat less pleasurable. The same goes for the long queues to purchase tickets and enter the main tourist attractions, which seem to grow exponentially.

On the other hand, winter can be a fantastic choice for exploring Istanbul. While the weather may be chilly (though to Central and Eastern Europeans it can feel like Spring) and there’s always a chance of a passing shower, the lines are significantly shorter, the streets are less congested and accommodation prices are much more reasonable.

Documents needed for your trip to Istanbul

British citizens do not need a visa to visit Turkey. You’ll just need your passport, which must remain valid for at least 6 months from the date of your trip.

Istanbul 4-day travel guide – Withdrawals, banking fees and travel budget

With the Turkish Lira (TL) as Turkey’s official currency, any withdrawal using a UK bank card might incur in the payment of several different fees. Besides the percentual fee referring to the currency conversion, some UK banks may also charge a flat commission for withdrawals made outside the UK. In some instances, you may well end up paying 5%-6% of your original withdrawal in banking fees.

On the other hand, exchanging money before your trip is not a viable solution either. Besides not being any cheaper, it’s also not safe or wise to carry so much money on you during your trip. As such, we recommend using the services of online banking fintech companies such as Revolut, N26 or Monzo.

Although each have their own limitations and fees, they allow you to withdraw a certain amount in foreign currency without any fees involved. And even after that threshold is reached, costs are much smaller when compared to traditional banks. Sign up for Revolut for free >> to get 3 months of Premium (a treat from Istanbul 4-day travel guide).

It’s worth noting that even though most Turks still prefer to deal with hard cash, electronic payments are extremely prevalent in Istanbul. Nevertheless, if you do need to withdraw some money, we recommend using the following banks, which, at the time of writing, do not charge any withdrawal fees:

  • KuveytTürk
  • Halkbank
  • ING
  • Ziraat Bank
  • PTT

On the other hand, f you prefer to carry some cash and exchange it, we can recommend 5 currency exchange offices with very favorable reviews:

Istanbul 4-day travel guide – Common scams and frauds

Considering the sheer number of tourists who flock to the city each year, it’s no surprise that Istanbul is a pretty safe place to visit. While its reputation was somewhat tarnished by a series of terrorist attacks between 2015 and 2017, as well as the failed coup attempt in 2016, the truth is that Istanbul has never been more unsafe than other major European destinations like Paris, London or Barcelona, which also faced their fair share of attacks during that period.

More than any kind of physical or life-threatening risk, in Istanbul your main concern should revolve around taking good care of your belongings. Not that the city is known for theft or robbery, but frauds and scams targeting unsuspecting tourists to squeeze a few extra liras out of them are a reality. In this regard, I highly recommend using apps like Uber or BiTaksi – the local version – as dealing with Turkish taxi drivers is a true horror movie. In fact, considering how the country is known for its warmth, honesty and hospitality, taxi drivers are certainly among the most vilified segments of society (and rightfully so!). Additionally, when eating out near popular tourist spots, be especially attentive to restaurant menus. There have been instances where customers placed their orders based on the waiter’s suggestions without even looking at the menu, only to receive an unpleasant surprise when the bill arrived. It’s also worth noting that it is not uncommon to find two menus with different prices: one for locals and another (in English) for tourists. Therefore, my advice would be to thoroughly examine the menu and always double-check prices with the staff before ordering.

Speaking of scams, one cannot leave out the iconic bazaars, an integral part of the Turkish experience. Particularly at the Grand Bazaar, which has become a massive tourist attraction, prices tend to be significantly higher for foreign visitors. However, keep in mind bargaining is expected and part of the culture. It’s like engaging in a dance, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you are being scammed… although, more often than not, you’ll end up paying more than what’s considered normal for Turks! If you’re uncomfortable with this kind of scenario, it’s advisable to explore shopping options away from the most famous bazaars. In fact, while maintaining a friendly demeanor, it’s best to politely disregard any unsolicited approaches you encounter in these places. To explore and do some sightseeing, these touristic bazaars are great. To do some shopping, not so much!

Aside from these, you’ll just need to use your common sense and you’ll be fine. Be wary of your belongings in crowded areas, don’t flash your money or belongings and never EVER take help from anyone while you’re using the ATM. To sum it all up on our Istanbul 4-day travel guide – don’t do anything you wouldn’t do anywhere else in the world!

Where to sleep in Istanbul – Hotels and Accommodation

If you’re looking out for a place to stay on our Istanbul 4-day travel guide then we got your covered!

Although it is one of the most visited cities in the world, Istanbul is affordable by Western European standards. While you can find prices suitable to every budget, the cost of living is generally lower compared to what you are used to back at home. That is despite Turkey suffering from record-shattering inflation levels and a significant depreciation of its currency. This affordability extends to accommodation as well, although the current housing shortage crisis in Istanbul has led to higher hotel prices. In fact, the city is so saturated with hotels, apartments and other lodging options to the point where it sometimes becomes challenging to find good options among all the subpar ones.

That being said, here are a few accommodation options which have passed our value-for-money test:

Istanbul 4-Day Travel Guide – Transportation between the airports and the city centre (Taksim Square or Sultanahmet)

How to go from Istanbul Airport to the city centre:

  • Metro and Tram (Public Transportation)

Up until January 2023, passengers trying to get from any of the airports in Istanbul to the city centre used to be dependent on the local shuttle companies, with private transfers or taxis being the only other options. However, things have changed since the turn of the year, with the expansion of the local metro network making it now possible to use public rail transport.

Therefore, if you’re arriving at Istanbul Airport, you can hop on Line 11 (purple), which will take you all the way to the terminus in Kagithane. Upon arriving, and although this is highly unusual, you’ll need to actually leave the station and head to a different building to transfer to Line 7 (light pink). From there, you’ll catch a train towards Yildiz and get off at Şişli-Mecidiyeköy, where you’ll make your final transfer to Line 2 (green), heading to Yenikapi. Just two stops later, and you’ll arrive in the Taksim station, right in the bustling square. The entire journey should take approximately one hour and cost 16,99 TL, though you’ll also need to purchase an Istanbulkart for 60 TL (more information about that on the transportation section below).

On the other hand, if your destination is Sultanahmet Square rather than Taksim Square, there are a few additional steps. Instead of getting off at Taksim, you’ll continue on Line 2 (green) for a few more stops until you reach the Vezneciler station. Once you get out and actually leave the metro station, follow the signs that say “Tramway”, which will lead you to the Laleli Istanbul U tram station. Once you’re there, board the T1 tram line (dark blue) heading to Kabatas. After just three stops, you’ll arrive at the Sultanahmet station, located right next to the iconic Blue Mosque. This additional leg of the journey will add 7,09 TL to your previous tally. Alternatively, you can just walk the 2 km distance between the square and the Vezneciler metro station.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that Line 11, departing from Istanbul Airport, only operates between 06h00 and midnight.

  • Shuttle Buses

If you don’t mind spending a bit more for a considerably more convenient journey, you might want to go with the Havaist shuttle service. It operates 24/7, with departures taking place every 30 to 60 minutes, and it’s the most recommended way of traveling between the Istanbul Airport and the city on our Istanbul 4-day travel guide.

In total, there are 11 Havaist lines, each serving a different area of the city, which is why there are the only two relevant options for most tourists:

  • HVIST-16 – Taksim: 87 TL; travel time ranging from 35 to 90 minutes, depending on traffic.
  • HVIST-12 – Aksaray-Beyazit Meydan (1 km from Sultanahmet Square): 87 TL; travel time ranging from 45 to 90 minutes, depending on traffic.

Tickets can be purchased with cash directly on the bus or with card at the Havaist shop located inside the airport.

How to go from the Sabiha Gokcen Airport to the city centre:

  • Metro + Marmaray Line (Public Transportation)

Just like the other airport, it’s now possible to make your way to the city centre from Sabiha Gokcen using public transportation. It may not be the easiest or fastest option… but hey, it’s doable!

So, if you’re headed to Taksim, your little adventure begins with a ride on Line 4 (pink). You’ll hop on at the airport and hop off almost at the other end, more precisely at the Ayrilik Cesmesi station. That’s where you’ll transfer to the Marmaray Line, a type of suburban train that goes through an underground tunnel beneath the Bosphorus, all the way to the Yenikapi station. From there, you’ll switch to Line 2 (green), heading to Haciosman, and after just 4 stops you’ll find yourself in Taksim. Though it may sound like a breeze, be warned his adventure can take around 1 hour and 45 minutes (or maybe even more), and the cost, including the Istanbulkart, will be approximately 84 TL.

On the other hand, if your destination is Sultanahmet, it’s a tad bit easier. The process is pretty much the same until the transfer to the Marmaray Line, but this time you’ll get off one stop earlier, at Sirkeci. From there, you just need to walk for about 15 minutes until you reach the Blue Mosque. Walk included, the whole journey shouldn’t take you more than 1 hour and 20 minutes, and the cost will be around 74 TL.

  • Public IETT Buses

Operated by a public entity, the IETT buses connect the Sabiha Gokcen Airport to the suburbs of Istanbul. However, amidst the innumerous lines that don’t reach any tourist areas, there’s one that stands out: the SG2 route, linking the airport to Taksim Square!

These buses depart approximately every hour, operating between 06h00 and 22h00, with the journey taking nearly 2 hours (with several stops along the way). To board the bus, you’ll need to purchase an Istanbulkart and pay the journey fare currently standing at 19,79 TL (in addition to the 60 TL for the card itself).

  • Shuttle Buses

Considered the most convenient option for those heading to Taksim, it is also possible to travel between this airport and the city centre using the Havabus shuttle service. This shuttle operates between 03h30 and 21h30, departing (usually) every 90 minutes. The ticket price is 67.50 TL (purchased in cash directly on the bus), and the journey takes approximately 45 to 90 minutes, depending on traffic conditions. It’s the most recommended way of traveling between the Sabiha Gokcen Airport and the city on our Istanbul 4-day travel guide.

Istanbul 4-Day Travel Guide – Public transportation

As you may have gathered from the previous overview, Istanbul’s public transportation system is extremely diverse. With options ranging from metro, buses, ferries, urban trains, trams and even funiculars, you can (almost) always find a solution for any connection you wish to make.

Unfortunately, the system also has the potential to appear extremely complex, especially for those who are not familiar with it. On the other hand, the information is integrated into Google Maps, which means that the application/website will show you exactly what to do to get from point A to point B (although the pricing information may not be precise).

That being said, let’s try to keep things simple with our Istanbul 4-day travel guide!

Istanbulkart – The ultimate Istanbul travel card

Similar to the Oyster and Leap cards, the Istanbulkart serves as your pass to access the local public transportation system. You can easily purchase this card from the yellow automatic machines at metro and train stations, as well as at the numerous kiosks scattered across the city, including at the airports. The card is also valid across all public transportation platforms, such as metro, tram, bus, ferry and on the Marmaray Line.

As a tourist, you can only buy the “anonymous” Istanbulkart, which doesn’t require any personal identification, and it costs 20 TL. The best part is that this card can be shared among a group of up to 5 people, saving everyone the hassle of buying individual cards.

Once you have your Istanbulkart, you can top it up with the desired amount of credit. Just remember to tap your card at the beginning of each journey, and the fare will be automatically deducted.

If you’re only visiting for a few hours and prefer not to get an Istanbulkart, you have the option to purchase single-use tickets for 20 TL or electronic tickets with 2, 3, 5 or 10 trips, depending on your needs.

Istanbul Metro – Maps, Tickets and Fares

The metro is not only the most practical and complete mode of transportation in Istanbul but also the most commonly used by locals and tourists alike. With a total of 10 different lines, it serves as a convenient way to travel throughout the city, whether you’re heading to the airport or moving between the districts of Fatih – on the southern shore of the Golden Horn – and Beyoglu and Besiktas, on the northern bank.

Using the Istanbulkart, each metro ride has a flat rate of 9,90 TL, regardless of distance. However, each transfer you afterwards adds up to the final cost. For instance, if you need to switch lines once during your trip, an extra 7,09 TL will be charged on top of the initial fare. If you make a second transfer, you’ll pay 5,38 TL more (on top of the base fare and the cost of the first transfer), and so on.

Operating hours for the metro start at 06h15 and end at midnight. From Friday mornings to Sunday nights, the metro operates non-stop, providing continuous service throughout the weekend.

Istanbul Tram

Just like the metro, the tram in Istanbul operates on a similar fare structure and follows comparable operating hours.

Made up of 5 distinct lines, the city’s tram is a convenient way navigating the vast district of Fatih, allowing tourists to easily travel between Sultanahmet Square, the Grand Bazaar, the Suleymaniye Mosque, the Eminonu ferry terminal and the picturesque neighborhoods of Fener and Balat.

But perhaps the most famous tram line in Istanbul awaits you on the northern bank of the Golden Horn. The T5, also known as the Heritage Tram, crosses through the vibrant Istiklal Avenue, with its red trolleys and old-world charm granting it a special place in lots of the city’s postcard pictures.

Marmaray Line

Crossing the iconic Bosphorus Strait, the Marmaray Line is an underground urban railway that connects the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. If you’re up for a quick hop to Asia but aren’t a fan of boat rides, then this line will likely be your go-to option if you follow our Istanbul 4-day travel guide.

Unlike the metro and tram, pricing structure is slightly different, although you can still use your trusty Istanbulkart. If your journey covers a short distance of 1 to 4 stops, the ticket price is a convenient 4,03 TL. However, if you venture beyond that range, an automatic amount of 8,91 TL will be deducted from your card, which is the standard price for a journey spanning over 36 stops. But what if your trip falls somewhere in between, like 8 stops? Or 15? Or even 23? Well, in that case, you’ll need to scan your card again upon exiting the train at one of the “Refund Machines”. They’ll calculate a fare based on the distance you traveled, ranging from 4,03 TL to 8,91 TL, and automatically refund the difference from the initial 8,91 TL deduction.

Sounds unnecessarily complicated, doesn’t it?

Istanbul Ferries

Finally, we cap off the public transportation chapter of our Istanbul 4-day travel guide with a quick look at the city’s ferry services. Each day, hundreds of ferry boats cross through the city’s waterways, connecting various ports, from the inner districts of the Golden Horn to the expansive Marmara Sea, not forgetting the lively Bosphorus, where these boats link the European and Asian sides of the gigantic metropolis. In total, we’re talking about 48 ports and over 20 routes.

The frequency of ferry departures varies depending on the popularity of the routes, but focusing on the busiest lines, a new ferry sets sail approximately every 20 minutes, with routes usually operating from 06h00 to 23h00. Similarly to the metro, service operates non-stop during weekend nights, albeit with a reduced frequency (one departure per hour) and slightly higher prices.

On the European side of Istanbul, the busiest ports include Eminonu, Kabatas, Karakoy and Besiktas. On the Asian side, Kadikoy and Uskudar stand out as the most prominent. Once again, the Istanbulkart can be used to pay for your trip, with fares varying according to the distance covered, ranging from 8 to 15 TL.

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning the delightful option of embarking on a Bosphorus Cruise. While you can find plenty of online tours at inflated prices, the truth is that the public entity responsible for managing Istanbul’s ferries actually offers two versions (a shorter and a longer one) of the cruise, both at affordable rates. For more details, be sure to check out the 4th day of our Istanbul 4-day travel guide.

Istanbul 3-day Travel Guide – Free walking tours

While in Istanbul, you have the option to explore the city with a free walking tour. These tours, led by local guides or tour companies, offer guided visits to the historic center, sharing intriguing stories about each place and providing valuable cultural context. Even though these tours are technically free, it’s customary to show appreciation for the guide’s efforts by leaving a tip at the end. In Istanbul, a reasonable minimum tip would be around 150 TLR.

That being said, here are a few companies that run free walking tours in Istanbul:

Istanbul 4-day Travel Guide – Hidden Treasures

When you consider the vast physical and historical dimensions of Istanbul, it becomes quite clear that there is an incredible array of hidden gems and undiscovered sites waiting to be explored. The only challenge is that the city offers so much that it can be difficult to even cover the essentials, let alone the lesser-known spots!

However, because there’s always a way to squeeze in a little extra and cater to every itinerary, we thought we’d take the liberty of suggesting some less obvious places that you should definitely add to your Istanbul 4-day travel guide:

Fatih Mosque – While not particularly geared towards tourists, this predominantly residential area around the mosque, known for being more conservative, provides a fascinating glimpse into the daily lives of Istanbul’s residents outside the bustling tourist hubs.

Chora Church – Although it is currently being renovated to be converted – following in the footsteps of the Hagia Sophia – into a mosque (its purpose during the Ottoman Empire), this former Greek Orthodox church boasts the most vivid and spectacular frescoes in the city.

Quarters of Fener and Balat – Located along the shores of the Golden Horn, the neighborhoods of Fener and Balat, with their colorful façades and narrow, winding streets, stand as the most photogenic quarters in Istanbul! Historically, these quarters were once home to various ethnic minorities during the Ottoman Empire, including Greeks, Jews, Armenians and other Orthodox communities.

Wall of Constantinople – Located near Chora Church, the remnants of this ancient wall stand as a testament to the city’s glorious Byzantine legacy, far away from the historical mosques, ottoman palaces and classical buildings of the city center.

Galata Mevlevi Museum – A former tekke (monastery) for Sufi Muslims, this house is famous for hosting weekly (Sundays at 18h00) Dervish Dancing shows/displays. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, this is the iconic ceremony where practitioners, dressed in flowing white robes, gracefully whirl in a meditative ritual for several consecutive minutes.

Buyuk Valide Inn – An old and slightly rundown building offering one of the most extraordinary views of the city. You can find it inside the Grand Bazaar’s maze of street stalls, though you may need to pay whoever’s guarding the building a symbolic “fee” to be allowed in.

Rumelihisarı Fortress – Erected to support the legendary siege of Constantinople (which would conclude with city’s fall), this nearly 600-year-old fortress stands as one of the finest examples of Ottoman medieval architecture. Nowadays, it serves as an open-air museum.

Istanbul 4-Day Travel Guide – What to See and Do in the city

As one might expect, four days would never be enough to truly delve deep into a city as extraordinary as Istanbul. However, it’s still remarkable just how many incredible sights you can pack in such a short visit to the ancient Constantinople, largely due to the proximity of its main attractions and the efficiency of the city’s public transportation network.

Without further ado, here’s what to see and do in Istanbul in 4 days:

Istanbul 4-Day Travel Guide – Day 1: Sultanahmet

Let’s kickstart your adventure in Istanbul at Sultanahmet Square, known as the historical heart of the city. After all, this is where you’ll find the legendary Hagia Sophia and the breathtaking Blue Mosque, two of the country’s most iconic symbols. The former, built in 537, was the magnum opus of Orthodox Christianity, having served as the primary cathedral of the Byzantine Empire for nearly a millennium. However, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in the 15th century, until Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – the father of modern Turkey – had it turned into a museum, and the only place in the world where you could see a depiction of the Virgin Mary standing side-by-side with Islamic inscriptions. Unfortunately, in 2020, Erdogan decided to revert the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque, covering all of its non-Islamic artwork and symbols. On the opposite side of the square, the magnificent Blue Mosque needs no introductions, standing as one of the most beautiful mosques in the planet. I recommend visiting the square during the Adhan prayer call, as the melodic sounds echoing from the minarets of both mosques create an enchanting and almost mystical atmosphere.

Once you have explored the square, it’s time to move on to the Topkapi Palace (650 TL, including access to the Harem). Despite its popularity, it’s important to keep in mind that this is a pretty old Ottoman palace, and so it may not boast the same lavishness and comfort levels of its European counterparts, which is why some tourists see it as “overrated”. Regardless, it remains a place of huge historical importance, serving as the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans for almost 400 years. While you’re the area, you can also visit the Istanbul Archaeological Museums (200 TL), a fascinating complex housing all kinds of treasures excavated from various sites across the Middle East, as well as the Basilica Cistern (350 TL). Throughout Istanbul, you’ll find several different underground cisterns that once supplied water to many of the city’s neighborhoods. The Basilica Cistern, located in the heart of Istanbul, was originally constructed to supply water to the imperial palace, which is why the sultans ingeniously transformed this underground space into a unique palace-like structure adorned with dozens of magnificent stone columns. Finally, we cap off our first day in Istanbul with a light stroll through Gulhane Park, one of the few green areas in the Fatih district.

First day wrap-up:

  • Sultanahmet Square
  • Hagia Sophia
  • Blue Mosque
  • Topkapi Palace
  • Istanbul Archaeological Museums
  • Basilica Cistern
  • Gulhane Park

Cheap restaurants in Sultanahmet:

Istanbul 4-Day Travel Guide – Day 2: Grand Bazaar and Fatih

Today, let’s take a break from the Sultanhamet area and venture into the vast district of Fatih, on the southern bank of the Golden Horn. Without further ado, we’ll begin with a visit to the iconic Grand Bazaar, hailed as the world’s first “shopping mall”. Made up of a complex of covered arcades and occupying an entire city block, this sprawling market is a captivating labyrinth filled with an incredible array of shops selling all kinds of goods. While it has become a popular tourist attraction, leading to inflated prices and other undesirable practices, it remains a must in our Istanbul 4-day travel guide. As you navigate the bustling corridors of the bazaar, I highly recommend looking out for the Buyuk Valide Han, an old and slightly rundown building offering one of the most extraordinary views of the city. Adjacent to the Grand Bazaar, though on a completely different section, you’ll come across the Spice Bazaar, where famous oriental spices, dried fruits, traditional sweets and a variety of teas are sold. Despite way smaller in size, the Spice Bazaar is astonishingly crowded with tourists! Exiting the market, you’ll come face to face with the Rustem Pasha Mosque, an exquisite hidden gem of Istanbul.

Next up, take a walk along the waterfront and make a quick crossing over the Galata Bridge, where you can capture the iconic images of fisherman using their poles against the backdrop of Karakoy’s historic buildings and hills. Back in the southern bank, our path leads us to the magnificent Suleymaniye Mosque, which, alongside the Blue Mosque, stands as one of Istanbul’s most famous landmarks. Besides the jaw-dropping architecture, the mosque’s hilltop location also offers unparalleled views over the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. Finally, our day will come to an end at the local quarter of Fatih (not to be mistaken with the district). While not particularly geared towards tourists, this predominantly residential area, known for being more conservative, provides a fascinating glimpse into the daily lives of Istanbul’s residents outside the bustling tourist hubs. Plus, it is also home to the stunning Fatih Mosque!

Second day wrap-up:

  • Grand Bazaar
  • Buyuk Valide Han
  • Spice Bazaar
  • Rustem Pasha Mosque
  • Galata Bridge
  • Suleymaniye Mosque
  • Fatih Mosque

Cheap restaurants in Fatih:

Istanbul 4-Day Travel Guide – Day 3: Beyoglu and Besiktas

On the third day of our Istanbul 4-day travel guide, it’s time to finally explore the northern bank of the Golden Horn. That being said, hop aboard the T1 tram line and make your way to the Dolmabahce Palace (450 TL), nestled along the shores of the mighty Bosphorus. Remember how we mentioned on our first day that Topkapi Palace had a somewhat old and uncomfortable look? Well, the Ottoman Sultans might have thought so themselves and decided to build a new official residence in the late 19th century, so that their home could befit the glory of one of history’s greatest empires. The end result was this European-inspired architectural marvel, whose Ceremonial Hall ranks among the most unbelievable rooms I have ever stepped in. Continuing our journey, you’ll find yourself at Taksim Square, the bustling heart of Istanbul’s social scene. A place that has seen its fair share of demonstrations, protests and gatherings, and is one of the most famous public squares in the world. Furthermore, Taksim Square marks the starting point (or the endpoint, depending on the direction) of Istiklal Avenue, Istanbul’s main pedestrian thoroughfare. Filled to the brim with trendy cafes, restaurants and all kinds of high-end boutiques, the avenue is flanked by opulent commercial buildings, providing that quintessential European vibe of former imperial cities. While walking along Istiklal, don’t miss out on some noteworthy stops along the way, such as the Church of St. Anthony of Padua, Istanbul’s largest Catholic cathedral, or the charming Çiçek Pasaji, a stunning commercial arcade. By now, you will have noticed the historic trams gliding through the avenue, a sight that amateur photographers simply can’t resist capturing.

At the end of the road, we recommend taking a break and visiting the Galata Mevlevi House Museum, a former tekke (monastery) for Sufi Muslims. These followers were called Dervishes, and were part of a unique sect known for their mesmerizing Turkish dance where practitioners, dressed in flowing white robes, gracefully whirl in a meditative ritual for several consecutive minutes. While the museum itself is pretty interesting, the real reason to visit are the Sema ceremonies held every Sunday at 18h00, where visitors can witness this captivating “dance”. Remember to book your tickets online. Since the tekke is currently undergoing renovation works, the Hodjapasha Cultural Center offers an alternative venue to experience this enchanting performance. After the show, and still in time for sunset, go up the iconic Galata Tower (350 TL), where you’ll be treated to breathtaking panoramic views of the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the entire Fatih district.

Third day wrap-up:

  • Dolmabahce Palace
  • Taksim Square
  • Istiklal Avenue
  • Church of St. Anthony of Padua
  • Çiçek Pasaji
  • Galata Mevlevi House Museum (Sema – Dervish Whirling Dance)
  • Galata Tower

Cheap restaurants in Beyoglu and Besiktas:

Istanbul 4-Day Travel Guide – Day 4: Bosphorus Cruise and the Quarters of Balat and Fener

Guess we got to the end of your Turkish adventure! However, before heading back home, you can’t leave without joining a Bosphorus Cruise! As mentioned in our transportation section, there are plenty of private companies offering boat tours of the Bosphorus, but the truth is that Sehir Hatlari, the entity responsible for managing public ferry routes, also offers two fantastic options for tourists at very cheap prices: the Long Bosphorus Tour (65 TL) and the Short Bosphorus Tour (32 TL). In the long version, which lasts about 6 hours (return), the boat will take you all the way to the village of Anadolu Kavagi, at the gates of the Black Sea. As for the shorter circuit, which still takes about 2 hours, it covers the most popular coastal areas of Istanbul, turning around near the Bosphorus Bridge and the picturesque Ortakoy Mosque. To ensure you can visit everything we planned for the day, it is recommended to go with the Short Bosphorus Tour. Either way, both cruises depart from the port of Eminonu. Alternatively, you may also do the tour and then hop on another boat to Uskudar, where you can take a brief stroll on the Asian side of Istanbul… at least you’ll be able to say you’ve set foot on both continents during your trip!

If you’re looking for a more exclusive experience with a few extras, here are some of the cruises we recommend:

After your enjoyable cruise through the waterways of Constantinople, it’s time to uncover two of Istanbul’s most picturesque and still somewhat hidden neighborhoods! Located along the shores of the Golden Horn, the neighborhoods of Fener and Balat, with their colorful façades and narrow, winding streets, have been capturing the hearts of the few travelers who actually make it there. Historically speaking, these quarters were once home to various ethnic minorities during the Ottoman Empire, including Greeks, Jews, Armenians and other Orthodox communities. Today, though, they stand as the most photogenic neighborhoods in Istanbul! As you wander through every nook and cranny of Fener and Balat, be sure to visit a few sites that bear witness to their multicultural heritage, such as the impressive St. George’s Cathedral, the Phanar Greek Orthodox College or the Bulgarian Orthodox Church of St. Stephen (note that there also a few synagogues, but they do not allow visitors). On the way, take your time to meander along some of Istanbul’s prettiest streets, like Merdivenli Mektep Street, Yildirim Street or Kiremit Street. And as the day comes to a close, start walking up the hill and check out the Chora Church. Although it is currently being renovated to be converted – following in the footsteps of the Hagia Sophia – into a mosque (its purpose during the Ottoman Empire), this former Greek Orthodox church boasts the most vivid and spectacular frescoes in the city. Nearby, you’ll also find remnants of the ancient Wall of Constantinople, a testament to the city’s glorious Byzantine legacy, far away from the historical mosques, ottoman palaces and classical buildings of the city center.

Fourth day wrap-up:

  • Bosphorus Cruise
  • Quarters of Fener e Balat
  • Saint George’s Cathedral
  • Phanar Greek Orthodox College
  • Bulgarian Orthodox Church of St. Stephen
  • Merdivenli Mektep Street
  • Yildirim Street
  • Kiremit Street
  • Chora Church
  • Wall of Constantinople

Cheap restaurants around the port of Eminonu and in Fener/Balat:

Staying in Istanbul for more than 4 days? Then check out the best day trips from the city:

  • Gallipoli Peninsula – The stage for one of the most iconic battles of World War I, the harrowing Gallipoli Campaign haunted Winston Churchill until the end of his life. Nowadays, you can explore the battlefield, visit its many memorials and explore the network of tunnels and trenches used by the military during these intense conflicts.
  • Troy – Located in the present-day Turkish town of Hisarlik, this archaeological site is said to be the place where the legendary “Trojan Horse” was used. As the tale goes, a group of Greek warriors hid inside the wooden horse, which was presented as a gesture of peace to the Roman defenders, allowing them to gain entry to the city and ultimately take over.
  • Princes’ Islands – Officially the largest archipelago in the Sea of Marmara, the Princes’ Islands consist of 9 distinct islets. Among these, Buyukada Island stands out, much due to its beaches, picturesque streets, serene atmosphere and Ottoman mansions.
  • Ephesus – Although better suited for a 2-day getaway, it is technically possible to visit Ephesus as a day trip from Istanbul, though you will need to take a flight between the ancient Constantinople and the city of Izmir. It may be demanding, but given that Ephesus is one of the largest and best-preserved cities of Ancient Greece (and later, the Roman Empire) it’s well-worth your effort.
  • Bursa – Regarded as the first major capital of the Ottoman Empire, Bursa is a historic city located roughly 150 km from Istanbul. Beyond its imperial mosques, ancient tombs, and bustling central bazaar, Bursa is famed for its location at the foothills of the magnificent Uludag mountain, surrounded by several charming Ottoman villages, like Cumalıkızık.
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