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Bucket list trip:

Istanbul 4-day Itinerary

  • Turkey

Last updated: 04 April, 2024

Where to go and what to see in Istanbul to get the most from your trip – a 4-day itinerary from destination expert and travel writer Dana Facaros.

Editor note – Dana has not included specific recommendations of where to stay each day unless it’s necessary. Instead, see the ‘Where to stay’ section in our Istanbul destination guide.

Day 1


Spend the day in the fabulous heart of the city. Start early with the great, domed Hagia Sophia church, then wander the lavishly tiled Blue Mosque and, if time, the amazing Basilica Cistern.

For lunch, take your pick from the abundant street food on offer around Sultanahmet Square for a picnic in Gulhane Park.

Spend the afternoon at the adjacent Topkapi Palace: the Ottoman Sultans’ abode with its famous Harem and museums.

Then book in for the nightly Sema ceremony of the famous Whirling Dervishes at the Hodjapasha Culture Center (1 hour, 7pm).

To finish, splurge on classic Ottoman dishes at Deraliye.

  • Istanbul, Marmara Region, Turkey

  • Bucket List Experience

external facade of a large mosque with four turrets


Hagia Sophia

A masterpiece of Byzantine architecture, this world-renowned 6th-century marvel encapsulates the essence of the lost Ottoman Empire. Initially a cathedral, it’s now a museum as well as a functioning mosque – and a must-see in Istanbul.

Good for age: 13+

  • Istanbul, Marmara Region, Turkey

  • Bucket List Experience

Aerial view of large mosque with six minarets with blue sea in the background


Blue Mosque

The greatest of Istanbul’s Ottoman mosques, beautifully decorated with thousands of handmade ceramic tiles, the Blue Mosque combines Byzantine elements with traditional Islamic architecture.

Good for age: 13+

  • Istanbul, Marmara Region, Turkey

  • Bucket List Experience

Palace building on a sunny day with trees in foreground


Topkapi Palace

The 15th and-16th century home of the Ottoman Sultans, this magnificently decadent palace is a perfectly preserved time capsule of life at the top in this most exotic of empires.

Adult price: 17

Good for age: 18+

  • Istanbul, Marmara Region, Turkey

  • Bucket List Experience

Hypnotic and haunting, the traditional sema ceremony of the whirling dervishes dates back to the 13th century. Watch the dervishes whirl to the Sufi’s haunting, hypnotic music.

Adult price: 10

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 75 minutes

When: Tuesday - Sunday

Freq: weekly

Day 2


Cross over the Golden Horn for an art-themed morning in the trendy Karakoy neighbourhood.

Visit the Istanbul Modern Museum and the many private galleries in the area. Then head north to take in the view from the medieval Galata Tower.

Hop on the charming Nostaljik Tramvay, Istanbul’s vintage tram, and make it in time for afternoon tea at the legendary Pera Palace Hotel.

After, browse Ottoman antiques and designer boutiques around Cukurcuma Caddesi.

For dinner, it’s mezes and music at a traditional meyhane, the Galata Meyhanesi.

Istanbul Modern

  • Istanbul , Marmara Region, Turkey

Man and a woman looking at paintings in a modern art gallery


A modern art museum housing the finest collection of modern and contemporary art in the country. The Modern’s temporary exhibits by Turkish and international artists – often organized in collaboration with MoMA (New York) and the Centre Pompidou (Paris) – are particularly exceptional.

Adult price: 4

Good for age: 18+

Website >

Day 3


Bring your cash reserves and spend your morning haggling for treasures in the Covered Bazaar.

Lunch in the market at the atmospheric Havuzlu and its Ottoman coffee house.

In the afternoon, check out some other treasures in the area. including two majestic Ottoman mosques, the Suleymaniye and the Beyazit.

From there walk down to the Golden Horn to enjoy the wonderful atmosphere of the Spice Market.

Here the evening beckons with some spicy southeastern cuisine on the city-view terrace at Hamdi.

  • Istanbul, Marmara Region, Turkey

  • Bucket List Experience

Colourful, triangular piles of spices in round terracotta dishes


Spice Bazaar

Istanbul’s second largest market is a sensory wonderland, full to bursting with fragrant spices and sweets.

Good for age: 13+

Day 4


Spend a day on the Bosphorus; enjoy the sea breezes as you sail past some of Istanbul’s most picturesque neighbourhoods. Take the Sehir Hatlari ferry from Eminonu, by the Galata Bridge, and get off at Besiktas for a visit to the Dolmabahce Palace.

Take the next ferry from there up to Sariyer for a light lunch at Bosfor Mangalbasi.

A taxi ride back south takes you to the picturesque Rumeli Hisar castle.

Finish the day with a waterside fish dinner at Akintiburnu in Arnavutkoy.