The Ultimate 4 to 5 Days in Istanbul Itinerary

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by Brittany Scott-Gunfield

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Istanbul is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, with millions of visitors arriving from all over the world all year long – and for good reason. There’s so much to do and so much history to see that you need a packed Istanbul itinerary to spend 4 to 5 days in Istanbul and make the most of everything the city has to offer.

Food, history and culture abound from the European side to the Asian side of this bustling and hectic metropolis, so pack a case for all occasions and make sure you’ve got room to take home some Turkish delights ready for your Istanbul adventure.

How Many Days in Istanbul?

The largest city in the region by population, Istanbul is enormous, with plenty of historic sites to see and cultural events to experience, so wondering how many days to spend in Istanbul is a valid question, and a difficult one to answer.

You can of course enjoy a weekend in the city, and have a fantastic glimpse of what Istanbul has to offer. However, it’s sure to leave you eager to return.

So, to fully immerse yourself in hectic Istanbul life and spend plenty of time learning about the city’s incredible history, you’d need one week or at least 5 days in Istanbul. However, over 4 to 5 days in Istanbul, you can definitely get a good look at most of the main attractions as well as sample a great deal of the incredible Turkish cuisine on offer in the city.

One note about Istanbul is that it is more expensive than other parts of Turkey, as you would expect from a metropolis and tourist haven.

So if you’re travelling around the whole of Turkey and thinking of visiting Istanbul for a few days, 4 days in Istanbul is plenty to see the main sights and keep some money for the rest of your trip, where you’re sure to find fantastic examples of Turkish cuisine as well as its history.

View of Istanbul
View of Istanbul

Getting To & Around Istanbul

The best way to get to Istanbul, by far, is by aeroplane. The city has two main airports: Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW) and the new Istanbul Airport (IST).

The latter is enormous and has many flights and transfers from all around the world, so it can be very busy (it even has a museum in the airport). The former is great for European flights as it’s a smaller airport, with less traffic through but still easily accessible.

There are regular buses from Istanbul Airport to the north of the city down to Istanbul Coach Station (Otogar) which takes around 1 hour 30 minutes, and there’s a metro station nearby so you can head into the city centre. Sabiha Gökçen Airport is located in the south, and metro line 4 brings you into the southern part of the city centre in around one hour. You can also organise an airport transfer.

You can drive to Istanbul from Sofia in Bulgaria in 6 hours 30 minutes or Thessaloniki in Greece in 7 hours 15 minutes if you’re on a European road trip, but the plane is the easiest and quickest route into Istanbul due to its location on the south corner of Europe, bridging the gap with Asia.

There are also buses from a number of Balkan and Greek destinations to Istanbul as well as train connections. You can view schedules here.

As the largest city in Turkey it is also incredibly well connected to other major tourist hotspots like Izmir, Antalya, Bodrum, Pamukkale and Cappadocia.

You’ll also want to avoid bringing your car into Istanbul or renting one for your stay, as the density of the population in the city as well as its location on seven hills and stretching over the Bosphorus Strait means that road travel is near impossible between 8 and 10 am and 5 and 8 pm, and never particularly easy at other times of day either.

Instead, it’s best to travel around the city on the comprehensive public transport system. There are buses, trams and taxis, however, to avoid the roads completely, the best way of travelling in Istanbul is via the metro and ferry.

You can buy an Istanbul Card (İstanbul Kart) at most transport stations and small kiosks and top it up at machines in the stations too, and it works on all public transport.

Both the card and travel are very cheap, and the ferry is the nicest way to move around the city as the views are spectacular and there’s usually a very good musician or small band busking to enhance your journey.

Turkey also has a type of smaller bus called the dolmuş (meaning filled or stuffed) which has particular departure points and a set route but doesn’t have set stops. You can flag down a dolmuş that’s going your way, say the name of where you’ll stop and pay the driver in cash.

However, as the name suggests, these can be very full at times, often the driver will depart before the doors have shut and you’ll have to shout when you want to get off. So unless you’re up for an adventure and keen to practise some Turkish, the dolmuş is not the type of transport for you.

Our Istanbul itinerary will take you all across the city, though each day’s activities will be concentrated in one area, so you can use the ferry or metro to get to the starting point and walk to each of the other attractions of the day.

Old Tram in Istanbul
Old Tram in Istanbul

4 to 5 Days Istanbul Itinerary

Each district of Istanbul has something spectacular to see, but rather than spending half of each day on the metro or stuck in traffic, it’s best to spend time discovering one district at a time.

This route will take you from the city’s top highlights to some of the lesser-known bohemian neighbourhoods and discover the beautiful waters of the Bosphorus.

Day 1 – Istanbul’s Top Attractions

For your first day in Istanbul, you should see the main reasons why it’s such a popular place to visit.

Luckily, three of the main historic sites you associate with the bustling city are located in one area: Fatih.

If you’re looking to explore with a guide, there are a number of guided tours that cover these main historical sites. Also, if you plan to enter a number of attractions during your time in Istanbul, then consider getting a Museum Pass.

The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)

If you’re arriving in the Fatih district, you’ll have seen the impressive Blue Mosque from afar with its 43-metre high domed roof and minarets stretching into the sky.

Built in 1616 by order of Sultan Ahmet I from whom the mosque gets its name, the Sultan was only able to enjoy the enormous mosque for one year before his death. However, he was laid to rest in a mausoleum in the mosque gardens to enjoy his legacy for eternity.

The mosque gets its nickname from the over 20,000 blue and white floral ceramic tiles on the interior of the mosque, handmade by craftsmen in the city of Iznik and which give worshipers a unique experience inside.

But the Blue Mosque is not just famous for its name nor its age – there are hundreds if not thousands of older artefacts and sites across Istanbul. The Sultan Ahmet Mosque is an unbeatable attraction due to its unusual 6 minarets. This is the only example of a mosque built by the Ottomans with 6 minarets, and the reason could be simply a misunderstanding between the Sultan and famed architect of the era Mehmet Ağa.

Supposedly the Sultan asked for gold (altın) minarets, and Ağa, perhaps intentionally due to the cost of the material, understood the Sultan wanted six (altı) and built the mosque accordingly.

This confusion gives us a one-of-a-kind impressive feat of architecture that stands proudly on the Istanbul skyline, however, also caused the architect to have to construct a seventh minaret to be sent to Mecca to ensure the Grand al-Haram Mosque remains the largest in Islam.

You can wander around the ornate mosque gardens to see the many historic monuments and the Sultan and his family’s mausoleum, as well as enter the mosque to witness the spectacular colours and impressive Quran verses covering the higher walls of the mosque’s interior. It is also possible to take a guided tour if you would like to learn more about the mosque.

However, as the Blue Mosque is active, you should be wary of some restrictions when visiting. When entering, people must remove their shoes, either to be placed in the shoe rack at the entrance or carried by hand inside.

You must also dress appropriately, covering your shoulders and wearing long dresses or trousers to cover your knees. Women must also cover their heads, so you should bring a long scarf or shawl or buy one at a shop nearby.

The mosque is also only open to visitors outside of prayer times, which are five times a day, from sunrise to sunset, with hours changing according to the season.

If you’re not sure, you can always listen out for the call to prayer and head over around 40 minutes afterwards to be safe. Friday prayers are more prestigious and last longer, so try not to visit on a Friday if you want to guarantee your entrance.

People also pray outside of these hours, so while you can of course take pictures of the historic monument, you need to respect the people praying by staying quiet and not taking their photos.

These restrictions cover all active mosques, so bear them in mind when visiting any other mosques in Istanbul or elsewhere.

After your visit, you can amble through the beautiful gardens to the next impressive structure in Fatih.

The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque

Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)

A short walk from the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia is the top attraction in Turkey and a must-see over 4 days in Istanbul, and as you approach, you can certainly see why.

While the exterior may seem similar or even less impressive than the Blue Mosque, just stepping foot inside will quickly change your mind. The Hagia Sophia has been an active mosque since 2020, so remember to respect the regulations before entering. It is also possible to take a guided tour here.

First constructed on an ancient Roman site in the 6th century by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, there is over a millennia of history located within the walls of this incredible building that cemented Constantinople (now Istanbul) as the capital of the Byzantine Empire.

It stood as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral until the Ottoman Empire took over the region in the 1400s, adding four minarets and converting the cathedral into a mosque for the next 500 years.

This is a fantastic example of the Ottoman Muslims’ tolerance of other religions and cultures as, like other empires, they had no will to destroy the former culture and religious monuments, but simply Islamify them.

With the formation of the secular Turkish Republic in 1923, Ataturk turned the mosque into a museum, so people of all faiths could enjoy the fantastic architecture and learn of the building’s long history. However, in a move in the other direction, the Hagia Sophia was returned to a mosque in 2020, although with minimal changes to the aesthetic.

Whether you’re religious or not, once inside the building, you can’t help but feel a sense of awe and a tingle down your spine at the grandeur and immense history displayed inside, made clear by the Christian and Muslim motifs covering the walls.

From the enormous colourful domed ceiling, past the beautiful yellow-light chandeliers, your eyes settle on the magnificent mosaics of the Madonna alongside emperors Constantine and Justinian who each hold a model of Constantinople and the Hagia Sophia respectively.

Showing the Muslim influence, placed directly over the Christian emblems and mosaics of Emperor Leo VI, Mary, Jesus and Angel Gabriel, are the eight huge gold and black medallions which show the name of Allah, Prophet Muhammed, four caliphs and two grandsons of Muhammed.

Now as a mosque, some areas of the Hagia Sophia are off limits, however, if you’re still permitted access up to the balcony, you can see a Viking graffiti which reads “haftan carved these runes” (haftan was here) from the 9th century, showing the long and important history of the structure as well as the surprising mobility of different peoples around the region.

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia

Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarniç)

Another magical historical place lies another short walk from the Hagia Sophia and in a more unusual location – an underground reservoir known as the Basilica Cistern. You can book tickets here or organise a guided tour here.

A Roman basilica once stood on the spot where the cistern was later built in the 6th century by Justinian I, which gives the cistern its name, however, it was forgotten about for centuries and only rediscovered centuries later by a French traveller.

After walking down into the cistern, you can walk amongst the 12 rows of 28 ornate, largely Corinthian columns that occupy the cistern, on the path that was recently made to allow visitors access.

There is a little water left in the cistern that once held 100,000 tons of water that was transported from the Belgrad forest to supply the Byzantine and later Ottoman palaces, which reflects beautifully in the dimly lit area.

The space isn’t cramped so you won’t feel claustrophobic, and it’s well worth the visit for two main reasons, or three columns. One column is nicknamed the crying column, as the unusual pattern on the column appears like eyes which drip water and appear to be crying. It’s said to be built in memory of the hundreds of slaves who died in the construction of the cistern.

The other reason that makes the cistern a fantastic place to visit when seeing Istanbul in 4 days is the curious Medusa heads under two of the pillars.

There are several possible reasons for them being there, either the lack of consideration for Roman architecture meaning the heads were simply used for practical reasons, or, more likely, a folkloric story that Medusa would protect the cistern but her head needed to be sideways or upside down to prevent turning anyone to stone.

It’s these medusa heads and the delightfully creepy atmosphere in the cistern that made it a popular location for film — including the Bond film From Russia with Love, Dan Brown’s Inferno, and the videogame Assassin’s Creed — as well as being a great place for photo opportunities.

Basilica Cistern
Basilica Cistern

Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı)

Stepping out of the cold mosques and underground reservoirs to finally see the streets of Istanbul, you can take a short walk to one of the 22 entrances to the Grand Bazaar.

For the last 6 centuries, this huge marketplace of 60 winding streets and over 4,000 shops has been the hub of Istanbul’s street sellers where you can find everything from gold, silver and textiles, to leather accessories, souvenirs, spices and Turkish Delight (lokum).

Wander the streets and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the covered market as well as the strong smells that waft through the air from the herbs and spice shops as well as the strong Turkish coffee prepared in the traditional way over hot sand, and the local kebab shops.

This makes for a perfect place to end your first day in Istanbul as you can pick up some souvenirs as well as find a delicious döner or iskender kebab for dinner.

A great veggie alternative to meat kebabs is the “raw meatball” çiğ köfte. Shaped like normal meat patties, çiğ köfte is made with spiced bulgur and served with lemon and pomegranate syrup either wrapped in lettuce leaves or a tortilla.

Turkish sweets at the Grand Bazaar
Turkish sweets at the Grand Bazaar

Day 2 – More Istanbul Highlights

Starting again in the Fatih district since there are so many historical sites on this cape that reaches into the Bosphorus, your second day in Istanbul will have you travel through time along the coast and witness some of Turkey’s most unique traditional experiences.

Topkapi Palace (Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi)

Once a place of extreme Ottoman opulence, the Topkapi Palace is now a museum, and one of the best in Istanbul. Displaying most of the rooms of the palace in their full glory, with information about the goings on of each space, you can learn a great deal about Ottoman life from the kitchen staff to the sultans, all in one museum.

The Palace was built in 1478 by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror immediately after the Ottomans took over Istanbul and was strategically placed between the Bosphorus and Golden Horn to be seen by anyone arriving in Istanbul by boat.

Inside the inner palace, outer palace and Harem you can find all sorts of artefacts from the Ottoman times, as well as a small gallery of portraits of the sultans who lived there during the 400 years of Ottoman rule.

You can easily spend a few hours discovering the whole palace so it’s best seen in the morning so you don’t run out of time and can enjoy the palace and its views to the fullest. You can also take a guided tour.

History buffs may also want to explore the nearby Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

The Gate of Salutation at Topkapi Palace
The Gate of Salutation at Topkapi Palace

Galata Tower

Either walking for 40 minutes and enjoying the views from the Galata Bridge or taking the tram to halve your time, you’ll arrive in Galata. On the way, if you want to head to another bustling bazaar, consider visiting the Egyptian Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı), also known as the Spice Market.

Or, once in Galata, you can stop for a quick bite to eat in Salt Galata and enjoy the magnificent architecture and views from the cafe. Alternatively, head straight to the impressive Galata Tower.

First built in 508 AD by Justinian I, the tower served a similar role to a lighthouse allowing safe passage to friendly ships, though also acting as a lookout for hostile intruders.

After the Genoese took over the Galata district in the 1300s, the tower was largely destroyed and rebuilt, with a cross at the top and renamed the Tower of Christ. However, after the Ottoman conquest in 1453, the keys to the tower were reportedly handed over to Fatih Sultan Mehmed and it was taken under Ottoman rule.

After several disasters requiring reparation, the tower had a bay window added in the 1500s, a new roof in 1831 and was renovated lastly in 2020 so visitors can enjoy ascending the tower, learning of its history and enjoying the spectacular views it gives of the Bosphorus and the Asian side of Istanbul.

As you enjoy the view, try to imagine Ottoman scientist and inventor Hezarfen Ahmed Çelebi gliding with his handmade bird-like wings from the top of the tower to Üsküdar on the other side of the strait in the first-ever unpowered flight.

Galata Tower
Galata Tower

Turkish Baths

Into the afternoon on day 2 in Istanbul, it’s time to relax – the Turkish way! Take a short walk or tram onto Çukur Cuma Street where you’ll find some of Istanbul’s most historic hammams, or Turkish Baths, two of the best being Ağa (can be booked here) and Çukurcuma Hamam.

Although historic sites, hammams continue to be a quintessential Turkish activity, and a way both family and friends relax and unwind together. Hammams are usually separated into men’s and women’s areas, but some more modern ones allow couples to go in together.

Inside, you can choose what kind of package you would like, whether you simply want to enjoy the hot baths and maybe a massage or have the full experience of the steamy rooms, the professional scrub down, foam bath, massage and of course, finishing it all off with a Turkish tea, çay. This is certainly one of the more relaxing things to do in Istanbul.

The prices are very reasonable, although you can pay more for more modern and luxurious baths if you plan to spend your whole afternoon being pampered. Or, head on to our next stop for another Turkish tradition.

Galata Mevlevi Museum

Although the Mevlevi Order originated in Konya in the 13th century, this meditative dance is famous all over Turkey and should be seen if possible when in Istanbul. Known as the Whirling Dervish Dance, followers of the founder Jalaluddin Muhammad Balkhi Rumi, known as Mevlana Rumi, would follow his lead in connecting to god through music and dance.

A group dressed in white with long skirts that present the shrouds of their egos and tall hats similar to a fez but in darker colours to represent the tombstones of their egos, the men spin in unison with arms held high and blank, peaceful expressions. The music is provided by a singer, drummer and wooden flute player, which must be held at a certain angle to create the hauntingly beautiful sound that the dancers spin to.

You can learn all about the history and traditions of this Sufi religious dance, and even catch a performance on Sunday afternoons at the Galata Mevlevi Museum for a very small fee. An intriguing and unique experience, it’s definitely worth visiting and trying to see a show.

Keep in mind that, as of August 2023, this museum is temporarily closed for renovations.

Galata Mevlevi Museum
Galata Mevlevi Museum

Dinner Cruise

Since you haven’t yet needed to take a ferry to the Asian side, one of the best ways to enjoy the water that makes Istanbul such a unique city is by taking a dinner cruise.

Setting off at sunset, there are many options for dinner cruises that take you all around the coastline to the Bosphorus Bridge and Maiden’s Tower which floats off the Kadiköy coast over the course of a few hours.

However, each of them will provide an exceptional display of Turkish cuisine, accompanied by traditional live music and belly dancers as you get a unique viewpoint of Istanbul at night.

Day 3 – Karaköy to Ortaköy

After 2 days in Istanbul concentrated in Fatih and Galata, a third day should be spent more relaxed, ambling around the European coastline and enjoying a taste of Turkey.

Turkish Breakfast (Serpme Kahvalti)

Unfortunately, the Turkish breakfast is not as world-renowned as it should be, as it provides a wealth of flavours and a mix of meats, fruits and vegetables that either set you up for a full day, or can send you back to bed if you overindulge – as is very easy to do.

There are many places you can find excellent serpme kahvalti in Istanbul, although if you’re starting your day on the European side, you can find some wonderful options in the streets around Siraselviler Caddesi.

After ordering, you’ll be provided many small plates containing everything from fried eggs with Turkish spicy beef sausage (sucuk) or mixed vegetable scrambled eggs (menemen) alongside fresh tomatoes and cucumber, olives, cheeses, breads, jams, tahini with grape syrup (tahin pekmez) and naturally, as much tea as you like.

Don’t feel obliged to finish everything on the plates, but if you do, it’s a good idea to finish with a strong Turkish coffee to perk you up for the rest of the day.

Istanbul Museum of Modern Art (İstanbul Modern Sanat Müzesi)

While there are fantastic modern art museums all over the world, especially in Western Europe with such famous painters living and working in France and the Netherlands, for example, not much is known about the world of Turkish art.

That’s why the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art is a great place to stop for art lovers, as there is a great collection of international art, with a focus on Turkish artists, that may otherwise be unknown in Europe and North America.

The museum has a permanent exhibition with famous artists from Tracey Emin to Bedri Baykam, as well as temporary exhibits on a range of topics that will interest anyone with a cultural or artistic eye.

Dolmabahçe Palace and Clock Tower

Time to delve back into the past now with a visit to the extravagant and opulent Dolmabahçe Palace. If you’ve taken a ferry in Istanbul, you’ll have seen this magnificent building on the water’s edge that served as a residence for the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire, as well as famed Turkish President and founder of the Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

You’ll notice the architecture is greatly different from other Ottoman buildings such as the Topkapi Palace, as the Dolmabahçe Palace was built towards the end of the Empire, in the 19th century, and in the style of opulent European palaces.

The 285 rooms, 44 halls and 6 hammams of the palace do give such European royal residences as the Palace of Versailles a run for its money, and makes for a fantastic visit.

As well as the incredible furniture, paintings and decor you can find on the inside, one of the main highlights of the palace is the largest chandelier in the world.

At 4.5 tonnes, this incredible crystal chandelier hangs in the Grand Ceremonial Hall and provides wonderful light as well as representing the classic and rich European design that the Ottomans desired. If you want to learn more about the history, consider taking a guided tour.

Outside the palace in the gardens, you can see the wonderful four-story neo-Baroque clock tower. The clock itself was made by renowned French clockmaker Jean-Paul Garnier, who famously assisted in providing every French railway station with a clock in the 19th century and has a whole room in the Louvre full of his mechanical masterpieces.

Dolmabahce Palace
Dolmabahce Palace

Ortaköy Mosque

A bit further along the riverside, 35 to 40 minutes walking or 15 minutes by bus from the Dolmabahçe palace, you reach the lovely coastal neighbourhood of Ortaköy.

I recommend walking if you’re able since you’ll want to work up a hunger by the time you reach Ortaköy as it’s famous for its jacket potatoes!

Known as Kumpir in Turkey, you’ll be offered an array of fillings, from olives, cheese and sweetcorn to sausages, Russian salad and pickled cabbage: you can – and should – ask for a bit of everything as it’s a delicious mix of flavours. However, if kumpir is too much for you, grab a tea or an ice cream and take in the views.

This area alongside the Ortaköy Mosque and seaside has beautiful tiled floors and stunning views with the 15 Temmuz Şehitler Bridge (15 July Martyrs Bridge) behind providing perfect photo opportunities.

Walk around the Ortaköy Mosque before going in, to appreciate the building in all its glory; the baroque mosque was built in the mid-nineteenth century with stunning white stone and large windows that reflect the nearby waters as well as let in a lot of daylight to brighten up the small space inside.

The ornate patterns on the inner walls and passages from the Quran are also joined by trompe d’oeils that were popular during the late Ottoman period and create a wonderful aesthetic that you shouldn’t miss out on while on a trip to Istanbul.

Dinner – Balik and Raki

Since your third day in Istanbul is all about Turkish food, why not finish your evening with a great display of Turkish fish (balık) accompanied by their national drink Rakı?

Very popular on the western coast of Turkey, families and friends regularly gather for meals by the seaside to enjoy fresh fish and small plates of vegetable and yoghurt-based side dishes while drinking the aniseed-flavoured alcohol.

Choose your fish from the counter inside as well as your meze dishes and grab a table by the water as you watch the sunset on the Bosphorus.

Day 4 – Kadıköy

After three days of Istanbul’s long history on the European side, it’s time to travel to the Asian side and see the trendy neighbourhoods full of young, modern life.


Kadıköy is located on the eastern coast of Istanbul, easily reachable by metro or ferry to Üsküdar, and a great place to wander around for a whole day. Take the ferry for beautiful views of Istanbul from the water.

Full of cool cafes, shops and boutiques, you can grab a quick breakfast from a bakery and wander the colourful streets window shopping.

If you want a more organised tour of Kadıköy, you can join a street art walking tour, or simply amble around the streets in the Yeldeğirmeni district, keeping an eye out, as the area is full of twenty or more fantastic graffiti and enormous murals made by international artists, in all kinds of styles.

You can also find several beautiful mosques in the area, including the 16th-century Kadıköy Mosque with exquisite tiles and calligraphy, as well as the unique octagonal Caferağa Medrese Mosque.

Kadıköy is a great place to wander around and see what intrigues you, sit in a cafe people-watching or go on the hunt for street art.

Barış Manço Museum

If you’re looking for activities in Kadıköy, look no further than the Barış Manço Museum! Famous 20th-century musician from the region, the Barış Manço holds a great number of the rock legend’s personal belongings as well as his instruments and outfits, accompanied by footage of the star that educates visitors on his life, as well as the modern Turkish music scene.

If you love music and want to delve into Turkish pop culture, learning about the fusion of sounds from Turkish folk to 60s rock and pop, the Barış Manço Museum is the place for you.

Haydarpasa Train Station
Haydarpasa Train Station

Haydarpaşa Train Station

While in Kadıköy, you should also walk down to the wonderful Haydarpaşa Train Station. Formerly Turkey’s busiest train station, this enormous seafront building expertly shows off early 20th-century neoclassical architecture.

Although you can no longer enter the building due to a fire that destroyed its roof in 2010, it’s still an important historic building in the area and provides a beautiful landmark as you discover Kadıköy’s coastline.

Maiden’s Tower (Kiz Kulesi)

Having had significance as a small island, watch tower and lighthouse since 408 BC, the small tower and islet has become iconic to Istanbul and featured in many films and television series, from Bond film The World is not Enough to Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.

Despite its long history, the small tower suffered greatly from fires, earthquakes and tsunamis over the millennia, and has been repeatedly restored, rebuilt and enhanced, even as recently as 2023.

At some point in history, it gained the nickname the Maiden’s Tower due to a legend of an emperor being informed by a prophet that his daughter would die of a snake bite on her 18th birthday causing the emperor to build the tower, 200 metres from the shore to protect her.

However, despite his efforts, the emperor visited his daughter with a basket of fruits on her 18th birthday, and a snake hidden in the basket bit her and caused the prophecy to come true.

You can visit the tower via any of the small boats on the shoreline and enjoy a snack in the cafe inside with views of both sides of Istanbul, or join the many young people on the steps of the shore with a tea or a beer at sunset, as the tower is lit up, making for excellent photos.

Maiden Tower
Maiden Tower


Back down to the south of Kadıköy in the Moda district, 35 minutes on the metro from Üsküdar Marmaray, lies one of Istanbul’s finest restaurants, and famous chef Ottolenghi’s favourite, Çiya Sofrasi. For those trying to see all of the city in this itinerary for Istanbul, this is a great way to end your trip and is sure to have you craving Turkish food for months after.

This restaurant serves up some of the best examples of Turkish cuisine you can find, and all in one place. Dishes include Adana kebabs, shish kebabs, lahmacun, soups, grilled and smoked vegetables, stuffed meatballs (icli kofte), rice, bulgur, breads, stuffed vine leaves and much much more.

If you don’t need a lie down after your huge meal, you can then head out to one of the many popular bars and nightclubs of the Moda district to party the night away.

Day 5 – Prince’s Islands

Now that you’ve discovered most of what this great city has to offer if you’ve got the chance to enjoy Istanbul in 5 days, there’s a brilliant day trip that you shouldn’t miss out on.

Prince’s Islands Day Trip

You’ve seen Istanbul from the streets, from towers, from ferries and from a small islet in the Bosphorus, but now it’s time to see it from distant islands.

You can take a boat tour from Istanbul’s European coast, either meeting at a designated meeting point or being picked up directly from your hotel, and setting sail from the Fatih coast and enjoying a full day exploring two of Istanbul’s Prince’s Islands – named so due to the exiled Princes of the Byzantine era.

The majority of the islands along the Turkish coastline were ceded to Greece after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, so it’s a great and unique experience to travel to the islands from Istanbul.

After setting sail, you’ll explore the islands of Heybeliada and the largest of the islands, Büyükada. With beaches, hiking trails, fantastic fish restaurants and a small local community of predominantly Greek, Armenian, Jewish and some Syrian Christians, this is a delightful island that is very culturally different from the hectic city of Istanbul.

Also, thanks to the ban on motor vehicles, you can enjoy a very peaceful amble or bicycle ride around the island. For people with mobility issues, there are also some small electric vehicles to help you move around and reach the hilltop church of St George, Aya Yorgi.

Some organised tours provide lunch at sea in their price, or you can take a ferry from one of the many Istanbul ferry ports so you can enjoy the day as you please. Journeys take around one hour to reach the islands and there are several trips each day.

Wooden Houses on Buyukada
Wooden Houses on Buyukada

Where to Stay in Istanbul

Kupeli Hotel – Centrally located in the Fatih district close to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Grand Bazaar, this 3-star hotel offers plenty of modern rooms with great amenities for guests.

Cronton Design Hotel – This luxury hotel is perfect for those after an upmarket stay in Istanbul. Located in Fatih, they have several opulent rooms, a spa and wellness centre and breakfast each morning.

MySuite Istanbul Cihangir – These apartments located minutes from Taksim Square and the Galata Tower are a good option. There are several to choose from, all equipped with comfortable facilities and air conditioning.

Cheers Hostel – Perfect for backpackers or those after a social atmosphere, this hostel is located in the Fatih within easy reach of the Blue Mosque and Grand Bazaar. They also organise social events for guests.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Istanbul hotels!

From the Romans to the Ottomans to the Republic, Istanbul is an enormous city with a rich two-millennia-long history and influence found across architecture, music and food. It’s almost impossible to see all of Istanbul in only 5 days – but with our guide, you’ll get as near as possible!

Are you planning on visiting Istanbul? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!

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Brittany Scott-Gunfield

Brittany is a writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from Colchester, England, she is slowly but surely travelling the world as a digital nomad. She loves to hike around different landscapes and has a deep love for travelling around France (and elsewhere in Europe).


  1. I have been to Istanbul several times. I love it and will probably go again.
    My first visit was in 1964 when the only way across the Bospheros was by ferry.
    I am surprised that neither yourselves or the many travel agents mention the Topkapi Panoramic Museum situated 8 stops on the tram/light rail from Hagia Sophia. Not only is it a fantastic museum depicting the battle that took place in 1453 but it has the added bonus as the tram passes by the remains of the very thick wall that once surrounded the city. A sight very few tourists get to witness. I direct all my friends to this museum and they are all impressed.

    I do enjoy your new letters. I and my friend have just returned from a tour of Azerbaijan, Georgia & Armenia. Much of the success of our trip I owe to your info and that of wander-lush
    who guided us through Azerbaijan and across the border into Georgia.

    • Thanks for your comment and insights, James! I’m also so happy to hear that you had a great time in the Caucasus countries- Emily has so much great information about the region, it’s always good to be included in her company 🙂


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