Last updated on April 6th, 2024 at 12:32 pm

Istanbul is one of our favourite cities in the world and this is why we’ve put so much love into this 5 days in Istanbul Itinerary and Guide you’re about to read. If you’re planning to see Istanbul in 5 days, in this article, you’ll find everything you need to plan the perfect trip to this enchantress of a city.

Perhaps you’ve come across it in another post of ours and know it already. Or maybe this is the first time you hear about it. We love bridges. Not only in terms of architecture. We first and foremost love bridges for their superpower, which is their ability to connect. Places, people, cultures.

This is why we find Istanbul so fascinating. The entire city is a bridge that connects two continents, Europe and Asia. In fact, it connects two different worlds. The East and the West.

Throughout this 5 days in Istanbul itinerary, it is mostly this blend of cultures that you’ll be trying to explore. Ultimately, this is also what makes every traveller fall unconditionally in love with this unique and beyond-words charming global city.

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This photo shows Ortakoy Mosque with Bosphorus Bridge in the background.
The Bosphorus Bridge brings together the European and Asian sides of Istanbul

Where Is Istanbul

Built along both banks of the Bosphorus Strait in northwestern Turkey, Istanbul might not be the country’s capital, but it’s the largest city in Turkey. It’s also the largest city in the world to span two continents.

Throughout its long history, the city of Istanbul has always been a significant cultural, political and trade centre because of its strategic position. The oldest part of the city, today’s Sultanahmet area, sits on a peninsula where three seas meet. The Golden Horn Strait, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus Strait.

What Makes Istanbul So Special To Us

Taking a trip to Istanbul can be a rather emotional experience for us Greeks. Constantinople – Istanbul’s former Greek name – was a city where a large Greek community flourished in the past. However, the vast majority of Istanbul’s Greek residents were uprooted and abruptly separated from their beloved hometown in the previous century.

Therefore, at every mention of Istanbul, a haunting aura of nostalgia makes Greeks turn their eyes towards the East and daydream of the City. For that’s what Greeks used to call Istanbul. The City, η Πόλη. Because, to their minds, it was the prettiest, the most important city of all. The one and only in their hearts.

According to one theory, that’s also where the city’s current name, Istanbul, comes from: Εις την Πόλιν (is tin Polin), which means towards the City. To learn more about the Greeks of Istanbul and how they used to live in harmony with their Turkish neighbours, A Touch of Spice is one of our all-time favourite films.

This photo shows a ferry sailing in front of Galata Bridge in Istanbul.
The fairest of them all, Istanbul

Travel Resources To Help You Plan The Best 5-Day Istanbul Itinerary

The Ultimate 5 Days in Istanbul Itinerary

Day 1: Istanbul Basics

Your 5-day Istanbul itinerary starts with an overview of the city’s two most legendary neighbourhoods. Beyoğlu is one of the most charming districts in Istanbul, formerly known as Pera, which is the Greek word for across. On the other hand, Eminönü is in essence the core of Istanbul Old City.

Taksim Square

There’s no better place to start your first of 5 days in Istanbul than this iconic square in Beyoğlu. Considered the heart of modern Istanbul and for good reason, Taksim Square is buzzing with life all day and night long. Home to several hotels and restaurants, the square is also a major transportation hub and a favourite meeting point for locals and visitors alike.

Istiklal Street

Next up is a stroll along the elegant Istiklal Avenue. Busy with thousands of people all day long, Istiklal is a pedestrianised street lined with magnificent buildings that house shops, restaurants, cafés, consulates and many more.

This photo shows a part of Istiklal Street. It is pedestrianised with grand buildings on both sides. In the middle of the street there is an iconic red cart selling Turkish snacks.
The colourful Istiklal Street

Along Istiklal Street, you can see the Galatasaray High School, Turkey’s oldest secondary school, as well as Çiçek Pasajı, a beautiful historic shopping arcade built in 1876. The highlight of the avenue, though, is the old-fashioned red tram that runs between Istiklal’s two ends. From Taksim Square in the north to the area around Galata Tower in the south and vice-versa.

The old-fashioned red tram on Istiklal. On top of the tram there is a sign with number 4 and the route taksim - tunel.
The nostalgic red tram of Istiklal Street

If you have enough time, you can also make a small detour to visit the Pera Museum, which is set in a gorgeous building that housed the Bristol Hotel in the past.

While walking along Istiklal Street, it’s mandatory to grab some typically Turkish snacks – simit and açma – from the omnipresent food carts and street vendors along the avenue, as well as some divine baklava from Hafiz Mustafa.

When strolling along Istiklal Street, don’t hesitate to get lost in its maze of charming side streets until you stumble upon hidden spots, such as Nevizade Street with its quaint restaurants and pubs, one of the many spots where the heart of Istanbul nightlife beats.

This is Nevizade Street. It is lined with tables and chairs, now empty, because this area comes to life in the evening. Colourful small flags and a big Turkish one hang above the street creating a festive ambiance.
Nevizade Street

Galata Tower

At the southern end of Istiklal Street, several downhill cobbled streets descend towards the Galata Tower area. No matter which one you choose, you’ll end up wandering around one quaint street after another. This area is full of souvenir and other shops where you can buy gifts for your loved ones back home. Soon you will be at the foot of the Galata Tower.

A shop that sells traditional colourful lamps. The walls inside are red and a woman is looking at the merchandise.
Shopping at the Galata Tower area

This 67-metre medieval stone tower was built by the Genoese who lived in Istanbul in 1348. Back in the day, it was the tallest building in Istanbul.

Nowadays, it’s home to cafés and restaurants. Most importantly, the tower features a viewing terrace with breathtaking panoramic views of the entire city. However, the best time to go up there is sunset. Therefore, refrain from going up the tower and save this for your last day in Istanbul.

View of Galata Tower from street level.
Galata Tower is one of the best places to visit during your 5-day Istanbul itinerary

One of the best ways to appreciate the grandeur of Galata Tower and take in the area’s authentic Istanbulite vibe is to sit at a traditional coffee shop under the shadow of the tower and drink your first of many glasses of exquisite Turkish tea, paired with a Turkish delight – or three.

This photo shows Maria having a glass of tea at a traditional coffee shop. She is leaning against a wall with a colourful graffiti on it.
One of our countless stops for a glass of Turkish tea

Galata Bridge

After your tea pit stop, it’s time to continue your walk further downhill towards the sea, via a set of some of the steepest streets in the city that will eventually lead you to the famous Galata Bridge on the Golden Horn Strait.

The Galata Bridge was completed quite recently, in 1994. It has vehicle and pedestrian lanes as well as tram tracks. On its first floor, closest to sea level that is, local restaurants and pubs line the bridge. The bridge connects the Beyoğlu area to the Eminönü district.

View of Galata bridge and Suleyman mosque from the ferry. A seagull flies over the ferry.
Galata Bridge

Once you step on Galata Bridge, the magic that is Istanbul unfolds before your very eyes. Iconic landmarks such as the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace stand majestically over the waters of the Golden Horn Strait. Ferries come and go constantly with seagulls following them all along their short or longer trips.

All this and a lot more compose the image of a city whose beauty no artist’s brush could have painted in more enchanting colours.

This photo shows a fisherman waiting patiently for the day's catch on Galata Bridge.
Although we don’t endorse fishing, the image of fishermen lining Galata Bridge is iconic

Spice Bazaar

Once you cross the bridge, you are in the district of Eminönü. The first stop on your short walk on this side of the city should be the Egyptian or Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı). The beautiful covered market has always been and still is the go-to place for spices. That said, due to its popularity with tourists, the Spice Market is now also home to various other types of shops, such as patisseries, jewellery stores etc.

This photo was taken inside the Spice Bazaar. The focus is on the magnificent vaulted ceiling with its striped arches.
It’s worth visiting the Spice Bazaar during your trip to Istanbul

Grand Bazaar

If you liked the Spice Bazaar, you will love the Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı), by far the most impressive of all Istanbul markets. Home to 61 streets and 4000 shops, the Grand Bazaar is where you’ll find the best souvenirs to bring back home. From a hand-painted water pipe to a colourful Turkish tea set to impressive ceramics, the Grand Bazaar has it all, plus several antique shops if you’re into vintage shopping.

That said, the Grand Bazaar doesn’t appeal to avid shoppers alone but to anyone who appreciates gorgeous architecture, authentic vibes and mingling with locals.

A vaulted corridor in Grand Bazaar. It is lined with shops selling souvenirs.
At the Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar is not just another market, but an iconic landmark in its own right. It’s a magnificent maze of covered streets, utterly picturesque cafés and mesmerising sounds and smells of the East. In other words, it is one of the top places to visit in Istanbul.

Visit the Grand Bazaar with a local and go shopping like a pro!

A plate full of different kinds of turkish delight.
You can buy Turkish delight at the Grand Bazaar

Hodjapasha Cultural Centre

The best way to spend your first evening in Istanbul is to attend a top-rated traditional Turkish performance. Housed in a beautiful 550-year-old hammam in a very central location, the Hodjapasha Cultural Centre offers two different shows, the Whirling Dervishes and the Rhythm Of The Dance.

This photo shows the entrance to the Hodjapasha Cultural Centre.
The Hodjapasha Cultural Centre

More of a ritual than a show, the Whirling Dervishes experience is available every day at 7 AM. The 60-minute Whirling Dervishes performance at the Hodjapasha Cultural Centre follows the actual Sema ritual, which represents the spiritual journey of the soul towards God and back.

Although immensely interesting and impressive, this performance is in essence a spiritual ceremony. Therefore, don’t expect lively tunes and an entertaining ambience as not even applause is allowed during the Sema ritual.

Buy your tickets for the Whirling Dervishes show before they sell out.

This is a close up of a dervish made of wax. The lifelike figure is displayed at the exhibition area of Hodjapasha Cultural Centre.
You’re not allowed to take photos during the Sema ritual but you are greeted by a dervish made of wax at the exhibition area

On the other hand, if an hour of genuine entertainment is what you’re after, you should go for the Rhythm Of The Dance show. A group of amazing professional dancers present traditional dances from various parts of Turkey. The belly dance and Turkish drum (darbuka) solos stand out. Yet our personal favourite was the fascinating Tanoura dance.

Both the Whirling Dervishes and Rhythm Of The Dance shows tend to sell out fast. Therefore, make sure you book your tickets in advance.

Make a reservation for the Rhythm Of The Dance Show here.

This photo shows a dancer performing the tanoura dance at the Hodjapasha Cultural Centre. The room is dark with just a few red and yellow lights. He is dressed in black except for his impressive red tanoura skirt. All this creates a mystic and gorgeous ambiance.
We may not know your name but we are in love with you, dear Tanura dancer

Day 2: Essential Istanbul Sightseeing

Your second day on this Istanbul in 5 days itinerary includes the bulk of your sightseeing in Istanbul. Brace yourselves and start early because there’s a lot of magic ahead.

Hippodrome of Constantinople (Sultanahmet Square)

Sultanahmet Square is a great place to get your bearings and take a deep breath before delving into this remarkable city’s vast history.

Today’s Sultanahmet Square is where the Hippodrome of Constantinople used to be. This public area hosted horse races, chariot races, gladiatorial games, celebrations and official ceremonies throughout the centuries. A 16th-century Egyptian obelisk stands in the middle of the Hippodrome since the 4th century AD.

Hagia Sophia

Probably the most recognisable landmark in Istanbul is Hagia Sophia. Constructed in the Middle Ages, this sacred place hides the very soul of Istanbul within its walls and is the visual embodiment of the unique blend of cultures that is Istanbul.

Throughout its long history, Hagia Sophia has served as a major religious site for both Christians and Muslims. Originally built as an Orthodox Christian church, it then became a Catholic church before being turned into a mosque. All these changes are reflected on the church’s interior walls where writings from the Quran are hanging next to Virgin Mary icons.

The exterior of Hagia Sophia. There are four minarets around the monument. People stroll on the park in front of Hagia Sophia.
The magnificent Hagia Sophia

In 1935, Hagia Sophia stopped being a religious site and opened as a museum. This way, the whole world would be able to step inside and marvel at the grandeur of this architectural and cultural masterpiece.

Sadly and quite unexpectedly though, the UNESCO-listed Hagia Sophia was reverted into a mosque in 2020. You can still visit Hagia Sophia as a tourist outside prayer times. However, we can’t tell for sure if the experience will be the same as it was when it was still a museum.

Make the most of your time in Hagia Sophia on a guided tour led by a local.

A golden mosaic inside Hagia Sophia depicting Mary and Jesus. Left and right of the mosaic big round green signs with islamic texts  are hanging.
The stunning interior of Hagia Sophia before it was turned back into a mosque in 2020

Blue Mosque

Right across the street from Hagia Sophia stands the Blue Mosque in all its glory. Its official name is Sultan Ahmed Mosque, after Ahmed I, the Sultan who commissioned its construction.

Built between 1609 and 1617, the Blue Mosque was probably the Sultan’s effort to create a monumental mosque that would surpass the splendour of Hagia Sophia. Successful or not, the Blue Mosque with its characteristic blue tiles did manage to become one of Istanbul’s icons and a staple of the city’s skyline.

Book this 1-hour tour of the Blue Mosque or splurge on this in-depth walking tour that explains the artistic value and religious symbolism of this iconic monument.

The frescoes inside the Blue Mosque.
The Blue Mosque is one of the top things to see in Istanbul

Basilica Cistern

Dating back to the 6th century, the underground Basilica Cistern is one of the most impressive places to visit in Istanbul in 5 days. Although not the only ancient cistern in Istanbul – the city numbers several hundred of them – it’s definitely the largest and most famous of all.

After descending a few steps, you’ll find yourselves in a forest of 336 columns, many of which bear the marks of their former use, as they were parts of ruined temples. Although for visitors’ safety the underground cistern is now limited to a very small amount of water, it’s still a very beautiful place to visit.

Get into the depths of the Basilica Cistern on a short but sweet tour guided by a local.

The Medusa head in Basilica Cistern. The sculpture has become green due to the mold.
One of the two famous Medusa Heads at the Basilica Cistern

Topkapı Palace

The main residence of Ottoman Sultans from the 1400s to the 1800s, Topkapi Palace is one of the top Istanbul attractions. One of the world’s largest palaces that have been turned into museums, Topkapi Palace is home to gorgeous interior courtyards and elaborate halls and rooms. The most striking area, though, is the Harem where the Sultan’s several wives and family members lived.

Book your guided tour of the Topkapi Palace.

Alternatively, you can book a combined tour of Topkapi Palace and the nearby Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

Suleymaniye Mosque

Commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent and designed by the famous architect Mimar Sinan, the Suleymaniye Mosque is an amazing construction in its own right. The second largest mosque in Istanbul, the Suleymaniye Mosque is also one of the city’s best viewpoints as it boasts a prime location on the Third Hill of Istanbul.

Unlike other mosques, the Suleymaniye Mosque has a very bright interior. Among the things you shouldn’t miss during your visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site are the tombs of Suleiman the Magnificent and his wife Hurrem Sultan.

Learn the secrets of this imposing structure on a guided tour.

This is a photo of Suleymaniye Mosque as seen from across the Golden Horn.
Suleymaniye Mosque as seen from across the Golden Horn

Fener & Balat

In the afternoon, you can explore two of the city’s most authentic neighbourhoods for a chance to get a glimpse of how life goes by for the real Istanbulites.

Fener and Balat are among the oldest neighbourhoods in Istanbul. They used to be populated by the city’s Greek, Jewish and Armenian communities. It’s safe to say that this less popular part of Istanbul is where the city acquired its unparalleled multicultural character.

Apart from wandering around the colourful streets of Fener and Balat, trying to imagine a day in the lives of all those ethnic groups that used to live side by side for centuries on end, these districts are home to several historical landmarks, too. The Greek Mary Blachernae Chruch and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate are only a few of them.

The facade of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. It is made of red bricks and has a Greek sign over the entrance.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Fener

The nearby Chora Church used to be yet another important landmark until 2020 when the museum was turned back into a mosque, following Hagia Sophia’s fate. Unlike Hagia Sophia though, Chora Church remains closed to visitors until further notice.

For a better understanding of Fener and Balat and a thorough account of how these areas formed part of the rich history of Istanbul, you should consider visiting these neighbourhoods on a guided tour. We highly recommend this 3-hour Fener and Balat walking tour, which we joined ourselves a few years ago. We have nothing but praise for the knowledgeable guide who showed us around the charms of this part of Istanbul.

You can read about all the walking tours we joined in Istanbul here.

The entrance of a colourful building in Balat.
Local life in Balat

Day 3: Princes Islands & Kadıköy

On your third day on this 5 days in Istanbul itinerary, we recommend taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the city to head to the peacefulness of the Princes Islands, before getting to know one of the most authentic Istanbul neighbourhoods.

Princes Islands

A day at the sea is an excellent idea for a day trip from Istanbul. The Princes Islands are an archipelago of nine islands in the Sea of Marmara. Only four of them are inhabited and open to visitors: Kınalıada, Burgazada, Heybeliada and Büyükada.

No cars or motorbikes are allowed on any of the islands. Therefore, their quiet streets and clean air come in huge contrast to Istanbul’s buzzing roads and smoggy sky.

View of Buyukada from the ferry. There are many buildings on the slope and a small ferry at the little port.
View of Buyukada from the ferry

It goes without saying that there’s no point trying to fit all four islands in a single day trip. It’s best to choose one island and spend a relaxing day there, taking in the views and easy-going vibes. In our opinion, you should go for Buyukada, the largest and most interesting island among the four.

In Buyukada, you’ll feel as though time has stood still. With its wooden mansions and tranquil streets, the island is the perfect getaway for long peaceful strolls and genuine mingling with locals in a setting of bittersweet neglect.

You can buy round-trip ferry tickets to Buyukada here. If you want to learn more about the Princes Islands, click here to read more about the day trip we enjoyed there a few years back.

A mansion on Buyukada island. The mansion has a stone ground floor and a wooden upper floor with tiled rood.
The Princes Islands boast an irresistibly old-fashioned ambience

Kadıköy

On your way back to Istanbul from the Princes Islands, get off the ferry at Kadiköy on the Asian side of the city. Although not on the radar of tourists, Kadiköy is one of the most fascinating neighbourhoods in Istanbul to enjoy a walk, a lively district where you can feel the local rhythm of life and taste delicious Turkish food.

A paved street in Kadikoy. It is lined with cafes with tables and chairs.
Walking around Kadikoy

Speaking of good food, you can finish your third of five days in Istanbul with a journey through the exceptional tastes and flavours of one of the world’s most delectable cuisines. For an unparalleled experience, splurge on a private food tour in Kadikoy, one of the best places in Istanbul to sample the city’s diverse and mouthwatering dishes.

Inside Halil restaurant where three men wearing white shirts and hats prepare the dough and two other cook in the oven.
It’s all about the food in Kadikoy

Day 4: Romantic Istanbul

Apart from all its other charms, Istanbul is one of the most romantic cities you’ve ever seen. That’s mainly because it’s a city built on the sea. Therefore, it makes sense your romantic day in Istanbul involves a lot of ferry rides and seascapes.

The Golden Horn

Start your fourth of 5 days in Istanbul with a ferry ride along the Golden Horn, from the Karaköy Station in Beyoğlu to the final stop at Eyüp. For about 40 minutes, the ferry will be zigzagging from one shore to the other as you sip one Turkish tea after another on this romantic cruise of sorts.

This photo shows a woman in traditional Muslim attire sitting on the grass next to the water along the Golden Horn. Her back is turned to the camera as she gazes at the city on the opposite shore.
Taking in the beauty of the Golden Horn

Eyüp

Eyüp is one of the lesser-known parts of Istanbul. At least for tourists. A former Christianity stronghold, the area became an important site for Muslims after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. So much so that in 1581 Christians were no longer allowed to live there.

Nowadays, the Eyüp Sultan Mosque represents one of the Islamic world’s most sacred sites while the entire district attracts more conservative Muslim residents. The mosque and the adjacent mausoleum and tombs are little architectural masterpieces. Moreover, the cobbled streets around the mosque are full of people and souvenir shops.

This photo shows the main square at Eyup. There are people walking or sitting and chatting. It's a bright spring day.
The main square at Eyüp

Pierre Loti Hill

Pierre Loti Hill is one of the most romantic places to visit in Istanbul. The hill took its name from the French novelist and keen Istanbul lover Pierre Loti.

This photo shows the view from Pierre Loti Hill to the Golden Horn. Also, the silhouette of the modern city with its skyscrapers is dominating the horizon in the distance.
View from Pierre Loti Hill

You can get to the top of the hill either by car or cable car. There is also the option of walking through the enormous Eyüp Cemetery. However, we would advise against doing so without the company of a local friend or professional tour guide. For visitors, the cable car is the best way to climb to the top of Pierre Loti Hill.

This photo shows the Pierre Loti cable car. In the background, the view to the heart of Istanbul is jawdropping.
Breathtaking views from the cable car

The only drawback of the cable car is that there are always rather long queues at the entrance. Sometimes, at the exit as well. The reason for this is that there are only two sets of two cabins, each of which has a maximum capacity of just eight people.

That said, once inside the cabin, it takes less than three minutes to get to the top or vice versa. The views from the cable car to the Golden Horn and the Eyüp Cemetery are breathtaking.

This is a photo of the entrance to the Teleferik. There is a long queue of people waiting to get on the cable car.
Long queues but totally worth it

Once at the top, there is a nice café with spectacular views of the Golden Horn and the historical centre of Istanbul in the distance. Probably the best time to visit is sunset but this is when the hill gets more crowded, too. Therefore, try to be there earlier.

If you prefer, you can tour the Golden Horn, Eyup and Pierre Loti Hill in the company of a knowledgeable guide instead.

This is a photo of the café at Pierre Loti Hill.  It is a very quaint cafe with red and white checkered tablecloths. All tables are filled with people who enjoy the spring sun. In the distance, the silhouette of Istanbul is just gorgeous.
The café at Pierre Loti Hill and its views of Istanbul city centre

Üsküdar

When you’re done taking in the views, head back to downtown Istanbul in the same way: jumping on the ferry. This time, though, take the ferry to Üsküdar, on the Asian side of Istanbul. While on board the ferry, get a glimpse of the beautiful Maiden’s Tower.

This photo shows the Bosphorus Strait with Maiden's Tower in the distance.
The Maiden’s Tower tirelessly guarding the entry point to the Bosphorus Strait

Although you’re only here to catch a ferry to Ortaköy, your next romantic stop, take a step back and look around, breathing in Üsküdar’s ambience. In a way that it’s not easy to put your finger on, Üsküdar feels different from the neighbourhoods of the European side. Also, the views of the shore across the Bosphorus Strait are amazing.

This image was taken in Uskudar, near the ferry station. It's a lively neighbourhood right next to the water where you can see mostly locals.
Üsküdar is one of Istanbul’s most authentic neighbourhoods

Ortaköy 

On board the ferry to Ortaköy, the view of the Bosphorus Bridge is breathtaking. The same goes for the dreamy silhouette of the Ortaköy Mosque itself, the most iconic landmark in the somewhat fancy neighbourhood of Ortaköy.

From an architectural point of view, the mosque is gorgeous. But what makes it truly unique is its position, right there at the waterfront.

This photo was taken on the ferry as we approached Ortakoy Mosque. In the background, behind the mosque, we can see the splendid Bosphorus Bridge.
Approaching the Ortaköy Mosque

Apart from the mosque, Ortaköy is also famous for being the best place in Istanbul to try kumpir, which is jacket potato the Turkish way. Kumpir is Istanbul street food at its best. You will be surprised at how many food stalls in Ortaköy serve just that. Don’t miss it!

This is a close up of kumpir, a jacket potato filled with various ingredients such as corn, hot sauce, Russian salad, olives and more.
Kumpir is the epitome of Turkish comfort food

With a full stomach and a happy heart, linger in this area until it’s dark to marvel at the illuminated Ortaköy Mosque as you enjoy a glass of wine at one of the many waterfront bars nearby. If that’s not the perfect way to end a romantic day in Istanbul, we don’t know what is.

This photo shows Ortakoy Mosque at night. It is beautifully lit and in perfect harmony with the Bosphorus bridge right behind it.
Ortaköy Mosque at night leaves everyone speechless

Day 5: Istanbul Highlights

For your last day in Istanbul, we recommend a series of experiences that are quintessentially Istanbulite, truly enchanting moments that will make you vow to go back to this city of wonders before too long.

Turkish Bath Experience

One of the top things to do in Istanbul is to indulge in an original Turkish bath session. The city is dotted with hammams for all tastes. From luxury establishments housed in historic imperial baths to no-frills hammams that locals still frequent, Istanbul has a wide array of Turkish bath experiences to offer.

If it’s your first time in a Turkish bath though, we’d recommend opting for one of Istanbul’s top-rated hammams, such as Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami, a historic hammam that dates back to the 16th century, designed by no other than Mimar Sinan.

Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami was where we enjoyed our first-ever hammam. Since a Turkish bath is an utterly relaxing albeit very intimate experience, you’d want to choose an establishment with people who go out of their way to make you feel at home and relish those precious moments.

Book your Turkish Bath experience at Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami to enter a world of utter relaxation and rejuvenation.

If you’re feeling nervous about going to the hammam for the first time, we put together a guide to all the things you need to know before booking your first Turkish bath session.

Read our comprehensive guide on how to enjoy your Turkish bath experience here.

This photo shows the reception and welcoming area at Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami. The floors are made of marble and there is cosy furniture with wall to wall huge comfortable sofas. Everything is spotlessly clean. Enjoying a turkish bath was a highlight of our 5 days in Istanbul itinerary.
Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami

Bosphorus Cruise

No trip to Istanbul is complete without a chance to see the city from the water on a boat tour or cruise along the enchanting Bosphorus Strait. Rejuvenated from your Turkish bath experience, now’s the best time to enjoy this one-of-a-kind cruise.

Ranging from simple ferry rides to super luxurious boat trips, Bosphorus cruise options are endless. The public ferries of Şehir Hatları offer both a full and a shorter Bosphorus tour departing from Eminönü. However, for a special experience, we’d recommend booking one of the Bosphorus cruises we handpicked for you:

For an even more memorable experience, you can tweak this Istanbul itinerary a bit to enjoy one of the sunset or early evening Bosphorus cruises we recommend below:

This photo shows a pier overlooking the Bosphorus strait.
Don’t leave Istanbul without cruising along the Bosphorus Strait

The Bosphorus Strait is the natural border between Europe and Asia. It’s also the only passage between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. This is why it has always been extremely important for commercial and military reasons alike. For travellers, the Bosphorus Strait is one of the most spectacular ways to take in the beauty of Istanbul.

During a Bosphorus cruise, you can admire iconic landmarks such as the Dolmabahçe Palace, the Ortaköy Mosque and the Bosphorus Bridge. Further north, you have the chance to see the beautiful coloured houses in Arnavutköy as well as the stylish neighbourhood of Bebek.

This photo was shot from the ferry and shows Bebek neighbourhood. There is a line of maginificent colourful mansions along the waterfront.
Colourful Bebek

One of the most impressive sights along the way is Rumelihisari, Istanbul’s imposing medieval fortress with its dreamy waterfront promenade.

This is a photo of Rumelihisari, Istanbul's medieval fortress which is built on the waterfront.
Rumelihisari, Istanbul’s medieval fortress

After passing below the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, the ferry moves closer to the Asian shore of the Bosphorus Strait to start its southbound course.

The Asian side is lined with exquisite wooden mansions dating back to the 19th century. This type of residence, which is yet another symbol of Istanbul, is called a yalı. There are yalı on both shores of the Bosphorus Strait but the Asian side features the prettiest among them.

This image shows two of the many yali, the wooden mansions that are built on both shores of the Bosphorus. One of them is a two-storeyed red mansion while the other is a three-storeyed cream-coloured one.
Gorgeous yalı on the Asian side of the Bosphorus
Places To Visit Along The Bosphorus Strait If You Have More Time
  • Dolmabahce Palace: An impressive building with a great history, it is the largest palace in Turkey, boasting a spectacular location right on the Bosphorus waterfront. Inside the palace, you can visit many lavishly decorated rooms. Among them, is the very room where Kemal Atatürk died in 1938. Get fast-track entry tickets to Dolmabahçe Palace here.
This is a photo of the facade of Dolmabahçe Palace from the ferry.
Dolmabahçe Palace
  • Beylerbeyi Palace: Built in the 1860s as a summer residence for the sultan and his family, Beylerbeyi Palace is a fine example of Ottoman Empire architecture and decoration. Small in size and with beautiful gardens overlooking the sea, it is well worth a visit.
This photo shows Beylerbeyi Palace as seen from the ferry.
Beylerbeyi Palace, an architectural marvel of the Ottoman Period

Sunset at The Galata Tower

Finish your 5 days in Istanbul itinerary right where you started it, in Beyoglu, and more specifically, at the Galata Tower. This time, climb up the viewing terrace to take in the utter beauty of Istanbul painted in the colours of the golden hour. By now, you must be able to recognise several of the Istanbul landmarks you visited in the previous days and this is why we think that you should save this experience for last.

Grab your skip-the-line tickets to the Galata Tower here. Trust us, you’ll definitely want to skip THIS line.

This photo shows the view from the top of Galata tower at sunset. The sky and sea are dyed in red as the city lights begin to become visible.
Sunset from the top of the Galata Tower

If you’re anything like us, your sunset climb up the Galata Tower will leave you completely spellbound, your lips uttering vows of eternal love to the city. Your final stroll should be along one of the most picturesque streets of Istanbul. Serdar-ı Ekrem Street might just be the perfect place to kiss this magical city goodnight and promise to be back soon.

This is a night shot of Serdar-ı Ekrem Street with the Galata Tower in the backgound. Serdar-ı Ekrem Street is a cobbled street with quaint shops and cafes.
Serdar-ı Ekrem Street enjoys the best views of the Galata Tower

How Many Days in Istanbul

We could just say the more the better and leave it at that. However, we’re here to help you rather than simply state the obvious. We believe that spending 5 days in Istanbul is the absolute minimum. However, not everyone can afford a long vacation, so here are a couple of tips on what to include and what to skip if you only have a short time to spend in Istanbul.

This is a photo of the Golden Horn Metro Bridge over the Golden Horn.
Can any number of days be enough? We seriously doubt it.

4-Day Istanbul Itinerary

If you only have 4 days in Istanbul, just skip the Princes Islands day trip and follow the rest of this 5-day itinerary for Istanbul.

3-Day Istanbul Itinerary

If you’re planning to see Istanbul in 3 days, you could probably do most of the things included in this 5-day Istanbul itinerary – minus the day trip, of course – but in a pretty rushed way, which is not ideal if you ask us.

Depending on how slow you want to take it or not, consider skipping any (or all) of the Istanbul activities and main attractions mentioned on Day 4 of this Istanbul itinerary. You can catch up with all this during your second time in Istanbul. Believe us, once Istanbul gets you under its spell, there will definitely be a second time.

This photo shows people admiring the view to Istanbul city centre from a viewing terrace at Pierre Loti Hill.
If visiting Istanbul for 3 days or less, save Pierre Loti Hill for a future trip

2 Days in Istanbul

We don’t think that 2 days in Istanbul are enough to even scratch the surface of a city this size and with so much to see and do. However, if an opportunity comes up for you to visit even for 2 days, don’t miss it. In that case, join this comprehensive Best of The City full day tour on your first day and use your second day to just wander around and take in the unfathomable beauty of this city.

A ferry is ready to depart from the dock. A flock of seagulls are flying over the ferry.
Make time to see the sunset at least once

Istanbul Travel Guide

How To Get To Istanbul

Turkish Airlines flies you to Istanbul from several destinations around the world. There are two airports in Istanbul. The new Istanbul Airport, which opened its gates to the public in 2019, and the Sabiha Gokcen Airport.

Check out flights to Istanbul here.

Both airports are accessible by public transport. However, for a hassle-free arrival (or departure), we’d recommend booking a private airport transfer in advance. Before doing so though, check with your hotel if they’re offering an airport shuttle service as many hotels in Istanbul do.

A red and white Istanbul sign inside the airport.
The new Istanbul Airport

Where To Stay in Istanbul

Istanbul is a huge, often chaotic, city. Therefore, deciding on the best places to stay in Istanbul might get a bit overwhelming. Here’s a very brief overview of the best areas to stay in Istanbul to help you decide where to stay in Istanbul.

No matter where you decide to stay in Istanbul, make sure you opt for a hotel that takes pride in its Turkish breakfast. Turkey is renowned for offering a delicious breakfast experience that you shouldn’t miss out on. For more information about the best places to stay in Istanbul, read our full guide on where to stay in Istanbul.

This is an up close of the Galata Tower from an unusual angle. The photo is taken from right below the tower.
Beyoglu is one of the best places to stay in Istanbul

How To Get Around Istanbul

Although claimed to be built on seven hills, like Rome, Athens, Barcelona, Bergamo, Lisbon, Madrid, Prague, Bucharest and so many others (wow, this list is endless!), Istanbul is a very walkable city. However, its size and the number of uphill streets and locations it has render the use of public transport necessary at times.

Using Public Transport in Istanbul

Public transport in Istanbul is very easy to figure out and use. There are buses, trams, metro lines, ferries and two funiculars. All these combined can take you literally everywhere in the city.

Our least favourite means of transport in Istanbul is the metro. That’s because travelling underground means you’re missing out on the spectacular views at every turn Istanbul offers.

For the needs of this 5-day Istanbul itinerary, you’ll be mostly using the city’s trams and the life-saving funiculars. Why life-saving? Because, thanks to the Tünel (F2) and the Taksim–Kabataş (F1) funicular lines that provide easy access to the upper part of the city, you’ll never have to climb any of Istanbul’s notoriously uphill streets.

This photo shows a series of old Istanbul pictures which decorate the Tunnel Station.
The Tünel Station

Regarding trams, the Kabataş–Bağcılar (T1) line is the most useful. There are also two historic tram lines in Istanbul. On the European side, the T2 Line runs along the entire length of Istiklal Street. On the Asian side, the T3 Line does a circular route from Kadikoy to Moda and back.

The ferries are also a fantastic way to commute in Istanbul, especially between the European and the Asian sides of the city. Last but not least, buses in Istanbul are very efficient and quite straightforward. In most cases, they include something super recognisable in their displayed direction (e.g. Taksim Square or something similar). Therefore, it’s very unlikely that you’ll get lost.

View from a ferry's deck. There is a long pier close to the ferry and Istanbul in the background.
Ferries are an excellent means of transport in Istanbul
Istanbulkart

The Istanbulkart is a contactless public transport smart card. It is valid for all of the above means of transport plus a couple more, such as the Eyüp cable car. Apart from offering discounts compared to single-ride fares, the Istanbulkart offers you the ease of hopping on and off public transportation in Istanbul without worrying about buying separate tickets all the time.

You can buy an Istanbulkart at any metro station or even a newsstand in the city and load it with the desired amount of Turkish lira. Then you can top up your Istanbulkart at the same places or automatic vending machines located at many metro, tram or bus stations.

The Istanbulkart is not personal. This means that it can be used by more than one person. If so, the discount made at certain transits will only be applied to one passenger.

Maria tops up her Istanbulkart in one of the ticket machines.
Topping up our Istanbulkarts

Istanbul Weather & Best Time To Visit Istanbul

Winter in Istanbul can be really, really cold. Especially on board the ferries or in the evening. Istanbul is a dreamy city and you should be able to enjoy sitting outdoors as much as possible. This is why it would be better to visit in late spring or autumn. Try to avoid visiting Istanbul during the summer months to steer clear of the crowds and scorching heat the peak season brings.

A red simit cart abandoned on an empty street.
November in Istanbul

Should I Get a Turkey SIM card?

Free roaming across Europe is one of the best things that has happened to the continent in the last decades. However, Turkey wasn’t invited to the party. If your data providers back home charge outrageous amounts of money for just a handful of MBs, check out this Unlimited 4G Pocket Wifi which can connect up to 10 mobile devices.

Alternatively, get an eSIM card from Airalo and pick one of their packages for a seamless Internet connection.

This photo shows clothes hanging high above street level at an outdoor market in Istanbul.
Enchanting snapshots await at every corner and you’ll need unlimited data to share this utter charm with your loved ones back home

Is Istanbul Safe?

Apart from being beautiful, Istanbul is an incredibly friendly city where locals will amaze you with their warmth and kindness. That said, like anywhere else in the world, you need to use your common sense while in Istanbul.

Crowded places with many tourists tend to attract pickpockets while dark alleys should be avoided, especially by women travelling alone. On the contrary, popular places like Istiklal Street, Taksim and other squares are perfectly safe any time of the day or night – minus the pickpocket risk, of course.

This photo shows the entrance of the Grand Bazaar. It is almost closing time and there are big crowds of shoppers or just passers by.
There are security checks at various spots that tend to get crowded, such as the Grand Bazaar

Our Top 3 Reasons To Visit Istanbul

From what you’ve read so far it must be pretty clear that Istanbul is a remarkably enchanting city that has a special place in our hearts. There are certain little details about Istanbul that we love immensely that couldn’t find their place in the detailed 5-day Istanbul itinerary you just read. However, we felt the need to share with you the three things we love about Istanbul the most.

The Tea

Served in small glasses rather than cups, Turkish tea has nothing to do with the fancy Afternoon Tea sessions you might have experienced in London – which we also adore. Tea is so much more than just a drink in Istanbul. It’s a mentality in its own right.

This photo shows a man serving tea and other refreshments on board the Golden Horn ferry.
Tea is served everywhere in Istanbul, even on board the ferry

The Cats

If you love cats, Istanbul is your heaven. You’ll be touched by the degree to which locals love cats. There are food and water bowls for them everywhere on the city’s streets. In fact, it seems that cats in Istanbul are literally treated as royalty.

This photo shows a fluffy cat sitting by an old window of a wooden mansion on Buyukada Island.
One of many happy kitties in Istanbul

The Locals

What we love most about the city, though, are the Istanbulites themselves. They are among the most hospitable people we have met. The fact that they are even warmer towards us once they find out we are Greek is indescribably moving.

So much for the eternal-hate-between-Greeks-and-Turks stereotype. It only exists in narrow-minded people’s imaginations. This is why travel is the best antidote to stereotypes and intolerance. A window to the real, beautiful world that leaves no room for harmful misconceptions.

This photo shows a Turkish man enjoying the ferry ride. Next to him, the Turkish flag is moving with the wind.
We will never forget the incredible Turkish hospitality.

Now that you know what to do in Istanbul in 5 days, here’s one more thing to keep in mind. Istanbul is not just another city to visit. It is an entire world. A world of magic where all opposites converge to form an enchanting blend of cultures and peoples.

Istanbul is more than just the beautiful images of the Bosphorus and the Hagia Sophia. Istanbul is filled with the seductive smells of the East as they reach out to touch the West. Istanbul is carried along in the exciting sounds of a busy city that never sleeps but also in the melodious voice of the muezzin who brings the skies to life at each call to prayer.

Istanbul is all of this and so much more. Istanbul is unique. The one and only. The City.

This image shows the Galata Tower. In front of the tower, there is a graffiti of vividly coloured flowers.
Old and new in total harmony

WORDS & EDITING: Maria
IMAGES: Katerina

Disclosure: To facilitate us in publishing this 5 days in Istanbul itinerary, Hodjapasha Cultural Centre and Walks in Istanbul offered us press tickets to their shows and tours respectively. Yet, as always, all opinions remain our own.

11 Comments

  1. Chandra Bdr Gurung Reply

    Amazing locations in Istanbul, I truly enjoy all of it.

  2. Babu kaji Sitaula Reply

    I appreciate you illustrating the best five-day itinerary for Istanbul.

  3. i liked your post,
    soon i will be in istanbul and you blog was so amazing and helpful

  4. Thanks for this useful post. I want to do a cruise on the Bosphorus, there are so many choices, not sure which one to take but I found one, Bosphorus Sunset Cruise top-rated on trip advisor. Do you have any suggestions on that? I want to give it a try on this one www. bosphorustour. com Thanks for your feedback.

    • Hi Alex, thanks for your comment! You must definitely enjoy a sunset cruise along the Bosphorus Strait, you’re going to love it! We can’t give feedback on this specific cruise but you can find many top-rated sunset cruises by clicking on our affiliate link here!

  5. Pingback: Where to eat in Istanbul, Turkey | The Winged Fork

  6. Istanbul is a dream place for me, I hope one day to see it. Hagia Sophia, the Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar are on my list and I am sure that one day I will see and smell those wonderful places.

    • Maria Spyrou Reply

      Hi dear Ferny! We are in love with Istanbul because it is indeed a dreamy destination. So special, so different from any other city we’ve been to. We really hope that you travel to Istanbul soon. You are going to love it!

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