A 4-day itinerary to Istanbul

A 4-day itinerary to Istanbul

Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul… No matter what you call it, this age-old city is a true immersion in history. For a start, it straddles two continents, Asia and Europe, and it’s home to many treasures. Soak up its eclectic atmophere and let yourself be swept away by its splendor and uniqueness with this four-day itinerary crafted by Lartisien.

Istanbul is a big city, and it teems with life, amid its bazaars, hundreds of mosques, ancient Byzantine churches and Byzantine and Ottoman palaces, offering this enchanting contrast between past and present. This is a destination that awakens the senses, and we invite you on a journey of discovery and legendary hospitality.

Day 1 in Istanbul

Ortaköy Mosque

On the banks of the Bosphorus, on the European side of Istanbul, Ortaköy Mosque is nestled in the eponymous district, which is one of the oldest in the city. “Ortakoy” literally means “middle village”, and the mosque is so nicknamed because of the special place it occupies in the hearts of Stamboulians. Its original name was the Büyük Mecidiye mosque, and beyond its historical significance, what sets it apart from the other mosques in the city is its immaculate facade. Throughout the day, its walls mimic the hues of the sky, and it’s a spectacle not to be missed.

The mosque was also built in a charming neo-Baroque style by Armenian architect Garabet Balyan and his son Nikogos Balyan. It was commissioned by Sultan Abdülmecid, and it features two minarets, inspired by the Opéra Garnier in Paris, where Nikogos Balyan studied. Inside, look up to contemplate its dome covered in pink mosaics and let yourself be transported by the play of light reflected in its chandeliers.

Address: Mecidiye, Mecidiye Köprüsü Sk. No:1 D:1, 34347 Beşiktaş/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours: Monday to Sunday (visitors are not allowed on Fridays).

Dolmabahçe Palace and its clock tower

Grandiose… That’s the word that comes to mind when you visit Istanbul’s Dolmabahçe Palace. It’s said to be the largest in Turkey, built between 1843 and 1856 on the orders of Sultan Abdülmecid, and setting many records along the way, including a 278-metre-long white marble façade, a surface area of 45,000 m2, 43 chambers and 285 rooms.

However, the true beauty of the palace lies in the mix of styles that make up its architecture. At times Baroque, at times Rococo and at times Neoclassical, it offers a veritable spectacle for history buffs. Many treasures also grace its nooks and crannies, such as Baccarat vases and a bearskin rug – a gift from the Russian Tsar Nicholas II himself.

Outside the palace, you’ll find the Clock Tower. It was built between 1890 and 1895, and this neo-Baroque Ottoman structure houses clocks made by the French watchmaker Jean-Paul Garnier.

Address: Vişnezade, Dolmabahçe Cd., 34357 Beşiktaş/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday – 09:00 to 16:00.

Lunch at Banyan

For your first lunch in Istanbul, may we suggest Banyan. The restaurant, open on three sides, enjoys panoramic views of the Bosphorus bridge and Ortaköy mosque, and offers a menu of modern Asian dishes with fish as its main focus. Sushi, ceviche and dishes like Banyan’s signature orange beef and condiments, there is no better place for a little respite from sightseeing on the first day. The restaurant also serves some of the best cocktails made with seasonal fruits!

Address: Yıldız Muallim Naci Caddesi &, Salhane Sk. No:3, 34347 Beşiktaş/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours: 12:00 – 02:00 every day, 15:00 – 02:00 on Tuesdays.

A cruise on the Bosphorus

The Bosphorus strait has played a key role in the evolution of Istanbul and has earned a well deserved reputation as a strategic stronghold for millennia. It links to the Black Sea in the north and the Sea of Marmara in the south, enabling the city to capitalize on the transport of goods and become a major commercial hub through the ages.

Hop on a boat for a cruise on its tranquil waters and discover the city from a vantage point that only accentuates its charms. It’s an experience lulled by the spraying of the sea, and accompanied by the song of storks and the muezzin’s call to prayer, all while you enjoy views of the city’s landmarks, and in particular its iconic palaces. This is also the gateway to let your eyes wander from Asia to Europe, with just a small movement of the head. It’s a very special emotion: the feeling of being truly at a crossroad of cultures, right at the junction of two neighboring yet very different continents.

Beylerbeyi Palace

Next, continue your day with an exploration of the Asian side of Istanbul with a visit to Beylerbeyi Palace. Its opulent architecture and exotic gardens filled with fruit trees, fountains and kiosks make this palace an Ottoman jewel.

The palace was built in 1829 under the reign of Sultan Mahmud II, but it was ravaged by fire in 1851. Sultan Abdul Aziz subsequently saw to its reconstruction and, from 1865 onwards, it became the summer residence of various sultans. This earned it its name: beylerbeyi, which means “Lord of the Lords”.

It has a remarkable collection of sculptures, Egyptian carpets, crystal chandeliers and oriental porcelain, giving you a true insight into the grandeur of Istanbul and its sultans over the centuries, and leaving you with lasting memories.

Address: Beylerbeyi, Abdullahağa Cd., 34676 Üsküdar/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday – 09:00 to 17:30.

Dinner at Gallada at The Peninsula Istanbul

With its Turkish-Asian cuisine, Gallada at The Peninsula Istanbul celebrates the flavors of the legendary Silk Road. It has a rooftop terrace overlooking the shores of the Bosphorus and the gardens of the Peninsula, and it’s the perfect place to enjoy dishes that recall the history of this culturally rich region, shaped over thousands of years. Gallada is overseen by Michelin-starred chef Fatih Tutak and he draws inspiration from this heritage as well as from his Turkish roots and travels in Asia. Bon appétit!

Address: Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa, Karaköy, Kemankeş Karamustafapaşa Mahallesi, Kemankeş Cd. No:34, 34425 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours: Monday to Sunday – 18:00 to 01:30 (02:00 on weekends).

Day 2 in Istanbul

Topkapi Palace

One of Turkey’s most iconic landmarks is the 15th-century Ottoman building, Topkapi Palace. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sitting in the city’s historic Sultanahmet district. The palace is a remnant of the Ottoman Empire, having served as the residence of sultans for almost 500 years before being converted into a museum. With its paintings, precious ornaments and vast courtyards, it’s a tribute to the glory of the country and its culture.

The palace gardens are also full of charm. They feature fountains and mosaics, and enjoy breathtaking views over the Bosphorus. They are an invitation to a quiet pause in the midst of a day of sightseeing.

Inside, the palace is home to many treasures – precious furniture and objects, including mother-of-pearl-encrusted thrones, a collection of diamonds, weapons adorned with precious stones, and a fascinating emerald dagger for which the palace is famous.

As for its harem, it boasts almost 400 rooms spread over 15,000 m2. This is where the sultan’s wives, concubines and mother once lived. In those days, only the sultan and his inner circle were allowed to enter this section of the palace – shrouding it in a veil of mystery.

Address: Cankurtaran, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours: Monday to Sunday (except Tuesday) – 10:00 to 16:00.

Lunch at Matbah Restaurant

Before continuing your second day in Istanbul, Matbah Restaurant is a rendezvous with history. It specializes in Turkish cuisine and it is an invitation to travel back in time to the court of the Ottoman sultans. It has an open-air garden, with a front-row seat to the Hagia Sophia mosque.

Address: Cankurtaran, Caferiye Sk. No:6 D:1, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours: Monday to Sunday – 09:00 to 22:30.

Hagia Sophia

At one time a basilica, then a mosque, then a museum, before returning to being a mosque, Hagia Sophia occupies a special place in the hearts of Stamboulians. Hagia Sophia means “Holy Wisdom” in Constantinople, and the mosque was built between 532 and 548 as a testament to the city’s historical and spiritual heritage. It also represents one of the few religious sites in the world where traces of two religions have coexisted for centuries.

Address: Sultan Ahmet, Ayasofya Meydanı No:1, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours: Monday to Sunday.

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern, impressive for both its proportions and the ingenious play of light that enhances its size, is an ancient reservoir which, when Istanbul was still called Constantinople, supplied the population’s water needs. It was built in 542 during the reign of Emperor Justinian I, and it is still one of the city’s most important historical sites.

To go down there is to dive into history. Take in the imposing dimensions of the underground cistern, which is 138 meters long and 65 meters wide, and enjoy the spectacle created by the sound and light adjustments made to the space. They reveal the immensity of the site, and also the pleasure of admiring the terrifying Medusa heads that adorn two of its corner pillars – it is said that they were sculpted upside down so that visitors looking at them would not be turned to stone, to quote the legend of Odyssey.

Address: Alemdar, Yerebatan Cd. 1/3, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours: Monday to Sunday – 09:00 to 19:00.

Dinner at Alaf or Topaz

With its whitewashed wooden roof terrace overlooking the waterfront, Alaf is one of Istanbul’s most sought-after cocktail bars. It’s overseen by chef Deniz Temel offering a bistronomic cuisine, and it’s the perfect conclusion to your second day in Istanbul, overlooking the waters of the Bosphorus.

The cuisine here is nomadic, and a true testament to the culinary mastery of Deniz Temel who trained in some of the world’s finest kitchens – Noma in Copenhagen, D.O.M. in São Paulo, before settling in Istanbul, making modern Turkish cuisine his signature. He loves colorful dishes, full of flavor and personality.

Address: Kuruçeşme, Kuruçeşme Cd. No:19, 34345 Beşiktaş/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours: Monday to Sunday – 18:00 to midnight.

Another favorite address of Istanbul’s gourmets is the elegant Topaz restaurant. Choose it to round off your second day in the city at a rooftop terrace with a pleasant lounge atmosphere, inventive cocktails and a Mediterranean menu that’s as creative as it is generous. The linguine with freshly caught seafood and the grilled octopus with herbs are especially excellent.

Address: Ömer Avni, İnönü Cd. No:50, 34427 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday – 18:00 to 00:30.

Day 3 in Istanbul

Discover the colorful Jewish quarter, Balat

Despite the charm of its colorful alleyways, its historical appeal and its panoramic views over the horizon, Balat remains largely unknown to tourists. That’s a pity because this is your opportunity to get off the beaten track and experience a place with an authentic Turkish spirit. We strongly recommend a stroll here to kick off your third day in the city.

The neighborhood sits on the slopes of the Golden Horn, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its rich history is palpable as you lose yourself in the cobbled streets lined with religious buildings and colorful Ottoman-style houses. You will find laundry hanging from windows, and children playing freely, giving it a special, timeless character that illustrates a completely different side of Istanbul.

The Spice Bazaar

With roots that can be traced back to 1663, this is one of Istanbul’s oldest markets. It’s also known as the “Egyptian Bazaar”, referring to a time when Istanbul was the last stop on the Silk Road, and the epicenter of trade for all of Europe beyond Venice. Enjoy its sweets, spices, nuts and typical Turkish products.

Address: Rüstem Paşa, 34116 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours : Monday to Sunday – 08:00 to 19:30.

Suleymaniye Mosque

This is said to be one of Istanbul’s most beautiful mosques. After all, its architect, Mimar Sinan, had the ambition of surpassing the builders of the Hagia Sophia… Did he succeed? With its minarets and dome towering over the city, the mosque sits majestically above the Golden Horn. It was built in 1550, and the legend has it Suleiman the Magnificent, who commissioned its construction, had precious stones donated by the Shah of Iran buried at the foot of the mosque as a contribution to its construction.

Address: Süleymaniye, Prof. Sıddık Sami Onar Cd. No:1, 34116 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours: Monday to Sunday – 08:30 to 16:45 ( 01:30 on Fridays).

Lunch at Pandeli

On the second floor of a small building overlooking the Egyptian Bazaar, Pandeli is an ideal spot for a lunch break. Its cuisine is as exotic as it is tasty, and a typically Turkish decor gives it a unique cachet. This is the place to enjoy the best of traditional Turkish specialties: grilled eggplant salad, spicy chicken cooked over a wood fire and roast lamb, all of which are local favorites.

Address: Rüstempaşa Mah. Balık Pazarı kapısı Sokağı Mısırçarşı İçi 1, D:2, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours : Monday to Saturday – 11:30 to 19:00.

Tour the National Palaces Painting Museum

With some 200 artworks taken from the Dolmabahçe Palace, this museum, recently installed in the Crown Prince’s apartments, is a delight for art lovers. It features the work of both 19th-century international painters and Turkish artists such as Şeker Ahmed Pasha, Osman Hamdi Bey, Hüseyin Zekai Pasha and Hodja Ali Rıza… An afternoon here is time out of reality.

Address: Vişnezade, Dolmabahçe Sarayı, Dolmabahçe Cd., 34357 Beşiktaş/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours : Tuesday to Saturday – 09:00 to 18:00.

Galata Tower

Day or night, the Galata Tower in Istanbul is a sight to behold. This architectural gem dominates the city, in a nod to its prosperous Byzantine times – and more specifically of the Galata district, which was the city’s commercial hub at the time. It is also the origin of many myths and legends – passionate love stories, tales of chivalry and mystical anecdotes handed down from generation to generation.

Address: Bereketzade, 34421 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours: Monday to Sunday – 08:30 to 22:00.

Dinner at Neolokal

Combining tradition and creativity, Neolokal is an atypical and seductive meeting place for gourmets in the Galata district. Chef Maksut Aşkar is committed to highlighting the country’s culinary heritage, all the while adding a touch of modernity. The result is a captivating gastronomic experience.

The restaurant also has another focus: Sustainability. In addition to a vegetarian menu, Neolokal sources as much as possible from local producers, from vegetables to wines.

Subtlety, originality and passion, this restaurant is as authentic as it is tasty. And if you still need convincing, the fabulous terrace and panoramic views over Istanbul’s rooftops and mosques should do the trick!

Address: Azapkapı, Mahı, Bankalar Cd. No:11, 34420, 34421 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday – 18:00 to 01:00.

Day 4 in Istanbul

Visit the Istanbul Archaeological Museums

To kick off your last day in Istanbul, head to the Eminönü district – and in particular, to its Archaeological Museums. They count among the most important museums in the world, founded by famous painter and archaeologist Osman Hamdi in 1891 as Turkey’s first museum, and a must-see for lovers of all things antique.

It’s organized into three zones, each offering a unique experience with their pieces and discoveries. The first is dedicated to archaeology, where you’ll find renowned objects including a vast collection of sarcophagi. The second area features a collection of oriental art, Ottoman tombs and objects from Egyptian, Sumerian and Akkadian cultures. Among its most precious antiquities are pieces of the Babylonian Ishtar Gate, which alone, are worth a visit to the museum. The museum’s third and final collection is housed in the Azulejos pavilion, and features a range of ceramics and jewelry.

Address: Cankurtaran, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours: Monday to Sunday – 09:00 to 19:00.

Gülhane Park

These gardens once belonged to the Topkapi Palace. They were reserved for the royal court, and offered a refreshing break in the midst of nature. Today, Gülhane Park is open to all. Sitting at the heart of the city’s historic district, it is the epicenter of daily life in Istanbul, and a wonderful place to take a break and enjoy a picnic of gözlemes (a pancake stuffed with minced meat and vegetables) and simit (the city’s fabled sesame seed bread).

The name, Gülhane, also has a sweet story: in spring and summer, no fewer than 80,000 roses bloom here… earning it a name that means “house of roses”! Its flowerbeds are also filled with thousands of tulips around the same time of year. In winter, the park is covered with forget-me-nots.

Address: Cankurtaran, Kennedy Cad., 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye

Lunch at Deraliye

In the heart of the historic district of Sultanahmet, this traditional restaurant offers generous dishes, including delicious skewers of goose, lamb and duck accompanied with spicy rice cooked in a traditional tandoori oven. The decor is just as enchanting with lots of red and gold, and a roof terrace with a panoramic view of Hagia Sophia.

Address: Alemdar Mahallesi Ticaret Hane Sokak Giriş Kat No 10, 34122, Türkiye

Opening hours: Monday to Sunday – noon to midnight.

Visit Nuruosmaniye Mosque

Called the “Light of Osman”, Nuruosmaniye Mosque, in the Beyazit district near Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, was completed in 1756 as the very first Ottoman Baroque mosque of the city. It was then a bridge between classical Ottoman and Western Baroque architecture, a style that stands in stark contrast to earlier mosques. It’s a place architecture enthusiasts will love, and the dimensions of the prayer hall are sure to impress.

Address: Mollafenari, Vezirhan Cd. No:4, 34120 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours: Monday to Sunday.

The Grand Bazaar

Jewelry, carpets, textiles, mosaics, porcelain, silverware… With almost 4,000 stores and many hidden treasures, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar lives up to its name. It occupies a vast vaulted hall, and curious travelers will love its many relics, ornaments, coins and ancient weapons. It’s a must-visit on any travel to Istanbul to fully immerse yourself in the city’s vibrant atmosphere.

The many stalls, scents and colors from all over the world make it a journey within a journey. Here, the ancient and the modern collide, and fakes vie with the real thing in creativity. Our advice is to be patient, and sharpen your eye to only bring back those one-of-a-kind pieces that you will cherish for the rest of your life. If nothing else, you are sure to leave the Grand Bazaar with beautiful memories of the cheerful atmosphere and friendly attitude of the people there.

Address: Beyazıt, 34126 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday – 08:30 to 19:00.

Dinner at Lokanta 1741

This one is an address synonymous with escape. As you enter the restaurant’s historic building, once home to the Istanbul Museum of Art and Sculpture, you’re transported through three hundred years of history and culture of the famous Cagaloglu hammam. The restaurant itself sits on a rooftop terrace with a romantic atmosphere and refined décor. As for the menu, expect colorful, minimalist plates that bring together the best of traditional Turkish cuisine, from one region to another.

Address: Alemdar, Prof. Kazım İsmail Gürkan Cd. No:34, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkiye

Opening hours : Monday to Saturday – noon to 23:30.

Stay at The Peninsula Istanbul

No hotel in the city is closer to the waters of the Bosphorus than The Peninsula Istanbul. The hotel sits on the banks of the strait, facing the chromatic waters of the Golden Horn, in the heart of the historic Karaköy district. A stay here is being a stone’s throw from the Galata Tower and the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art. Then, of course, the hotel itself is an ode to the grandeur of the city and the splendor of the Ottoman Empire. Its heterogeneous architecture comprises four buildings, two of which date from the early 20th century while a third, inspired by the Bauhaus movement, dates from the 1930s.

You check-in in what used to be the passport office at the port of Istanbul, before being accompanied to your room. There are 177 rooms and suites here, all elegant spaces with superb views of the Bosphorus through their bay windows, balconies and private terraces. The decor is done in soothing creams and golds, and the furniture has been specifically designed for the hotel, to reinterpret Turkish design through mother-of-pearl wood marquetry and kilim style carpets. To attend to your every wish, each room comes equipped with the Peninsula’s e-concierge service, Penchat.

The Peninsula Istanbul also offers two exceptional restaurants. The Lobby, with its Mediterranean cuisine, sits in a beautiful art deco space of glassware, ironwork and gilding. This is also the place to enjoy The Peninsula’s signature afternoon tea by pastry chef Malte Rohmann. Elsewhere, you will find the Turkish-Asian restaurant Gallada. It offers a delicious fusion cuisine in a garden setting on the hotel’s roof terrace. Don’t miss the tandoori duck and the melting tuna marinated in soy sauce, yuzu and ginger.

Another highlight of the hotel is The Peninsula Spa. Clad in marble, it offers eight treatment rooms, a pearly-white hammam, a 25-meter underground pool and an outdoor pool along the Bosphorus. It’s refined and opulent, in the image of Istanbul and its royal palaces. It is a haven of peace, perfect for some respite after a day of sightseeing.

The Peninsula Istanbul

Address: Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa, Karaköy, Kemankeş Karamustafapaşa Mahallesi, Kemankeş Cd. No:34, 34425 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Türkiye

Transfer: A 50-minute drive from Istanbul airport (IST) on the European side, and a 1 hour, 15 minute-drive from the smaller Sabiha Gokcen Airport ( SAW) on the Asian side.

Opening period: All year.

Frequently asked questions about traveling to Istanbul

What’s the best way to get around Istanbul?

Getting around Istanbul is a lot simpler than you might think at first glance. It’s easy to travel around the city thanks to its public transport network – all you need is to buy an Istanbulkart pass at the station. This will give you access to buses, streetcars and the metro, allowing you to travel from one end of the city to the other while soaking up the local atmosphere. For added convenience, cabs and VTCs are widely available throughout the city, but don’t forget to ask for the meter to be activated. Last but not least, the ferry is another option for getting from one side of the river to the other whilst enjoying pleasant panoramas of the city.

Is there a day when everything is closed in Istanbul?

In Turkey, the official day of rest is Sunday. So it’s not uncommon to find restaurants and stores closed then. Shopping and service hours are relatively similar to those in Europe. Finally, most of Istanbul’s museums are open every day except for Monday. Some also opt to close for lunch between midday and 1pm.

What’s the best time to visit Istanbul?

The recommended time to visit Istanbul is from March to October. Its Mediterranean climate means that summers are hot and dry, and sometimes windy – which makes them very pleasant. Expect temperatures of around 28°C in July. Spring and autumn are also two popular seasons for discovering Istanbul: the climate is mild and, despite occasional rain, it perfectly lends itself to exploring the city. Winter, on the other hand, is rather cold, with frequent black ice and occasional snow, and although the average temperature in January is 8°C, it’s not the best time to enjoy the beauty of Istanbul.

Book your stay with Lartisien

At Lartisien, we can tailor your travels to your preferences and select a hotel to match. Every property in our Collection has been chosen for their excellence, guaranteeing an exceptional trip. If you’d like to book a stay at The Peninsula Istanbul, and have us design an itinerary to Istanbul, don’t hesitate to contact us for more information.

Follow us on Instagram