There's far too much to see in Istanbul to see it all in four days, but you have to start somewhere, and this start covers the highlights. It assumes you're going to have this taster and want to come back to this eternal city, a shimmering, spire-and-dome-peaked location on the water, shaped by three powerful empires, still flooded with art and antiquities, and home to colourful people and old cultures.
Take a tram ride out to the bay at Eminonu, and walk the famous Golden Horn of land on the southern side of the equally famous Galata Bridge – reciting poetry about the bridge if you know any. As well as the view of the bay the other sight to see here is the Yeni Mosque, an Ottoman Imperial mosque and a great feat of Islamic architecture, complete with sixty six small domes and some huge ones. In the complex surrounding the mosque are gardens with lovely fountains and walkways and a spice market, also called the Egyptian Bazaar, which sells spices, dried fruits, nuts and other local delicacies, including Turkish Delight, as well as treats for the tourists. The streets surrounding the bazaar have a commercial shine to them as well, especially Hasircilar Caddesi, which is where you can buy more spices and other kitchen related goodies.
The centre of town, the area 19th Century travellers used to call Stambool, is at the other end of the tram line, by Sultanahmet Square, which is another nice place for a wander – it used to be Constantinople's Hippodrome. For walkers, the Basilica Cistern, the largest of the underground cisterns that fed the city in its 6th Century Constantinople days, is on the route between the Golden Horn and the Square.
The Cistern's main exit is right by the Hagia Sophia, once a church, then a mosque and now a museum, home to impressive Byzantine mosaics – the best are on the second storey, which is also a good place from which to admire the rest of it. It's not open Monday. You'll want a couple of hours there, but it's within walking distance of one of Istanbul's other famed sights, the Blue Mosque, named for its coating of 17th Century Blue Iznik tiles, and open to the public at all times bar prayer times, though ladies you do need to bring something to drape over your head.
From there stroll though the Square and along the pedestrianised, covered roads, though Cemberlitas Square and into the dum dum dum: Grand Bazaar. With more than 4000 shops and stalls along 64 streets, entered from 22 gates, this is a commercial labyrinth of people wanting you to buy something from them. If you can't find it here, real or immitation, in one of the world's largest covered markets, then good luck finding it anywhere. There's plenty of places to eat, and this is a good place to hang out in the evening for the buzz and the people. Guess what? You're in the heart of cosmopolitan Istanbul.
After exploring the centre of the city it's nice to get more of an external view of it, one way to do that is to sail though it on the ferry, or one of the cruise boats. The Bosphorus is the narrow channel connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, along which Istanbul was built, and one of the world's narrowest commercial passages – at its narrowest it's only 700m across, and sailing along it is a nice way to see the buildings of the city fade into the suburbs, where the nicest homes line the passage. The ferry leaves from Eminonu at quay 3, and stops at all stops until Anadolu Kavağı, zigzagging between the Anatolian and Asian sides of Istanbul.
Anadolu Kavağı is a pretty village to end up in. Once unloaded, most ferry visitors head up the hill for a pretty impressive view, then down it again for some pretty fresh seafood in one of the restaurants. Read pretty as very.
North of the village are the ruins of the Byzantine fort of Yoroz Kalesi and above that, joined to it by a wall are the ruins of the castle of Imroz Kalesi, and beyond that is pretty pretty Keçili Bay.
Now you've seen the lay of the land head back into the thick of things around Sultanahmet Square, this time passing the old traditional houses built into the old city walls, and the St Irene Church, or the Haiga Irene. Haiga Irene is within the expansive grounds of Topkapi Palace. This palace has been made into a museum of itself, but as well as exhibits featuring treasures from the palace, and the sultans who lived here, there are also exhibits featuring other Turkish treasures. If, after the museum you're interested in finding out more join a tour of the harem.
The Istanbul Archaeological Museum is also within the grounds of the Topkapi Palace – this is where you can see some of the most unique and impressive treasures of the ancient world, including a peace treaty brokered between the Egyptians and the Hittites over three thousand years ago. Gülhane Park, used to be the palace grounds, and is a very short stroll away – you might feel like you need to get outside after popping in and out of museums all day.
If you have time for it there's one more local attraction worth wandering though at the end of the day: Miniatürk. It sounds naff, a miniature layout of many of Turkey's great sights, but it does give you an idea of this country's great architectural highlights – and you might not have time to see them all full size.
The Chora Church or Mosque is considered a notable Byzantine church by many, and though Istanbul has quite a collection of Byzantine churches, this one, slightly off the beaten track in Edirnekapi, is recommended because of the impressive collection of mosaics and frescos decorating its walls. While in this neck of the woods, admire the great gate here, this used to be the main entry into the city for the Sultans and Emperors alike – a break in the four mile long ring of walls, towers and battlements built in the 5th Century.
The neighbourhoods of Balat and Fener are another area worth exploring, here you can see the cultural and architectural remains of the many different people who've lived in this city – Jewish, Greek, Armenian and Ottoman. It's getting restored at the moment, so while some of the old houses are crumbling, on the next street you'll discover a basilica in lovely order.
In the afternoon visit Dolmabahçe Palace, book a guided tour to ensure you'll have your mind fully blown by the opulence. Then finish your day, and your four days in Istanbul back in the centre of town with a stroll down the Çiçek Pasaji, a historic arcade housing some of the city's best restaurants and bars, and visit the Galatasaray Fish Market for a fish dinner.
The Turkish Mediterranean is bright blue, its islands and land greener and more wooded than the Greek counterparts, but there i…