Istanbul Itinerary for 3 days
Cats, boats and little alleys – that’s what made up Istanbul. Older than time, Istanbul is a magnificent jewel situated in the middle of the world. It has the best of both worlds.
When I first arrived in Istanbul, I was stunned. I did not expect this humongous metropolis to have so much to offer! Home to 15 million people, Istanbul is bustling with life. From hipstery rooftop cafés to cheesy kunefe, from gorgeous mosques to modern bridges – Istanbul has it all.
My plan was just to stay in Istanbul for 3 days. However, because I was so drawn to Istanbul’s energy, I ended up staying for 2 weeks.
I slowly savoured the goodness of Istanbul just like how I sip down the strong Turkish coffee.
Without further ado, let’s unfold this ultimate Istanbul itinerary for 3 days!
Day 1 in Istanbul
To get the most out of your 3 days in Istanbul itinerary, get all the highlights done on the first day.
Head to Sultanahmet, which is the epicentre of 3 Turkish wonders – Haghia Sofia, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace.
They are located close to each other so you can easily see them in half a day if you just want to tick boxes.
However, to properly see all of them, consider starting your day early to allow ample amount of time.
High Season (15 April to 30 September)
- 09:00 a.m.to 7:00 p.m.
- The last admission at 6:00 p.m.
Low Season (1 October to 14 April)
- 09:00 a.m.to 5:00 p.m.
- The last admission at 4:00 p.m.
Admission price: 72 TL (written in 2019)
Note that there is a long line for Haghia Sofia. As you only have 3 days in Istanbul, don’t waste your precious time lining up in front of Haghia Sofia. Get your ticket now to skip the line. With this ticket, you get a personal guide as well!
Blue Mosque is technically opening 24 hours as it’s a mosque. There is a long line during the day, but it moves relatively fast.
You need a headscarf and wear respective clothing to visit Blue Mosque. There will be a place for you to take off your shoes and to put on your headscarf should you need to.
First tip: don’t go lining up at the wrong place! Many people lined up for 30 minutes only to get told that they have lined up for the Archeological museum instead of Topkapi palace!
- Closed every Tuesday
- Winter (October 2nd to April 1st)- 9:00 AM – 4:45 PM
- Summer (April 1st – October 2nd)- 9:00 AM – 6:45 PM
Ticket price: 72 TL (2019) into the palace. 42 TL extra if you want to visit Harem.
As the line in Topkapi Palace is also long, make sure you get your ticket beforehand here. As a bonus, you get a guided tour as well!
Harem is another paid attraction so that means another line.
If you have more time, consider visiting the Basilica cistern. It’s only 10TL and you will be blown away with its beauty!
Pay a visit to the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar. There are so many things to see here so make sure you have a good control of your wallet! Tried some dried figs in the Spice Bazaar.
Quickly see Suleymaniye Mosque too as it’s located at the next neighbourhood.
Enjoy a pampering night at Süleymaniye Hamam for an authentic Turkish bath experience. It’s located right next to Suleymaniye Mosque. Check out their official website here.
If you are feeling more cultured, head to Hodjapasha Cultural Centre to enjoy the traditional Turkish dance. Yes, the one with men in big white dresses spinning around. You can book a ticket in advance from the official website.
Restaurants to try:
- Hamdi Restaurant
- Şehzade Cağ Kebap (kebap in a pot)
- Balkan Lokantasi
- Pak Pide Pizza Salonu
- To find out more about other restaurants in Istanbul, check out 8 must-try restaurants in Istanbul recommended by locals!
Day 2 in Istanbul
Spend your second day of your 3 days in Istanbul at Karakoy and Taksim area. The area is collectively known as Beyoglu.
Start from Taksim Meydani, where is it conveniently located above Taksim metro station.
Walk along Istiklal Avenue – the main street of Taksim. Admire the surrounding architecture including:
- Grand Pera
- Cicek Pasaji
- Church of St. Anthony of Padua
- The huge gate of Galatasaray Lisesi
Buy the best Turkish delight from Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir, which is a historic shop selling Turkish delight back in the 18th century!!!!
If you fancy a tram ride in one of the shortest tram routes in the world, you can take it from Taksim Square to Sishane. There is only 2 stops and costs 2.60 TL (€0.40). Bear in mind that it’s always full!
At the end of Istiklal street, you will see Galata Tower standing out amongst beautiful souvenir shops. The next thing you will see is a super long line to go up Galata Tower.
Personal tips: Don’t line up for Galata Tower! The line is so long and there are a lot of people up there – you will be like a human sardine basically. Read further to check out other alternatives for a great view!
Instead, head up to one of the rooftop cafés – either Konak or Arada. The coffee might be slightly overpriced, but you will be greeted with a spectacular, bird-eye view from with almost no tourists.
After your coffee, take the 20TL boat tour from the Eminonu pier. This is the most worth it 20TL I have paid while backpacking in Istanbul. A proper Istanbul itinerary for 3 days must have a boat tour!
The boat tour lasts 2 hours. Many tour companies go in and out of business every year. You can ask your accommodation about the schedule when you are in Istanbul.
If not, check out the pier by yourself when you are at Eminonu the day before. There are different price range for different length of Bosporus boat tour.
I went with TurYol and it started at 10am with other times available too. I am very satisfied with the service provided.
For a cheaper option, you can also just take a ferry to Besiktas. Although the duration is slightly shorter, that will allow you to see most of the important sights in Istanbul by the water.
Restaurants to try:
- Durumzade (Durum kebabs – the best I had)
- Falafel house
- Cukur Meyhane
- Hayvore (food from the Black Sea)
- Reyhun (Iranian cuisine)
Besiktas is a student area and you know what that means – it’s cheap(er)!
At Besiktas, check out Dolmabahçe Palace and Çırağan Sarayı. These are both paid attractions so if you have had enough of palaces, move on to other more interesting places.
Running low on cash? Take away some borëk (from Elder Borëk in Besiktas) and take it to Yıldız Park to have a picnic. Or some lahmacun (Turkish pizza) from Besiktas Citir Pide!
Restaurants to try:
- Elder Borek
- Besiktas Citir Pide
- Midyeci Ahmet (Stuffed mussels)
To enjoy the best sunset, take another ferry to Kadikoy. Kadikoy is the my favourite part of this city and there are many things to do in this Asian part of Istanbul!
Head up to one of the rooftop cafés by the waterfront and have a krumpli (stuffed potato)! Watch the action of this bustling neighbourhood with the gigantic bridge as the perfect backdrop. Stay for the sunset. You are welcome.
Big Selimiye Mosque, which is located not too far north of Kadikoy is much less touristy and beautiful. Located just beside the water, it makes a perfect photo.
There are many things to you can do in this Asian side of Istanbul.
Kadikoy is a great place to shop. Lined with little shops and stalls, get the best deals by bargaining.
The quality of the garments are top-notched as most of the big brands produce their clothes in Turkey. You only have to pay half the price!
The restaurant and bar scenes in Kadikoy are incredibly lively. It’s also cheaper as compared to Taksim, which is the most expensive district in Istanbul.
Restaurants to try:
- Rulo Lezzetler (vegan/vegetarian)
- HD Iskander
- Asi Kunefeleri (best kunefe I have had)
- Selimiye Birtat
- Any seafood restaurants along the streets!
Day 3 in Istanbul
The third day of this Istanbul itinerary for 3 days will end in the most historic district of Fatih.
Do you know that Fatih was previously Constantinople? Nowadays, as it became the refuge for many Syrians, Fatih transforms into a unique melting pot of culture.
Begin your day with a scrumptious Turkish breakfast. Head to Beirut Café where you pay just €5 for a full breakfast. It is common among the locals because of the price.
Head to Balat after that. Balat has a different vibe as compared to other parts of Istanbul that you’ve seen.
Check out Church of St. Mary of the Mongols, which is the most impressive Orthodox church in Istanbul. It’s located in the middle of a steep hill.
If you walk far enough, you can also see the Valens Aqueduct. What used to be the passage for horse carriages are now functional roads for traffic in Istanbul.
Boza, which is one of the traditional drinks that Turkish are proud of, are made fresh everyday from this Vefa Boza. Make sure you get some roasted chickpeas and head straight to this hidden gem! It has an acquired taste but the more you drink it, the more you enjoy it!
Fatih Mosque is another hidden gem that is overshone by the resplendent Haghia Sofia and Blue Mosque. If you are not tired of another mosque, head to this free attraction! The garden of the mosque is also incredibly gorgeous when the flowers are in full bloom.
Before you leave Fatih, enjoy Fener district. Fener used to be the Greek district of Istanbul so you can see many Greek influences.
There are many hipstery cafés in Fener. Most of them are co-working spaces. You know what they say about the décors and coffees of co-working spaces.
Your latte art with be very instagrammable. Paired with some cute cactus plants and an obligatory white table, your photo is set to go on Instagram!
See the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is a heavily-adorned Eastern Orthodox Church.
Saint Stefan Bulgarian Orthodox Church is another attraction worth staying for. It’s located right next to the pier so make sure you take a good look before you take a ferry to another destination.
Make sure you sample some authentic Turkish desserts at Hafiz Mustafa! This dessert chain is ubiquitous in Istanbul. Get a serve of Kunefe and different variety of baklava.
If you want to check out which restaurant to eat in Istanbul – check out my post about 8 restaurants in Istanbul by locals!
Restaurants to try:
- Salloura Oglu Restaurant (Syrian restaurant)
- Hatay Medeniyetler Sofrasi Aksaray
- Beirut Café
- Balat Lokantasi
Where to stay?
Istanbul is huge so I recommend staying near Taksim. Since you only have around 3 days in Istanbul, make the most out of it!
Staying in this area allows you to commute to many places easily. As we all know that the traffic is absolutely horrendous in Istanbul, staying in Taksim allows you to use the Metro and also the Dormuz to other places. It’s very well-connected to Kadikoy, Sultanahmet and other areas of interest.
Budget – I think the biggest reason why I enjoyed Istanbul a lot is because I rented Apartof. Renting this apartment is the best decision that I have made while in Istanbul. Strategically located at Taksim priced at 45 euros per night, what more can you ask for?
Comfortable – If you wanna be a little more comfortable, stay with Sentire Hotels & Residences. It gives you the flexibility to cook something as the kitchen is well-equipped.
High-end – Treat yourself at Pera Palace Hotel if you want to pamper yourself. This Franco-Ottoman building should be an attraction itself. You won’t have to fight with other tourists to go up the Galata Tower as you will get an amazing view of the city from the terrace itself!
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