Can I visit Istanbul in just 3 days and if so, where should I go? Istanbul is one of the biggest cities in the world. It extends across 2 continents and bears the history of centuries.
There are loads of things to do in Istanbul but we have put together a guide for you to enjoy Istanbul in just 3 days. It sounds impossible but if you have a good plan it is totally doable.
We highly recommend that you visit Turkey with a 2 week planned itinerary and spend 3 days only in Istanbul. This is our 3 day Istanbul travel guide to help you get the best that Istanbul has to offer without wasting any time.
Istanbul itinerary day 1 : Sultanahmet Square
The Sultanahmet area is a historical place in Istanbul. It holds magnificent sites and buildings that date to both the Byzantine and Ottoman eras. These monuments were well preserved over the years to tell the story of ancient times. The good news is these sites are a close distance from each other and if you are on a flying visit to Istanbul you can see them all in a short time. So, let’s jump to the must-visit attractions in Sultanahmet.
Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque)
The Blue Mosque, also known as Sultanahmet Mosque, was built in the Ottoman era during the rule of Ahmet I. The Blue Mosque is a very popular tourist attraction and an active mosque as well. It closes during the 5 times daily prayers for about 30-40 mins and longer for midday Friday prayers.
Visiting the Blue Mosque is a great way to discover Ottoman architecture.
Entrance fee: FREE
Pro Travel Tip: Woman should wear covered clothes and a headscarf before entering the mosque (cheap headscarves are available for sale in the vicinity of the mosque)
Hagia Sophia Mosque
While walking through Sultanahmet Square you can visit the Hagia Sophia or Aya Sofya in Turkish, which is a stone-throw away from The Blue Mosque. The Hagia Sophia was inaugurated as a Greek Orthodox church in 350 C.E. There are reports that suggest that it had already existed as a pagan temple.
This enchanting and unique structure has been managed by different Christian dominations over the ages according to the changing leadership of the region. In 1453, the Hagia Sophia has proclaimed a mosque by Sultan Mehmet II, after the Ottomans conquered the city of Constantinople.
After Turkey transitioned into a republic, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a Museum and remained as such for 86 years. Once again, this year, the Hagia Sophia has been re-opened as the Aya Sofya Camii, where Muslim worshippers can offer their 5 daily prayers.
The good news for tourists is that Hagia Sophia is still open to visitors in-between prayer times and the entrance fee is now free for everyone.
The Hagia Sophia has been a religious, cultural, and political symbol for centuries. It is one of the most unique and unparalleled sites in the world.
- Entrance fee: FREE
The Basilica Cistern is another splendid tourist attraction in Sultanahmet that is a 5-minute walk from Hagia Sophia. It is basally a large underground Cistern built the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (527-565). It also showcases that unusual looking Medusa heads that tourists find especially interesting. The perfect selfie spot. I always get a strange feeling whenever I go down into the Basilica Cistern.
Entrance fee: 20 TL
Grand Bzaar-Kapalı Çarşı
Your next destination in a 3-day trip in Istanbul should be the Grand Bazaar to escape the midday heat. The Grand Bazaar is claimed to be the largest covered market in the world. Yeah, that’s right! And it is easy to get lost in its narrow streets but don’t worry, it’s a part of the grand bazaar authentic experience.
The Grand Bazaar has 64 alleys, 22 entrances, and 4000 stores which means it has it all jewelry, antiques, custom made Turkish food, and textiles you could ask for. It is probably clear that you can’t do the whole bazaar in one afternoon but exploring the area surrounding a particular entrance would be enough for a 3-day itinerary in Istanbul.
- Entrance fee: FREE
Aga Kapisi cafe: Eminonu sunset view
After marching through the whole Bazaar, you will probably be tired but if you are not head to Ağa Kapisi café for a splendid view of the Bosphorus but you must go to the top floor of the café. The food is good, and the prices are reasonable. Keep in mind that the place gets quite busy especially at night.
Bonus: If you have some Extra time
Visit Topkapı Palace aka Topkapı Sarayı
Topkapi Palace is also one of the top attractions in Sultanahmet. So, if you feel like spending more time discovering the area, visit the Topkapi Palace. The Ottoman imperial palace was built by Mehmet II the Conqueror, 6 years after the conquest of Constantinople, and served as the main residence and headquarters of the Ottoman sultans.
Entrance fee: 100 TL
Visit the Carpet Museum
If you have a few minutes to spare you can visit the less popular Carpet Museum located behind the Hagia Sophia. It showcases old Turkish rugs from the 14th-19th century. If you are a fan of vintage rugs like I am, don’t miss this opportunity to see a 500-year old rug preserved in almost original condition.
Istanbul itinerary day 2: Taksim
This is one of the most visited places in Istanbul. This busy street contains a mix of traditional and modern shopping. It is located within the historical Beyoglu district. This busy street spotlights the diversity of Istanbul and Turkey. There is so much to do here. You can have a good meal, catch up on some shopping or have a cup of coffee while overlooking the endless passage of Istanbul’s cosmopolitan population.
If you walk to the end of Istiklal street you will end up at the Beyoglu-Karakoy Tunel station, which is one of the oldest subway stations in the world. The original Trams have been restored and provide a cool and touristy experience. It really takes you back to the late 1800s and one can only imagine what a special experience this was 145 years ago. Make sure that you have your Istanbulkart so that you can enjoy this experience.
This is a really short trip that takes you to Karakoy in a few minutes. Once you arrive in Karakoy follow the signposts up to Galata Tower. The Galata area is known for its boutique specialty coffee shops and decadent ice-cream shops. If you want to take pictures, it is advisable to go early in the day like we did. There are some ideal picture sites.
If you just want to visit Galata Tower and enjoy the view from up there, perhaps you need to go at sunset. The Tower is 67 meters tall, providing the perfect viewing point.
Nightlife in Moda, Kadikoy
After a day of shopping and sightseeing, you want to explore the vibrant and artsy Moda. A busy area in Kadikoy that is the perfect evening to late-night adventure. The dining options are numerous and the atmosphere is really cool. We usually go there and just start from one side going wherever the wind blows. We are never disappointed in Moda.
Istanbul itinerary day 3: Relax and unwind
On your final day, you want to recover from all the walking, sightseeing, and pleasure eating. This is the perfect time to indulge yourself at a Traditional Turkish bath or Hammam. There are several treatments available to choose from, whether you want to treat yourself to a session in the sauna or require a full-body massage. It is one of those experiences that you won’t really comprehend until you have tried it yourself.
For an unforgettable Hammam experience check Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamami
After that refreshing hammam experience, you don’t want to tire yourself with too much walking and traveling. Now is the time to take a Bosporus cruise. The cruise packages are available all day and with different options like food etc. I would say take a 1 hour guided cruise that takes you past the important landmarks. It is always good to see these sites from the sea. If the weather holds up then the journey will be even more enchanting. Kick back, enjoy the breeze, and the sites.
Where to Stay in Istanbul for a 3 day trip?
First time we visited Istanbul was in January. Turkey in January can be really cold and that’s why we decided to look for central located hotels that are close to all the main attractions in the city. So here are our recommended places to stay so that you can spend the maximum time on having fun. 3 days is not a long time so you need to take the full benefit of all that Istanbul has to offer.
- The Marmara Taksim Hotel ($150 -$300 per night) Click here to check and book
- Titanic City Taksim ($100 – $300 per night) click here to check and book
- Eresin Hotels Sultanahmet – Boutique Class ($100 – $250 per night) Click here to check and book
- Conrad Istanbul Bosphorus ($250 – $400) Click here to check and book
- Angel’s home ($35 – $60 per night) Click here to check and book
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