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Heading to the incredible city, Istanbul in Turkey for 3 days? You have made a great choice! This Istanbul itinerary will guide you to the best things to do and explore in this beautiful city in 3 days.
Istanbul is rightfully known as a city which beautifully blends the culture of east with west. A one of it’s kind destination, Istanbul excites visitors with it’s heritage, history, architectures, world class museums and many other beautiful attractions. There is so much to see in a city of this size that it would always be better and helpful to be fully prepared with a detailed Istanbul itinerary. Through our guide to this Turkish city, you will go through everything you should know to have truly memorable 3 days in Istanbul. We will also include where to stay and some great day trip ideas in case you are planning to spend more than 3 days in Istanbul.
Do not forget to get your Istanbul Welcome Card, that is inclusive of skip the line entry to major attractions, Bosphorus cruise and public transport tickets for upto 7 consecutive days in Istanbul.
Istanbul Itinerary : 3 Days In Istanbul
Day 1 : Explore the culturally rich Sultanahmet Square
The Sultanahmet Square is home to all the major attractions and historical buildings that are a must visit in Istanbul. The Blue Mosque, Tokapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern and the Hippodrome Square, all are located at close proximity to each other. Get ready to immerse yourselves in the history of Istanbul at this centuries old square.
Morning : Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace
First up on our Istanbul itinerary is the Blue Mosque. It’s one of the most amazing architectures located in the Sultanahmet Square. One has to see it to experience it’s magnificence. It’s architecture includes 6 minarets, 5 main domes, 8 secondary domes and a huge courtyard. The interiors of the Blue Mosque is decorated with blue tiles, low hanging lamps and about 200 stained glass windows. The natural light that comes through the stained glasses makes the interiors immensely charming. The Blue Mosque is an active mosque, so make sure you dress modestly (covering your legs and shoulders) and carry a head scarf too. There is a scarf and sarong rental at the entry, but it’s better to carry one for yourself.
- Entrance Fees : Free
- Opening Hours : 9 AM to 7 PM
The Topkapi Palace has a history of serving the Ottoman Empire as an administrative center and residence for 400 years. In present time, the Topkapi palace showcases armors, jewels, paintings, holy relics and depictions of the ancient times. This expansive properties have many beautifully decorated rooms, courtyards, gardens, an imperial gate and a harem. The most remarkable features of the palace are the Treasury and the Harem that should not be missed. The Topkapi Palace also gives you a birds eye view of the amazing Bosphorus and Marmara sea.
- Entrance Fees : 100 TL (USD 13 approx) per person + 70 TL for visiting the Harem (USD 9 approx). Guided tour is included in the Istanbul Welcome Card.
- Opening Hours : 9 AM to 6 PM (April till October), 9 AM to 4:45 PM (November till March). The Topkapi Palace remains closed on Tuesdays.
Afternoon – Evening : Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern
Visiting Hagia Sophia is a must do in any Istanbul itinerary. It is Turkey’s most popular tourist attraction. Originally it was built as a church, which during the Ottoman Empire was converted into a mosque. Hagia Sophia is one of the world’s greatest buildings and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The architecture of Hagia Sophia has an interesting mix of Catholic and Islamic elements. It’s magnificence include domes, minarets, mosaics of Virgin Mary, decorated tiles, Islamic calligraphy and relics.
- Entrance Fees : Free. Guided tour is included in the Istanbul Welcome Card.
- Opening Hours : 9 AM to 5 PM. Hagia Sophia remains closed on Mondays
The Basilica Cistern is one of the most fascinating sites to visit in Istanbul. It was built during the 6th century by the Byzantine emperor to store the imperial water supply bought from the Belgrade forest. Built underground the Basilica Cistern comes across as a mysterious and intriguing place. You will also find two creepy Medusa heads who was known to be a monster in ancient times. Visiting Basilica Cistern is truly a unique experience in your Istanbul itinerary.
- Entrance Fees : 30 TL (USD 4) per person
- Opening Hours : 9 AM to 5:30 PM
The Sultanahmet Square has many restaurants and cafes where you can stop for lunch or snacks. Giritli Restaurant and The Terrace Restaurant Cafe are the best ones for trying out Mediterranean and Turkish cuisines respectively.
Day 2 : Admire Istanbul’s skyline from Galata Tower, shop at the Grand Bazaar and take a sunset Bosphorus Cruise
Morning : Galata Tower
The Galata Tower is the best place to see Istanbul’s skyline from a bird’s eye view. It is one of Istanbul’s prominent landmarks from where you can see the entire city and Bosphorus sea from a height of 54 feet. This tower was built in the 14th century and has served as a multiple functional property. The Galata tower has 9 floors, you could reach the to using the lift and a flight of stairs, whichever is convenient. You could also dine in at the restaurant and cafe that is located at one of the floors of the tower, while admiring the view of Istanbul’s skyline.
- Entrance Fees : 35 TL (USD 5 approx) per person. This activity is included in the Istanbul Welcome Card.
- Opening Hours : 9 AM to 7 PM
Afternoon : Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar is a legendary and popular covered market area in Istanbul. It has about 5000 stores having colorful that are lined up throughout 60 streets. Be prepared for a unique shopping experience at this one of a kind market that has a collection of exotic purchase items. If you are not interested in shopping, spend some time walking through this kaleidoscopic market area while looking around at the variety of traditional rugs, Turkish souvenirs, lanterns, antiques, crockery sets, jewelry, textiles, hand crafted items, Turkish bath products, spices and much more. While visiting during summers, the Grand Bazaar is a great place to explore and getaway from the heat during day time.
You could also relax at one of the Turkish Bath centers (also known as Hammam centers) in the Grand Bazaar.
Opening Hours : 10 AM to 6 PM
Evening : Bosphorus Cruise
Istanbul is a city that straddles between two continents; Asia and Europe. The Bosphorus sea divides these two continents. Taking a scenic Bosphorus Cruise during the sunset hour is one of the best and most memorable things to do in your Istanbul itinerary. The lighting up of the city while the sun goes down, seems to be an enchanting experience from the cruise sailing on the Bosphorus Sea.
Day 3 : Visit the Suleymaniye Mosque, Dolmahbahce Palace and Taksim Square
Morning – Afternoon : Mosque Of Suleyman, Dolmahbahce Palace
Perched on a hilltop, the Sulemaniye mosque is a very beautiful and significant mosque in Istanbul. It’s also known to be one of the most important cultural heritage building in Turkey. This mosque is named after, Suleyman the Magnificent, who was the most powerful Sultan of the Ottoman empire. The mosque’s complex was used to serve as school, hospital, Turkish bath, specialized learning center and public kitchen to serve food to the poor and students. The gorgeous interiors of the mosque create a mesmerizing and peaceful aura that stays with the visitors for a good reason. Also, you can also enjoy some great panoramic views of the Istanbul city from the mosque.
- Entrance Fees : Free
- Opening Hours : The Sulemaniye Mosque remains open for 24 hours everyday.
Another unmissable thing to do in your Istanbul itinerary is to visit the splendid Dolmabahce Palace. This palace’s architecture is influenced from the West. It is a blend of Baroque, Neoclassical and Ottoman styles. Since the palace has been home to 6 Ottoman rulers, it perfectly depicts the grandeur and lavish lives of the Ottoman rulers. You can also spot the world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier inside the palace that looks exquisite. The Harem is not as good as the one in Topkapi Palace, so, if you want to, you can skip visiting it. The garden area at the entrance of the Dolmabahce Palace is very scenic with seasonal visitors such as peacock, geese and many other birds.
- Entrance Fees : 90 TL (USD 12) + 60 TL (USD 8) for the Harem
- Opening Hours : 9 AM to 4 PM. The Dolmabahce Palace remains closed on Mondays.
Evening : Taksim Square
Next you should be heading to the Taksim square, a vibrant street in Istanbul full of cafes, restaurants, bars and lifestyle stores. Many of the eateries and bars offer live music during weekends. You could also choose to sit at the outdoor setting of one of the restaurants and enjoy the liveliness of this area. A historic tram also runs down the street at intervals, so if you don’t feel like walking, you could just hop on the tram from either side of the street.
General Information On Istanbul
Where To Stay In Istanbul?
The best area to stay in Istanbul is the Sultanahmet, from where all the attractions are located near by or at walkable distance. Here are our highly recommended hotels in Istanbul;
Budget (Below $60) : The Sunlight Hotel & Spa is a steal deal if you are looking for budget stay. The rooms are Ottoman styled and comfortable with modern amenities. Some of the rooms also have scenic views of the Marmara sea. Most attractions of Istanbul like Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Grand Bazaar are located within walking distance from the hotel. Click here to book this hotel or check its availability.
Mid Range Hotel ($60 – $100) : The beautiful Meserret Palace Hotel offer Ottoman styled rooms with all the modern amenities. It is located at a perfect location that is nearby to attractions such as the Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar. The Marmaray tram station and ferries are at a convenient walking distance from the hotel. Click here to book this hotel or check its availability.
Luxury ($100+) : The Sura Hagia Sophia hotel is a great choice for you if you are looking for a luxurious stay in Istanbul. It features soundproofed beautiful rooms overlooking the views of the city and Hagia Sophia. The hotel also boosts an outdoor swimming pool and a botanic Click here to book this hotel or check its availability.offering various flower species. You could also enjoy the spa facilities that also have the traditional turkish bath (hammam) service. Sura Hagia Sophia hotel is centrally located and close to all the major attractions of Istanbul.
How To Get Around Istanbul?
The most convenient mode of transportation in Istanbul is by public transport, especially by trams, metro and ferries. You could buy the Istanbul card at any of the metro or ferry stations and top it up with some money. For each ride, you would just have to tap it and proceed. It’s cheaper than purchasing tickets each time you take a ride to your destination.
If you do not prefer using the public transport, you can download the BiTaxi app to book taxi rides for commutations.
What’s The Currency Used In Istanbul?
The currency used in Istanbul is Turkish Lira (TL). 1 USD = approx 8 TL
Recommended Day Trips From Istanbul
If you are planning to include more days in your Istanbul itinerary, the below day trips are worth going for;
Princes Island Tour
The Princes islands are a group of 9 islands that is lined up with traditional styled villas, restaurants and landmarks at the shores of Marmara sea. The islands used to serve the Ottoman royalties as a relaxing getaway from their palaces. The tour gives more of a Turkish cultural experience to it’s visitors rather than a tropical one. You can book a Princes Island Tour here, it’s inclusive of Hotel pick-up and drop off, entrance fees, professional guide to take you around and a traditional lunch.
Cappadocia Full Day Tour
Cappadocia is a must visit destination in Turkey. However, if you are short on time you must take a short private day trip to Cappadocia where you can see the amazing rock formations, churches, houses and chapels from the early Christian and Byzantine periods. Click here to check out this day trip to Cappadocia from Istanbul. It’s a great way to explore the city in a short span of time.
Troy, Ancient City Tour
Troy is one of the best places near Istanbul. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has some fascinating mythological stories attached to it. You would also get to see the 3700 years old city walls and the remains of various cities of Troy I & Troy IX. If you want to learn more about this ancient city, click here to book a tour which is inclusive of round trip transfers, professional guide, lunch, scenic ferry ride and entrance fee to the attractions.
Have you got your travel visa sorted? You can learn about types of Turkish e-Visa and get one here.
Well that’s a wrap on your Istanbul itinerary. Visiting Istanbul gives you a worthy lifetime experience to cherish. If you have any questions regarding the city or want to share ideas, let us know in the comments section below.