The Ultimate Istanbul Itinerary For 3 Days
Welcome to Istanbul. For me, perhaps the most surprising city in Europe. It has everything from history to unique culture, the best eating spots, and a special vibe that no other European city has (except Prague lol). This Istanbul itinerary for 3 days will show you the city with all it offers.
Istanbul, the former Constantinople, was once the wealthiest place on Earth. It was rich with its resources, surrounded by city walls that other emperors had trouble conquering. It developed systems that other places adopted and copied. This city holds its own treasures and secrets that need to be discovered by us travelers.
So you’ve made the right choice visiting Istanbul. Grab this Istanbul itinerary for 3 days and get the most of your time. Immerse into the local culture, learn about their habits, bargain in markets, and feel the unique atmosphere of this place.
Let’s visit Istanbul for the next 3 days together.
Istanbul Interesting Facts
Before we head to our Istanbul itinerary for 3 days, I’d like to briefly introduce the city to you. Here you have some interesting facts and historical milestones about the city:
- Istanbul is the only city located on 2 continents (Europe & Asia)
- The city has been part of 3 different empires and has been renamed three times
- When it was part of the Byzantine Empire, it was referred to it as Byzantium
- Being part of the Eastern Roman Empire, named Constantinople
- When the Ottomans took over and created Ottoman Empire, they renamed it Istanbul
- Its Grand Bazaar is the biggest old covered bazaar in the world
- Istanbul has the most mosques – around 3110 mosques in the city
- Tulips come originally from Istanbul; only later they were transported to the Netherlands
- The city has the third oldest underground system (after London and New York)
- Istanbul Card (for metro and transportation) comes from Istanbul – London copied the idea and created Oyster Card
Where to stay in Istanbul: My TOP TIPS for Accommodation
1. Day Istanbul Itinerary: Walking Tour Of The City
Good morning to Istanbul. Today, we’ll do a walking tour to see the highlights of its Old Town. Then, you’ll drive the oldest underground funicular and have the city’s best views from the Galata Tower.
I’ll also recommend the best place to eat the fish sandwich and where to go for dinner.
In the evening, you’ll see Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque from a rooftop terrace, offering the most stunning views. Are you ready for your first day in this fantastic city? So let’s go for it.
Follow the sites I suggest, take breaks on the way, and have fun.
Get Skip-The-Line Tickets For Attractions
I strongly recommend getting skip-the-line tickets for some attractions such as Topkapi Palace. It’ll save you so much time.
You can get these tickets under each description on this Istanbul itinerary for 3 days. So purchase them before, and you don’t have to waste your time in Instabul standing in long lines.
Walking Tour Of Istanbul – Highlights Of The Old Town
- Sultan Ahmet Square
- Obelisk of Theodosius
- Sultan Ahmet Park
- Hagia Sophia
- Blue Mosque
- Arasta Bazaar
- Topkapi Palace
- Soguk Cesme Street
- Gulhane Park
- Marmarai Sirkeci
- Yeni Cami Mosque
- Galata Bridge
- Karakoy Funicular
- Galata Tower
Sultan Ahmet Square
We’ll start our walking tour of the Istanbul old town in the most beautiful spot, Sultan Ahmet Square and park.
First, I want to draw your attention to the oldest monument in the entire Istanbul – The Obelisk of Theodosius, standing in the middle of the Hippodrome. It was brought from Egypt to celebrate the victory of a battle in the 15th century BC. It features many Latin and Greek inscriptions, which you can learn during an organized walking tour.
Walk towards the park of Sultan Ahmet and stop at the magical fountain for some of the best photos and views of the Hagia Sophia Mosque.
Hagia Sophia was a church before it was converted into a mosque. It was built back in 325 by Constantinople I. Its name comes from the Greek language, meaning ‘Holy Wisdom.’
When the city became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1453, Sultan Mehmed II. converted it into a mosque. He added the minarets, minbar pulpit, and great chandelier, the most significant parts of a mosque. It remained a mosque for the following 500 years before they made a museum out of it.
Nowadays, it serves as a mosque again, and you can see people coming for prayers from all over the world.
One interesting fact about Hagia Sophia is that it was constructed using some of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the world. More specifically, they used the columns from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus and green marble from Thessaly.
Go inside and experience the magical atmosphere of this place. I highly recommend leaving your visit for a late evening to avoid crowds of people. So for now, you can continue your walking tour, see it from the outside, and come back in the evening after 10:00pm.
The Blue Mosque is officially called the Sultan Ahmet Mosque. However, most people refer to it as the Blue Mosque, thanks to the beautiful 20000 blue tiles in its interior.
This mosque hosts the tomb of Sultan Ahmet. It’s also the only mosque in Istanbul that has 6 minarets. Back then, Mecca was the only one with 6 minarets, making it the most important mosque in the world. However, after Sultan Ahmet built 6 minarets for the Blue Mosque, it was regarded as a bis disrespect to the Kaaba. So he paid to construct a seventh minaret for Mecca.
Nowadays, it’s one of the world’s largest and most beautiful mosques and a masterpiece on its own.
Passing through Sultan Ahmet Park and the Blue Mosque, you’ll come to the Arasta Bazaar.
Welcome to your first Turkish bazaar. We’re starting it lightly. This bazaar is far from the craziness you’ll experience in other bazaars in Istanbul over the next few days. Arasta Bazaar is just one street full of interesting shops selling various goods such as fabrics, clothes and scarfs, Turkish delight, ceramics, and more. Rent from the shops goes on the reconstruction and maintenance of the Blue Mosque.
Try your first Turkish coffee and tea and speak to the salesmen. But don’t let them fool you when it comes to buying. Be wise; if the deal is not good, kindly reject them and walk away.
Once you have enough, continue your walking tour towards the Topkapi Palace.
Topkapi Palace was the main residence of sultans when Istanbul was part of the Ottoman Empire. At that time, it was home to over 5000 people. With over 1000 employers, the kitchen itself had to prepare more than 6000 meals a day. So just imagine what a significant place it was.
It was the heart of the entire Empire, the center of administration, and even an educational institution. It was here where the coins of the Ottoman Empire, as well as Turkish coins, were made.
Later on, the sultans moved their residence to the Dolmabahce Palace. That was the point when it lost its importance.
Nowadays, it’s a museum and welcomes thousands of visitors each day.
So go inside, learn how the sultans lived here, and see those beautifully decorated rooms. After your visit, continue walking through Soguk Cesme Street.
Skip-the-Line Tickets For Topkapi Palace
Soguk Cesme Street
This street is one of the most attractive in the city. It’s full of traditional Ottoman houses converted into boutique hotels. You can also visit the Carpet Museum and the former Byzantine cistern, which has been converted into a restaurant.
The English name of the street is ‘Cold Fountain.’
After walking through Soguk Cesme street, you’ll reach the entrance gate of the most beautiful garden parks in Istanbul. Welcome to the Gulhane Park. This is a perfect time to rest before the second part of your walking tour.
Buy the traditional Turkish sesame pretzel and sit for a while enjoying the beauty of this park.
Then make your way down to Istanbul’s train station. I’ve brought you here as it used to be the stop of the famous Orient Express train.
Many celebrities came here on the Orient Express to admire the richest city. They stayed in the most famous hotels and then continued traveling further to other parts of Europe or Asia for trade.
One of them was the British author Agatha Christie, who wrote her novel ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, while staying in the Pera Palas Hotel in Istanbul.
Yeni Cami Mosque
Then keep walking, passing by the Yeni Cami Mosque. The spice market is opposite, which you’ll visit on the second day of our Istanbul itinerary. There is a little square with toilets.
Welcome to Eminönü, the oldest part of the city, from where other neighborhoods expanded. It’s located on the southern side of the Golden Horn, the famous urban waterway flowing into the Bosphorus. We’ll be soon crossing the Galata Bridge to explore the other side of it.
Eminönü is mainly famous for its fish boats selling fish sandwiches on the harbor. However, you should definitely try one, as it’s one of the most typical dishes in Istanbul, served together with pickled juice.
Eminönü is also a great place to start exploring Istanbul’s bazaars. Right across the street, there is the spice market. And once you come out of it, there are many streets full of shops selling different stuff.
It’s crazy and easy to get lost. I suggest coming here tomorrow as it’s going to be our bazaar day.
Best Place To Eat Fish Sandwich In Istanbul
I have even a better place for you where you should get a fish sandwich. It’s more of a wrap and is really the best in the city. The place is called ‘Sokak Lezzeti’. It’s a small stall in the Karaköy district, just across the Galata Bridge.
So you can get one before continuing the walking tour and taking the oldest underground funicular.
Galata Bridge expands across the Golden Horn, from the Eminönü district to the Karaköy district of Istanbul. It’s famous for its fishermen standing all across, trying to catch the fish. On the lower part are many seafood restaurants. However, I don’t recommend eating there as they’re very touristy and normally overpriced.
Galata Bridge is especially beautiful at night, with all its lights reflected in the waters of the Golden Horn.
Cross the bridge to the other side, where we’ll take the oldest funicular in Istanbul.
Let’s take the Karaköy underground funicular now. It’s the oldest in the city, and the second oldest underground transport in the world, after London’s tube. Its underground tunnel is 573 meters long and 6.6 meters wide. You can use your Istanbul card for the ride.
It takes you from Karaköy to Beyoglu station. Once you’re up at Beyoglu, walk slightly further, and you’ll get to the Istiklal Caddesi Street, the most famous shopping street in Istanbul. It’s also the place of the historical ‘Nostalgia’ tram.
Walk through the street, get some food or sit down for a coffee and Turkish tea. After, get to the last point of our walking tour, the Galata Tower.
Galata Tower is still located on the European side of Istanbul, not to get confused. Offers some of the best views of the city, Golden Horn, and the Bosphorus Straight, which created a natural border between Europe and Asia.
It was built in the 14th century by the Republic of Genoa. This district used to be a colony of the Republic of Geno, so that’s why they constructed it. It was part of the entire Citadel of Galata, torn down during the Sack of Constantinople, one planned thing of the 4th Crusade.
So only the Galata Tower was left from the entire complex. It was then mainly used to watch and prevent the city from fires.
This is our walking tour of the historical part of the old city of Istanbul. I recommend doing it on the first day of your Istanbul itinerary. It’ll enable you to get closer to the city’s history. You’ll also gain a general understanding of its culture and the people around it.
Istanbul Guided Walking Tour
I also highly recommend doing a guided walking tour to learn more about the history. Istanbul is a very unique city with so much importance. So don’t miss out on a guided tour.
Best Places To Eat In Istanbul
In the evening, I recommend having dinner in the old city.
Generally speaking, if you go to 16 Hoca Paşa Street in the old town, that’s where a whole section with restaurants is. Then walk towards the spice bazaar, and the restaurants are all around. This is one of the best places in Istanbul to eat.
To be more specific here are some great restaurants you should try in Istanbul:
- Last Ottoman Cafe & Restaurant – for one of the best pottery kebab
- Saltanat Fish & Kebab House
- 360 Istanbul – goood food and stunning views of the city
- Roof Mezze 360
- Sultanahmet Ottoman Terrace Fishouse – for the best seafood
Dishes To Try In Istanbul/Turkey
- Meze – small plates of various starters and spreads
- Manti – handmade meat dumplings with yogurt
- Pottery Kebab
- Nohutlu Pilaf (my favorite, yet very simple) – pilaf rice with chicken stripes and chickpeas
- Köfte – meat patties similar to meat balls
- Icli Köfte – stuffed fried meat ball
- Islak Hamburger
- Lahcun & Pide – traditional Turkish pizza
- Gözleme – thin bread stuffed with cheese and spinach
- Kelle Paca – traditional Turkish lamb soup
Best Rooftop View In Istanbul
Head to the Seven Hills Restaurant for the best views of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.
For nice evenings on rooftop bars with coctails/food, you can choose from the following rooftop bars and restaurants:
- Spago Istanbul
- Ay’a Rooftop Lounge
- 5. Kat
- Mesai Bar
- Ritz Carlton Rooftop Bar
Then spend some time around the fountain in Sultan Ahmet Park. Finally, end your day visiting Hagia Sophia. Watch the prayer inside, calm down, and enjoy its unique atmosphere.
Get a good rest because tomorrow, you’ll experience what Istanbul’s bazaars are all about. And you need to be energetic and fresh for it.
2. Day Istanbul Itinerary: Visit Istanbul’s Bazaars & Bargain Like A Local
I hope you enjoyed your first day in Istanbul and saw the most of it.
Today, we’ll have a slightly different experience, visiting Istanbul’s bazaars. I dedicated almost an entire day to the bazaars only. I think you’ll understand why once you enter one of them.
They’re vast, crazy, chaotic, and I could go on with descriptions. Once you get in, it’s sometimes difficult to get out. One reason would be the salespeople constantly attracting you to their shop, offering you all kinds of Turkish delights or tea to try. Another would be the huge area or the endless options of things you can buy here.
It’s an activity and experience on its own. You’ll get to talk to Turkish people, understand them, see how they drink tea all the time, and learn about their products.
Overview Of Day 2 In Instanbul
- Grand Bazaar
- Spice Bazaar
- Eminönü Bazaar Streets
- Suleymaniye Mosque + Cultural Center
- Bosphorus Cruise
To be successful in having a good time inside the bazaar, you’ll first need to learn some bargaining skills.
So here you go; I have a small lesson for you on bargaining. Read it, and then enjoy your second day in Istanbul.
How To Bargain In A Turkish Bazaar?
Let me give you a quick yet effective lesson for bargaining in the Turkish bazaars. Be strong and stand up for what you want. Not that you walk away disappointed, feeling like you’ve just been robbed and Turkish people are the worst in the world. Because they’re not. They just want to sell stuff, so don’t blame them for that.
1. Clearly express what you want
Your role is just to keep saying what you want and if they don’t accept it (whether it’s the price or some extra stuff they offered you and you don’t want it), walk away. There are so many other shops selling the same things.
2. Don’t feel bad about tasting and then leaving
You shouldn’t feel bad about leaving the shop after you’ve spent 15 minutes there drinking coffee and tea and trying all kinds of Turkish delight and spices. They gave it to you, and so you tried it… there is nothing to feel bad about. That’s how they make the trade.
3. Walk away if you don’t feel comfortable
If any salesman is being too harsh on you, forcing you to buy stuff, and giving you all those presents into the bag that you don’t even realize it’s all so overpriced (believe me, that can happen)… Just walk away straight. Don’t even talk to him. This is not how you make people farly buy your stuff; I am sorry.
How To Know What Is A Good Price For Goods?
To feel like you’ve done a good job bargaining, you first have to know the approximate/real price for the things. But how do you determine the real price if there are thousands of shops and everybody has a different rate?
Well, that’s easy. First, just walk through the bazaar and try to remember where the shops from which you want to buy something are located. For example, let’s say you want to buy a good Turkish delight.
1. Locate all shops with Turkish delight & taste
So walk through and find all the Turkish delight shops. Go even to different bazaars in the city. Enter each shop and let them give you a sample of it. Try how you like it and ask them for a price. Remember the price and try to bring it down. See how they’re willing to bargain and treat you as a customer.
2. Remember prices in each shop
Then thank them and walk away. Do this with as many shops selling Turkish delight as possible. Try to remember the prices, taste, and atmosphere.
3. Cheapest Turkish delight = Approximate price of it
Eventually, see which shop has the cheapest Turkish delight. This is the approximate/real price of a Turkish delight. You should take the price and refer to it when buying it in any other shop.
What Is A Good Price For Turkish Delight?
If you want to know, a good price for 1kg of Turkish delight is about 130 Turkish lira (approximately 7 USD or 7 EUR). That’s what I learned while practicing my bargaining skills in Istanbul and trying to buy the best yet cheapest Turkish delight possible.
But you might find even a better price. So go out there and try. Most importantly, have fun.
Best Bazaars To Visit In Istanbul
So now that you know how to bargain and go around Turkish bazaars let’s head into them.
Firstly, I recommend you visit the famous Grand Bazaar. Afterward, you can go to the Spice Bazaar, one of the city’s most beautiful bazaars.
Then spend some time in the Street Bazaar of Eminönü and get the best baklava.
Grand Bazaar is one of the world’s biggest and most visited markets. Around 91 million people visit it every single year.
It was built in the 15th century and commissioned by Sultan Mehmet II. He wanted the city to be the trading center of the Ottoman Empire. His intention was to mainly trade jewelry and textile.
In the 17th century, it became the center of the Mediterranean trade, connecting 2 continents.
Nowadays, you can find everything you can think of inside this one-roof market. The idea of having a closed place for shopping was mainly for security reasons. It helped to decrease fire risk as well as theft.
Guided Tour Of The Grand Bazaar
I personally think it’s better to visit the Grand Bazaar with a guide. That’s what I did, and I had the best experience ever.
He showed us around, pointed out some unique shops, explained about the gold trade, and brought us to a fabric shop, where celebrities and movie makers come to buy fabric for their costumes.
We also visited a tea shop and had tea together in the middle of the bazaar, which was just amazing.
It gave me a better understanding of this place rather than just me walking around, not knowing where to go and not understanding the meaning of those shops and places. The guide just gave the visit more meaning. That’s what I loved about it.
So I recommend booking a guided tour of the Grand Bazaar for a better experience.
Spice Bazaar & Eminönü Bazaar Streets
Afterward, you can go to the Spice Bazaar and the nearby streets on your own and get the best baklava.
Once you come out of the Spice Bazaar, get lost in the street bazaar around. Try to locate a baklava shop and get some of the best baklava in the city. It’s called ‘ASI Künefeleri’.
Typical Turkish baklava is slightly different from that of Greece and other countries. Turks like to prepare it also cold. This type of baklava is soaked in milk and sprinkled with cocoa. It has a lot less sugar as they don’t use so much sugar syrup. It’s a new version they created, and they also refer to it as diet baklava. So try it out.
In the afternoon, I recommend switching to a quiet place once you have enough of the bazaars and the chaos. It’s a great time to visit the Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul.
It’s one of the most beautiful mosques I’ve seen, with a special atmosphere. So go inside, calm down, and enjoy the quietness.
The mosque has 4 minarets and 10 balconies. The minarets represent 4 sultans that took over the city after conquering Constantinople. And the 10 balconies represent Suleiman being the 10th Ottoman sultan.
Speak To Volunteers & Visit Their Cultural Center
What is special here are the volunteers, ready to answer all your questions about Muslims, Islam, and even other religions. You can just approach them and ask whatever you feel like.
It was one of the most enriching experiences in Istanbul for me. They’ll also invite you to their religious center for a cup of coffee and tea and to chat with them.
You don’t have to be worried. They are super nice. You’ll get to meet locals and learn a lot about Islam. And you don’t have to be religious if that’s the question you have right now. Anybody can go inside and have a chat with them.
Go inside the mosque’s park for other amazing views of the city. In the park, there is also the only Turkish Hamman you can do as a couple. Normally, it’s separated into men’s and women’s sections. But here you can go as a couple.
Bosphorus Cruise In The Evening
Today in the evening, I highly recommend doing the Bosphorus cruise. It takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes. So go for it at 8:00pm, starting at the Eminönü pier. That way, you’ll also enjoy the sunset during the cruise.
The ticket office says ‘Bosphorus Cruise,’ and sells the cruise for about 7 EUR/USD per person. This is the best cruise you can do. Others are quite overpriced. Don’t even buy it online as it’s going to cost more.
I suggest going to the Eminönü pier at 7:30pm, buying tickets, and hopping on board. This way, you’ll also get good seats. Don’t come here before the boat departs, and it’s challenging to get a good seat afterward.
This is it for the second day of our Istanbul itinerary for 3 days. Have a rest or go for a drink on a rooftop bar.
Tomorrow, we’ll explore the Asian side of Istanbul.
3. Day Istanbul Itinerary: Visit The Asian Side Of Istanbul On A Boat
Let’s explore the Asian side today as part of our Istanbul itinerary for 3 days. Take your time in the morning and have a great breakfast with Turkish coffee.
Afterward, head to Eminönü, where you’ll catch a boat across the waters to Asia.
The boats run regularly throughout the day. You’re looking for the one going to Üsküdar. So ask around at Eminönü to be sure you hop on the right one.
Enjoy the boat ride. It’s one of the best things to do in Istanbul for sure.
Overview Of Day 3 In Instanbul
- Boat From Eminönü to Üsküdar (Asian side)
- Asian Istanbul Markets
- Seaside Promenade + Maiden’s Tower
- Emaar Skyview
- Food Tour of Istanbul
- Turkish Hammam
Enjoy Local Market & Walk To The Maiden’s Tower
Once you get to Üsküdar, walk to the local markets and get the vibe there. Then sit down for a tea or coffee and relax for a while.
After, you can walk alongside the sea on the promenade towards Maiden’s Tower.
Visit Emaar Skyview
Then I invite you to visit the Emaar Skyview (Seyir Terasi), the observation deck, for other stunning views. It’s the newest attraction in the city.
Climb up to the 48th floor of the building and walk on the glass terrace. Enjoy the spectacular 360° view of Istanbul from there. You can make some of the coolest photos on the terrace.
Food Tour Of Istanbul
Another thing you can do today is a food tour of Istanbul. If that interests you, I highly recommend doing one. You’ll get to experience Turkish food on 2 different continents.
Turkish Hammam Experience
What would a visit to Istanbul be without experiencing a proper Turkish bath? So go inside a Turkish Hammam and get an authentic experience.
Çemberlitaş Hammam is one of the oldest places, where many famous personalities have been coming to experience it. It’s right in the city center close to Grand Bazaar.
Book yourself a slot before and enjoy the experience.
Spend the rest of the day visiting places you liked the most from this Istanbul itinerary. Come back to the old city or to Hagia Sophia. Go to a market and buy more Turkish delight.
And celebrate your visit with some drinks on a rooftop terrace in Istanbul.
More Travel Tips For Europe
This is my Istanbul itinerary for 3 days for you. It’ll help you see the city’s highlights and get the most out of your visit. This city is exceptional, and I am sure it’ll surprise you in many ways.
If you want to visit more places in Turkey, get my Turkey itinerary for 10 days. You’ll get to stay on the best beaches in the world, explore more historical and cultural sites, walk in the spectacular travertine pools of Pamukkale, and watch the hot air balloons in the stunning landscape of Cappadocia.
Turkey is so different from any other European country. Of course, most of it is already in Asia, which makes it unique, too.
If you want to keep traveling, you can cross from Turkey to Greece and follow my Greece road trip itinerary for 10 days.
Or book yourself a flight from Istanbul to Athens. Visit some of the most beautiful Greek islands as part of the best day island trips from Athens.