Looking for the best Istanbul Itinerary and trying to plan your 3 days in Istanbul? I am here to share all the best travel tips and help you maximize your time in Istanbul in a logical and convenient way.
Istanbul is a major city in Turkey that straddles Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait. It is filled with cultural experiences, fun & free things to do, delicious food, and endless beautiful places to add to your Istanbul itinerary. I believe planning a short trip to such a big city can be overwhelming at first, but I can guarantee that this article will make it effortless and pleasant.
During your 3 days in Istanbul, you will cover the main attractions, discover some hidden gems, eat your way through Turkish cuisine and leave with memories for a lifetime. A lot of practical information added so you are fully prepared for your time in Istanbul. Keep on reading and discover Istanbul with me.
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How to move around Istanbul?
Istanbul is a huge and busy city. The best way to move around is walking, however, it is not an option for longer distances. You can use the metro or download an application called BiTaksi. You will notice that the taxi is very affordable, but it can take a lot of your time to get an available driver. If you want to catch a taxi on the street, make sure you agree on the price in advance.
When it comes to airport transfers, I highly recommend you book your car in advance. Most of the hotels and Airbnb hosts will take care of this on your behalf. I personally can recommend Klook’s services.
Are 3 days in Istanbul enough?
It is possible to visit Istanbul in 3 days, but you’ll need to wake up early and get ready to explore a lot. In this Istanbul travel guide, I planned the best Istanbul itinerary to optimize your days and get the best from your time. This way you can discover the most beautiful places in Istanbul and try some cool local experiences. Let’s dive in!
Where to stay for 3 days in Istanbul?
Istanbul is a very big city, so you will have to choose strategically your base to optimize your time. My recommendations are to choose a hotel somewhere near Galata Tower or the Grand Bazaar. This way you will be able to walk to most of the sights and have public transport next to you. I prepared for you a list of the best hotels to explore Istanbul in 3 days and make the most of your time.
LUXURIOUS: Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet
I am sure that Four Seasons doesn’t need an introduction, but this is hands down the best luxury hotel in Istanbul. This hotel is decorated in a Turkish theme with neoclassical details, and the courtyard garden is filled with Turkish art and Ottoman period features.
You can spoil yourself with their spa, have a drink with a stunning view from their rooftop bar, or try the chef’s specialties in their restaurant.
UNIQUE: AJWA Sultanahmet
One night I went to a restaurant next to this fantastic hotel and I was immediately impressed by the details of the main door. So I made my research and I discover that this hotel has a fantastic restaurant and a unique design for your Turkish holiday.
This is probably one of the most unique hotels in Istanbul and it offers everything that a sultan might want and even more. It is basically like spending a night in a museum.
MID-RANGE: İstasyon Hotel
Talking about the mid-range hotels in Istanbul, İstasyon Hotel is one of the best options. The rooms are finely decorated, and you can enjoy a coffee or a water pipe on the panoramic terrace.
Breakfast is another treat for the guests of the İstasyon Hotel. The location is convenient as it is 1 km from Topkapi Palace and 600 meters from the Spice Bazaar.
AFFORDABLE: Atlantis Royal Hotel
Atlantis Royal Hotel looks far from affordable, however, the prices are budget-friendly. It has lovely decorations, it is conveniently located, and has a great staff.
The place is only 1 km away from the Blue Mosque and offers WiFi, flat-screen tv, air conditioning, and all the comfort you might need. For all these reasons, the Atlantis Royal Hotel is one of the best affordable hotels in Istanbul.
Day 1 of Your 3 Days in Istanbul
- Morning: Seven Hills Restaurant, The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace.
- Lunch: Hanzade Terrace Restaurant.
- Afternoon: Grand Bazaar, Beyazit Mosque, Anadolu Nargile Çorlulu Ali Paşa Medresesi.
- Dinner: Nusr-Et Steakhouse Sandal Bedesteni or Şeyhmuz Kebap Salonu.
Your Istanbul travel guide starts with a treat in the Seven Hills Restaurant, which is one of the most famous Instagrammable places in Istanbul. On the menu, you will find a typical Turkish breakfast which is the best way to fuel up for a busy Istanbul Itinerary.
Keep in mind, that prices here are above average, but it comes with a fantastic view over Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. These are two important attractions in Istanbul and the view totally justifies the price.
After a delicious breakfast and taking some epic photos, go visit the Blue Mosque. Keep in mind that it’s under renovation until 2024, so it won’t be a long visit. After that, walk to Hagia Sophia to be overwhelmed by beauty. Both places are free of charge but you need to dress appropriately. Women have to cover their heads so bring a scarf or a foulard. You can purchase it at the entrance if you don’t have one.
The Blue Mosque opens at 9 am and closes at 7 pm, while Hagia Sophia is open every day from 9 am to 11 pm and there is no admission fee.
A few steps away from Hagia Sophia is Topkapi Palace, and this is going to be your next stop. Topkapi palace is one of the best places to visit in Istanbul and this is going to take a few hours from your morning itinerary.
The Palace is open every day except Tuesday from 10 am to 4 pm. There is an entrance fee of 320 Turkish Lira for the Topkapi Palace Museum. If you want to see the Harem Section, you need to pay an extra 100 Turkish Lira and it is the best part if you ask me.
10 minutes walk away you will find Hanzade Terrace restaurant. This is going to be your lunch spot for the day and I believe you won’t be disappointed. I ended up coming back for 2 more meals. And it offers a stunning view over Istanbul.
If you have still space for a little sweet, you simply must visit Hafiz Mustafa 1864 Beyazıt. Here you can try all types of Turkish sweets – traditional and modern. My favorite was chocolate baklava with pistachio. Simply unforgettable!
The Grand Bazaar is right in front of Hafiz Mustafa and it is one of the best places to visit in Istanbul. Even if you are not planning to buy anything, you can easily spend a couple of hours in Grand Bazaar. Just a simple walk around is one of the cool experiences in Istanbul. It can get overwhelming at times, but it is part of the deal.
Once you are done, check the Beyazit Mosque just behind the market. This is one of the most visited mosques in Istanbul and it shouldn’t be missed during your visit.
Now, it’s time to take a deep dive into Turkish culture. Visit the Anadolu Nargile Çorlulu Ali Paşa Medreses, which offers one of the best local experiences in Istanbul. You simply can’t visit Istanbul and not smoke Nargile (water pipe) with a glass of Turkish tea. Despite being a few steps away from the Grand Bazaar, it’s mostly locals who make this place alive, so I would consider it a hidden gem in Istanbul.
I know we all have different eating habits and budgets, so I will add two different options for dinner. The choice is yours.
The first one is the world-famous restaurant Nusr-Et. A dinner here is one of the unique things to do in Istanbul. Compared to the other restaurants owned by the famous “Salt Bae” here you can still have a meal for a reasonable price, nevertheless, it was the most expensive restaurant I tried in Istanbul. On the other hand, the meat was simply delicious and the atmosphere is delightful. Their signature baklava is also a remarkable specialty to try.
In case you are on a budget and still want to try some tasty specialties Şeyhmuz Kebap Salonu is the right place for you. Still located in the same area, Şeyhmuz Kebap Salonu offers several Turkish delights that will make you fall in love with the local flavors. The prices are very affordable and the location is simple but very welcoming.
Day 2 of Your 3 Days in Istanbul
- Morning: Mihrişah Cafe Restaurant, Suleymaniye Mosquee Büyük Yeni Han, The Spice Bazaar, Rustem Pasha Mosque, Yeni Cami Mosque.
- Lunch: Hamdi Restaurant.
- Afternoon: Beyoğlu, Galata Tower, vintage red tram of Istanbul, Taksim Square, Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church, Çiçek Pasajı, the Sent Antuan Kilisesi, İstiklal Avenue.
- Dinner: Barnathan İstanbul or Seviç Restoran.
The second day of your 3 days in Istanbul starts with another breakfast with a view from the Mihrişah Cafe Restaurant. From here you get a wonderful view over The Suleymaniye Mosque and that is your next stop of the day.
During your 3 days in Istanbul, you can’t miss The Suleymaniye Mosque. It dates back to 1557 and it was commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent and designed by the imperial architect Mimar Sinan. Like other mosques in Istanbul, it’s free to visit and women will have to cover their heads.
Explore the area around the mosque and behind the Grand Bazaar for some shopping and picturesque alleys and head to the Spice Bazaar, your next stop. One of the cool experiences in Istanbul is exploring the markets, and the Spice Bazaar was probably my favorite.
This is the perfect place to get some authentic souvenirs from Türkiye. Outside the market, you can enjoy the view from the other side of Istanbul and visit Rustem Pasha Mosque and Yeni Cami Mosque.
And now it is time for lunch and I have a perfect suggestion for you. Hamdi Restaurant offers one of the best views in Istanbul. Despite being so popular, it keeps a high-quality service and food. Here I tried probably the best Haydari and a fabulous kebab with pistachio.
It is slightly pricier than in other places in the Turkish capital, nevertheless, the view, the service, and the food justify it. I actually celebrated new years eve here and it was one of the best experiences in Istanbul.
It’s now time to cross the Galata bridge and go to explore the district of Beyoğlu. Your first stop is Galata Tower, which is one of the most famous landmarks in the city and a must of what to see in Istanbul in 3 days.
The tower was built by the Republic of Genoa in 1348 and it was the highest building in the city called Constantinople at that time. After the Genoese colony was dismantled it was used as a prison, while nowadays it offers a stunning 360 view of the city and it is one of the most popular places to visit in Istanbul.
Next head to Tünel Tramvay to find the famous vintage red tram of Istanbul. The ride won’t be particularly long as it ends in Taksim Square – one of the busiest places in the city. Once you get off, I suggest you go back and discover some gems of the area.
First on your list is the Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church, which is one of the hidden places to visit in Istanbul. Keep walking to see the Çiçek Pasajı and the Sent Antuan Kilisesi. It is the church of Saint Anthony from Padua and it is built in Venetian Neo-Gothic style. Sent Antuan Kilisesi is the largest Catholic Church in Istanbul.
On your way, you will also find thousands of cool shops and markets where you can buy everything, from clothes to souvenirs, from drinks to ice creams. You will see that İstiklal Avenue is packed with people. This is one of the most loved areas and a great place to have some local experiences in Istanbul.
Once again, I have two options prepared for dinner on your second day in Istanbul.
The first option is Barnathan İstanbul, where you can enjoy a lovely view of the Galata Tower and the city. I already included this location in my guide to the best photo spots in Istanbul. On top of that, the service and the food is great. A reservation must be made as the space is limited. Also, I recommend visiting this restaurant when it’s not windy.
A delicious alternative can be Seviç Restoran, inside the beautiful Çiçek Pasajı. Here I tried some tasty starters and shrimp. Highly recommended and very affordable.
Day 3 of Your 3 Days in Istanbul
- Morning: Ortaköy Mosque, Dolmabahçe Palace, Dolmabahçe Mosque, Umbrella Street.
- Lunch: Barba Vasilis.
- Afternoon: Balat, cruise on the Bosphorus.
- Dinner: Deraliye Ottoman Cuisine or Gala Kokoreç Laleli.
For the last day of your 3 days in Istanbul, I want you to wake up soon and catch a sunrise in Ortaköy Mosque. It is hands down one of the best places to visit in Istanbul, especially for those who love photography. Sunrise is the perfect moment to enjoy this place with no crowd and just the sound of the water of Bosphorus.
After sunrise head to Dolmabahçe Palace. Visiting this fantastic palace is one of the best things to do in Istanbul, but keep in mind that you can’t take photos with a professional camera. Nevertheless, I still recommend you visit for the art and the love of beauty.
Right outside the Palace, you will find Dolmabahçe Mosque. I honestly never read about this mosque in any Istanbul travel guide, nevertheless, this was one of my favorite places in the Turkish capital. Despite the location, I only met a couple of locals inside and it was such a peaceful and beautiful experience. This is probably on top of my secret things to do in Istanbul.
Before you head to lunch, I want you to visit another hidden gem of Istanbul. There is a cute umbrella street located right next to the Ben’den Karaköy bar. You can stop here for a coffee or just snap some cute photos.
Later in the afternoon, you should be heading to Balat and Barba Vasilis is one of the best restaurants in the area. They serve a mix of Greek and Turkish cuisine with a twist and it has a fantastic atmosphere & service. It is a perfect spot for a delicious meal.
You will spend your afternoon exploring Balat and it is one of the free things to do in Istanbul. Nowadays Balat is considered one of the most Instagrammable places in Istanbul, but it wasn’t always so popular. Balat was the old Jewish ghetto of Istanbul.
What makes Balat special is the mix of influences you can see. The Byzantine, the Jewish, the Armenian, and obviously the Turkish, all left a mark in the district. Get lost in Balat to breathe the history, take some epic photos and get ready for another unforgettable experience in Istanbul.
A sunset cruise on the Bosphorus is one of the top things to do in Istanbul. You will need to get back to Eminönü district as the boats leave right in front of the restaurant Hamdi that I recommended previously.
The tour will cost you approximately 20 Turkish Liras and allow you to see Istanbul from the water at the golden hour. It simply must be added to your list of what to do in Istanbul in 3 days. You will get to the Ortaköy Mosque and come back to the Maiden’s Tower.
This is the end of your 3 days in Istanbul and I believe that you should wrap it up with a special dinner. And there is no better place than Deraliye Ottoman Cuisine. Their motto is to treat yourself like a Sultan, and as soon as you step in you will understand why.
The restaurant is unbelievably beautiful in every little detail, the service is over the top, and the food tastes amazing. It’s no surprise that it’s recommended by Michelin Guide. In my opinion, it is one of the best restaurants in Istanbul.
Deraliye Ottoman Cuisine also organizes cooking classes where you can learn some secrets from the chefs of this fantastic place. Click here to see the menu and more details about the cooking class.
If you are not into fine dining Gala Kokoreç Laleli will be the right place for you. This is a very simple barbecue place, but the flavors are simply phenomenal. The staff always will welcome you with a big smile.
Further reading for 3 days in Istanbul
I believe by now you are impatient to visit Türkiye and see all these beautiful places in 3 days in Istanbul. Also, keep in mind that this itinerary is flexible and you can switch it up according to your needs.
You can easily exclude some attractions and add some time for relaxation if it gets too much. However, I believe you are probably hungry for some cool cultural experiences, so this itinerary is perfect to make the most of your time.
I would love to hear your thoughts, so if you have any feedback or additional tips, leave a comment below. Also, check out my Instagram for regular travel videos and travel inspiration. Or explore other destinations on this travel blog.