Firstly let me clear that it is upto you to spend 3 days or 30 days in Istanbul but make sure that you don’t miss these 30 epic experiences while travelling to Istanbul. Before I start bragging about Istanbul (I love it that much), let me give you a brief first. Istanbul is not the capital of Turkey but the most popular city and most popular travel destination.
I feel there is something magical about this city that makes it the most incredible and inviting city in the world. The perfect blend of Europe and Asia in Istanbul draws attention of every traveler. The city is famous for its ancient history, old traditions, rich culture and unique architectural beauty. Magnificent mosques and Byzantine Churches are the heart and soul of the city. Istanbul also has mesmerizing Palaces which showcase the royalty and luxury of Ottoman Empire.
Istanbul for First Timers
“Love at first sight”, you remember that feeling ,yes it’s that when you first visit the awe-inspiring city of Istanbul. And, it will take a lifetime to get over with this place. I meet people who have been to Istanbul at least 5-10 times and still wish to visit again. As there is so much to see and do that you cannot get enough in just one time. I intend to take a stopover whenever possible, to spend 2-3 days in Istanbul because it is that ammm-mazing.
In this post, I will share with you 3 days Istanbul itinerary with 30 unforgettable experiences. So you will know why it is everyone’s favorite travel destination including ME. Yes, Istanbul is one of my all-time favorite cities. Whenever someone asks me to suggest any holiday destination, I go like Istaaaanbul to convince them. (And yeah I can be annoying sometimes.. lol).
Table of Content:
- Behind the scene story (why I travelled to Istanbul)
- Why you should travel to Istanbul
- Getting to Istanbul
- Where to stay
- How to spend 3 days in Istanbul
- Top attractions in Sultanahmet
- Top attractions in Fatih & Beyoglu
- Off the beaten path
- Last Thought
Behind the Scene
Back in the summer of 2013 my friends were planning a short getaway to Istanbul. Since I was homesick, I decided to visit my family in Delhi. Apparently, I was clueless about what I had missed until one year later when we started watching a popular Turkish Drama Feriha. That series took my heart away with its beautiful scenic locations, turkish culture and the layers of its main love story. Without realization about my obsession, I was watching reruns of it 3 times a day, it used to be a center of my life for quite some time. And that’s how I fell in love with Istanbul and decided to travel to Istanbul. End of behind the scenes.
Why to travel to Istanbul
Istanbul is a perfect holiday destination for honeymoon couples, history lovers, big family groups and even solo travelers. I am going to share with you how to spend 3 days in Istanbul with 30 amazing Experiences which includes things to do in Istanbul, places to visit in Istanbul. In short, an Unforgettable trip to Istanbul that you must try when you travel to Istanbul.
Consider visiting Istanbul for at least 3 days (less than that won’t be counted), if you haven’t planned your next trip yet, and I bet you will be thanking me later.
Travel tip: Always Book your flight tickets using this skyscanner for best prices.
Getting To Istanbul
There are two international airports in the city Istanbul Atatürk Airport (IST) on European side and Sabiha Gökçen Airport (SAW) on Asian side. Taxi costs around 55TL to Sultanahemet and 68TL to Takism from IST, and 125TL to Sultanahemet and 109TL to Takism from SAW.
Cheapest way – Havabus Airport Shuttle costs 14TL (1hour) from IST and 18TL from SAW (1.5 hours)which runs in every 30 minutes.
Where to Stay
Sultanahmet is the area of old Istanbul where city’s major attractions and historic sites are located. Everything in this area is easily walk-able and can be covered in 1 day as all the places are next to each other. You can book your walking tour by clicking here.
Beyoğlu around Taksim Square is a great option if you want to live in a modern side of Istanbul with easy access to the Sultanahmet area. It is home to the famous shopping street of Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue) and many restobars and clubs.
How to spend best 3 days in Istanbul
Day 1 Top Attractions in SULTANAHMET
Our flight landed in the morning and we had full day to explore, and I couldn’t wait to get started. After dropping our bags at the hotel, we headed to the most iconic and grandeur monument Hagia Sophia. It is pronounced as ‘Ayasofya’ and trust me it cannot be described in words. If I have to give an award to a city, having the best architectural sites, that would be Istanbul for sure. From Blue mosque to Basilica Cistern and Topkapi Palace, everything was so delightful and mesmerizing that we dumbstruck by the view.
Istanbul is a paradise for shopaholics, for having the biggest and oldest bazaaaar called Grand Bazar. It has 60 streets and 4000 shops. Whether you are crazy about shopping or not, it is a very cool and lively area to roam around and one can literally get lost inside this giant size market.
Just outside the grand bazar, you will find plenty of food stalls/joints available with a range of authentic Turkish Food offered by local venders. If you are a real foodie (like me) and want to experience the original taste of Turkey’s local food then try out the street food here rather than going to any fancy restaurant.
After all the walking, shopping and eating, it is time to relax those tired muscles with a traditional Turkish hammam for the perfect ending of your first day.
Highlights of the Day
- Blue Mosque aka Sultan Ahmet Mosque (opens 24 hours) free entry
- Hagia Sophia (9am – 7pm) – 30 TL, Closed Every Monday
- Basilica Cistern (9am-4,7pm)- 20 TL opens everyday
- Archaeology Museum (9AM- 7pm)- 15 TL :closed every Tuesday
- Topkapi Palace (9am- 6.45 pm) – 60 TL + 35 TL for Harem :closed every Tuesday
- The Bosphorus Cruise (Ferry ticket@15 TL)
- Grand Bazar (9am- 7 pm) closed on Sundays
- The Hippodrome (open anytime free entry)
- Turkish Hamaam (200-400 TL)
- Umbrella Street for Instagram pictures
Note: All the above prices are in TURKISH LIRA –TL and timings may vary depending on the season so please check before you travel.
Day 2 Top Attractions in FATIH & BEYOĞLU
The next morning we went straight to the Balat district which is one of the hidden gems in Istanbul with beautiful narrow cobbled streets and old colorful houses. You will find many synagogues, Greek basilica and churches in this area which is great to experience the diversity of Jewish, Greek and Armenian community. Surrounded by hip cafes, galleries and Chora Museum, this old-school neighborhood features the rich history of Byzantine’s past and traditional design boutiques of present.
In Fatih district, most of the places can be accessed by foot except Küçüksu Palace which is also a best kept secret in Istanbul and needs a short ferry ride. I found Ferry ride one of the non-touristy yet most rewarding experiences, as it was amazing to look over the city’s best attractions from BOSPHORUS.
The fun part was, how we found ourselves saying ‘that’s so Asian’ and after a few steps “omg this looks so European” every now and then, because of its great mix of both the continents.
To tuck into original Turkish routine life, you can experience Mısır Çarşısı aka spice Bazaar for buying all kind of spices, tea, coffee, saffron, dry fruits and natural homemade products for skin and hair at very low price. Bargain! (Bhaiya Sahi Sahi Lagao na….LOL)
Highlights of the Day
- Balat and Fener (opens 24 hours)
- The Chora (9am-7 pm) – 15 TL closed on Wednesday
- Suleymaniye Mosque (opens 24 hours)
- Spice Bazar (8am- 7 pm) opens everyday
- Galata Bridge
- Galata Tower (9 am- 8.30 pm) – 25 TL opens all days
- Dolmabahce Palace ( 9 am – 6pm) – 60 TL + Harem 40 TL, closed on Monday
- Kucuksu Palace (9 am- 5 pm) – 10 TL closed on Mon & Thu
- Taksim Square & Istiklal Caddesi
- Nightlife at Karakoy
Tip: Always carry a nice scarf to cover your head when visiting Mosques and outside, the same scarf turns your ordinary outfit into a trendy look.
Day 3 Off the Beaten Path
Every morning the city used to reveal something new as Istanbul has infinite beautiful structures to see and admire. We took the first water bus (fast ferries) to Princes Island which is a cluster of 9 islands where Büyükada is the largest and most popular. My eyes started rolling around, the moment I stepped onto this small haven in the Marmara Sea. The wooden Victorian cottages and extremely beautiful churches were inimitable and worth a visit. We hired a horse-drawn carriage to explore the Island which cost us 75 TL for 45 minutes tour around the town and it was our most astonishing experience in Istanbul.
#Fun Fact: Motor vehicles are banned in Princes Island, making it the oasis of peace and silence where the sound of horse hoofs and cycle ring is loud and clear. To explore this place, you can either walk or cycle around the town, or hire a horse-drawn carriage like we did.
Moving on to our next stop which was Rustem Pasha Mosque which was a feast for the eyes. We also spent 1.5 hours exploring Istanbul Modern museum appreciating the art work. BTW we also discovered one more hidden gem known as Arnavutkoy. This place is famous for its old ottoman mansions and seafood. Although, I was magnetized by this area for its village feel that hasn’t been invaded by the tourists yet.
It was our last and most special day as by then we had built that connection with the city like we belonged to this place. My most memorable time was snacking on new local food and sipping Turkish tea everyday while sitting in the park observing the hustle bustle of the city.
Fun Fact : Turkish tea is by default served in every restaurant & cafe if you are sitting there. And, I know Turkish coffee is more hyped but I personally loved their traditional tea which is made of apple. In fact I bought bundles of it cause I loved it that much. Also tried different flavors like pomegranate, but nothing could beat the classic one .
Highlights of the Day
- Food Tour
- Princess Island Tour (5TL for ferry & 10 TL for water bus)
- Sapphire Tower (Skyscraper)
- Rustem Pasha Mosque (opens 24 hours)
- Istanbul Modern (10am-6pm)-60 TL closed on MON
- Rainbow Stairs( Demirtas Mahallesi,Aricilar )
- Maiden’s Tower
- Cicek Pasaji
- Ortakoy Mosque (opens 24 hours)
Must to-do tours
Lastly, I would advise you to skip some of the places if you don’t have enough time as its always better to explore few places thoroughly than just jumping from one spot to another. Because I believe in meaningful travel and want to encourage you for the same. Also, if you plan to travel you can reach out to me for travel assistance to plan your trip hassle free.
Save it NOW, for your future travel reference.