What to visit in Istanbul in 3 days?
The city on the Bosporus is huge and full of cultural treasures and experiences that tell the city's impressive history. You can stay in Istanbul for weeks and still be impressed every day. To enjoy a perfect mini vacation in Istanbul, it is essential to plan your itinerary in advance.
We've put together for you a 3 days itinerary for beginners in Istanbul, with which you will not miss any of the most important sights of Istanbul. This way you can experience the best of Istanbul in three days and be enchanted by the fascinating blend of the Orient and Occident up close.
In between, we'll also give you valuable insider tips and suggestions on our favorite restaurants, tickets and tours.
Let’s start with day one!
Traveler's Tip: For your stay in Istanbul, we recommend you the exclusive sightseeing package Istanbul Welcome Card. With this Istanbul Pass you can save time and money, thanks to skip the line tickets, audio guide apps and guided tours at top sights.
- Read more: For a handy overview of all city pass options of Istanbul, check out our article about the Best City Pass for Istanbul | Compare Prices & Included Activities
Day 1: Sultanahmet - The Historical Peninsula of Istanbul
Your first day in Istanbul is dedicated to the history-charged Old Town of Sultanahmet, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Magnificent buildings of three empires captivate millions of tourists every year and still bear witness to the glories of bygone days. The many mosques, Byzantine buildings, bazaars and carpet shops are so close together that even history buffs can spend a day exploring.
Start your journey with the world-famous Hagia Sophia, built in 532. Nothing symbolizes Istanbul and its moving history as much as the "eighth wonder of the world". Originally a Byzantine church, it then served as an Ottoman mosque, Turkish museum, and finally a mosque again. Embodying the city's transformation with its own history, Hagia Sophia delights with a glorious interior and an impressive dome that blends both Christian and Muslim elements.
If you want to explore the legendary Hagia Sophia on your own, we recommend the self-guided audio guide app from
Audio Guides of Istanbul
Download YourMobileGuide App and listen to the latest guides of the best districts of Istanbul. Time to truly discover the heart of Istanbul!
Directly opposite the Hagia Sophia is the striking Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque), which dominates the skyline of Istanbul with its six minarets. Considered a masterpiece of Ottoman architecture, the mosque is famous for its stunning interplay of harmony, proportion and elegance. The Blue Mosque owes its nickname to the magnificent blue Iznik tiles that adorn the enormous interior.
Join the Istanbul Blue Mosque and Sultanahmet Square Tour, with many more impressive sights.
Only a few steps away, in the underworld of Istanbul, you will find the Basilica Cistern. The "Sunken Palace", which served as a reservoir for the Byzantine emperors, impresses its visitors with a breathtaking and mystical scenery. More than 300 marble columns, bathed in an atmospheric light, support the 6th century construction. Look for the two ancient medusa heads dating back to Roman times that work as a base for two columns. Of Istanbul's 60 underground cisterns, the Basilica Cistern is the largest, covering 9800 m². It is undoubtedly one of the most impressive structures in the city.
Now it's time to dive into the colorful bazaar world of Istanbul. You can find more than 4,000 stores in the winding alleys of the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest bazaars in the world. Experience the colorful hustle and bustle of the bazaar up close on a covered area of 45,000 m². In the huge range of goods, you are sure to find some hidden treasures to haggle over like a local. Moreover, sensational views open up to you on the roofs of the surrounding craftsmen's yards.
Just as colorful, but a little quieter, is the Spice Bazaar, where you will indulge in colors and scents. The oriental spice bazaar offers mainly exotic spices, but also all kinds of food, souvenirs and clothing.
- Pro Tip: Go in search of the old magic of traditional bazaar life. If you wish, you can be accompanied by a guide who will take you off the beaten track. Book your 2-hour Istanbul Markets and Rooftops tour here.
For the perfect end to the day, visit the Süleymaniye Mosque in the evening, the journeyman's piece of the famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. Here you can enjoy a picturesque sunset.
Perched majestically on the third hill of the Old City overlooking the Golden Horn, the UNESCO World Heritage Site impresses not only with its architecture but also with its phenomenal acoustics. For this purpose, the master builder had more than 60 bulbous clay cylinders inserted between the massive pillars. Equally fascinating is the tradition of ostrich eggs hanging between the oil lamps. They were cooked with special spices and herbs to keep spiders and vermin away.
From here, a dreamlike view of the city and the Golden Horn opens up - especially at the golden hour. It gets really magical when the call to prayer echoes from the mosque and unites with the scenery. A glass of Turkish tea and a traditional Simit (sesame bread ring) complete the moment...
Day 2: City of Contrasts - Off to Asia!
Today, discover a whole new side of the city and explore the modern face of Istanbul. Experience how millennia-old traditions collide with Western modernity, creating the extraordinary Eurasian mix that makes Istanbul so unique.
The famous Taksim Square, the heart of Istanbul, is bustling with tourists and locals alike, especially in the evening when Istanbul's nightlife is in full swing. This is also where the famous shopping street Istiklal Caddesi is located, which is lined with numerous stores of international brands, cafés, bars and art nouveau houses worth seeing. Situated in a side alley, the Ficcin restaurant is a great place to have lunch. We recommend the homemade ravioli (çerkes mantısı) and the dessert with poppy seeds (haşhaşlı revani).
Get on the nostalgic tram that winds its way to Tünel Square or go there on foot. From Tünel Square, you can either take the world's second-oldest metro to Karaköy harbour or walk down the winding streets of the Old Town to the famous Galata Tower, whose history goes back to the 6th century. The Genoese tower still keeps watch over the city and offers a 360-degree view of the rooftops of Istanbul.
Continuing towards Karaköy, your path will take you past the Kamondo Stairs from the 1950s. Due to the elegantly curved stairways that intersect in the middle, as well as the beautiful balustrades, it is considered one of the most beautiful staircases in the world. The impressive structure, which combines a unique blend of Neo-Baroque and early Art Nouveau style, was donated by the Jewish merchant Avram Kamondo and is a real insider tip.
- Tip: Book your walking tour at Galata and Taksim here and discover both neighborhoods and the city's European heritage.
Arriving at the pier in Karaköy, an unforgettable experience awaits you, as you can board one of the ferries to Asia. Nowhere else in the world can you change continents and travel from Europe to Asia in just 20 minutes. Enjoy the boat ride with a glass of Turkish tea, while admiring the panoramic views of the city and its landmarks, such as the legendary Maiden’s Tower and the Bosphorus Bridge.
The beautiful promenade of Asian Üsküdar is surrounded by numerous stands that serve Turkish coffee and invite you to linger. Take a break and enjoy a Turkish coffee while glancing at Europe.
Back on the European shore, head to the popular grill restaurant Ali Ocakbasi in Karaköy if you're hungry. The restaurant offers not only delicious Kebab, but also a magnificent view of historic Istanbul, the Bosphorus and Asia.
- Read more: For more great restaurants, check out our insider’s guide to the best restaurants in Istanbul.
Day 3: Sultan Palaces & the Charm of the Bosphorus
Today, a truly imperial experience awaits you at the legendary Topkapi Palace, the former residence of Ottoman rulers. A tour of the palace is like a journey through time. Follow the traces of the Sultans and discover how the rulers lived and reigned here for four centuries. Divided into four courtyards, the huge palace complex houses in hundreds of rooms breathtaking collections, Islamic relics and precious treasures of the Ottoman period.
Visit the legendary harem - scene of countless intrigues and myths - and get a glimpse of this mysterious world. The outdoor facilities, which offer a fantastic view of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn, are just as impressing.
- Tip: Book your Topkapi Palace & Harem Tour or the Topkapi Palace Tour VIP Ticket!
Afterwards, you can visit the magnificent Dolmabahce Palace, which is easily accessible by tram. In 1856, it replaced the Topkapi Palace as the new seat of government of the Sultans. Later it served as a residence for Atatürk, the founder of the state, who spent his last days here. Built in Neo-Baroque French style, the Dolmabahce Palace impresses with impressive pomp and luxurious décor. There are a total of 44 rooms, 285 rooms, 6 hammams and 68 bathrooms reflecting the splendor of bygone times.
- Tip: Get your Dolmabahce Palace Ticket here and benefit from fast track entry, a guided highlights tour and an audio guide app!
You haven't truly experienced the magic of Istanbul until you join a scenic Bosphorus tour. Cruise across the famous strait and experience the beauty of the Orient and Occident from the water. Marvel at magnificent wooden villas, Ottoman palaces and medieval fortresses during the trip.
- Tip: Book now your Bosphorus cruise with audio guide in your desired language.
On your last evening, there is still some time for Istanbul nightlife, for example at Nardis Jazz Club or 360 Istanbul, which is located in a glass penthouse in the middle of Istiklal Caddesi.
For those who prefer to relax, a pampering visit to a Turkish bath is the place to be. Indulge your senses and relax in the 500-year-old
More Things to do:
If you have time left, you can explore Istanbul off the beaten track, such as the Princes' Islands, the Jewish neighborhoods Balat and Fener or Istanbul’s Asian side with the Kadıköy district.
For longer stays or returnees, we highly recommend a day trip from Istanbul to Cappadocia. The exceptional beauty of Cappadocia, famous for its fairy chimneys, cave dwellings, valleys and Hot air balloon tours, is not to be missed. Booking a day trip with airport transfers, round-trip flights and hotel stay, such as the tour offered by our partner Istanbul Welcome Card, is particularly worthwhile. It is of great advantage that you can add additional activities and tours as you like, instead of having to follow a fixed itinerary.
For more amazing pictures and tips about Istanbul, follow our official Instagram account @istanbul.tourist.information
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