Tips before traveling to Turkey
Before starting with this guide of Istanbul in 3 days, here are five essential tips you should know before visiting Turkey:
ISTANBULKART: To move around the city by public transport, you must get an Istanbulkart. You can get the card at any station. You should know that you have to link the card with your HES code in order to use it. The process is a bit tedious. Once you have the card, you will be able to take the metro, bus, tram and ferry.
VISA FOR TURKEY: U.S citizens DO need an e-visa to enter Turkey for tourism or commercial travel. You can stay up to 90 days within a 180 day period. You can apply for an e-visa using this link. Your passport needs to be valid for at least six months and have one blank page. If you are not a U.S citizen, check online for specific requirements for your country of origin.
SAFETY: Contrary to popular belief, Turkey is a very safe country. Other than the basic precautionary measures you would take anywhere in the world, you will not run into safety issues, unless you are very unlucky. Also do not forget to travel to Turkey with travel insurance since you won’t have medical coverage abroad. I recommend Heymondo travel insurance, I always use it.
DRESS CODE: Remember that to enter mosques, men and women must cover their legs, at least below the knees, and shoulders. Women also have to cover their heads. I recommend taking a scarf. If you forget, you will find them at the entrance of each mosque.
If you want to know more tips before traveling to Turkey, I recommend reading my article on how to travel Turkey on your own.
Places to visit in Istanbul in 3 days: the perfect itinerary
In this Istanbul travel guide, I have included the places that I consider essential in a visit to Istanbul in 3 days. Apart from recommending the main tourist attractions, I have added several places that do not usually appear in other itineraries. I’m sure you’ll love them, as they will add an extra touch of authenticity to your trip.
I have organized this itinerary in such a way that the places that tend to be the busiest in Istanbul will be visited first thing in the morning. This way you can avoid large crowds and long waits in queues.
Ready to discover the best places to visit in Istanbul in 3 days? Let’s begin!
Day 1 in Istanbul
Summary of day 1 in Istanbul
– Hagia Sophia
– Blue Mosque
– Basilica Cistern (temporarily closed)
– Grand Bazaar
– Spice Bazaar
– Galata Bridge
– Walk through the Karaköy neighborhood
– Sunset from Galata Konak Cafe & Restaurant
Hagia Sophia, a must-see place to visit in Istanbul in 3 days
We begin our itinerary in Istanbul by visiting Hagia Sophia, one of the great treasures of the city. Its architecture, interior and history attract thousands of tourists every day. The origin of Hagia Sophia dates back to the year 325, however, the current building was built in the first half of the 6th century, by order of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.
For almost a thousand years it served as a cathedral. After the Ottoman conquest in 1453, Hagia Sophia became a mosque. In 1931 the mosque was closed to the public and reopened in 1935 as a museum. In 2020, Hagia Sophia became a mosque once again.
Entrance to Hagia Sophia is free and the best time to visit the mosque is at 9:00 a.m.
Blue Mosque, incredible place to visit in Istanbul in 3 days
Once you finish visiting Hagia Sophia, cross Sultanahmet Square and visit the Blue Mosque, another must-see place in Istanbul in 3 days. Sultanahmet Square was once the Hippodrome of Constantinople, a major sports and social center. Do not forget to visit the Obelisk of Theodosius, the Serpentine Column and the German Fountain.
The Blue Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 by order of Sultan Ahmed I. Its original name is Sultan Ahmed Mosque. However, it is also known as the Blue Mosque because there are more than 20,000 blue tiles inside.
Admission is free.
Cross the square again, this time head to Basilica Cistern, a very interesting place to see in Istanbul. This place was also built by Emperor Justinian I. It was designed to store a large amount of water to distribute it to the surrounding palaces.
If you visit the basilica, you can immerse yourself in an underground, dark and cool space with hundreds of columns. Two of the columns have an inverted Medusa head at the base. There is a very mystical and charming atmosphere. I highly recommend it.
Important: Basilica Cistern is temporarily closed as it is being renovated. It is scheduled to be reopened soon.
Grand Bazaar of Istanbul
Even if you do not intend to purchase something, you have to visit the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. It’s one of the biggest indoor markets in the world. It is made up of 61 pathways and houses over 4,000 stores. You’ll find traditional products such as carpets, lamps and even counterfeit items from you favorite brands.
The place gets pretty hectic, especially if you visit during rush hour. However, walking through the corridors full of shops is one more experience you have to have in Istanbul. If you decide to buy a souvenir, don’t forget to bargain a bit. Don’t worry, it’s the norm.
After visiting the Grand Bazaar, walk a few minutes to get to the Spice Bazaar, a must-see place in Istanbul. You will be amazed by the amount of smells, colors and textures that your senses will be able to appreciate. Apart from spices, you will find sweets, tea and dried fruits. You’ll love it!
Cross Galata Bridge and walk through the Karaköy neighborhood
We continue this guide of Istanbul in 3 days by visiting the Galata Bridge. Cross it to reach the other side of the Golden Horn, an estuary of the Bosphorus Strait. You’ll see many locals fishing on the bridge. It is a very typical image of Istanbul.
The first neighborhood you will find after crossing the bridge is Karaköy, where the main port was once located during the Byzantine period and the Ottoman period. If you have time, I recommend strolling yourself through the narrow streets. It is a very charming neighborhood and has some of the best restaurants and cafes in Istanbul.
One of the most popular traditional restaurants is called Karakoy Lokantasi. Another popular place is Karaköy Çorba Evi, where all kinds of traditional soups are served. You can have dinner in one of these places at the end of the following visits. On the other hand, if you feel like a cup of coffee, I recommend going to Homo Sapiens coffee shop.
Sunset from Galata Konak Cafe & Restaurant, Istanbul in 3 days
My favorite sunsets in Istanbul were from the Galata Konak Cafe & Restaurant, a rooftop cafe located next to the Galata Tower. It is not a place that stands out for the decoration and care of the place. Nor for the food. The best aspect about this cafeteria is its beautiful view of the historic center and the Asian side of Istanbul.
Order a drink (they don’t serve alcohol drinks) and enjoy your first sunset in Istanbul. By the way, they don’t take your order at the table, you have to go to the bar to order what you want. I wanted to clarify this since I have read reviews of people who left because they were not approached by a waiter or waitress.
Day 2 in Istanbul
Summary of day 2 in Istanbul
– Topkapi Palace
– Suleiman Mosque
– Balat Neighborhood
– Sunset in Mimar Sinan Terrace Cafe
– Shisha in Anadolu Nargile
The Topkapi Palace is another tourist attraction in Istanbul. This palace was built in the 15th century and served as the residence of the Ottoman sultans for four centuries. In 1856 Sultan Abdülmecit I decided to move his place of residence to the Dolmabahçe Palace, another must-see place in Istanbul in 3 days.
During your visit you’ll be able to appreciate very beautiful architecture while you walk through its rooms, halls, patios, gardens and permanent exhibitions. Don’t forget to visit the harem. It is a real beauty. You can also appreciate some very nice views of the Golden Horn.
It opens at 9:00 a.m. but I recommend visiting a few minutes before to get in line to purchase a ticket. Admission costs 200 TL (13USD). To visit the harem you have to pay an additional 100 liras or 6.50USD.
After visiting the Topkapi Palace, walk across the historic center to get to the Suleiman Mosque, located in the Fatih district. It was built between 1550 and 1558, under the order of Suleiman the Magnificent (Süleyman I). It was the largest mosque in the city until 2019, when it was succeeded by Çamlıca Mosque.
Being that it is located on a hill, you will be able to appreciate a very nice view the city from the gardens that surround the building. Do not forget to visit its interior. It is beautiful inside. The central dome is around 50 meters high.
We continue our itinerary of Istanbul in 3 days by visiting Balat, the old Jewish quarter of Istanbul, which in recent years has become a popular stop for many tourists who come to this Turkish city.
Balat is located about 3 km from Suleiman Mosque. It is not very well connected by public transport, therefore you have two options: take a taxi or walk. If you decide to walk, it takes about 45 minutes. The walk will take you past places like the Fatih Mosque or the Valente aqueduct.
Once you arrive in Balat, it is best to just stroll through its streets. However, there are some places that you should not miss.
One of the must-see places in Balat is Antik Cafe, a very colorful outdoor cafe. Next to it, you’ll find a colorful set of steps that are very popular. Keep walking until you get to Kiremit, where you’ll find the colorful houses that are featured in many photos of Istanbul.
Merdivenli Yks is a street full of colorful homes that you shouldn’t miss. In this case, these colorful houses are on a steep street. Phanar, the greek orthodox school and Leblebiciler street are also places you don’t want to miss when visiting Balat.
Sunset in Mimar Sinan Terrace Cafe
It is time to return to the area where Suleiman Mosque is located because there is a cafeteria with a rooftop ideal for watching the sunset. If you plan on walking walking back, I recommend walking along the banks of the Golden Horn. It is a very pleasant walk.
I recommend enjoying your second sunset in Istanbul in Mimar Sinan Teras Cafe. It is located next to Suleiman Mosque. You’ll also have an incredible view of the Beyoğlu district.
Smoke shisha in Anadolu Nargile, add it to your itinerary of Istanbul in 3 days
I recommend rapping day 2 in Istanbul by heading to Anadolu Nargile to smoke shisha and have a cup of Turkish tea. It is located on Yeniçeriler street, in the historic center of Istanbul. Sisha is a very important pastime in Turkish culture. It is very common for groups of people to gather in a cafe to smoke sisha, drink tea and have a good time.
Smoking sisha at a local cafe is, in my opinion, is a unique experience and something everyone should do when visiting Istanbul. I recommend going to Anadolu Nargile as the place has a very local atmosphere and it’s very beautiful.
Day 3 in Istanbul, last day on this itinerary of Istanbul in 3 days
Summary of day 3 in Istanbul
– Galata Tower
– Istiklal and Plaza Taksim Streets
– Dolmabahaçe Palace
– Ortaköy Mosque
– Ferry to Uskudar and sunset from the Asian part of Istanbul
– Dinner in Seven Hills Hotel
Galata Tower, places to visit in Istanbul in 3 days
The Tower was built in the 14th century by the Genoese people. It is 60 meters high and, for a long time, was the tallest building in Istanbul. There is an observation deck on the top of the tower. It is one of the best viewpoints in the city as it offers a 360º view of the city.
The tower is visited by many tourists every day. Thus, I recommend visiting the tower very early in the morning. It opens to the public at 8:30 a.m. I recommend being there 5 minutes before it opens just in case there are large crowds. There is an entrance fee of 100 TL or 6.50USD.
From Büyük Hendek street, located next to Galata tower, you can snap some photos. These photos are among the most popular photos of Galata tower. Velvet Cafe is also very close to the tower, which is one of the most charming cafes in the area.
Walk until you get to the next place on this list of places to visit in Istanbul in 3 days: Istiklal street
Stroll through Istiklal street until you get to Taksim square
Istiklal Street is one of the most popular avenues in Istanbul. This pedestrian street crosses the Fatih neighborhood and forms an important commercial area in the city. In it you will find a wide variety of restaurants and shops. The red tram that travels from one end of Istiklal to the other stands out.
Some of the places worth visiting on this street are St. Anthony of Padua Church and Çiçek Pasajı, also known as the flower passage. Çiçek Pasajı is a beautiful gallery where you can have a drink.
Taksim Square is located at the end of Istiklal street. It is one of the busiest places in the city. This square house Taksim Mosque and The Republic Monument, which commemorates the establishment of the Turkish republic in 1923.
Once you’ve visited Taksim square, change your heading and start walking towards the river to later continue towards the left until you get to Dolmabahaçe palace. It is located on the banks of the Bosphorus river.
As I mentioned before, Dolmabahaçe Palace was once the residence of the Ottoman sultans in the mid 19th century. It was also Ataturk’s home, the founder of the Turkish republic.
It’s and ostentatious building made of white marble and glass windows surrounded by a beautiful garden. The building’s architecture is a blend of baroque and classic Arabian style. It’s beautiful on the inside, as well as on the outside. I highly recommend visiting Dolmabahaçe palace.
The general entrance to the palace costs 120 TL. If you are interested in visiting the Harem, you can purchase a special entrance which costs 150 TL. It is closed on Mondays.
The following stop will be in Ortaköy Mosque, which was ordered to be constructed by sultan Abdülmecit in the mid 19th century. Ortaköy Mosque is 30 minutes away from Dolmabahaçe Palace by foot. On the way, you’ll pass by the center of Beşiktaş. If you have the time, In recommend visiting Beşiktaş neighborhood.
Ortaköy Mosque, Neo-Baroque in style, is one of the most beautiful mosques in Istanbul. It’s smaller than many of the other mosques; however, its proximity to the Bosphorus river and the bridge in the background create some of the most memorable and picturesque “prints” of the city.
Ferry to Uskudar and sunset from the Asian side of Istanbul.
Next to Ortaköy Mosque there is pier where you can get on a ferry to Üsküdar, a neighborhood located in the Aisan part of Istanbul. The ferry runs every hour.
Once you’ve crossed the Bosphorus river and get to Üsküdar, walk towards the right to get to The Maiden’s Tower. From the tower, you’ll be able to enjoy one of the best sunsets one can experience in Istanbul. The Bosphorus river, the mosques in the background and the orange sky create a beautiful and unforgettable landscape.
When you finish watching the sunset, head back to the pier in Üsküdar to get on a ferry back to the European side. The ferry docks near Galata Bridge. You can also return by taking a train but the ferry ride is much more enjoyable.
Dinner at Seven Hills Hotel, amazing experience in Istanbul in 3 days.
On your last day in Istanbul, I recommend dining on the rooftop restaurant at the Seven Hills Hotel. I have been to this terrace both times I’ve visited Istanbul as the view is so beautiful. It is located very close to the Sultanahmet Square, therefore, you will dine between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.
The restaurant serves mainly seafood but you will find other dishes. In the mornings, starting at 8:00 a.m., they serve a traditional breakfast menu for 170 lira per person.
If you wish to book some guided activities, below you will find the best rated activities in Istanbul:
Where to stay in Istanbul
In my opinion, the 3 best neighborhoods to stay in Istanbul are the following:
Sultanahmet, the historic center
Staying in Sultanahmet allows you to be close to several main tourist attractions in Istanbul: Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, etc. It is an ideal option if you are going to spend a short time in the city. It is also a good option for families, since at night, this neighborhood is quieter than others in the city.
Karaköy, great place to stay in Istanbul in 3 days
Karaköy, in my opinion, is the best area to stay in Istanbul. Not only will you be in a fairly central area to get to know the different places in Istanbul, but the neighborhood itself has charming streets full of cafes and restaurants.
In order to get to the historic center, you have to cross the Galata Bridge. In addition, in the port located in Karaköy, you can take the ferry to visit the Asian side.
Galata, one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Istanbul
Finally, another neighborhood that I recommend staying in the city is Galata. It is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Istanbul. You will find cobbled streets, charming shops and cafes, beautiful rooftops with views of Sultanahmet, etc.
It is also a central area in Istanbul. In addition, it is well connected by public transport to the rest of the city. One downside is that it is on a hill, so you will have to walk steep slopes every time you head back to your hotel.
I hope this post about visiting Istanbul in 3 days has been informative and useful when planning your visit to this beautiful city. If you have any doubts or questions, I encourage you to leave a comment or send me an email. Until next time, travelers!