It is not possible to visit a city you can never finish traveling in three days, but it is, of course, possible to take a short but comprehensive tour of Istanbul for short visits. Combining two continents and having a population of more than 15 million, you can easily tour this city for short-term visits.
First of all, I need to tell you from the beginning that you only need your feet and your little backpack. Never expect a tour that the tour agents shine to market! Never join the herd within a city with such richness and ease! All you need to say is that you have a vehicle that will carry you from the continent to the continent! If you have a subway, tram, bus, Metrobus, and sea transportation card, you are free to visit everywhere.
Let’s start the tour. No matter where you live, as long as you don’t deal with heavy traffic, you can easily reach where you want. A 3-day tour will be a compressed program for sure.
An Example of a 3-Day Istanbul Trip
First, let’s split the city into 2 and start with the European continent. On the first day, go to the district of Eminönü and Sultanahmet (Fatih) in the morning and in the afternoon, according to your interest. You can visit the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia Museum, Topkapı Museum, Istanbul Archeology Museum, Basilica Cistern, Small Hagia Sophia, and all the Byzantine and Ottoman monuments of various sizes around you, according to your time and interest.
The entrance to the Blue Mosque is free, but you have to pay for all other museum entrances. Museum card can be obtained from the entrance of Hagia Sophia museum. Please visit https://www.muze.gov.tr/ for more information. You have to pay an additional entrance fee for the entrance to the basilica cistern because it does not belong to the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. In addition, don’t try to tell them that you are a student, you have no money or you are a traveler because they do not accept this kind of excuses.
As I said, you must the Historic Peninsula if you come to Istanbul. The first stop is the Hagia Sophia, the magnificent historical basilica one of the 7 Wonders of the World, both a great architectural masterpiece and an important monument in the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. The interior decorations, mosaics and unique architecture make Hagia Sophia so glorious. In the outer part of the Hagia Sophia Museum II. Sultan Selim’s mausoleum can be seen. The I. Mahmud Library in the interior is also very interesting.
The next stop should be the Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultanahmet Mosque. The name of the mosque is coming from its spectacular blue ceramics, and it is one of the most emblematic places in Istanbul. You can witness the rich history of this great empire by visiting the Topkapı Palace in the immediate vicinity of the Blue Mosque, which is also considered the Great Imperial Mosque. Built on a hillside overlooking the Golden Horn, the palace has a unique garden. You should also visit its museum to see the wonderful Iznik tiles, the decorated rooms of the harem and many other values.
Let’s think that you started to tour early in the morning, you should have completed the places I mentioned above at noon until 14:00, in order not to miss the other beauties. Istanbul street delicacies will provide you with a lot of food choice, both economical and delicious. It is enough to just dive into the side streets of the tourist centers, so you won’t pay more for anything. You can find more affordable local restaurants, especially between Sultanahmet and Beyazıt.
After lunch, turn your route towards Beyazıt Square, after a short trip to the closed bazaar, take the bus 86V from Beyazıt Square and head for the Edirnekapı. When you get off at the Edirnekapı stop and dive into the first street, there will be the Chora Museum, a hidden treasure to be visited. You can enter with Muzekart. It’s a Byzantine structure that looks humble on the outside but infuriates you with its mosaics when you enter. You will never regret it.
The next stop should be the Hippodrome, a former circus built in 203 BC by the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus, within walking distance. You can also see II. Wilhelm’s German Fountain on the road, made of 8 marble columns.
If you have time, if you want to relax a little, you should enter the Cağaloğlu Bathhouse located in this region where you can see the unique architecture of the bath and at the same time you can take a bath in accordance with the Ottoman tradition.
The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered bazaars in the world, so you must visit there. From handmade carpets to leather goods, from jewelers to Turkish coffee, you’ll take a crack at a completely different shopping experience with small handcrafted shops and unique architecture where almost everything is sold.
Let me write the opening-closing times of the museums as well:
Istanbul Archaeological Museums: April to October: from 9 am to 7 pm, November to March: from 9 am to 5 pm (except Mondays)
Hagia Sophia Museum: April to October: from 9 am to 7 pm, November to March: from 9 am to 5 pm (except Mondays)
Topkapi Palace: April to October: from 9 am to 7 pm, November to March: from 9 am to 5 pm
Chora Church: April to October: from 9 am to 7 pm, November to March: from 9 am to 4.30 pm (except Wednesdays)
Basilica Cistern: It is open daily from 9 am to 5.30 pm.
The Chora museum was also visited, and now it is slowly becoming the evening. Don’t be afraid, you can still use your card on bus lines that run until 24:00. Take a bus from Edirnekapı to Eminonu and get off at the last stop. You are no longer in a hurry, go to Karaköy using the Galata bridge, again on the way there are unlimited options to eat.
After this long day, you can complete the night at Istiklal Street which never sleeps, after having a meal break in the nearby restaurants. Don’t skip the Galata Tower when you go there. From the top of the Galata Tower, one of the most important symbols of Istanbul, you can look at the places you have visited all day long. Galata Square will also be a colorful break with its cafes and people. From here you can walk to Istiklal Street and take the nostalgic tram across Taksim Square. Everything you’re looking for from shopping to nightlife will be here.
You can spend your entire night by going through Istiklal Street or entering the main streets. A lot of options. The decision is yours! Even if the first day is over, it was a program which normally equals to a 3-day tour package. You’re in the Taksim, so you can get to anywhere you want in a short time.
You must see the Bosphorus view if you visit Istanbul. You can do this either by taking the Bosphorus tour or walking on the coastline. You can start the day with breakfast on the Bosphorus view. There are many breakfast places around Rumeli Fortress. Here you can continue to Besiktas and take the Bosphorus tours which take time between half an hour and 1 hour. Thus, you can witness the fascinating silhouette of Istanbul from Europe to Asia by breathing the Bosphorus in the middle of the sea. You can also visit the historical Maiden’s Tower located in the middle of the sea.
If you want to take a Bosphorus tour, definitely prefer the tour organized by the city lines. There are two options, short and long. I would definitely recommend the long tour. The ferry takes-off from the Eminönü jetty at 10:35 am, and travels to the end point of the Bosphorus, Anadolu Fortress destination. It takes off again at 15:00, back from the Anatolian Fortress. You have 2.5 hours, so do not miss raki and fresh fish flavor in one of the most beautiful villages of the Bosphorus where there are many fresh fish restaurants.
Your ticket is round-trip, so do not miss the ferry that brings you! On the way back you can get off the ferry in Besiktas and hang around. Your second day passed with a quiet Bosphorus tour, couldn’t be better! Agents generally organize a short and simple Bosphorus tour that turns under the second bridge. Choosing the tours organized by private companies is up to you, but I do not recommend!
When you go ashore, you should visit the Dolmabahçe Palace, which has a historical value, since it was the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire and the house of some of the last Ottoman sultans. After the palace trip, you can continue to the Bosphorus line by visiting the Ortaköy and Bebek beaches. Ortakoy Mosque and the cafes and shops around it are among the places of interest for the locals. You can tour the Bebek Park in Bebek Beach where the stylish people are in the majority and have a coffee break in a nice cafe.
In the evening you can stroll through the colorful streets of Nisantasi and visit the trendy shops as well as dine in one of the trendy cafes. For the night you can go for a stroll in Beyoğlu, and you can have a good time listening to street artists in these narrow and old streets where you can feel the texture of the city. Life is always alive in Istanbul, you can find an event according to your taste anytime.
Slowly approaching the end, it is time to visit the Anatolian side. Early in the morning take the marmaray or a ferry to Üsküdar, according to your choice, where you can spend time on the beach and in the center of the district. You can walk in the direction of the Maiden’s Tower or the direction of Kuzguncuk, and again you can find the opportunity to taste the economic regional flavors.
In the evening, it was time to move from Üsküdar to Kadıköy. By bus 12, you can get to Kadıköy for half price. You can spend your whole day along the coast of Kadikoy-Yeldegirmeni-Moda. You can sip your afternoon drink in a variety of places.
You have done more than you can do in three days, so you can complete the missing places next time you come here. It should not be forgotten that Istanbul is very large, perhaps not enough to travel even a lifetime. So, you may also be excited to discover places that are hidden by occasional breaks.
What to Do in a 3-Day Trip to Istanbul
There are many things to see and learn in Istanbul. So much so that once you go to Istanbul, Istanbul will definitely call you again to visit. The name of this city, which has witnessed a great history, has been constantly changing throughout history.
Until today, the city was named Byzantion, Augusta, Antonina, Nova Roma, Constantinople, Kostantiniyye, Islambol, and Istanbul.
Places to Visit in Istanbul in a 3-Day Trip
- Maiden’s Tower
Maiden’s Tower is one of the places you should definitely see when you go to Istanbul. The Maiden’s Tower, located off the coast of Salacak, is the symbol of Üsküdar. The tower is the only building in Uskudar from the Byzantine period. You can go to the Maiden’s Tower through Üsküdar and Kabataş.
- Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern is a place where those who go are really fascinated. It offers a truly unique visual feast with spectacular lights and a humid atmosphere. No matter how many days of your trip to Istanbul, you should visit and see the Basilica Cistern. The cistern was built in time to meet the water needs of the surrounding palaces.
- Dolmabahçe Palace
Dolmabahçe Palace, which is one of the most important museums of Istanbul, is a wonderful palace that reflects the history and is filled with great works. In the palace, you can see many important and valuable items about Atatürk. Dolmabahçe Palace, located in Beşiktaş, Istanbul, can be visited between 9 am and 4 pm. I would like to remind you that Muzekart is not valid there.
- Hagia Sophia Museum
You must visit the Hagia Sophia which became the symbol of not just Istanbul but all of Turkey. This magnificent building will be one of the most important stops of your trip to Istanbul. This structure dating from the Byzantine period is the mosque where the first Friday prayer was held after Istanbul was conquered. You can visit the Hagia Sophia Museum between 9 am and 4 pm. The entrance fee to the museum is 40 TL (around $ 7,5).
- Galata tower
This tower, which you can see from almost everywhere when you go to Galata, will amaze you. If you wish, you can climb up the Galata Tower for a fee and enjoy the magnificent view of Istanbul. It is a structure that has witnessed many important civilizations such as Genoese, Byzantine, and Ottoman. According to a legend, you would marry the person with whom you climb the Galata Tower. It has been suggested that this comes from the love between the Maiden Tower and the Galata Tower.
- Pierre Loti Hill
I recommend you to see Pierre Loti Hill, which is called the balcony of the Golden Horn. The hill is named after Pierre Loti, the famous author of French and world literature.
What Else Can You Do in Istanbul in 3 Days?
There are so many alternatives to be done in Istanbul. You can definitely take a tour on Istiklal Street. Even if you spent the whole day here, you can end the day with great fun in the Çiçek Pasajı. Istanbul is a wonderful city with both cultural, historical and entertainment aspects.
There are so many alternatives to travel and do, so you should decide how to complete them in 3 days. If you can find the time, I recommend you to go to Polonezköy, where you can enjoy the green and nature.
Where to stay in Istanbul for 3 days?
There are many hotels in Istanbul that can accommodate almost any budget. I advise you to choose the one that best suits your needs and provides you the most convenience in terms of transportation.
Here are 3 pleasant hotels you can prefer.
- Mytra Hotel
Located in Sultanahmet, the Mytra Hotel is also close to many of the sights you will visit in Istanbul. Moreover, this hotel with high-quality service and very reasonable price can be one of your accommodation alternatives in Istanbul.
- Malta Bosphorus Hotel Ortakoy
If you go to Istanbul and stay for 3 days, you may prefer to stay in a hotel with a Bosphorus view. In such a case, the Malta Bosphorus Hotel Ortaköy is really ideal for you. This hotel offers high-quality service and you can catch the soul of Istanbul to the end.
- Casa Fratelli
Located in Asmalı Mescit, Casa Fratelli offers a hostel-style service and is a very nice accommodation option with both affordable rates and superb location. Staying in a historic building will also provide you with a beautiful experience in your 3-day visit to Istanbul.
How to Get to Istanbul for a 3-Day Tour?
You can go to Istanbul with almost every means of transportation. You can reach Atatürk Airport or Sabiha Gokcen Airport by plane or you can directly use a train. From Ataturk Airport, which is 20 km away from the city center, you can take the regular services to Taksim Square in about 45 minutes. Even if you land in Bursa, you can easily go to Istanbul in 75 minutes by sea.
If you wish, you can go to Istanbul by bus or private car. However, since your trip will take 3 days, I advise you to choose the shortest route.
When Can I Go to Istanbul for a 3-Day Trip?
Istanbul is a city that has another beauty in every season. Therefore, I cannot say that you should definitely go to Istanbul especially in a certain season. When you visit in the summer, you can’t see Istanbul’s white dress, and you will not be able to catch the warm and lively atmosphere of Istanbul when you go in winter. Therefore, you should visit Istanbul at least once every season.
Where to shop in Istanbul in 3 days?
Istanbul is a very famous city with its shopping centers and historical bazaars. Therefore, you have too many alternatives for shopping in Istanbul. If you want to buy historical and city-specific products from historical sites, I definitely recommend the Grand Bazaar. At the same time, Istiklal Street and the passages on the street are also great alternatives for shopping.
What to eat in Istanbul in 3 days?
Istanbul offers many alternatives for dining as well. However, when you go to Istanbul, if you have the possibility, you must enjoy the fish in the Bosphorus. If you are looking for a more affordable option for your budget, fish sandwiches where you can find at the streets will be a great alternative for you.
At the same time, you cannot visit Istanbul and return without eating steamed burgers. I also recommend you to spend some time in front of the mussels on the street and to experience this unique taste after you go to Istiklal Street for a steamed burger.
To eat Istanbul’s famous steamed burger, you should definitely not look for another place but Kızılkayalar. In this small shop on Taksim Square, you can eat as much delicious steamed burgers as you like. One is not always enough.
- Historical Eminonu Fish Sandwich
This place, which serves fish sandwiches in boats in Eminönü for many years, will definitely be a great alternative to eat in Istanbul. Not only with its flavor but also with its nostalgic look.
- Villa Bosphorus Beylerbeyi
If you want to eat fish and have a sight of Bosphorus view, I definitely recommend Villa Bosphorus Beylerbeyi. Located on the coast of Beylerbeyi, this place can be a really nice alternative with its delicious fish and magnificent Bosphorus view.
The 3-day weather in Istanbul
I can say that Istanbul has a transitional climate between the Mediterranean climate and the Black Sea climate. In fact, it has a temperate climate.
In winter the average temperature in the city is between 2 and 9 degrees. In summer the temperature rises and sets between 18 and 28 degrees on average.