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3 Days Istanbul Itinerary: Must-See Sights For First-Timers

March 10, 2024 5 min read

Disclaimer: There may be affiliate links in this post. This in no way affects you and all opinions are my own.

Known as the largest city in Turkey (AKA Türkiye), Istanbul is a beautiful, vibrant city with plenty to offer visitors. With only three days to explore, it can be quite overwhelming to figure out what to do in a city that offers so much. But don’t fret just yet, the 3 days Istanbul Itinerary will help you get the most out of Istanbul without all the added stress. 

Visiting this magnificent city for 3 days may seem short, but there is a lot that can fit into a 72-hour itinerary. While I am the type of traveler who loves to jam-pack my days full of activities, I also understand that not many like to travel that way or may prefer to take their time enjoying the Turkish culture. Whatever the reason may be for wanting a light itinerary, below you will find a combination of both light and jam-packed options. 

From wandering the compelling neighborhoods to visiting Istanbul’s Iconic sites such as the Hagia Sophia. You’ll find yourself immersed in an array of incredible experiences. With this Istanbul itinerary, you’ll know just how to spend your quick but memorable 3 days.

Istanbul Itinerary: Must-See Sights For First-Timers

While there is plenty to do and see in Istanbul, there is only so much you can do in 3-days. However, that doesn’t mean you should miss out on the must-visit spots such as the Topkapi Palace or the Galata Bridge. 

3-days in Istanbul is merely a tease of the history and vibrancy the city holds. But with careful planning, you can immerse yourself in centuries of delight during your short stay.

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3 Days Istanbul Itinerary

Day 1

Depending on when you arrive, whether nighttime or daytime, you may want to spend the morning in the hotel. When you are ready to go or if you’re ready to go early morning, head to Istiklal Street, which is where you can take the red tram around the city. Istiklal is full of restaurants, shops, and cafes, and will keep you occupied for hours.

If you’re not yet tired after you visit all the shops and cafes on Istiklal Street, head over to Galata Tower, which is a museum. Built as a watchtower, this beautiful tower offers splendid views from the top and lots of historical information about the watchtower.

Optional

Heading towards the Galata Tower, you should be able to find the rainbow stairs in the Karakoy District. If you find yourself close to the Khai Karakoy Hotel, you should be able to find it.

If you didn’t eat during your time on Istiklal Street, then after spending some time at the Galata Tower, you should check out some of the restaurants nearby. There is the F&B Culture Restaurant and Bar, which serves Turkish food; Il Cortile Istanbul, which serves Italian food and the Federal Galata, a coffee house with food.

Next up is Taksim Square, which is the city’s main tourist attraction with shops and restaurants. Day one is mostly about shopping and getting to know your surrounding areas, and if you prefer not to shop, check out the other days for more ideas that could apply to day one.

3 days istanbul itinerary

Day 2

Spend the day at the Grand Bazaar, which is one of the largest covered markets with over 4,000 shops. Here you will find all sorts of jewelry, clothing, and food. One of the things I remember seeing at the Bazaar were shoes that resembled those of Aladdin and beautiful jewelry. 

If you haven’t already eaten at the Grand Bazaar, and it’s lunchtime, there is a spot nearby – Osman Gourmet Restaurant. Here you’ll be able to try traditional Turkish food.

Next, you want to make your way to Basilica Cistern. I love going to historical landmarks, but this is not only special because of the grandeur of the place, but it is also the place where James Bond went to in the film ‘From Russia with Love’. There are several tours you can take to go through the Basilica Cistern. 

After the Basilica, head over to Gülhane Parkı Atatürk Heykeli, a beautiful park full of blooms. Aside from it being something free to do, it is quite a gorgeous park to skip out on. 

Optional

If you are fine with having a jam-packed itinerary, head on over to the Istanbul Archaeological Museum before going to the Topkapi Palace Museum. This museum houses Greek, Roman, and Byzantine artifacts. It is also one of the largest museums in the world with over one million works. It does close at 4:30 PM, so if you spent too much time at the other places, I’d leave this for one of the other days. 

Then head over to Topkapi Palace Museum, which is where the sultans resided. Topkapi closes at 6 PM, so you have plenty of time to check it out, if you do stop at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum before the palace.

If you’re looking for a unique dinner experience go on a Bosphorus Dinner Cruise, This dinner cruise is about 3 hours and 30 minutes long. Prices can vary, but you can find it for $30. You’ll get a 3-course meal while taking in the beauty of the Bosphorus Sea. The Bosphorus cruise is a great way to see many of the Iconic sites you might have missed. 

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Day 3

I always try to fit in as much as possible on my last day in any place, but I am also a big believer in doing things that reduce the stress of traveling. For this day, I recommend going to the Belgrad Forest. This is unlike what you’ve seen so far if you’re following this itinerary. Whether you are staying in Fatih, Sultanahmet, or Kadıköy district, the Belgrad Forest is a bit of a drive (about 50 minutes from the Fatih District). This is quite a picturesque forest and it’s quite beautiful to explore.

After the Belgrad Forest, if you still have time, go for a Turkish bath. There are quite a few nice Turkish baths around, the ones in Sultanahmet district are quite popular. 

Did you know?

The Turkish Bath originated in the Middle East and was later introduced in Europe during the Ottoman Empire.

If you still have time and would like to check out some spices, take some souvenirs, check out the Egyptian Bazaar. You can also pick up some food in this area as well.

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Things to Know

Traveling to new places is quite fun, but there are a few travel tips you should know about before heading to Istanbul. 

1. Before booking a hotel, make sure it is not near a mosque. I am a light sleeper and the entire night I could hear chanting from the mosque. I was near the blue mosque. They use loudspeakers to announce their time of prayer which happens quite often during the night. By the end of the trip, I was lacking sleep. Some may be different, but to avoid sleepless nights, make sure to book away from a mosque, if possible. 

2. Istanbul is quite safe, but as always keep caution and respect the laws.

Whether you are in Istanbul for a day, two, or a week, this day Istanbul itinerary can be used for any amount of time you are there. Of course, if you are there longer than a few weeks, you will most likely complete this itinerary.

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About Me

About Me

Hola!

Hola! I'm Hanny and I have been traveling since the age of three. Although, I grew up traveling, it wasn't until 2013, when I decided to start a blog. Read More

xoxo Hanny

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