How to Spend 3 Days in Istanbul (Itinerary)
What route to take, where to live, what places to combine and visit, where to have supper and what food to try out. In just three days you will get to know this amazing place, embrace the Byzantium spirit and feel the atmosphere of the Ottoman Empire, and we are here to help you with that!
Istanbul has its beauties through all seasons of the year — in autumn, winter, spring and summer. This is why we have put together a universal route, with alternative things to be enjoyed in case it happens to rain, or the weather is too hot for your liking. We also compiled a list of useful tips, as well as a few interesting routes.
So let’s go to Istanbul for 3 days with IstanbulPoints.com!
Planning your three-day trip
Here is how you should look to prepare for the trip:
- Purchase your plane tickets
- Pick a nice district to live in. Keep in mind that you only have three days, meaning that you may look to pick Sultanahmet, Sirkeci, Taksim or somewhere near Istiklal.
- Put together a list of places you want to visit on this trip, or note down a brief plan of your daily routes and locations.
- Add up a rough budget for the trip: here it would be very useful to know the average food, transport and hotel pricing in Istanbul.
- We should always think of how we will be leaving the airport: this depends on which airport you are arriving to, as your options will differ. Havaist buses are a great option travelling from the New airport. Sabiha Gökçen Airport has Havabus buses, which terminate in Taksim or Kadıköy pier.
Ideally, you should plan the trip so that you have a full day straight on arrival, e.g. have your plane land in Istanbul early in the morning. This also goes for the departure, as booking your tickets on an evening flight means that even though they may be a bit more expensive, but this way you are not «biting off» your time in Istanbul that you could spend enjoying the city and looking for new emotions. Keep in mind that it takes approximately 1,5 hours to get to the airport, as well as booking in 2 hours early. This adds up to 3,5 hours, plus giving yourself some time to pack up and leave the hotel, so keep this in mind when planning your hotel departure time.
Things you may need in Istanbul
Three days in Istanbul can be plenty and at the same time not enough to properly see all the secrets of the former Constantinople.
In order to put your time to proper use, worry less and waste no money, we offer you a list of tips and things you want to know when planning out your own route, as well as to keep in mind during the trip:
- The card “Museum Pass Istanbul”. This card can save you a ton of time: it lets you skip the queue when going to museums and other places. It also saves money: see more about saving money correctly with the card here. Finally it makes your visits worry-less, as you spend little time standing under the blazing sun or under heavy rainfall. For those who want to visit the maximum things possible, there is an option to buy the “Istanbul Welcome Card”, which includes a tour along Bosphorus, trips, as well as a public transport pass.
- Istanbul Card pass — Istanbulkart. If you plan to be moving a lot around Istanbul, as well as including some of the the more distant objects, it is best to buy the Istanbulkart. You can also use it to pay for Havaist buses (however not Havabus), and it can even pay for public toilets!
- The local currency. Many actually think that it is most convenient to pay in dollars or euro. Of course, it is convenient for the shopkeepers as they always get to round up for a profit and will be returning you the change (if at all) however they see most convenient for themselves. That’s why you should look to have at least some lire in cash on you (50, 20, 10 and some change).
Getting to Sultanahmet or Taksim from the airport
Arriving in the New Airport
If you are going from the New Istanbul airport, you will need to take the Havaist bus lines. Descend to the floor -2 and find the correct route: ist-20 goes to Sultanahmet, ist-19 to Taksim. If you are getting the Istanbulkart, you can find a machine or a kiosk on the platform. Top it up for a Havaist trip as well as some more if you are planning to use it as a transport pass (depending on how much you’ll be using it).
Locate the correct bus, load the baggage, pay and make yourself comfortable.
Arriving in the Sabiha Gökçen Airport
If you’re planning to arrive in the Sabiha Gökçen Airport, then you will be using the Havabus buses, which only take cash. They follow two routes, one to the Kadıköy pier and the other to Taksim. Pick the route that you want.
In case your hotel is in Taksim, Beyoglu (near Istiklal Street), or near the Galata Tower you will need to go to the Taksim Square, and either walk the rest by foot, or take the bus/metro.
For those who have booked a hotel in Sultanahmet, you will need to take the alternative route to Kadıköy. From the bus stop, walk towards the pier with the sign Kadıköy-Eminönü, board the ship and cruise to the Eminönü pier.
Once you are there, walk left and under the Galata Bridge, then cross the road on the pedestrian crossing and you should see the tram station T1. Take the tram, and go to your desired station. You can check out some great places and sights along the T1 line over here.
Your individual three-day route
You can visit all of the historic places by foot, or take advantage of the T1 trams. You always have the option to get the Museum Pass Istanbul, or not (depending on what you will be visiting), as well as choosing the order in which you want to visit all the locations, which is entirely up to you.
Day 1: Historical Sultanahmet
- Aya Sofya (1 hour)
- Topkapi Palace (2-2,5 hour)
- Hagia Irene (30 minutes). You can find this church on the territory of Topkapi palace
- Sultanahmet Mosque (45 minutes)
- Basilica cistern or Theodosius cistern. You should buy a ticket to enter the first one and another one (Theodosius cistern) has free entrance and no queue (1 hour)
You can visit all of these places with the exception of the Basilica cistern museum for free with Istanbul Museum Pass.
Day 2: Sultanahmet and Istiklal
- Archeological museum (2 hours)
- Mosaic Museum (45 minutes)
- Grand Bazaar, or the Turkish and Islamic arts museum (1 hour). If you are tired of all the museums, you should definitely go to the Grand Bazaar. To get there take the T1 tram and disembark at the Beyazit stop, or you may go there by foot.
- Taksim Square and the Istiklal Street
- Galata Mevlevi Museum. It closes at 18:00, so you will have plenty of time in the afternoon to visit it. Walk across the Taksim Square down to the Şişhane metro station and turn left.
- Galata Tower. The observation deck on the Galata Tower is open till 20:30. Walk all the way down Istiklal Street, you should see a plaza with the tower in the centre.
You can visit all of these places with the exception of the Galata Tower for free with Istanbul Museum Pass.
Day 3: Eminönü: Egyptian market and the Süleymaniye Mosque
Leave the hotel, you can leave your bags in a storage box (you can find these in Istanbul, around Sultanahmet or Taksim)*.
- Süleymaniye Mosque and the observation deck nearby (1,5 hours). Ride along the T1 line to the Eminönü station, walk alongside the Egyptian market towards the market streets (walk right and then up the streets, when looking directly at the main entrance). All the alleys lead uphill as the mosque is located at the very top. When you come to the larger street you should see signs pointing towards Süleymaniye, feel free to ask if you need to.
- Egyptian Market (or Spice Bazaar) and the market streets. Go down from the Süleymaniye Mosque, down the market alleys (you can follow any street, as long as it goes down). Feel free to get yourself some souvenirs on your way down, a Cezve for making Turkish coffee, a stiff Kese mitt or any other bathing accessories, for example a pestemal. Once you are down on the main street, you will see the beach and a busy street with very active traffic. Go right to get back to the Egyptian market, once you’re done you can also visit the coffee shop called Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi, located behind the bazaar. You can easily find it by the crowded place and the coffee aroma.
- The New Mosque. To the left of the Spice bazaar, you will find the Valide Sultan Mosque, you can visit it as well.
Depending on how long you are staying for, you can either stay or pick up your bags and set off to the airport. For those who want to walk around for a bit, as well as a little shopping around, can use the streets behind the Spice bazaar and find yourself near Sirkeci and the Sirkeci tram station.
1.Dolmabahçe Palace and Beyoğlu
- The Dolmabahçe Palace. From Sultanahmet ride the T1 line down to the Kabataş station, the Dolmabahçe Palace is within 5 minutes by foot.
- Taksim Square, Istiklal Street, Flower Passage (or Çiçek Pasajı). After visiting the palace walk to the F1 funicular station (approx. 7 minutes by foot) and ride it to the Taksim station from Kabataş. Walk across the Taksim square into Istiklal street and walk down to Flower Passage.
- Galata Mevlevi Museum. From the Flower Passage (or Çiçek Pasajı), walk down Istiklal for about 8 minutes and turn left when next to Şişhane metro.
- Galata Tower. The tower is 5 minutes away from the dervishes museum. You can go up to the observation deck (for a fee) and there is a restaurant up top.
2.Good weather: Sultanahmet and a Bosphorus tour
- Ayasofya museum (1 hour)
- Sultanahmet Mosque (45 minutes)
- A short Bosphorus tour. For example a short Bosphorus tour with Şehir hatları, starting at 14:35, you should have time to get to the Eminönü pier along the T1 line or by foot (about 20 minutes).
- Egyptian Market — Spice Bazaar (open until 19:00)
- The New Mosque
- A dinner at the Hamdi Restaurant, or at restaurant under Galata Bridge
As the Bosphorus tour finishes at the Eminönü pier, you can quickly visit the Spice bazaar nearby, first cross the road (you could also take an underground crossing) and then once you leave the Egyptian market, walk across a small square (if you are looking directly at the main entrance with the pier behind you, the square is on the right). At the end of the square, after you pass the toy shop and Cafe Society you will find the entrance into the Hamdi restaurant. Walk up to the top floor, there is a beautiful view from the restaurant terrace.
3.Rainy weather: Sultanahmet or «museum day»
If it happens to be raining outside, you must have a plan B in the case of awful weather conditions. It sometimes happens to be a heavy rainfall, or precipitation with gusts of strong wind, and simply going for a walk is not an option. So try not to walk too far, in order to not get wet and freeze. If there is only a slight rain and it is warm with no wind, you could go for a walk down Istiklal Street.
- Aya Sofya museum (1 hour)
- Topkapi Palace (2-2,5 часа)
- Archeological museum (2 hours). You can find museum on the territory of Topkapi palace
- Hagia Irene (30 minutes). You can find this church on the territory of Topkapi palace.
- Blue Mosque (45 minutes)
- Grand Bazaar (1,5-2 hours). You should go until Sultanahmet T1 station and take a tram to Beyazit stop (Beyazıt). The market is really huge so you can find different places to drink coffee or tea, take a rest and then continue your trip.
What to keep in mind when planning an Istanbul trip for three days?
- Try to book your flights to prevent «biting» time off your trip that you could spend walking around the city, book the arrival in the morning and the departure in late evening/at night.
- As it is a very short trip, try to find a hotel in Sultanahmet or Sirkeci, Taksim at most. Do not complicate things by booking a hotel far away and wasting time.
- If you are going in winter or so, make sure to take waterproof and warm clothing with you, as Istanbul weather can be rather unpredictable.
- You should always have another option ready in any case, such as rainfall, snow etc. An alternate route will prevent the scenario of running around in panic, trying to find a place to wait out the rain.
- Think through exactly how you want to spend your short trip. From that, you can make a plan and use that to decide on your Istanbul Museum Pass and Istanbulkart budget.
- Istanbul isn’t limited to Aya Sofya, Topkapı and the Blue Mosque, there is plenty of interesting things to do, from visiting shops to drinking tea on small chairs in the streets.
- If you are too late to any of these places, you always have the option to go out and walk, there is always something to enjoy nearby, whether it is a historical ruin, a traditional cafe, a fascinating alleyway, or a beautiful coastline. Keep up the positivity, apply some ingenuity and move on!