Epic sunsets, distant sounds of Namaaz, spectacular minarets, and adorable cats – this is Istanbul, one of the most exotic cities in Europe or Asia.

East meets West is such a cliché but no other destination fits this description as perfectly as Istanbul. There is an Asian side and a European side that’s divided by the Bosphorous Strait.

If I start writing an introduction about this historically, culturally, and artistically rich city, I’d never be able to stop typing.

Super quick history: Istanbul was once the ancient Roman colony of Byzantium. It was the imperial city of Constantinople in the early ages. The middle age of history started here when the Ottoman Empire took over this city in 1453.

The Stunning Landscape of Istanbul
The Stunning Landscape of Istanbul

I won’t go deeper into the history here in the introduction but of course, I will mention a bit of it in the itinerary for most of the Istanbul attractions. This will help you get a deeper perspective of the place that you’re visiting.

Oh and if you think Istanbul is the capital city of Turkey, you’re wrong. It is Ankara. Haha, gotcha!

Istanbul is built over hills, just like many other prominent cities like Rome and Lisbon. There are a total of 7 hills in Istanbul.

Many of those who visit Turkey just use Istanbul as a quick base before heading off to Cappadocia, Pamukkale, or Ephesus. I recommend at least 3 days in Istanbul to do this city justice. Check my detailed itinerary for spending 10 days in Turkey too!

To explore this city of Seven Hills within 72 hours is a formidable task, and those who love this city will shake their heads in disapproval. Still, this awesome 3-day Istanbul itinerary has been carefully designed so that you can get a taste of many different aspects of this city.

Istanbul 3-Day Itinerary

Planning a last-minute trip to Istanbul? I’ve got you covered with my recommendations to help you book quickly.

Istanbul Activities to Book

Istanbul Hotel Recommendations

Istanbul Itinerary Day 1 – Istanbul’s Historical Peninsula

If you are arriving in Istanbul by air then you could be landing in one of the two airports – Istanbul Airport (IST) or Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW). Back in 2016, I landed in Atatürk Airport but that is no longer operational. In November 2023, I flew from the new Istanbul Airport (IST) and I was pleasantly surprised to see how nice it is.

Istanbul doesn’t have a shortage of nice hotels and I like how you can experience luxury at a slightly lower cost. I enjoy the Middle Eastern standards of luxury because everything is even more luxurious than normal.

In 2023, I stayed in a hotel called CVK Park Bosphorus where I had a fancy room with a view of the Bosphorus Strait. The best part was that I could see the sunrise from my bed and it was epic.

Bathtub with a view at CVK Park Bosphorus Istanbul
Bathtub with a view at CVK Park Bosphorus Istanbul

Not just the bed but my suite at CVK Park Bosphorus also has a bathtub with a view of the Bosphorus. It had Roberto Cavalli toiletries too!

CVK Park Bosphorus is located close to the lively Taksim Square so in terms of location, this hotel wins. The buffet breakfast here had everything – traditional Turkish breakfast but also international essentials.

So check in, enjoy a good night’s sleep if you arrived the night before, eat a nice breakfast, and be ready to tackle your first day in Istanbul.

Istanbul City Card
Istanbul City Card

Tip: Forget about traveling by taxi in Istanbul because the traffic situation isn’t ever good. Get yourself an Istanbul City Card, and you can use it on metros, trams, buses & ferries. Istanbul’s public transportation is amazing so use it to your advantage.

I had so much fun exploring Istanbul with this city card in my pocket because it made it very easy and fun to move from one place to another and I hopped onto old red trams for fun and also metro.

1) Start at Sultanahmet Square

Obelisk of Theodosius at Sultanahmet Square, Istanbul
Obelisk of Theodosius at Sultanahmet Square, Istanbul

For your first day, you will start at the Sultanahmet District, which is on the European side of Istanbul.

Walking around Sultanahmet Square is perhaps one of the first things a traveler does when they visit Istanbul. This area has some popular tourist spots, all within a walkable distance from each other.

Moreover, just like any other “touristy” area, Sultanahmet Square also has a lot of cafes and restaurants – most of which I’d recommend you avoid.

The Kaiser Wilhelm Fountain or the German Fountain at Sultanahmet Square
The Kaiser Wilhelm Fountain or the German Fountain at Sultanahmet Square

Once upon a time, Sultanahmet Square was the hippodrome of Constantinople – the social center of Constantinople. During that time, this area also featured horse racing.

Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are of course the most obvious attractions here, but you should go look for the Serpent Column, the Obelisk of Thutmose III (Obelisk of Theodosius), the Walled Obelisk, and the German fountain. Most people who can spare just a day in Istanbul end up visiting Sultanahmet Square.

Suggested: Two days in Amsterdam – things to do and places to see that will make you fall in love with Amsterdam

2) Visit the Blue Mosque a.k.a. Sultan Ahmet Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque Courtyard, Istanbul's Sultan Ahmet Mosque
Inside the Blue Mosque Courtyard, Istanbul’s Sultan Ahmet Mosque

Sultan Ahmet Mosque is spectacular from the inside and it is also free. This iconic building of Turkey is definitely one of the most popular European landmarks. It is an imperial mosque and was built for members of the Ottoman imperial family.

Sultan Ahmet Mosque has been nicknamed “the blue mosque” because the inside features blue hand-painted tiles. You will see them on the walls and the ceiling.

The blue interiors look spectacular with a lush red carpet. The low-hanging lamps and many windows cast an amazing light and the result is spectacular.

Inside the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (the Blue Mosque) in Istanbul
Inside the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (the Blue Mosque) in Istanbul

The Blue Mosque has six minarets, 5 main domes, and 8 secondary domes. Fitting everything in one picture is impossible but you can move to the middle of the garden or the courtyard with a wide-angle lens to capture the visible minarets and domes.

The construction of this historical mosque ended in 1616. The best light for photographing the Blue Mosque from the courtyard is sometime around sunset. But hey, I recommend many other places for sunset photography in this article so decide accordingly.

Inside the Blue Mosque, Istanbul - Turkey Travel Tips
Inside the Blue Mosque, Istanbul – Turkey Travel Tips

The mosque has a very big courtyard and as you enter, you worshippers at their midday prayers. There is a separate section inside for tourists and another one for Islamic worshippers.

You’d need to cover your legs, shoulders, and your head when you’re inside so please respect and dress accordingly. I do remember seeing a sarong rental area at the entry point.

Entry to Sultanahmet Mosque is free.

Suggested Post: How to travel Turkey on a budget

3) Visit Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul
Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

Hagia Sophia is right next to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and it is free to visit as of 2023. Moreover, it was once a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal basilica, then it was turned into a mosque, then was a museum, but now has been redeclared a mosque.

Because it was once an expensive place to visit but is now free, you will see a massive line of people that are always outside the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque.

If you love admiring historical architecture, you’d love to know that Hagia Sofia is believed to have changed the history of architecture in the world.

Inside Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
Inside Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey – CCO via Pixabay

Constructed in 537 AD, Hagia Sophia has orange-colored exterior walls. It was a prominent landmark for Byzantine imperial ceremonies.

From 1453 to 1931, Hagia Sophia served as an imperial Ottoman mosque, and in 1935 it opened as a museum. It was named after Sophia the Martyr. If you’re interested to know more about the history of this place, I highly recommend you check out the timeline of Hagia Sophia here.

The entry fee for Hagia Sophia was earlier 20 TL but as of 2023 is FREE.

If you’d like to skip the lines and get an entry ticket from before for Hagia Sophia, then I have handpicked the below options for you.

There’s not much different between what both the tour guides are offering but it is always a good idea to read the latest reviews before booking your tour or experience.

4) Basilica Cistern

Inside Basilica Cistern in Istanbul
Inside Basilica Cistern in Istanbul

Less than 2 minutes walk away from Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque is the Basilica Cistern. It is the largest surviving Byzantine cistern that’s beneath Istanbul city.

It features in the famous old-school James Bond movie – From Russia with Love. If you’re a Dan Brown fan, you’d have surely read about this cistern in the book Inferno.

The entry point for Basilica Cistern is in Sultanahmet Square, close to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. There are 336 marble columns inside Basilica Cistern that are arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns.

Basilica Cistern, Istanbul
Basilica Cistern, Istanbul

I finally got a chance to visit Basilica Cistern in November 2023 and I saw a massive line outside even though it wasn’t the busiest season. If you’d like to see Basilica Cistern, then I highly suggest you buy a skip-the-line entrance ticket so that you avoid the hassle of standing and waiting.

Basilica Cistern has a very interesting history – I won’t tell you all of it but only the most interesting part as per me. It was built in the 6th century but was closed when the Byzantine emperors relocated but after that, it was completely forgotten.

It was rediscovered in 1545 when a scholar was researching Byzantine antiquities in Istanbul and the locals told him that they were able to obtain water by lowering their buckets in the dark space beneath their basements. The scholar – Petrus Gyllius eventually found it through one of the basements!

Walk inside underground and you will see many interesting sculptures. For me, the medusa heads and upside-down heads were the most interesting.

Basilica Cistern is unique and is an interesting spot for clicking unique photos. I did mention it in my Istanbul Instagram spots post.

The entry fee for Basilica Cistern is 450 Turkish Liras per person. The ticket lines are massive so get a skip-the-line entrance ticket.

5) Lunch at Pudding Shop

Pudding Shop Restaurant in Sultanahmet Square - istanbul
Pudding Shop Restaurant in Sultanahmet Square – Istanbul

Pudding Shop is a historical restaurant/cafe in Sultanahmet Square that thrived during the 70s because it was on the hippie trail. If you want to have home-style traditional Turkish food you can select and pick things on your plate and pay at the counter before you eat.

My lunch at Pudding Shop
My lunch at Pudding Shop

I had a portion of salmon, kofte, mashed potatoes, salad, and caramel pudding. Overall, the meal was amazing and the view from the window was pretty decent since it faced the lively Sultanahmet Square.

My vegetarian friends tried chickpeas, okra, aubergine, and barley. I tasted that food and loved it too. Of course, they have the typical Turkish doner kebab too.

6) See Topkapi Palace (Optional)

View of Topkapi Palace from Galata Tower, Istanbul, Turkey
View of Topkapi Palace from Galata Tower, Istanbul, Turkey – CCO via Pixabay

After lunch, walk for 500 meters to arrive at Topkapı Palace, which was once the main residence for the Ottoman Sultans and administrative headquarters for the Ottoman Empire but is now a large museum.

This palace displays visions of true Turkish royalty. It is rather expansive and can take up to a few hours to explore in depth.

It features a stunning imperial gate, four massive courtyards at different levels that have their own set of sections inside, a harem, an outer garden, and many smaller courtyards. The harem also features a courtyard of the Eunuchs.

Inside Topkapi palace, Istanbul itinerary
Inside Topkapi Palace, Istanbul itinerary – CC0 via Pixabay

Some of the things that will stun you inside are the baths of the Sultans with golden grills, the imperial throne, the fruit room, and many stained glass windows.

You will also get an opportunity to see the panoramic view of the Marmara Sea from the palace. The garden area in the second courtyard has some really interesting trees, a few of them are hollow from the inside because of fungus.

The entry fee for Topkapı Palace is 750 Turkish Lira per person.

If you’d like to skip the lines and get an entry ticket from before for Topkapi Palace, then check out this tour that also includes a tour guide.

7) “Busforus” Sunset Tour

If you think this is touristy, please hear me out. Have you ever done a hop-on hop-off bus open tour? I did one ages back in New York City and I realized that it is the best way to see the sunset and all the amazing sights in Istanbul.

Considering how crazy the traffic situation is in Istanbul, it doesn’t make sense to get on a taxi. I highly recommend the local transport but during the sunset hour, you will miss the view.

I did a tour with Istanbul Tourism and I was laughing when we got onto the “Busforus” tour because it felt so touristy. But I couldn’t help changing my mind as soon as the bus ride started since I had a higher-level view of all the attractions.

Sunset view from Bosphorus Bridge
Sunset view from Bosphorus Bridge

The tour started at Sultanahmet district, then Eminonu, Karaköy, and Galataport, went on the Galata bridge and I saw the Galata tower from the distance.

Just at sunset time, we went on the Bosphorus Bridge. I won’t forget the sunset view from here over the Bosphorus Strait. We also crossed Dolmabahçe Palace and I was surprised to see how pretty it looked.

Come Back to Your Hotel to Freshen Up

From your Busforus city tour, come back to your hotel using the metro transport and freshen up. Get ready to head to one of the liveliest parts of Istanbul to experience the street food for dinner.

8) Taksim Square and Istiklal Street for Streetfood

Taksim Mosque at Taksim Square
Taksim Mosque at Taksim Square

If you did follow my recommendation and book a suite at CVK Park Bosphorus, then you just need to walk for 5 minutes and you will arrive at the lively Taksim Square. This is the liveliest part of Istanbul and I was shocked to see how this area was totally on even on a Tuesday night.

Taksim Square and Istiklal Street
Taksim Square and Istiklal Street

Stand in front of the Taksim Mosque and see the buzz of street food carts, vintage red tram, and thousands of interesting shops all around. Walk from here to Istiklal Street and eat to your heart’s content.

Taksim Square and Red Tram
Taksim Square and Red Tram

Of course, the most popular street food to try in Istanbul is the world-famous doner kebab but I prefer kofte and veggie bulgur kebabs. Drink Ayran or sherbat, and finish off with something sweet like Turkish delight, Tavukgöğsü (milk pudding), Halva, or Baklava.

Istanbul Itinerary Day 2: Bazaars, Culture, and Food

If you thought your first day in Istanbul was fun, you will be pleasantly surprised when you experience your second day here. Your Istanbul city card will come in handy today too because we will be visiting some attractions that are easier to reach with public transportation as compared to taxis.

Download an offline version of Istanbul’s map on Google Maps so that you can use it on the go when you have to use public transport.

1) Spice Bazaar (Egyptian Bazaar or Misir Carsisi)

Inside Spice Bazaar in Istanbul
Inside Spice Bazaar in Istanbul

From Taksim Tünel, get on the yellow line metro and get off at Eminönü in order to arrive at Spice Bazaar. It is also known as Egyptian Bazaar and Misir Carsisi.

Enter the Egyptian Spice Bazaar through one of the high-arched doors to see this lovely market that’s indoors with interesting arched ceilings.

One of the shops in the Egyptian Bazaar (Spice Bazaar) - Istanbul itinerary
One of the shops in the Egyptian Bazaar (Spice Bazaar) – Istanbul itinerary

The spice market isn’t just about spices but also tea, nuts, dry fruits, and Turkish delight. It is smaller than the nearby Grand Bazaar, which is one of the next on the list.

Even if you spend 30-45 minutes, that is enough time to experience the lovely Misir Carsisi and its interesting shops.

2) Beta Yeni Han Cafe

Just at the end of the spice market is a pretty cafe called Beta Yeni Han. You have plenty of time today to explore the bazaars and the cultural points of Istanbul, so you can take a break here to sip Turkish coffee or tea.

While walking through the narrow streets of bazaars, the sudden open spaces of Beta Yeni Han come as a pleasant surprise.

3) Grand Bazaar & Lunch

Grand Bazaar Entry Istanbul
Grand Bazaar Entry Istanbul

Walk 650 meters through the narrow lanes and you will arrive at another arched entrance for a covered bazaar, it is Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and it is massive.

The Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets, beckons with its labyrinthine alleys and a kaleidoscope of goods. It’s a sensory journey through vibrant textiles, intricate ceramics, and the heady aroma of spices. The Grand Bazaar is not just a marketplace; it’s a cultural immersion where past and present collide.

Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is legendary and is a place that should definitely not be missed. It is a good place to escape the midday heat because it is covered.

Grand Bazaar - 3 days in Istanbul
Grand Bazaar – 3 days in Istanbul

Believe it or not, the Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest covered markets in the world with more than 4000 stalls and 61 streets. It also has 18 different entry points and was kind of like the “first shopping mall” of the world. The construction began as early as 1455/56.

The bazaar is so big that it may overwhelm you! But it may end up being one of the best places that you’ll visit in Istanbul because of the interesting sights, people, and things. Not only does it have historical significance, but it also will give you a lovely taste of Turkish culture.

The grand bazaar is in Istanbul’s Fatih neighborhood and is between the Nuruosmaniye and Beyazit Mosques. Walk around and explore as many streets here as you can and even eat some lunch here. Post that, leave for your relaxing hammam.

4) Beyazıt Square

Beyazit Square, located in the heart of historic Istanbul, stands as a bustling testament to the city’s rich history and vibrant present. Nestled amidst a tapestry of iconic landmarks and institutions, the square exudes an energy that reflects the convergence of the ancient and the contemporary.

At the center of Beyazit Square looms the historic Beyazit Mosque, an architectural marvel that dates back to the 16th century. Its distinctive Ottoman design, characterized by graceful domes and slender minarets, adds an air of grandeur to the surroundings. The mosque’s courtyard provides a serene retreat, inviting visitors to pause and soak in the spiritual ambiance.

Surrounding the square, one encounters a symphony of activity because of its close proximity to the Grand Bazaar.

Beyazit Square is also home to Istanbul University, a venerable institution founded in the 15th century. The university’s presence adds an intellectual vibrancy to the square, and students can be seen engaged in lively discussions or enjoying moments of respite in the nearby parks.

As the day unfolds, Beyazit Square transforms. In the evening, the square comes alive with the rhythm of daily life. Locals and tourists converge in the surrounding cafes and eateries, creating a lively atmosphere. The square, illuminated by the warm glow of streetlights, becomes a gathering place where the city’s heartbeat is felt.

In essence, Beyazit Square is a microcosm of Istanbul’s diverse identity. It seamlessly weaves together the threads of history, spirituality, commerce, and academia, creating a vibrant tableau that captures the essence of this dynamic city. Whether one is drawn to its architectural wonders, the allure of the markets, or the spirited energy of its people, Beyazit Square stands as a compelling invitation to explore Istanbul’s multifaceted soul.

5) Suleymaniye Mosque

Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul - view
Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul – view

Istanbul’s Süleymaniye Mosque is the grandest of them all and is on top of Istanbul’s third hill. It is the largest of Istanbul’s imperial mosques and many say it is the most beautiful one. In 2010, this mosque was renovated after the expense of 21 million Turkish Liras.

See the grand courtyard of Suleymaniye Mosque and the view of the Golden Horn and Bosphorus Strait from here. There is also a hammam inside and a restaurant in the mosque complex.

Come Back to Your Room to Freshen Up

6) Galata Tower for Sunset Panoramic View / Dinner

Walking on Galata Bridge is an experience because it goes over the Golden Horn. It is a symbolic link between the old city of Istanbul and the modern districts.

You will see locals fishing on each side of the Galata Bridge and is super interesting to observe.

Cross the Galata Bridge and you will see your next stop from far away. If you’re a sucker for viewpoints, then you will love this place because it is the best location for a great view of Istanbul from up above.

Galata Tower and the Observation Deck, Istanbul
Galata Tower and the Observation Deck, Istanbul – cc0 via Pixabay

Galata Tower is one of Istanbul’s most prominent landmarks because it stands proudly at a height of 16.5 meters (54 feet). It is a stone tower that was completed in 1348 A.D.

The tower has 9 floors and two lifts that can take you to the 7th floor and from there you have to climb up two floors yourself.

Please keep in mind that the queues outside Galata Tower at sunset time are very long, so keep a time buffer. Most of the time the queues move very fast even when they’re long.

View from top of Galata Tower, Istanbul, Turkey
View from the top of Galata Tower, Istanbul, Turkey – CC0 via Pixabay

There is a viewing deck on the top from where you can see a 360-degree view of Istanbul city, the Bosphorus Sea, the Golden Horn, the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and many other landmarks. The viewing platform is very narrow and is just like a ring around the tower.

The viewing platform on top of Galata Tower gets very crowded so you may not be able to stay for long, but there are two restaurants on lower floors where you can sit and chill for long and admire Istanbul’s skyline.

There is also a flight stimulator – 3D Skyride which costs 25 Liras extra and is 10 minutes long.

Galata Tower closes at 8 pm, but the restaurants may remain open for longer.

The entry fee for Galata Tower is 650 Turkish Liras per person.

Nightlife in Istanbul – Galata District

After you’ve spent enough time at Galata Tower, you can enjoy this neighborhood’s vibrant nightlife. You can eat dinner in one of the restaurants that are under the Galata Bridge and then check out some clubs or bars.

Head to Beyoğlu and you’re sure to find a lot of bars with outdoor seating and live music. You can also find clubs here. In Beyoglu, go to Baraka for live music on the weekends. You can also check out Bizz Jazz Bar for Jass music, Riddim for alternative, rock or hip hop, or Mojo for strictly rock music.

When in doubt, you can always come back to Istiklal Caddesi or Taksim Square where you experienced your first night in Istanbul on day 1 of this itinerary.

Istanbul Itinerary Day 3

For your third and last day in Istanbul, I will give you two options. Either you can make a day trip to the nearby islands or explore Istanbul further. In case you’re not in the mood to spend your entire day on the Princess Islands, you can head to the below-mentioned places to fall in love with Istanbul a bit more.

1) Food Tour (5-6 hours)

Chee kofte kebab in Istanbul
Chee kofte kebab in Istanbul

Istanbul is a city of historical culture and the best way you can experience it is by food. I wouldn’t do a food tour in many cities but Istanbul is one of the few.

One of the best things that I did in Istanbul was a food tour (check my Istanbul food tour post) and I highly recommend it to you too. There are many food tours and personally, I think it is better if these food tours start early so that you can chill and relax in the evening.

We had many different kinds of kebabs, meat on skewers, veggie kebab made with bulger, pide, mussels stuffed with rice, Turkish delight, sherbets, and many more interesting things. This was better than any five-star meal and was totally worth the cost.

I have shortlisted a bunch of food tours but I suggest you look at this one because it starts at a good time and covers both the European and Asian sides of Istanbul.

Otherwise, you can check this list of tours that I have shortlisted for you:

  • Taste of Two Continents food tour: A 6-hour food tour that starts at 9:30 am and has 9 stops. It goes to the Kadikoy market in the Asian side of Istanbul. It starts at Hobyar Mahallesi.
  • Guided Food Tour of Street Food and Markets: This 6-hour tour starts at Rüstem Paşa which is at one end of the Galata Bridge. You will cover both the Asian and European sides and visit Kadikoy. You can pick a start time of 10:30 am or 11 am.
  • Guided Food and Culture Tour: This is a 5-hour evening food tour that starts at 6 pm. It also covers both Asian and European sides with a visit to Kardikoy.

2) Turkish Hamam and Massage

Cağaloğlu Hamam in Istanbul
Cağaloğlu Hamam in Istanbul

A hamam is a traditional Turkish bath house, which features usually a sauna, a scrub, and sometimes also a massage. A few years back I read a hilarious article about someone’s first hamam experience and that made me very curious to try it out. Of course, my experience was very different than hers

You will see many hammams near touristy areas and some of them are as expensive as 100 Euros. Keep in mind that literally all areas have at least one historical hamam and the ones where locals go can be as low as 100 liras. Some of the cheaper hammams may not look very clean but there are no germs because of the heat and the marble.

The traditional Turkish hamam or bathhouse dates back to the Ottoman era. These were established for cultural, religious, and commercial purposes.

Inside Cağaloğlu Hamam
Inside Cağaloğlu Hamam

The fanciest Turkish Hammam in Istanbul is at Cağaloğlu Hamam, where even celebrities like Cameron Diaz, John Travolta, Kate Moss, and Ophrah Winfrey have visited. How do I know this? because they have a hall of fame inside with the photos.

Another option would be to head to Cemberlitas Hamami which is close to the Grand Bazaar (Çemberlitaş Hamamı) – it is a little high-end as compared to many.

You can spend a few hours in an elegant steam room and soak in the hamam after the initial thirty minutes of scrub and massage. Like most of the hammams, there are different sections for males and females, but the bathing rituals are almost similar for both sexes.

Affordable and Traditional Hamams

If you’re looking for something a little affordable and less touristy, try Çemberlitaş Hamamı in Fatih where the entrance is 25 Liras and the scrub is 10 liras. Alternatively, you can also try Büyük Hamam in Kasımpaşa or Gedik Ahmet Paşa Hamamı in Gedikpasa or Aziziye Hamam which is towards Istanbul’s Asian side.

3) Sunset Cruise over Bosporus (Option 1)

Sunset cruise over Bosphorous, Istanbul itinerary
Sunset cruise over Bosphorus, Istanbul itinerary – CCO via Pixabay

Yes, the Bosporus Cruise is a little touristy but it is a very good way to see some very interesting parts of Istanbul that you won’t be able to see in just three days. The several towering minarets of the mosques look spectacular from a distance and you will get many good photo opportunities.

You’ll see many places to buy tickets for the Bosporus cruise all around Istanbul’s touristy areas, but not all are good. I did an overpriced 2-hour cruise because I decided last minute to go for it while I was walking around Sultanahmet Square.

View from the Bosphorous Cruise with Galata Tower, Istanbul
View from the Bosphorus Cruise with Galata Tower, Istanbul – CC0 via Pixabay

Honestly, my overpriced cruise experience wasn’t bad at all and I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though I was all by myself. I didn’t need to go anywhere special but was just in Sultanahmet Square and their office was right there.

Right before the cruise, their staff member took all of us to the pier that was just 5 minutes walking distance away.

If you’d like to check the details of your Bosphorus cruise for better options than I did, check out the below tours and tickets that I have handpicked for you:

All of the above tours are different in their own way. I did not have so many options to choose from while I was in Istanbul but I would have definitely picked a smaller boat or a yacht because mine was a little too full.

Luckily I was carrying my own water because the one on the boat was super expensive.

When you buy your ticket, keep in mind that there is no use in paying extra for a special seat. No matter where you sit, people will stand in front of you and block your view.

Spend two hours in the evening enjoying the sunset cruise on the Bosphorus straits. Opt for the small wooden boats as the guide can better explain the facts as you head to the Bosphorus Bridge and back to the Asian side.

As per my research, it costs just 120 Turkish Liras for 2 hours if you go through the state-run company called Sehir Hatlari, their cruise departs from Eski Kadıköy Pier. They also have a 3-hour option but in my opinion, that’s a little too much. Two hours are more than enough. Do check their website before going because they sometimes run sunset cruises only on Saturdays.

4) Dinner at Oligark

One of the fanciest and yummiest meals that I had in Istanbul was in a waterfront restaurant called Oligark, and it overlooks the Bosphorus Strait. It is a super luxurious restaurant and bar, but it actually is affordable when you compare the prices in Euros.

The view, service, and the food at Oligark are simply the best and the experience shouldn’t be missed. I had the most delicious Çiğ köfte (chee kofta), meat on skewers, lentils, lavash (lavaş), and many other things that tasted heavenly.

Suggested: Best Places to visit in Istanbul

Çamlıca Hil for a Sunset and Dinner (Option 2)

If you don’t want to do the Bosphorus cruise for sunset, then I have another option for you here. Camilca Hill is the highest hill and it is on the Asian side of Istanbul. From here, you can enjoy a panoramic view of Istanbul and see the Golden Horn and Bosphorus.

There are two Camilca Hills – Little Camilca Hill and Big Camilca Hill. This point is about Big Camilca Hill, which is in Üsküdar.

In order to reach the Çamlıca Hill from Taksim or Sultanahmet Square, take a tram to Eminonu docks. From here, get on a boat to Uskudar and then take the 9U bus to Camlica Hill. Of course, you can do the full or a part of this journey by taxi too.

Apart from just enjoying the panoramic view, you can also visit one of the cafes or restaurants here. They are not as expensive as the ones in the Sultanahmet area.

After spending the last two sunsets in comparatively crowded (yet lovely) spots – Galata Tower and “Busforus” Bus Tour, the sunset experience at Camilca Hill will be a refreshing change. Many visitors say that this is the best sunset experience in Istanbul, but I’ll let you decide.

Princes’ Islands Day Trip (Option 3)

Seagullls with Princes Islands in the background - Istanbul, Turkey
Seagulls with Princes Islands in the background – Istanbul, Turkey – CC0 via Pixabay

Many people incorrectly call them Princess Islands or Princess’ Islands but these are “Princes’ Islands” and are a group of 9 islands in the Asian side of Istanbul. They’re named so because, during the Byzantine and the early Ottoman times, the exiled princes and monks were sent here.

Don’t imagine these islands to be “resort-esque” and expect to sit on a beach here. Instead, these islands will give you a cultural or historical experience. You’ll feel that time stood still some decades back here and never moved ahead.

A very interesting part about visiting the Princes’ Islands is that motorized vehicles are banned here. Because of this, these islands are a good escape from Istanbul’s hectic life and sounds of the automobiles. Instead, you will see horse carts and Victorian bungalows.

In order to reach here, you will need to take a fast ferry operated by IDO or look for Istanbul Liners. These ferries depart from Kabatas or Eminönü near the Galata Bridge. You can book your ferry tickets for the Princess Islands and back here. Alternatively, you can book a tour that will pick you up from your hotel in Istanbul (if centrally located), and take you to the Princess Islands and back, including lunch, and sightseeing. The most popular island here is Büyükada, and the other major ones are Kınalıada, Burgaz, and Heybeliada. 

Tip: Make sure you find the timetable so that you don’t miss the last ferry out of the islands.

Istanbul Hotel Information

I have visited Istanbul twice and I have stayed in the Sultanahmet area during the first visit and near Taksim Square during the most recent one. I was pretty happy with both the locations, but I realised the second was a better option.

Here are some of my recommendations for different budgets:

The most popular hostel chain here is Cheers and they run hostels all over the city –

If you want more information than what I have specified, check out this post with information about places to stay in Istanbul.

Where to go after Istanbul

Istanbul to Cappadocia

Sunrise view - Sultan Cave Suites, Cappadocia, Turkey
Sunrise view – Sultan Cave Suites, Cappadocia, Turkey

My visit to Cappadocia was in 2016 and to this day when people ask me what’s the most beautiful place that I’ve ever seen, I always think of this place.

Cappadocia has an otherwordly landscape with weird formations, fairy chimneys, and hundreds of hot air balloons in the sky. My website has a lot of posts about Cappadocia, so head over the to main Turkey page to see all the posts.

Istanbul to Pamukkale

Blue Water and White Travertine - Pamukkale Thermal Pools
Blue Water and White Travertine – Pamukkale Thermal Pools

Pamukkale has been a spa destination since ancient Roman times because of its stunning limestone thermal pools. This destination is very blue and white and you’ll fall in love with it for sure. For information about how to reach, where to stay, and more, check my detailed guide to Pamukkale.

If you’ve been to Istanbul already and have tips to share, comment below and let us know.

3 Days in Istanbul Itinerary Closing Thoughts

This itinerary has been made keeping in mind Istanbul’s culture, attractions, and uniqueness. It is a tried and tested itinerary based on my two visits to this city, out of that the most recent one was at the end of 2023.

Don’t try to cover it all because Istanbul can be stressful. Remember to be spontaneous and to have fun.

Disclosure: My trip to Istanbul was sponsored as a part of the Istanbul Travel Influencer Summit 2023. However, all the opinions expressed in this article are my own.

PS: Drifter Planet contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, we will earn a little commission at no extra cost to you.  We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

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