Being the only city in the world that spans two continents, Istanbul has a lot to offer. From the delectable food to the rich history and awe-inspiring architecture, every bit of the city arouses admiration. No matter if it’s your first time in Istanbul or you’ve already been there, this bustling city is ready to amaze you. After spending as less as 3 days in Istanbul your mind will be blown. Ready to jump in?
Table of Contents
- How to save money when visiting Istanbul?
- Getting to Istanbul city center
- What to do and see for 3 days in Istanbul?
- Day 1
- Day 2
- Day 3
- Stay connected
- Where to stay in Istanbul
How to save money when visiting Istanbul?
For most visitors, Istanbul seems an affordable destination. But hey, won’t you be happy if you can save some extra money on the fly? Here’s the secret – Istanbul Tourist Pass. After using it for 3 days in Istanbul, I can confirm that it saved me a lot of money and time. Some of the most visited museums and coolest activities are included and more – a free hotspot device. Purchase the pass online and enjoy all the perks offered. Everything you need is your phone.
Getting to Istanbul city center
From Ataturk Airport you have several options. A taxi will cost you around 45 to 55 lira so in case you are on a budget you better opt for the metro (5 Lira). However, if you purchase Istanbul Tourist Pass you’ll get a free Istanbul airport transfer.
What to do and see for 3 days in Istanbul?
Spend your first day in Fatih. The old town is the beating heart of Istanbul. This is where most of the cultural sights and museums are.
Wander in Topkapi Palace
During the ages, Topkapi Palace was home of numerous Ottoman sultans. It’s one of the busiest spots in Istanbul so go there as early as possible.
The palace features four beautiful courtyards, several buildings, and jaw-dropping views over the Sea of Marmara. Don’t miss the Harem as it’s the most interesting part of the palace. Thought you’ll need a separate ticket, (25 Lira) it’s well worth the price. Stroll down the tiny corridors and pass through some richly decorated halls.
Free with Istanbul Tourist Pass / Istanbul tours: Topkapi Palace and Harem: 3-hour with admission ticket – $45.60
Awe in Hagia Sophia
If you only have one thing to do in Istanbul, go and see Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya). During the ages, it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral, Roman Catholic church, Greek basilica and finally an Ottoman mosque.
Nowadays, Hagia Sophis is a museum that strikes with awe-inspiring architecture and age-old history. Enter the main hall, stand under the enormous dome and examine the marks of different cultures. Take the stairs up to the gallery for a better perspective and some hidden views to the Blue Mosque.
Free with Istanbul Tourist Pass / Istanbul tours: Hagia Sophia Guided Tour – $15
Enter the Blue Mosque
One of the most prominent symbols of Istanbul is the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque). The name comes from the blue tiles that cover the walls in the praying hall. However, probably the most striking feature is the six minarets enclosing the mosque.
If you happen to be there around any of the prayer times, find a spot on Sultan Ahmet square and enjoy the call of prayer. The entrance is free but you need to be sure that you are properly dressed.
Discover the secrets of Basilica Cistern
Just opposite Hagia Sophia, there’s a small entrance you probably won’t even notice at first. But the experience behind the door is not to be missed.
Dating back to the 6th century, the purpose of the cistern was to store water for the Topkapi Palace and the buildings around. Go down the stairs until you find yourself in a huge semi-dark hall with hundreds of columns. You will be surprised by the size and the beauty of this place. Moreover, go further and search for the Medusa heads. Yeah, thrilling!
Admission fee $5
Experience the sacred ritual of whirling dervishes
Among the most amazing things you can experience in Istanbul is witnessing a Sufi ritual dance. The best place to do so is Hodjapasha Cultural Center.
Sufi is a moving ceremony in which people called dervishes reach a state of trance and spin themselves in order to get closer to God. This remarkable ritual often involves more than 30 minutes of constant whirling before your spellbound eyes. Definitely a unique experience.
Free with Istanbul Tourist Pass / Istanbul tours: Whirling Dervishes – $24
Finish the day in some of the traditional Turkish restaurants just around the corner on Hoca Paşa street.
Day two is a day for action. Visit the best markets, try local goods and go on a boat tour.
Test your bargaining skills on the Grand Bazaar
Are you a serious shopper? Go and test your bargaining skills on Grand Bazaar (Kalpali Çarsi). With more than 60 covered streets, visiting the market might be a bit dizzying, but well worth it.
Every street is dedicated to certain goods – from gold and silver to hand-embodied rugs, leather, ceramics, lanterns, spices, and of course, Turkish delight. Don’t be surprised if a shop owner beckons to you and offers you some warm apple tea. Take your time and explore the tremendous variety of tempting buys.
Pick up nuts and spices on the Spice Bazaar
Just a few blocks from the Grand Bazaar you can find the Egyptian Bazaar or the Spice Bazaar as it is more commonly known. This is the second most popular market and if you only have 3 days in Istanbul, you shouldn’t miss it.
Go there hungry and be ready to stuff your mouth with a high variety of nuts, dry fruits and every possible type of Turkish delight. Moreover, if you haven’t tried baklava, step in some of the baklava shops. You’ll leave with a full box. Guaranteed!
Get lost in Karaköy district
Walk across Galata bridge towards Karaköy and wave to the ferries carrying passengers while finishing your simit. Karaköy is the funkiest neighborhood of Istanbul and a home of the Galata Tower – a 67 meters high tower with a 360-degree view of Istanbul.
This unbeatable experience has a price tho – 25 Lira per adult and waiting in a long queue. Instead, hit the small streets around and discover some good restaurants, cozy cafes, and cute boutiques.
Hop-on-hop-off Istanbul Bosphorus boat tour
Go to Kabatas Station, hop on a boat and sail up the Bosphorus. Navigating between Europe and Asia you’ll spot some symbolic buildings like Dolmabahçe Palace, Ortaköy Mosque, and Beylerbeyi Palace.
As it is a hop-on-hop-off service you can explore several districts and even set foot on the Asian side of Istanbul. Make the trip even more authentic and order some Turkish tea, as local people do, while enjoying the views.
Free with Istanbul Tourist Pass / Istanbul tours: 2.5-Hour Bosphorus Boat Tour – $30
Visit Taksim square
Head to the famous pedestrian street İstiklal Caddesi and take the emblematic red tram that will lift you straight to Taksim square. An experience worth trying!
While in the area you might want to rest for a bit and there’s no better place than Gezi Park. In the evenings İstiklal Caddesi turns into a lively area with street performers, cool bars, and fine restaurants. A walk down is a must.
Go to some of the meze restaurants near the Karaköy port and put a proper end of the day with a fresh seafood dinner.
Make the most of your day hopping on a tour bus, exploring some historical sights and finish with a Bosporus dinner cruise with fabulous views.
Hop-on-hop-off Golden Horn bus tour
Here’s a great idea to see some of the most popular sights and landmarks in Istanbul in just an hour and a half. Get on board the open-top sightseeing bus and enjoy the ride.
Meanwhile, you’ll learn tons of interesting facts and details about Istanbul. Throughout the ages, the Golden Horn has been home to numerous civilizations – Byzantine, Greek, Ottoman, Armenian and their marks are still visible. Additionally, this line will lift you to Istanbul Dolphinarium and Miniaturk.
Free with Istanbul Tourist Pass / Istanbul tours: Big Bus Istanbul Hop-On Hop-Off – $30
Relax in Gulhane Park
You won’t believe that this little park is in the heart of Istanbul. It’s a perfect getaway from the busy life and one of the top attractions especially during the Tulip Festival in April.
The park used to be part of the outer garden of Topkapi Palace and the high stone walls are a living proof of that time. Walking down the alleys, you’ll spot a nice cafe. Furthermore, there are many quiet places where you can sit and relax.
Enter Süleymaniye Mosque
Süleymaniye Mosque might not be as famous as Sultan Ahmed Mosque but it’s actually the largest mosque in Istanbul. Given that fact, you should definitely consider exploring its stunning features starting with the impressive dome.
Do you need another reason why you should visit Süleymaniye Mosque? There is an old graveyard in the garden that deserves your attention, especially the two marble mausoleums at the far end. In one of them rest the remains of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and his wife Hurrem Sultan.
Visit Chora Museum
The Church of the Holy Saviour as known as Chora museum is a Byzantine church 20 minutes from the old town just outside the city walls. It’s considered as one of the prettiest Byzantine churches in Istanbul with its dazzling mosaics and frescoes dating back to the 14th century.
The church was converted into a mosque and the scenes from Christ and Mary’s lives were covered but not lost. Eventually, the mosque became a museum and the frescoes were restored and shine with splendor. The art absolutely worth being seen.
Free with Istanbul Tourist Pass / Istanbul tours: Admission fee – $4
Join a dinner cruise on the Bosporus
Is there a better way to finish your 3 days in Istanbul than a traditional Turkish dinner on a boat crossing the Bosporus? Besides the excellent food during the dinner cruise, you’ll enjoy a special program featuring traditional dances and belly dance.
Moreover, you’ll definitely have a good time discovering the wondrous beauty of Istanbul during the night. Go to the upper deck terrace and let out a big fat sigh of wonder and awe when crossing under the lights of the Bosporus Bridge.
Free with Istanbul Tourist Pass / Istanbul tours: Bosporus Dinner Cruise with Entertainment – $65
You will find Wi-Fi in most of the cafes and restaurants in Istanbul but wouldn’t it be easier if you can stay connected wherever you go? Rent ‘n Connect is a service that provides you with a mobile hotspot so you can surf without any limits.
The superfast 4G device (cables and power bank included) was delivered to my hotel prior to my arrival. It was so convenient and easy and I can’t recommend it enough. The only thing I had to do was turn the device on.
Free for 3 days with Istanbul Tourist Pass / Rent ‘n Connect mobile hotspot device – $7 per day
Where to stay in Istanbul
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Many thanks to Istanbul Tourist Pass for the chance to try their service. As always all thoughts and opinions are my own.
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